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Are Elections Bad for the Climate?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 23, 2015 9:41:45 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

In an open letter in Grist, Bill McKibben, putative leader of the climate change movement, challenged Hillary Clinton to Seattle Beauty“use her political capital to overturn America’s energy paradigm — not slowly, around the margins, but quickly and at the core” as FDR did with World War II weapons and JFK did with space exploration.

It’s thrilling to contemplate. And she could do it. But McKibben goes on to say that climate change is not her issue. Evidence suggests that she will capitulate to oil and gas interests for the sake of her campaign war chest.

After all, even the greenest administrators in the greenest states with the most environmentally conscious constituencies are caving to the lure of fossil fuel campaign money.

You’d like to think that since we in the Pacific Northwest have staked out a green positioning which we exploit to our economic advantage, our politicians would be hyper-vigilant about steering away from fossil fuel contributions, if only for how it would look.

So you see how crazy it is that the Port of Seattle is enabling arctic drilling by berthing Shell’s Alaska drilling equipment. That decision was rushed through four months of secret meetings followed by a single public hearing, at which the commissioners voiced “discomfort,” then, with one exception, acquiesced. Port of Seattle CEO Fick signed the contract five days later.

The Port of Seattle was once the green leader. Its CEO until last year, Tay Yoshitani, an experienced port manager, was brought in to clean up corruption and take on environmental issues, to run the greenest port in the country. Companies like Walmart and Costco were publishing the carbon footprint of their products as competitive differentiation, and the Port could help.

The Port’s slogan became “Where a sustainable world is heading.”

The new CEO, Ted Fick, has different priorities. Fick’s career started at his family’s foundry business. He’s a tough businessman and an IronMan tri-athlete. He’s the first CEO ever appointed in Seattle who has no experience in either of the port’s businesses, shipping or airports, and none with public agencies.

Needless to say, he hasn’t made much mention of the port’s environmental initiatives.

But the rest of the Port’s commissioners have. The electorate is extremely sensitive to preserving the astounding beauty of Puget Sound, the body of water on which the Port’s facilities are located. Unlike the CEO, the commissioners are elected officials and had to be environmentalists if they wanted to win.

So why would they support Shell’s arctic aspirations?

Oh don’t be naïve: money of course. Seattle’s independent paper The Stranger investigated the five commissioners’ campaign contributors, and all were recipients of gifts from oil companies or the company handling Shell’s port in Seattle.

One can argue that all supporters of a port commissioner’s campaign would naturally be the port’s customers. But in hyper-green Seattle, all won their elections to some degree on their pro-environmental positions. Topping The Stranger’s list of hypocrites, Bill Bryant ran on the claim that “I am a committed conservationist.”

He’s also running for governor, so he needs the cash. And I guess he figures the electorate has short memories.

Another ecotopia travesty: Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee’s support for an oil refinery along the majestic Columbia River. The proposed facility would produce 40-45,000 barrels of oil/day from Bakken crude delivered by rail cars. The “green” pitch: the refinery would also refine biofuel, which will lower the plant’s overall carbon footprint.

Sounds a little back door doesn’t it? This is the same Jay Inslee who proudly wears the mantle of “Greenest Governor” and claims to be an ardent opponent of fossil fuels? It doesn’t add up.

But then again, it’s election season.

And Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hale, another green leader also up for re-election, spent a year quietly shepherding a plan for the Penimba propane export facility, also on the Columbia River, and thus enabled Penimba to spend $15 million on project development without protest. After virtually unanimous public opposition once it became public, Hale fervently reversed course. Of course, the dirty work is done and he’s just one vote on the port commission. As Pembina officials reacted, "Pembina has appreciated the leadership, guidance and past support of the mayor throughout the development of the project to date.”

If even those whose political fortunes depend on green policies can be swayed by a little cash, imagine how easy it will be to persuade Hillary Clinton. Still, we can dream.

Clarification from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office:  “Administration officials in Governor Inslee’s office and not Governor Inslee himself have been in conversations with Riverside Energy, though no formal proposal has been made.”

Photo courtesy of Ingrid Taylar via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Arctic oil drilling, climate change, election contributions, fossil fuels, Port of Seattle, Tay Yoshitani, Uncategorized, Port of Portland, Penimba, port commissioners, Shell Oil, Bill McKibben, Carol Pierson Holding, Charlie Hale, Hillary Clinton, Jay Fick, Pacific Northwest

Giving People Time to Give Thanks

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 18, 2014 12:16:26 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding
Amidst the national stories about the recent take-over of the U.S. Senate by RepublicansThanksgiving and their ardent intentions to eviscerate both the environment (see Big Oil’s Wish List) and human rights (as in reproductive rights, minimum wage and so on), a bit of sunshine peaked out of my Seattle Times: two of our top chain retailers, Costco and Nordstrom, are opting to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Why? To respond to the public backlash, of course, but also to ensure their employees spend Thanksgiving the way it’s supposed to be spent, with family and friends.

