Michigan Legislature passes Great Lakes oil pipeline bill
By DAVID EGGERT
Tuesday, December 11
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature approved a bill Tuesday that would allow the replacement of a 65-year-old oil pipeline in a key Great Lakes waterway, voting to create a state authority that would oversee the construction of a tunnel to encase a new segment of pipe.
Most Republicans in the GOP-controlled chambers and some Democrats supported advancing the legislation to Gov. Rick Snyder, who plans to sign it quickly despite criticism that his administration should not tie the hands of Democrats who will take over the governor and attorney general offices. The outgoing GOP governor is working on several fronts to finalize an October agreement with Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge to replace the underwater segment of its Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lakes Huron and Michigan converge. The pipeline carries oil and natural gas liquids between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.
The measure — passed on 74-34 and 25-12 — would create the three-member Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, which would be required to sign an agreement for the construction, maintenance and operation of the utility tunnel by Dec. 31 after Snyder appoints its members. The massive engineering project is expected to take seven to 10 years to complete, at a cost of $350 million to $500 million — which the company would pay.
Rep. Lee Chatfield, a Levering Republican whose district includes the existing pipeline, said pipelines — when properly maintained and inspected — remain the safest mode to transport oil rather than by barge, rail or truck. Michigan has more than 300,000 homes heated with propane, most in the country, he said.
“This pipeline and the energy resources that flow through it are utilized by hundreds of thousands of Michiganders every single day, and we need to protect these energy resources,” Chatfield said. “We in this chamber with the plan that’s before us cannot wait any longer, because doing nothing is not an option.”
Many Democrats and a few Republicans opposed the bill, faulting it in part for not guaranteeing that Michigan workers would build the tunnel and new segment of pipeline. Environmentalists, native tribes and others concerned about a catastrophic spill continued to criticize Snyder’s deal for allowing the existing pipeline to stay open for up to a decade while construction is ongoing.
Rep. Yousef Rabhi, an Ann Arbor Democrat, said the legislation would not protect residents’ health and contended there are other ways to ensure that the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula have adequate energy supplies.
“This is just helping a foreign company ship their foreign oil through Michigan,” he said. “That’s unfortunately not something that we should be encouraging in my opinion.”
Rep. Winnie Brinks, a Grand Rapids Democrat, said the “11th-hour deal” would “curb the authority of Michigan’s incoming executive branch.”
Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer pledged during her campaign to shut down Line 5 and criticized the tunnel plan, as did fellow Democrat Dana Nessel, who won the race for attorney general. Both take office in January, but they may be powerless to stop the agreement if it is completed in the next three weeks.
Snyder said Tuesday he has not spent time talking with Whitmer about the pipeline in transition meetings but disputed accusations that the process is being rushed.
“We started working on Line 5 in 2014. This has been very systematic,” he said, pointing to work done by a state task force and a state commission along with scientific studies and lengthy negotiations with Enbridge. “We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we had grounds for what we’re doing.”
It is unclear what Whitmer may do upon taking office. She has said Line 5 poses a serious risk and she opposes actions that would impede her ability to protect jobs and water.
Her transition team is reviewing a range of issues surrounding Line 5 so she and her administration “are ready to act in a manner that is most effective for the safety of the Great Lakes and Michigan residents,” said spokeswoman Michelle Grinnell.
Online: Senate Bill 1197: http://bit.ly/2A7Rjf7
Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/David%20Eggert
Cheap oil is blocking progress on climate change
December 12, 2018
Scott L. Montgomery
Lecturer, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington
Scott L. Montgomery does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The relationship between supply and demand, a fundamental economic concept, holds that when the price of something rises, people use less of it. Similarly, when prices fall, they use more.
And it may seem logical that low oil prices benefit consumers, countries, even the world. When consumers save money on gas, they can spend it elsewhere.
Yet, I argue that climate change makes this view obsolete.
That’s because cheap oil has two big downsides along with its short-term gains. It erodes the advantages of vehicles that get more miles to the gallon, making consumers less apt to do their share to reduce emissions by buying vehicles that use less fuel – or none at all.
