Policy

Equilibrium/Sustainability — A-list celebrities using too much water

Some of the A-list residents of Calabasas, Calif., are using more than their fair share of water, a CBS Los Angeles investigation has found.  

Like every household in the local water district, these multimillion-dollar mansions are on a water budget. But many of their inhabitants have been exceeding their allocations, according to CBS LA. 

Reality star Kourtney Kardashian, for example, used 245 percent of the water apportioned to her $8 million Calabasas home in May, CBS LA reported, citing public records. This was the fourth such month her home went over budget.

Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone’s $18 million mansion in Hidden Hills — a gated community next to Calabasas — used 351 percent of its budget in May and has also been overbudget for four months, according to the investigation.

“For those customers who are very affluent and have lots of … cash, financial penalties don’t necessarily work,” Joe McDermott, of the Las Virgenes Water District, told the local news outlet.

“We don’t think you can just buy your way out of the drought,” he continued. “Everyone needs to do their part. This is very serious.”  

Since fines provide minimal deterrence, the district is implementing a new strategy: Installing temporary disks on water meters that slow household water flow at the offending locations, CBS LA reported.

“Some have asked us to remove it and how much it would cost to remove it, in which case I refuse,” McDermott said. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Send tips and feedback: Sharon Udasin. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll explore whether President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia will affect oil supply and look at the U.S. oil sector’s top greenhouse gas emitters. Plus: A new EV charging network & a look at how hurricanes affect one particularly vulnerable group.

Oil output shift expected after Saudi Arabia trip

While President Biden’s forthcoming trip to Saudi Arabia could push the country to boost oil production, the visit is unlikely to spur dramatic changes, our colleagues Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk reported for The Hill. 

Why is that? With Americans facing gas prices that recently averaged $5 per gallon, the administration would welcome an effort by the Saudis to increase global oil supplies. But experts told our colleagues that U.S. drivers shouldn’t be too optimistic. 

Modest push expected: Any shift that results from the trip is likely to be modest, according to Joseph Majkut, director of the energy security and climate change program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

  • The Biden visit, he acknowledged, does add “to the incentive to increase production.”
  • “But I do think the Saudis are looking at the overall market dynamics and trying to respond in a relatively careful way,” Majkut said.  

Seeking spare capacity: Saudi Arabia is the second-largest oil producer in the world, trailing only the U.S. The kingdom also has some “spare capacity,” or oil it can bring onto the market quickly.

  • Antoine Halff, former chief oil analyst at the International Energy Agency, told The Hill he expects Saudi Arabia to increase its output regardless of Biden’s visit.
  • “A production increase is forthcoming, it might not be huge, but there’s going to be a production increase,” Halff said.

Promoting U.S. interests: Biden has defended his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, asserting it is meant to promote peace and stability in the region.

Biden has faced criticism about the trip due to the kingdom’s human rights record, as well as the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

  • Oil just one goal of many: The president told reporters on Thursday during his first stop on the trip, in Israel, that the reasons he is traveling to Saudi Arabia are “much broader” than just oil, according to CNN.
  • “There are so many issues at stake that I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum — a vacuum that is filled by China and or Russia, against the interest of both Israel and the United States and many other countries,” Biden said. 

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Exxon, Conoco among four top emitters: report 

Four fossil fuel companies — ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Hilcorp and Occidental Petroleum — are among the top sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. oil and gas industry, a new report has found.  

Intense emissions: The report, issued on Thursday by environmental groups Ceres and the Clean Air Task Force, revealed both the greenhouse gases in general and methane emissions generated by major oil and gas producers, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.  

  • The findings were based on data submitted by the companies to the Environmental Protection Agency.  
  • The highest-emitting companies produced methane emissions nearly 24 times more intense than those with the lowest emissions.  

Which firms fared worst? Hillcorp topped the charts for total methane emissions in 2020, followed by Exxon, Occidental and ConocoPhillips, Budryk reported.  

Equipment operation proved to be a major detriment of emissions intensity.  

Those companies that used flaring — burning off extra natural gas — had greater carbon dioxide emissions.  

Zooming in on methane: The report homed in on methane emissions, which have been the subject of increased scrutiny in recent years, as it is much more potent than carbon dioxide, Budryk reported.  

Some are taking more steps than others: “There are clear steps oil and gas producers can take to reduce their methane and other greenhouse gas emissions,” Lesley Feldman, a senior analyst at the Clean Air Task Force, said in a statement.  

“Some are taking those steps while others are not, and federal and state regulations are key to ensuring we can standardize best practices across the industry,” Feldman added.  