Closing on Thanksgiving isn’t the only way these companies are good to their employees. They lead Forbes 2014 Best Retail Companies to Work for Right Now list, with Costco at #1 and Nordstrom Rack at #2. Both companies not only have family-friendly policies, they pay their employees better.

In 2011, Nordstrom paid 60% more in hourly wages than the industry average. A typical Costco worker earned $45,000 in 2011 according to a survey by Glassdoor, compared to Sam’s Club workers’ average annual salary of $17,486.

Certainly, there is a strong economic argument to be made for treating employees better. Frederick F. Reichheld’s 2001 study The Loyalty Effect proved that customers are loyal not so much to a store as to its employees. Reichheld maintained that a five percent increase in the employee retention rate can increase a customer’s lifetime value by as much as 75%, in part because of the high cost of bringing in new customers. It seems to be working: as reported in Huffington Post last year, Costco’s profits soared 19 percent even as the retailer paid substantially higher wages. Nordstrom Rack’s sales increased 10.2%.It’s clear that employees and economics benefit from Costco and Nordstrom’s decent treatment of employees. But closing on Thanksgiving could actively hurt consumerism, possibly over the long-term: once stores close down for one day, aren’t these retailers in danger of teaching their customers how not to shop, especially in their stores?

I was struck once again at the differences between the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the country. Certainly, chains headquartered in other places are also closed on Thanksgiving. Barnes & Noble, GameStop, Joanne Fabric, Pier 1, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Top 10 retailers Burlington (projected to be #6 in profits for 2014) and Dillards (#2) are joining in.But you have to wonder why any retailer would want to take an action to stem consumerism, their very life-blood, and why two of the chains closing for Thanksgiving would be headquartered in the Seattle area?

One clue is its politics. Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee is best known as the "greenest governor." But he is also a crusader for worker’s rights. He calls it “protecting our most vulnerable, and protecting our environment” and champions raising the State’s minimum wage even higher than it already is, which at $9.32 is the highest state-wide minimum wage in the country. Seattle’s city council voted this June to gradually raise its hourly minimum to $15.

This might seem counterintuitive. The party line, especially in red states, is that environmental protection and jobs are in a heated battle for resources. Yet the Pacific Northwest is growing economically even while it fights against fossil fuel consumption, closing coal plants, denying coal port permits, increasing investment in renewables and reducing energy use.

And the dogma that lifting wages will bankrupt businesses? Nordstrom’s and Costco wouldn’t agree.

Have a lovely shopping-free Thanksgiving!

Photo courtesy of ilovebutter via Flickr cc.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,300+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,300+ companies from 135 industries in 106 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 343 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.
 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in $15 minimum wage, Costo, Nordstrom, Seattle, Uncategorized, wages, Thanksgiving, Jay Inslee, Richard Reichheld, The Loyalty Factor, Burlington, Carol Pierson Holding, Dillards, holiday off, Pacific Northwest

So Long Until September

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 30, 2013 9:00:05 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

To my readers,

I’m writing today to let you know I’m going on sabbatical for six weeks to work on a longer piece.desk in nature

For the last two years, this blog has been my curriculum in environmental activism. It’s been my practice, my meditation, my energy source. It’s how I came to feel a part of this strange place I moved to in 2009, this most gorgeous Pacific Northwest.

Most of all, it has been a fabulous opportunity to commune with you courtesy of CSRHub’s wonderful team – Cynthia Figge, Ruth Edwards and Bahar Gidwani. Those individuals contribute mightily to keeping companies doing the right thing by measuring and reporting their CSR performance. I am proud to be associated with them.

And how can I thank you, readers, for stopping by every two weeks? I hope you enjoy it one iota as much as I do. If you want to check back on any of my 64 (64!!) posts, please visit me at http://www.csrhub.com/blog/author/carol-pierson-holding.

I’ll be back in September, refreshed and rejuvenated, and hopefully with a manuscript well on its way.

