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‘Trump’s promises are empty’: energy experts lay waste to proposals

From making coal great again to cancelling the Paris accord, industry analysts say his ideas are farfetched and his talk of climate change as a hoax is dangerous.

Donald Trump’s energy agenda which includes pledges of complete energy independence, making coal great again and ditching the Paris climate deal is drawing bipartisan fire from industry analysts, former members of Congress, and even one coal mogul.

All of them, to varying degrees, fault the billionaires basic premises and call his promises farfetched and at times contradictory.

They say the Republican presidential candidate uses faulty math to tout his vision of America’s energy independence, fails to understand energy economics in his pledge to revive the coal industry, and is peddling a big myth by claiming that global warming is a hoax.

Some energy analysts also observe that Trump’s energy prescriptions, including big regulatory cutbacks that have long been industry wishes, are politically expedient and unrealistic. In making his promise to save the coal industry, for instance, Trump has backed slashing environmental rules, taking that message to West Virginia earlier this year, when he pledged that the states miners, as well as those in Ohio and Pennsylvania, “are going to start to work again, believe me.”

But Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow at Brookings for energy security and climate issues, told the Guardian that coal jobs arent coming back and for Mr. Trump to say theyre coming back is erroneous and fanciful. Noting that cheap natural gas has been the primary driver behind years of decline for the coal industry, Ebinger added that Trump seems to be pandering to coal miners.

Other analysts concur. Donald Trumps promise to revive the US coal sector can only be realized by reining in hydraulic fracking, said Jerry Taylor, the president of libertarian thinktank the Niskanen Center.

That’s because low-cost natural gas (courtesy of fracking) has done far more to shut down coal-fired power plants and, correspondingly, reduce demand for US coal than has EPA regulations. Given that he promises exactly the opposite moving heaven and earth to increase US natural gas production Trump’s promises are empty.

Even Trump backer and coal mogul Bob Murray, who runs Murray Energy, which has given $100,000 to a pro-Trump Super Pac, says that the coal industry wont ever be great again. I dont think it will be a thriving industry ever again, Murray told an energy publication this year. The coal mines cannot come back to where they were or anywhere near it.

Likewise, Trump used dubious data when he spoke at an energy event in May in North Dakota arranged by fracking billionaire Harold Hamm, a key Trump policy adviser who has been mentioned as a possible energy secretary and recently hosted a big campaign fundraiser.

Echoing some of Hamms priorities, Trump pledged to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas, to revoke policies that limit new drilling technologies and to cancel the Paris agreement.

Trump also promised complete energy independence, a bullish commitment since about a quarter of US energy needs are met by imports, and one that relied on flawed projections of proven oil reserves. Trump stated that the US had 1.5 times the oil of all Opec countries combined. But at the end of 2014, the US had proven reserves of just under 40bn barrels, while Saudi Arabia alone had proven reserves of 268bn barrels.

Similarly, Trump claimed that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline which, unlike Hillary Clinton, he backs would create and support 42,000 jobs. But industry projections suggest that building the pipeline would yield about 6,000 jobs directly, and another 7,000 jobs indirectly.

Ex-Conoco Phillips lobbyist Don Duncan compared Trump’s energy proposals to those of an old snake oil salesman, saying: “Trump’s energy cures are based on a lot of numbers that clash with energy industry data and scientific studies.”

Trump’s penchant for ignoring facts and hard evidence is also underscored by his attacks on global warming and the Paris accords.

Trump famously tweeted in 2012 that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive. Taylor called this risible.

Not one scintilla of evidence exists to back the charge up, he said. Its another example of his willingness to say anything at all no matter how ridiculous or dishonest to justify the know-nothingism of his base.

Trump denied during Monday’s presidential debate having said such a thing, but in a speech last December he referred to global warming as a hoax three times in one sentence.

Former US congressman Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican who runs a group promoting free enterprise climate change ideas, said Trump’s global warming views were dangerous. People who presume to be leaders by offering false hope and inflaming passions are disqualifying themselves for leadership.

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The economics of a 10 an hour living wage – BBC News

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John McDonnell promised he would reveal a new “interventionist” underpinning to Labour’s economic policy.

And the shadow chancellor did not disappoint.

New rules on takeovers to guarantee pay and pension payments, a doubling in size of the co-operative sector by giving workers rights to own businesses at the point of change of ownership or closure, bringing back “sectoral” collective bargaining “across the economy”, and a change in tax emphasis from income to “wealth” – which could mean new taxes on assets, possibly homes.

But the biggest intervention was on the minimum wage, or as Mr McDonnell described it, Labour’s plans for a “real Living Wage”.

He suggested that it should be set at above 10 an hour.

That is a major increase – and well above the current government’s plan to hit 9 an hour by 2020.

Mr McDonnell said he wanted to go further, making the bold statement that under a Labour government “everyone will have enough to live on”.

Unions welcomed the move.

“Workers’ difficulties keeping up with the cost of living has become a crisis across the country and it’s up to the UK government to ensure that the lowest paid aren’t left behind by the rising costs of rent, bills and essentials that threaten to overwhelm them,” said David Hamblin of the GMB.

