Business & Technology

Oil companies’ continued record profits tick off Democrats, consumers

Major oil companies reported ginormous second-quarter profits this week, irking consumers and fueling harsh rhetoric from congressional Democrats. ExxonMobil reported a record-breaking profit of $11.68 billion — the highest of any U.S. company ever — besting its own previous record set in the first quarter of this year. Royal Dutch Shell raked in $11.56 billion, BP hit $9.5 billion, and ConocoPhillips posted $5.44 billion in profits; Chevron will release its earnings on Friday. Consumers are enraged that oil companies are making crazy-high profits while they pay record-high gasoline prices, and Democrats in Congress are trying to stoke that anger, pointing …

The jobs, my friend, are blowin' in the wind

Wind power industry hiring in huge numbers

Dear Kevin, I’ve heard lots of hype about wind power jobs, but I don’t know what kind of jobs we’re talking about. Can you describe a few? Thanks for your help. (I love Grist.) Amy K.St. Louis Dear Amy, Grist loves you back. Your letter goes straight to the top. The hype is very real. Reliable correspondents from the American Wind Energy Association’s massive June conference in Texas report that everyone was talking about a shortage of trained and experienced people. I believe that “we need people yesterday” was the exact phrase. So while “the answer” may not be blowing …

Advocates pushing LEDs into the spotlight

Compact fluorescents have had their time in the sun; it’s time to herald the era of LEDs, say advocates. Light-emitting diodes are bright, extremely long-lasting, über-efficient, and can color-shift by remote control (fun!). The bulbs shine in many traffic lights, colored the Times Square ball on New Year’s Eve, may soon light up the Empire State Building, and are becoming the bulb of choice for commercial lighting. Many bulb manufacturers expect that they’ll soon widely light up households as well; so sure is Philips Lighting, in fact, that it is spending no R&D money on CFLs, focusing solely on LEDs. …

Surprise first-quarter profit for Honda, unsurprising giant loss for Ford

Despite an economy that has hit automakers hard, Honda Motor Co. on Friday reported an unexpected record profit for its fiscal first quarter, crediting demand for fuel-efficient Civics and Fits for the surprise boost. Honda was the only automaker to report better U.S. sales in June 2008 than in June 2007, though small-car specialists Kia and Fiat SpA also reported first-quarter profits. In contrast, Ford Motor Co., which only recently decided to shift away from reliance on trucks and SUVs, reported an $8.7 billion quarterly loss, the worst in its 105-year history. Toyota, Nissan, and General Motors will all announce …

Retire your carbon, offset your guilt

Carbon Retirement sees opportunity in European allowances

Carbon Retirement -- you read it here first (or maybe second). I don't normally endorse individual companies. But I have long thought European allowances were the best alternative to offsets and am delighted someone has made a business out of it. The business opportunity is clear -- offsets suck. At a policy level, they can destroy the environmental value of climate legislation. At a personal level, lots of vendors are selling very dubious offsets, including CCX. I can't imagine why you would waste your money on the most popular offsets, trees (certainly not a Northern forest -- heck, even offset seller Terrapass disses trees). And don't get us started on the other popular offset, RECs. But I know some of you out there really want to be carbon neutral, and while you have bought 100 percent renewable power for your superefficient home that uses a geothermal heating and cooling system to replace natural gas, and you bought a Prius for the family car and you telecommute, you just haven't figured out how to avoid some driving and flying. What to do? Buy real emissions credits from the European market and retire them permanently! Now that is the best idea since solar baseload.

Western states unveil draft cap-and-trade scheme

The Western Climate Initiative has unveiled a draft proposal for a regional cap-and-trade program that would kick off in 2012. The 11 states and provinces involved — Arizona, British Columbia, California, Manitoba, Montana, New Mexico, Ontario, Oregon, Quebec, Utah, and Washington — would impose an as-yet-determined greenhouse-gas emissions limit on industries and utilities, then allow laggards to purchase carbon credits from those that cleaned up their acts. States and provinces would decide individually whether to freely hand out credits or to auction them. Reactions to the draft proposal were mixed; industries craved more detail, while environmentalists expressed concern that companies …

No icebergs required

Smart economic development policy for the 21st century

The following is an elaborated version of the brief talk I gave at my Netroots Nation panel. The U.S. economy is in serious trouble, mired in a period of slow growth and high prices — i.e., stagflation. Worse, high prices can largely be traced to escalating fossil fuel costs that are almost certain to continue rising for the foreseeable future. Our trade debt is enormous, as we, in Gore’s words, borrow money from China to buy oil from Saudi Arabia. We’re shedding jobs — according to economist Dean Baker, it’s increasingly possible that total job growth under eight years of …

Feds rush to weaken workplace safety rules on toxics before term ends

The Bush administration is trying to push through a new workplace safety rule to weaken workers’ protections against toxic chemicals before Bush’s term ends, according to The Washington Post. The rule, which has not been made public, would mandate a reevaluation of the methods used to measure risks to workers from toxic exposure in the workplace. The rule would also require the U.S. Department of Labor to entertain additional challenges to its risk assessments before establishing new limits on exposure to chemicals. So far, work on the proposal has reportedly been fast-tracked and has been conducted largely in secret, drawing …

Bush admin proposes low royalty rates in push for U.S. oil-shale development

The Bush administration proposed rules [PDF] for U.S. oil shale development Tuesday that include charging lower royalty rates for oil-shale production on public lands than it does for other oil and gas drilling. The lower royalties are meant to encourage oil-shale production since, as it turns out, the energy- and pollution-intensive process of cooking rocks before pumping out the resulting oil is still up to three times more expensive than extracting already-liquid oil. “It is basically recognition that in the beginning there has to be a lower royalty to recognize the pioneering nature of this business,” said the executive director …

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