Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Reevaluating city rodents’ dirty reputation

City wildlife — like New York’s much-despised brown rat — may have an unfair reputation as disease carriers, according to a new study.

The study, published Tuesday in Nature Ecology and Evolution, found that species such as rats, raccoons and rabbits “aren’t hiding as many important novel pathogens as we might think,” lead author Greg Albery said in a statement.

These species are often suspected of being “hyper-reservoirs” of new diseases, but that’s a deceptive result of “sampling bias,” according to Albery, who noted there are “more than 100 times” as many studies of their parasites as less familiar species.

To find the next pandemic threat, Albery said, scientists will have to go further afield. 

“Sampling needs to be more focused in wild areas of the world, but also in urban areas in less well-studied places,” he added.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at a nationwide effort by members of both parties to fight a “boycott” of oil and gas in the U.S. Then we’ll examine a potential breakthrough in Europe’s push to cut off dependence on Russian energy, further isolating Moscow.

Oklahoma joins push against ‘woke capitalism’

Oklahoma’s legislature is on the cusp of passing a bipartisan bill that would ban the state from doing business with financial companies that don’t invest in oil and gas, The Oklahoman reported. 

The bill, which now heads back to the Oklahoma House, marks the latest move in a nationwide campaign by state and national Republican leaders against the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement, which they accuse of “boycotting” fossil fuel companies. 

What the authors said: The Energy Discrimination Elimination Act would “ensure the state of Oklahoma is free from discrimination against the fossil-fuel industry,” state Sen. Mark Allen (R) told reporters at a press conference covered by The Oklahoman. 

Joining the pack: Oklahoma’s bill followed a June 2021 law that forbids Texas from doing business with “certain companies that boycott energy companies.” 

Some Dems back the effort: While the pushback on fossil fuel-skeptical financial firms is often portrayed as a Republican initiative, in many states such efforts have crossed the aisle, according to vote tracker LegiScan. 

For example, more state Democrats in the West Virginia and Texas legislatures and in the Oklahoma Senate joined with Republicans in passing these bills than opposed them, LegiScan’s data shows.  

On the other hand, Oklahoma’s entire state Democratic House delegation voted against them, as did a majority of the Democrats in Kentucky’s state legislature. 

Republicans leading the campaign: To be sure, Republicans are leading the effort. Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent letters last week to 140 financial firms demanding that they disclose their climate policies, Bloomberg reported. 

In a March statement, Hegar accused these firms of “selling the hope of a ‘green’ tomorrow with promises to divest or reduce their fossil fuel exposure.”  

Then there’s Utah: The state’s entire congressional delegation, all of whom are Republicans, signed on to a letter last week demanding that S&P Global Ratings stop using ESG factors to determine “credit ratings for states and state subdivisions,” which they said unfairly penalized the state.

A CULTURE WAR OFFENSIVE GATHERS STEAM

The use of words like “discrimination” is part of a larger culture-war campaign by conservative politicians to cast investment decisions by financial institutions in the language of social justice, technology reporting site Gizmodo noted on Sunday.

Back to the source: In December, for example, state representatives and industry lobbyists at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) drafted the model “Energy Discrimination and Elimination Act” — from which the Oklahoma bill took its name, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.  

An accompanying letter obtained by the Center encouraged states to “fight back against woke capitalism.” 

‘A little like Israel’: The ALEC letter explicitly bases its “anti-discrimination” language on similar legislation aimed at penalizing companies that sanction Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, Jewish Currents reported. 

In its purported difficulty accessing capital, the oil and gas industry is “being treated a little bit like the state of Israel,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said in 2021, according to Gizmodo. 

Is there a boycott? Not really. Last week, shareholders at Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup voted down a proposal to limit the banks’ investment in new fossil fuels.

But expect to hear more of this language: Republicans are considering taking this campaign national this winter if they reclaim Congress. They plan to specifically target the Securities and Exchange Commission’s climate disclosure rules, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) told Roll Call.