‘Difficult decisions’

I am sure Mr McDonnell was ready for expressions of disapproval from business groups worried about costs.

“If a 10 minimum wage was to be introduced it would mean very difficult decisions for many small businesses – they would have to look at their business models,” Adam Marshall, the acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the BBC.

“They may have to reduce their workforce, shift jobs overseas or look to automation.

“We should not be playing politics with these decisions. The rate should be set by the Low Pay Commission and be determined by the state of the economy.

“We criticised the [former] chancellor for his decision on raising the minimum wage to 9 an hour and we will criticise the shadow chancellor for proposing raising it to 10 an hour.”

Higher costs

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An extra 1 or 2 an hour may not sound like very much.

But for a business, over a year, it can make a considerable difference to the wage bill – often the largest part of any company’s costs.

A 10-plus an hour minimum wage would raise an annual salary for the lowest paid to 19,250, according to the manufacturers’ trade body, the EEF.

That would mean a business paying around 23,000 for each employee given the extra costs faced by employers such as national insurance contributions.

Labour has said that it will expand the Employment Allowance to mitigate the impact on the smallest businesses.

But nevertheless, the EEF fears that could make “entry-level jobs”, often given to younger people and apprentices, far less attractive to businesses.

‘Arms race’

Of course, that is not to argue that most businesses do not want fair wages.

It is just that, in economic terms, many argue that income levels need to be balanced with employment rates and how robustly the economy is growing.

The highly respected Resolution Foundation has done a substantial amount of research on how minimum wage policies best work.

One of their spokespeople said to me immediately after Mr McDonnell sat down: “Our view is that the national living wage should be linked to the strength of the economy; i.e. pegged to typical pay growth, rather than cash targets.”

A little later Conor D’Arcy, Resolution Foundation policy analyst, told me: “The focus should be on tackling wider low pay problems, such as helping people progress off the wage floor and into higher pay roles, rather than engaging in an arms race.”

The danger many businesses highlight is that the living wage is becoming politicised, a battle between two political parties keen to show the effort they are making on low levels of pay.

The Low Pay Commission – which has guided increases in the minimum wage since its inception in 1999 – was mandated to balance income levels with impact on employment and the strength of economic growth.

Many businesses believe it is a mandate that should not be abandoned lightly.

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The government wants more offshore fish farms, but no one is biting

The US imports about 91% of its seafood, half of which is farmed in aquaculture facilities. Should the US do more to kickstart its own industry?

Off the coast of San Diego, Americas eighth largest city, commercial fishermen harvest about 1,100 metric tons of seafood from the Pacific every year.

That sounds like a lot. But it isnt much to Don Kent, who says he can do better with just one fish farm.

If Kent gets his way, he would raise 5,000 metric tons of yellowtail jack and white sea bass in a grid of net pens measuring about a square mile, anchored four miles off San Diego in federal waters. The species are prized in Southern California sushi restaurants, which now serve their customers imported fish almost exclusively, most of it from China, Japan, Greece or Chile.

The US imports about 91% of its seafood. Whether consumers know it or not, about half of that is farmed in aquaculture facilities much like the one Kent wants to build. While the federal government has permitted shellfish farming for years, it didnt allow farming of finfish such as bass and salmon until earlier this year.

Why are we buying all of our yellowtail from farms in Japan when I could grow them four miles off our coast and lower the carbon footprint and the trade deficit at the same time? says Kent, president and CEO of Rose Canyon Fisheries, which aims to build the project. This is done around the world. Its just not done here.

But Kent isnt likely to get approval soon, because the location is all wrong. The government is eager to promote offshore fish farming to alleviate pressure on overfished wild species. But it wants that to happen first in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service adopted its first rules for finfish farming in federal waters for the gulf region in January this year. Next up is the Pacific Islands region around Guam, Hawaii and Samoa, where in August the agency began preparing a report to analyze the environmental impact of aquaculture.

The mismatch between the proposals location and the new rules reflects the governments difficulties in incubating a new industry. Kents proposal, first submitted in October 2014, is the only fish farm proposal that the federal government has received so far. A lawsuit filed in February contends the new rules for the Gulf of Mexico could significantly harm the environment and commercial fishing, and it may be keeping away potential applicants who want to wait for the cases resolution before filing plans.

We shouldnt be doing this on an industrial scale until we have better information, says Marianne Cufone, a professor of environmental law at Loyola Law School in New Orleans. Its very possible the Gulf of Mexico will be altered forever if we move forward.

Raising fish in coastal farms isnt a new phenomenon. It just hasnt happened yet in federal waters, which range from 3-200 miles offshore. Several states allow aquaculture in coastal waters under their control, which extend out three miles from shore, including Maine, Washington and Hawaii.

Aquaculture net pen operated by Blue Ocean Mariculture near Kona, Hawaii. Photograph: NOAA Fisheries

Sales by the US aquaculture industry totaled about $1.3bn in 2013, according to a periodic census by the US Department of Agriculture. Thats a 25% increase over the prior census in 2005. Finfish account for about half the total, with catfish and trout both freshwater species dominating the industry.