It also makes the case for energy innovation seem less urgent to policymakers and the automotive industry.
What’s not to like?
Burning fossil fuels, the main source of manmade carbon dioxide, is the biggest cause of climate change. In the U.S. and other wealthy countries, oil is the single largest source of these emissions.
But relatively low prices are boosting petroleum sales worldwide. Consumption is climbing particularly in Asia, where a sustained economic boom has lifted billions out of poverty and put millions more people behind steering wheels.
Those new middle-class and wealthy consumers and the industries spawned by meteoric economic growth are burning millions of barrels of petroleum every day. This includes transport of goods by road, rail, water and air. But it is passenger vehicles that dominate global mobility, and they are consuming the greatest volume of fuel in the U.S., China and everywhere else.
To be sure, petroleum is the raw material for a great many products besides gasoline, diesel and other fuels – from lipstick to asphalt. The economic benefits of cheap oil can be widely distributed, bolstering growth and keeping inflation down.
President Donald Trump, expressed this view when he likened low oil prices to “a big tax cut for America and the world” in a tweet.
Guzzling more gas
But cheap oil has other effects as well. After improvements in fuel economy during the 1970s and early 80s, two decades of low gasoline prices reversed this trend, causing average miles per gallon to actually decrease a little in some years. Only in 2004, when prices rose, did fuel economy again become an issue.
After years of hovering around and even topping US$100 per barrel, aside from a brief peak during the Great Recession, oil prices collapsed. They fell to less than $50 by the end of 2014 and sank even lower in early 2015.
Oil prices are still nowhere near $100 a barrel.
Americans responded as economists would expect them to: by driving more. The lower prices fell, the less it cost to fill their tanks. Summertime gas consumption hit an all-time high.
Unsurprisingly, U.S. emissions from transportation rose by 10 percent between 2014 and 2017, even as they fell for electricity generation and other sectors.
In addition, drivers bought bigger vehicles. Sales of SUVs, minivans and small pickups soared, while passenger car sales plummeted.
By 2018, Americans were buying two SUVs or pickups for every sedan. The trend, also present in Europe, is a core reason why emissions have risen from advanced nations for the first time in five years.
Automakers are responding by phasing out passenger car production and manufacturing more SUVs and trucks in a trend that reaches beyond U.S. borders. SUV sales are surging around the world.
Partly due to the extra miles driven and the size of the vehicles involved, carbon dioxide emissions from wealthy nations rose by 0.5 percent in 2018, following five years of decline.
No one calls the shots
But who controls oil prices? As an energy scholar and former petroleum geoscientist, I believe that it’s clear that no one does.
Governments can establish climate policies, such as carbon pricing, stiff fuel taxes and other measures, that raise gasoline prices. But, as the recent French protests and two defeats in a row in Washington state for a carbon fee or tax have shown, there are limits to how far or fast they can go, even in rich countries.
And low-income nations view such measures as damaging and intrusive. Raising fuel prices has inspired massive resistance, even riots, in nations as diverse as India, Iran, Mexico and Haiti.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has teamed up with Russia to create an oil-exporting alliance known as OPEC+. Those countries can cut supplies to increase prices, as they agreed to do in December 2018. They can also increase output, should they wish to lower prices.
Yet that doesn’t mean that exporters have the power to call all the shots. For example, if China – the world’s largest oil importer – were to have a big recession, Saudi Arabia and Russia would probably have trouble finding buyers for all of the oil they want to export. Overproduction in that scenario would make oil prices sink.
There is another reason the group can’t dominate. They must compete against the world’s largest oil producer and most rapidly growing crude exporter: the U.S.
Advances in drilling technology have made it easier than ever to produce petroleum at a time when humanity should use less of it for the planet’s sake.
Until and unless electric vehicles become dominant, it will prove extremely hard to wean the world off of oil.
I believe that governments and automakers should for this reason be working together for the long term. By providing strong incentives for consumers and industries to make the jump, they can stop letting cheap oil stymie climate action.
Otherwise, as hundreds of millions more people become drivers in coming decades, the laws governing supply and demand could steer all of us down a road to devastating degrees of global warming.