EU inches toward bloc-wide embargo of Russian oil

The European Union (EU) is nearing a deal on a bloc-wide phaseout of Russian oil imports, but objections from two EU countries are delaying a final consensus, The Washington Post reported.

In order to move ahead with the agreement, the EU is considering granting Hungary and Slovakia exemptions, two European diplomats and an EU official told the Post.

  • If the oil ban does advance, it would do so as part of the European Commission’s sixth round of sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, the Post reported.
  • A draft of those sanctions is expected to be circulated among member states on Tuesday.   

The story so far on the West’s use of Russian energy: Congress last month passed legislation to ban energy imports from Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. But the EU, which more heavily relies on Russian oil and gas, has had a more complicated time weening itself off Moscow’s resources.

The EU already enacted a ban on Russian coal in its previous round of sanctions, but an embargo on oil is much more of a challenge — and on gas even more so.

Germany has said it could turn off the tap on Russian oil within weeks, but doing so for gas would be harder, as supplies are far less readily available, The Wall Street Journal reported. Germany may not be able to get sufficient gas from the U.S., Qatar or Algeria until 2024, the Journal reported.

Overcoming an obstacle: Discussions regarding an EU-wide ban on Russian oil overcame a significant hurdle last week, when Germany abandoned previous objections and announced it would support an embargo, according to the Post. 

Germany has made significant shifts away from Russian oil and continues to do so.

Climate Minister Robert Habeck declared on Sunday that the country could be fully independent of Russian crude oil imports by the end of summer, German broadcaster DW reported. 

Such steps are essential, Habeck said, if Germans “no longer want to be blackmailed by Russia,” according to DW. 

Rapid reductions: Germany has been able to reduce its share of Russian Energy imports to 12 percent for oil, 8 percent for coal and 35 percent for natural gas, DW reported, citing a statement from Habeck. 

That’s compared to 35 percent for oil prior to the war, 45 percent for coal and 55 percent for natural gas, according to Barron’s. 

‘Keep it up’ for years, if necessary: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock likewise indicated that that Berlin was prepared to support a gradual embargo on such imports — and is ready to “keep it up over the coming years” if necessary, DW reported.

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA KEY HOLDOUTS

Progress made with Germany notwithstanding, Hungary and Slovakia have indicated that they don’t support an embargo of Russian oil, the EU diplomats and official told the Post. 

These two countries remain heavily reliant on Russia oil and have said that they need more time and money to adjust, the Post reported. 

But Hungary’s objections are generating concern among officials in Brussels, particularly due to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s well-known ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the Post. 

Hungary has already agitated the EU: Last month, Orbán declared that Hungary would continue to pay for shipments of natural gas in rubles if Russia asks it to, contrary to EU objections, as we previously reported

In response, the EU froze Hungary’s pandemic recovery funds last week, citing “rule-of-law breaches,” according to the Post. 

“Objectively, [Hungary is] in a more difficult position than others. At the same time, they would still like to get their hands on the recovery money,” one EU diplomat told the Post. 

Moving forward, with loopholes: Regardless of Hungary and Slovakia’s opposition, the bloc may move forward with the oil embargo by granting the countries “an exemption or a long transition period,” The Daily Mail reported. 

Doing so could be more practical for those countries than a sudden ban, as the proposed oil embargo would likely occur in a phased manner and only take full effect by the beginning of 2023, according to the Mail.

Monday Miscellanies

America’s carbon capital builds a fortress against climate change, New York tussles over climate law and California enjoys a fossil-fuel free Saturday. 

A fossil fuel fortress takes shape amid rising seas 

  • As Texas fights “fossil fuel discrimination,” the city of Houston, which accounts for 42 percent of the nation’s oil and gas capacity, is the construction site for the Army Corps of Engineers’ largest defensive works in history: A $29 billion fortress to protect “the nation’s carbon energy capital … from a sea and sky broiled by its own manufacture,” Bloomberg reported. 

Environment group urges NY lawmakers to meet climate goals set three years ago 

Alaska trail poised to connect city and wilderness 

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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