Offshore aquaculture works mostly the same everywhere: fish live in an enclosure created with nets that dangle underwater from floating rings or platforms on the surface. The whole apparatus is anchored to the ocean floor.

The fish remain in the nets for as long as two years, from the time they are fingerlings. They are fed a diet that may include other fish waste from canneries and commercial fishing and processed pellets that may include corn, soybeans and other vegetables along with fish byproducts.

The US is currently a small player in running coastal fish farms, though its long coastlines and appetite for seafood could change that. Norway leads the world, followed by China, Chile, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Opening up the far offshore could ease the nations trade imbalance in fish commerce and rebuild waterfront industries that have slipped away as a result of overfishing, says Dianne Windham, aquaculture coordinator for the West Coast region of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

I think we actually have a great opportunity here to pursue the responsible and sustainable development of offshore aquaculture, and set the standard for what it ought to look like, Windham says.

The opportunity was slow to materialize, though. The new rules for the Gulf of Mexico took 14 years to complete. Congress repeatedly considered and then failed to pass legislation to legalize offshore fish farming. So the fisheries services stepped in to regulate the industry under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a law passed in 1976 to govern commercial fishing.

Its a wonderful opportunity for the Gulf of Mexico, but its been a long time coming, says Joe Hendrix, president of Seafish Mariculture in Houston, Texas, an aquaculture consulting group. Its difficult to implement these things because of a lot of ignorant people who have misplaced concerns.

Adult yellowtail, one of the species Rose Canyon wants to farm off the San Diego coast. Photograph: Rose Canyon Fisheries

Hendrix is referring to critics who say their concerns are very real. This includes the risk of farmed fish escaping from their nets and breeding with wild fish and competing for food; water contamination hot spots caused by fish excrement leaving the nets; and pharmaceuticals and genetic modifications used in some aquaculture operations. (The US Food and Drug Administration allows 18 different drugs to be used on farmed fish).

For instance, the new federal rules for the Gulf of Mexico require permit holders to report to the government only major escapement events, defined as 10% or more of cultured fish escaping from a pen. Anything less doesnt require reporting but may still disrupt the feeding and breeding of wild species.

Interbreeding is a concern because farmed fish become a weaker genetic line, less able to avoid illness and parasites and to survive the hardships of the open ocean.

To date, weve been unsuccessful in preventing escape from aquaculture facilities, says Cufone, who is also executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes aquaponics, a type of aquaculture in which fish and food crops are grown together. The group is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit to halt the aquaculture rules for the gulf. Theres no reason to think we would be 100% successful in the Gulf of Mexico, either.

Examples of escapes are plentiful. In January 2015, for example, some 51,000 farmed Atlantic salmon escaped from their pens off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. In another case, farmed salmon have been found in Canadas Magaguadavic River and the rivers of British Columbia during spawning season.

Hendrix and others in the industry counter that escaped fish are not a problem because, raised in pens and hand-fed, they lack the fitness to survive for long in the open ocean. In other words, theyll be eaten by wild fish before they have a chance to compete for food or interbreed.

The new aquaculture rules for the Gulf of Mexico also have no conditions governing fish welfare or humane treatment of fish. Other nations, including Great Britain, have recognized that fish feel pain and stress, and that aquaculture facilities should be designed and managed to prevent such suffering.

The US federal government should have fish welfare rules in place before opening the sea to aquaculture, says Bernard Rollin, a professor of ethics and animal sciences at Colorado State University.

Its well known by fish biologists that fish are enormously susceptible to stress, noise and crowding, says Rollin, a pioneer in the field of agricultural animal welfare. If you screw it up, theyll all die.

The fight over developing a sustainable industry means a longer wait for fish farm developers like Kent, who grew up in San Diego and remembers the city waterfront was once known as Tuna Town because it served a huge tuna fishing fleet with businesses that built boats, repaired equipment, caught and processed fish. That work mostly left for Asia when regulations and public sentiment arose in the 1970s against the bycatch of dolphins by tuna fishermen.

So youve got a working waterfront where the only work its doing is entertaining people. Its not feeding people, says Kent, who is also CEO of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

Kent says his $50m Rose Canyon project would generate 200 jobs for the region and employ newer cage technology that is submersible, a design that prevents the cages from getting destroyed by tussling waves during storms.

Rose Canyon already faces opposition from environmental groups, and commercial fishermen are concerned that aquaculture could affect the wild fishery.

Peter Halmay, a commercial fisherman based in San Diego and founder of the San Diego Fishermens Working Group, worries that farmed fish could develop viruses during captivity that would be released into the ocean and devastate native fish.

Hed rather see the government continue working to revitalize commercial fishing. For example, catch limits have been in place for years to limit harvest of important species, especially numerous varieties of rockfish. These programs have been successful, he says, and it will soon be time to increase catch limits again, a move that holds a lot of promise for the industry.

Our vision is for a vibrant working waterfront based on the capture of wild fish, Halmay said. Only if this project is a supplement to this vision will it work.

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