Thank you and so long for now,

Carol Pierson Holding


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 7,400 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in CSR performance, Uncategorized, Carol Pierson Holding, environmental activism, Pacific Northwest

Investors Beware: Coal’s Dirty Money Could Blow Up

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 16, 2013 10:03:18 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

In the most recent sign that coal is in trouble, Wyoming's only new coal mine, Kiewit's Haystack Mine, halted construction last week before shipping any coal: “The coal market is very, very soft,” Uinta County Economic Development Director Dell Atkinson told the Uinta County Herald. “It’s off about 11 percent from last year. They’ve got more coal than they can use right now.”

As reported by Ross Macfarlane, Senior Advisor, Business Partnerships for Climate Solutions, the only other new mine in the state, Cloud Peak's Young Creek Mine, has been indefinitely delayed, awaiting word on export ports.

Exporting coal from the proposed West Coast coal ports is coal companies’ only hope.
The investment required is enormous. Train tracks must be upgraded and new ports built. Because of local objections to coal ports, the coal and train companies are pouring additional millions into PR and ad campaigns to change the minds of local citizens and lawyers to lobby local, state and federal politicians.

The motivation for the companies is clear – it’s survival. But what’s the motivation for investors? "Ambre Energy: Caveat Investor" catalogues a number of money woes for just one of the coal companies and its need for $1 billion in new capital to make its coal projects financially viable. Who will invest?

So far, Macfarlane and his constituencies have some pretty powerful arguments.

Targeting coal investors and investment analysts who cover coal, Macfarlane starts with coal company valuations, which have fallen 70-90% over the last two years due to the fall in domestic demand. The only escape from this disaster for coal companies is exports, which won’t happen without West Coast coal ports. And they’ll spend anything to make those ports happen, however unlikely. Even Seeking Alpha agrees that “this would be a high-risk, high-reward investment as badly needed West Coast terminals may not be allowed to move forward.”

Two of the six proposed ports – Grays Harbor, Washington and Coos Bay, Oregon — have already been withdrawn or derailed. The other four face fierce opposition.

The numbers alone make a pretty conclusive argument.

But Macfarlane also has an ethical argument too: coal investors are playing with dirty money.

No matter what your politics, some things are just plain wrong. One investor, candy heir Forrest Mars, Jr., negotiated permits for running the coal on a route that bypasses his ranch – then bought a 1/3 stake in the railroad that will send the Otter Creek coal to market, fouling the fertile Tongue River Valley.

The blowback is that the Mars candy company has launched a social responsibility campaign, with Principles in Action,” which commit the company to “minimizing environmental impacts.” Anti-coal activists picked up on Mar’s vulnerability and plastered anti-coal stickers on Snickers, Skittles and other Mars candy. Mars makes money on coal, but hurts his candy investment and his personal reputation. Not a sound investment strategy.

Or this one: Peabody Coal, the largest pure coal play for investors and a participant in two of the coal ports, spun off some of its older, less productive Appalachian coal mines to a subsidiary called Patriot. Five years later, Peabody bankrupted Patriot, eliminating pensions and health benefits for thousands of older mine employees.

This one exploded too: Patriot’s creditors and its union are investigating Peabody for potential fraud, adding risk to this coal investment.

Another participant in West Coast coal ports, Arch Coal, is simply a bad player, with an Accounting and Governance Rating in the 5th percentile, a higher risk than 95% of companies measured. As Business Insider comments, “Incidents and settlements in 2011 included a violations of the Clean Water Act in three states, the death of a miner in Virginia, and a wrongful death lawsuit settlement with six families.” Arch is also at risk for its pension liabilities.

Still another coal port sponsor, Kinder Morgan, is in AGR’s 10th percentile.

But perhaps worst of all might be Peabody’s use of the promise of “clean coal technology” to bankrupt Midwestern cities. Here’s that story:

Peabody persuaded municipalities in the Midwest to invest in a new cleaner coal power plant cynically named Prairie State Energy Campus (PSCE). Peabody sold 95% of the plant to local utilities and rushed to begin construction before the EPA’s recapture rule took effect, resulting in as the Chicago Tribune called it “largest source of carbon dioxide built in the United States in a quarter-century.” Then costs soared beyond the original investment, forcing the utilities to borrow. Two utilities pulled out. Energy from PSCE is so expensive that utilities sell at a loss or increase prices for customers. Several municipalities have had to declare bankruptcy.

How did this come to light? In February, the SEC served Peabody with a subpoena. Securities fraud anyone?

Desperation can breed bad behavior, and bad behavior has a habit of coming back around. We’ve all seen the bully taken down. I had that experience when I was young. A workplace bully took aim at me, using nasty tactics, and was eventually fired. I remember an older employee telling me “That kind always blows themselves up.”