How did the companies respond? A spokesperson for Exxon told The Hill that the report demonstrates “some of the great progress” the company is making to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  

  • Further reductions on the way: “We are actively implementing aggressive plans to further reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse emissions from our operations,” the spokesperson said.
  • Scope 1 emissions are those directly generated by industrial facilities, while Scope 2 are those produced indirectly, as a result of electricity and heat purchases.   

In a statement to The Hill, a Hilcorp spokesperson noted that the company’s business model largely involves taking on existing oil and gas properties and that the 2020 data did not reflect emissions reductions it has achieved.

GM to build coast-to-coast EV charging network

General Motors (GM) will be partnering with the Pilot Company to develop a coast-to-coast fast-charging network for electric vehicles (EVs) along the nation’s highways, the firms announced on Thursday. 

  • The network of 2,000 charging stalls — co-branded “Pilot Flying J” and “Ultimum Charge 360” — will be located at up to 500 Pilot and Flying J travel centers, our colleagues at The Hill’s Changing America reported.
  • Powered by charging company EVgo’s eXtend technology, the stations will be open to all electric car brands, according to the partners.  

Key piece of the puzzle: “We are committed to an all-electric, zero-emissions future, and ensuring that the right charging infrastructure is in place is a key piece of the puzzle,” Mary Barra, GM chair and CEO, said in a statement.  

“With travel centers across North America, Pilot Company is an ideal collaborator to reach a broad audience of EV drivers,” Barra added. 

Timing is right: The announcement comes as EVs continue to gain traction among American car owners, particularly with fuel prices so high. The Biden administration has also allocated $7.5 billion from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill to the rollout of charging networks.

The GM and Pilot collaboration aims to install charging stations at approximately
50-mile intervals across the U.S., according to the partners.  

  • Many of the sites will feature canopies to protect customers from inclement weather.  
  • There will also be pull-through capabilities to boost convenience for electric pickup trucks and SUVs pulling trailers. 

Reducing range anxiety: “GM and Pilot Company designed this program to combine private investments alongside intended government grant and utility programs to help reduce range anxiety and significantly close the gap in long-distance EV charger demand,” Shameek Konar, CEO of Pilot Company, said in a statement.  

Preparing for a national network: “We look forward to collaborating with GM and the U.S. Department of Transportation to make convenient coast-to-coast EV travel a reality through our national network of travel centers,” Konar added.  

Dialysis patients mortality risk rises after hurricanes

Individuals with kidney failure who rely on dialysis may face an increased risk of death following hurricanes, a new study has found. 

Access to such life-sustaining therapy can be impeded by extreme weather events, which can disrupt power, water and transportation systems, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology on Thursday.   

  • Risks worse at certain times: Individuals undergoing dialysis face a higher risk of dying in the 30 days immediately following a hurricane — and that risk waned over time, the authors observed.
  • After adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic factors, the scientists found that hurricane exposure was linked to a 13-percent higher risk of death for dialysis patients.  

Connecting dialysis and hurricane data: The analyzed information from patients registered in the U.S. Renal Data System who began treatment between 1997 and 2017 in the country’s 108 hurricane-afflicted counties. 

  • Of 187,388 patients and 27 hurricanes, 29,849 people were exposed to at least one hurricane. 
  • For every 529 patients, there were about 105 deaths over the course of one year.  

Climate change exacerbating risk: With climate change expected to intensify extreme weather events, the scientists stressed the importance of understanding and addressing the toll that hurricanes can take on people who depend on dialysis.    

Protecting a vulnerable population: “Our findings suggest that dialysis-dependent patients are vulnerable during hurricanes and highlight the need to safeguard this population, co-author Matthew Blum, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in a statement.  

“Anything that disrupts someone’s ability to obtain dialysis — including extreme weather — can put them at risk of death,” Blum added. 

Thirsty Thursday

London airport runs out of water, green groups question Los Angeles River plan and drought hits regions across the Northeast.  

Gatwick Airport runs out of water as London sizzles 

  • Amid a scalding heat wave and widespread flight cancellations, Gatwick Airport near London ran out of water on Thursday due to a burst pipe, The Daily Mail reported. The airport handed out bottles of water throughout the afternoon and brought water tankers on site, although only a limited number of toilets were working, according to the Mail.  

Green groups say LA River Master Plan was okayed without sufficient review    

  • Two environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, alleging that officials violated state laws when they approved a plan to improve the appearance, water quality and habitats of the Los Angeles River, the Los Angeles Times reported. The plan does not provide “enough information for the public to understand how it will harm and benefit different areas,” Bruce Reznik of LA Waterkeeper told the Times. 

Drought conditions escalate in Northeast US     

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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Tags Biden Climate change drought Electric vehicles emissions reduction hurricane season Kourtney Kardashian methane emissions saudi arabia Saudi oil
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