Trump Justice pick likely to be queried on Mueller comments
By MICHAEL BALSAMO, ERIC TUCKER and CHAD DAY
Saturday, December 8
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday picked former Attorney General William Barr to once again serve as America’s top law enforcement official. But while his experience and mainstream background may boost his prospects for confirmation, Democrats are raising alarms about his comments on the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton.
Barr has expressed concerns about political donations made by prosecutors on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and has supported calls for an investigation into a uranium deal approved while Clinton was secretary of state, a pet issue of Trump supporters.
It’s not clear whether Barr, if confirmed, would take office in time to shape the Mueller investigation, which has shown signs of being in its final stages. But even if it wraps up before he takes office, Barr would be in a position to influence prosecutions stemming from the probe, as well as deal with other politically sensitive cases, such as responding to referrals from the House’s new Democratic majority.
Barr, 68, would succeed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump forced out after constant heckling because he had stepped aside from overseeing the Russia investigation. Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, was elevated to acting attorney general and took control of Mueller’s investigation.
Barr’s confirmation would create uncertainty about the future of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who oversaw the Mueller investigation before Whitaker’s appointment. Frequently, new deputies are also appointed when there’s a new attorney general.
Barr’s appointment could bring more stability to the Justice Department. Sessions’ tenure was marked by the incessant attacks from Trump, and Whitaker’s elevation was also controversial. Questions were raised about Whitaker’s credentials, critical comments he had made about the Mueller investigation before joining the Justice Department and his involvement with a company that was accused of misleading consumers and is under investigation by the FBI.
Barr was attorney general between 1991 and 1993 at the same time Mueller oversaw the department’s criminal division. Barr later worked as a corporate general counsel and is currently of counsel at a prominent international law firm, Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
Trump called Barr “one of the most respected jurists in the country.”
“During his tenure, he demonstrated an unwavering adherence to the rule of law,” Trump said. “There’s no one more capable or qualified for this role.”
Confirmation hearings are unlikely before January, when Republicans will have a 53-47 majority, leaving Democrats powerless to block the nomination unless four Republicans break ranks.
The next chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Barr’s pick an “outstanding decision” and pledged to “do everything in my power” to quickly push the nomination through the committee and onto the Senate floor for confirmation.
But the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said Barr must promise that Mueller’s investigation can proceed unimpeded and that Mueller’s final report will be made available to Congress and the public immediately after it is completed.
Democrats have begun pointing to Barr’s weigh-ins on hot-button investigative matters.
In November 2017, Barr told the New York Times that there was more basis to investigate the uranium deal approved while Clinton led the State Department than potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” Barr said.
He told the newspaper that there “is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” but he cautioned that an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it.
In a May 2017 op-ed for The Washington Post, Barr defended Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, an action Mueller has been examining for possible obstruction of justice. He was quoted two months later in a Post story as expressing concern that members of Mueller’s team had contributed to Democratic candidates.
“In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party,” Barr said. “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group.”
In an episode that may hold parallels to the current special counsel investigation, Barr was attorney general when Bush on Christmas Eve 1992 pardoned six former Reagan administration officials — including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger — in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Barr said in a 2001 University of Virginia oral history interview that he supported the pardons.
“I certainly did not oppose any of them,” Barr said. “I favored the broadest— There were some people arguing just for Weinberger, and I said, ‘No, in for a penny, in for a pound.’”
Those who worked with Barr previously were quick to tout Barr’s qualifications.
“I think the president has chosen a superb nominee who is precisely what the Department of Justice needs now, which is a steady hand,” said Joseph diGenova, a Trump supporter and former U.S. attorney.
Paul McNulty, who worked at the Justice Department under Barr and a decade later became deputy attorney general, recalled him as decisive on the need for a strong federal response after the riots in Los Angeles following the acquittals on state charges of police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. He praised Barr’s “boldness and thoughtfulness” in sending in the FBI to deal with a 1991 Alabama prison riot involving dozens of Cuban detainees.
Barr, who was acting attorney general at the time of the Talladega prison riots, has said he overruled a Bureau of Prisons plan to respond and instead directed the FBI to go in, telling officials there’d be no concessions and to prepare for a hostage rescue situation.