Photo courtesy of danielmoyle via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 7,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.
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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Ambre Energy, Arch Coal, coal ports, coal trains, Uncategorized, Kinder Morgan, Carol Pierson Holding, Mars, Pacific Northwest, Peabody

China’s 2011 Emissions Rise of 10% Reframes Coal Ports Issue

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 5, 2012 9:24:30 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Forces on both sides of the proposed bulk coal ports around Puget Sound are replaying a bulk coal portsbattle from the 1970s. The deciding factor then was a powerful Senator. This time, as improbable as it seems, it might be CO2 emissions from China.

Forty years ago, the issue was supertanker oil ports.

In 1977, plans to build an oil port at Cherry Point Washington – the same site of one of the currently proposed coal ports - pitted well-financed backers against ardent environmentalists. Championed by Senator Warren Magnuson of Washington State, the Coastal Zone Management Act required states to adopt coastal management programs. In 1976, Washington State was the first to do so. Then governor Dan Evans led the program to ban oil port development under the terms of the Federal program. Evans and his supporters had a powerful incentive, as described vividly in Washington’s Historylink website:

“Evans, Magnuson, and many environmentalists feared the potentially catastrophic consequences of allowing supertanker traffic in the narrow, treacherous, fog-bound approaches to the northern sound through the San Juan Islands.”

In 1977, Governor Evans stepped down and a new Washington governor, Dixie Lee Ray, made creating jobs her platform and overturning the oil port ban her top priority.  Unions looking for jobs supported her. Oil and oil service companies funded her. Administrative procedures ensured her bill would succeed. But on the day of the first hearing, Senator Magnuson succeeded in preempting Ray’s bill, pushing through in only 24 hours legislation prohibiting the federal government from expanding Puget Sound ports. Then President Jimmy Carter signed the bill too. Bulk oil ports in Puget Sound were explicitly and permanently defeated.

A former aide to Senator Magnuson told me the reasons he thought Magnuson’s legislation passed so easily. First, Magnuson had been Chair of the powerful Senate Committee on Commerce for twenty-five years and his pet projects were given special consideration. But it was the image Magnuson created that sold the program: a mythical, pristine Puget Sound destroyed by a spill from a super-tanker. The former aide asked, what was the coal movement using as its image of destruction?

The problem now is that unlike oil, coal offers no similarly catastrophic visions. The first large oil spill happened as far back as World War II, when German U-Boats attacked tankers off the East Coast of the US, spilling 590,000 gallons and have continued unabated ever since. People were familiar with the impact of an oil spill, even back in 1977.

Among all the arguments against coal ports — coal dust, the danger of heavy coal trains derailing, traffic congestion, the harm to local business, and climate change from Asia burning thermal coal — are no one has envisioned a coal tanker spilling its cargo.

We have come close.  In 2010, Chinese-owned bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1 rammed into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, another ecological treasure, tearing open a fuel tank. The Shen Neng pilot, suffering from fatigue, turned into the reef rather than going around it. Media attention focused on the oil used to power tankers, which is full of dangerous contaminants and very gooey, hard to clean up. The tanker carried over about 900 tons of fuel on board, but only 3-4 tons were lost.

Spilled coal was beside the point.

With no sense of “potentially catastrophic consequences” from a Puget Sound contaminated by coal, where are coal terminal opponents to turn? A study released this week by the Global Carbon Project may provide the answer: heat trapping pollution was up 3% last year, with the overwhelming majority of the increase from China, whose emissions were up 10% to 10 billion tons. China’s emissions now exceed the US by 70%.

China is intended to be the primary market for the cheap Powder Basin coal that would be shipped from Cherry Point and potentially other Pacific ports as well. This coal as you’ve no doubt heard is so toxic that it’s banned in the U.S.

Clearly, it would be madness to send toxic coal to China. With all the lip-speak about climate change, coal ports are a real opportunity for the Pacific Northwest and the U.S. to take leadership on the issue. This goes right up to President Obama, whose electoral tipping point might have come with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsing him as the Climate Change Leader. The timing couldn’t be better, for Obama, for the Climate Change Movement, and for the earth itself.

Photo courtesy of ingridtaylor via Flickr cc.


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 6,500 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on over 6,500 companies from 135 industries in 70 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 185 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in climate change, Puget Sound, Uncategorized, proposed bulk coal ports, Carol Pierson Holding, CO2 emissions, Global Carbon Project, Historylink, Pacific Northwest

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