McNulty, now president of Pennsylvania’s Grove City College, said Barr “has an extraordinary strategic mind so that as he thinks through the issues factually, he has a remarkable ability to then think about steps forward — what plan of action makes the most sense in light of these facts and these circumstances.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Washington and Darlene Superville in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.
On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo at https://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 , Eric Tucker at https://twitter.com/etuckerAP and Chad Day at https://twitter.com/etuckerAP .
Closer legal peril for Trump in probes; he sees no collusion
By ERIC TUCKER, CHAD DAY and JIM MUSTIAN
Sunday, December 9
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Russian who offered “political synergy” with the Trump election campaign and proposed a meeting between the candidate and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the federal special counsel said.
Court filings from prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office Friday laid out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his campaign by playing to both his political aspirations and his personal business interests.
The filings, in cases involving Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort , capped a dramatic week of revelations in Mueller’s probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. They bring the legal peril from multiple investigations closer than ever to Trump, tying him to an illegal hush money payment scheme and contradicting his claims that he had nothing to do with Russia.
Trump was undeterred, tweeting early Saturday: “AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!”
Just before leaving Washington on Saturday afternoon for the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, Trump told reporters “we’re very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign.”
Trump described the investigation as a “very one-sided situation, but I think it’s all turning around very nicely. As far as the reports that we see, according to everybody I’ve spoken to, I have not read it, there’s absolutely no collusion, which is very excellent.”
The court documents make clear how witnesses previously close to Trump — Cohen once declared he’d “take a bullet” for the president — have since provided damaging information about him in efforts to come clean to the government and in some cases get lighter prison sentences.
One defendant, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, provided so much information to prosecutors that Mueller this week said he shouldn’t serve any prison time.
In hours of interviews with prosecutors, witnesses have offered up information about pivotal episodes under examination, including possible collusion with Russia and payments during the campaign to silence a porn star and Playboy model who said they had sex with Trump a decade earlier.
In one of the filings, Mueller details how Cohen spoke to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’”
The person repeatedly dangled a meeting between Trump and Putin, saying such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.”
That was a reference to a proposed Moscow real estate deal that prosecutors say could have netted Trump’s business hundreds of millions of dollars. Cohen admitted last week to lying to Congress by saying discussions about a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016 when in fact they stretched into that June, well into the U.S. campaign.
Cohen told prosecutors he never followed up on the Putin invitation, though the offer bore echoes of a March 2016 proposal presented by Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who broached to other advisers the idea of a Putin encounter.
Prosecutors said probation officials recommended a sentence for Cohen of three-and-a-half years in prison. His lawyers want the 52-year-old attorney to avoid prison time altogether.
In an additional filing Friday evening, prosecutors said Manafort lied about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.
The court papers say Manafort initially told prosecutors he didn’t have contact with any people while they were in the Trump administration. But prosecutors say they recovered “electronic documents” showing contacts with multiple administration officials not identified in the filings.
Manafort, who has pleaded guilty to several counts, violated his plea agreement by telling “multiple discernible lies” to prosecutors, they said.
Manafort resigned from his job on the Trump campaign as questions swirled about his lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.
Prosecutors in Cohen’s case said that even though he cooperated in their investigation into potential campaign finance violations, he nonetheless deserved prison time. Though he has portrayed himself as cooperative, “his description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others,” prosecutors said.
“After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero,” they wrote.
Cohen, dubbed Trump’s “legal fixer” in the past, also described his work in conjunction with Trump in orchestrating hush money payments to two women — adult actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — who said they had sex with Trump.
Prosecutors in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance crimes in connection with those payments, said the lawyer “acted in coordination and at the direction” of Trump. Though Cohen had previously implicated Trump in the payments, the prosecutors now are linking Trump to the scheme and backing up Cohen’s allegations.
Federal law requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments were made to benefit Trump politically.
A court filing also reveals that Cohen told prosecutors he and Trump discussed a potential meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for president. In a footnote Mueller’s team writes that Cohen conferred with Trump “about contacting the Russia government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting.” It never took place.
Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister in New York and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.