Energy

Chevron agreed to pay $33 billion for Anadarko Petroleum on Friday, broadening its access to the largest oil region in the continental U.S. as President Trump pushes the country to produce enough fuel to meet its own energy needs.

The deal, which offers Anadarko investors $65 a share in cash and stock, expands Chevron’s oil production in the Permian Basin, the oil-rich swath of land in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico that’s 250 miles wide and about 300 miles long, as well as deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We intend to accelerate activity in Anadarko’s Permian acreage,” Chevron CEO Michael Wirth, who hopes to complete the deal by the end of this year, told investors on Friday. “Getting more out of the Permian sooner is an important value driver.”

For the San Ramon, Calif.-based company, which already controlled 2.2 million acres in the region and is adding 589,000 with the transaction, the driver isn’t “getting bigger in the Permian, it’s about getting better,” Wirth said. That includes the the area’s Delaware Basin, where Anadarko has operations.

Late last year, the U.S. Geological Survey identified an estimated 46 billion barrels of oil in two formations in the Delaware Basin, a development that left then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke confident “that American energy dominance is within our grasp.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest oil producer, outpacing both Russia and Saudi Arabia, thanks largely to technological advances that let producers extract oil from shale formations.

Achieving energy independence was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises in 2016, a commitment based on concern that U.S. reliance on oil imports left the country more vulnerable and cost American jobs.

“We’re ending the theft of American prosperity and rebuilding our beloved country,” Trump said when he signed an executive order prompting energy independence just two months after taking office. “We will unlock job-producing natural gas, oil and shale energy.”

Anadarko climbed 33 percent to $62.20 after the sale was announced Friday. Chevron, which has a market value of $232.9 billion, has climbed 10 percent this year to $119.76.

In the end, the man who reportedly smeared feces on the walls of his lodgings, mistreated his kitten, and variously blamed the ills of the world on feminists and bespectacled Jewish writers was pulled from the Ecuadorian embassy looking every inch like a powdered-sugar Saddam Hussein plucked straight from his spider hole. The only camera crew to record this pivotal event belonged to Ruptly, a Berlin-based streaming-online-video service, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of RT, the Russian government’s English-language news channel and the former distributor of Julian Assange’s short-lived chat show.

RT’s tagline is “Question more,” and indeed, one might inquire how it came to pass that the spin-off of a Kremlin propaganda organ and now registered foreign agent in the United States first arrived on the scene. Its camera recorded a team of London’s Metropolitan Police dragging Assange from his Knightsbridge cupboard as he burbled about resistance and toted a worn copy of Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State.

Vidal had the American national-security establishment in mind when he wrote that polemic, although I doubt even he would have contrived to portray the CIA as being in league with a Latin American socialist named for the founder of the Bolshevik Party. Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno announced Thursday that he had taken the singular decision to expel his country’s long-term foreign guest and revoke his asylum owing to Assange’s “discourteous and aggressive behavior.”

According to Interior Minister María Paula Romo, this evidently exceeded redecorating the embassy with excrement—alas, we still don’t know whether it was Assange’s or someone else’s—refusing to bathe, and welcoming all manner of international riffraff to visit him. It also involved interfering in the “internal political matters in Ecuador,” as Romo told reporters in Quito. Assange and his organization, WikiLeaks, Romo said, have maintained ties to two Russian hackers living in Ecuador who worked with one of the country’s former foreign ministers, Ricardo Patiño, to destabilize the Moreno administration.

We don’t yet know whether Romo’s allegation is true (Patiño denied it) or simply a pretext for booting a nuisance from state property. But Assange’s ties to Russian hackers and Russian intelligence organs are now beyond dispute.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 cyberoperatives for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate for the General Staff (GRU) suggests that Assange was, at best, an unwitting accomplice to the GRU’s campaign to sway the U.S. presidential election in 2016, and allegedly even solicited the stolen Democratic correspondence from Russia’s military intelligence agency, which was masquerading as Guccifer 2.0. Assange repeatedly and viciously trafficked, on Twitter and on Fox News, in the thoroughly debunked claim that the correspondence might have been passed to him by the DNC staffer Seth Rich, who, Assange darkly suggested, was subsequently murdered by the Clintonistas as revenge for the presumed betrayal.

Mike Pompeo, then CIA director and, as an official in Donald Trump’s Cabinet, an indirect beneficiary of Assange’s meddling in American democracy, went so far as to describe WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” For those likening the outfit to legitimate news organizations, I’d submit that this is a shade more severe a description, especially coming from America’s former spymaster, than anything Trump has ever grumbled about The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Russian diplomats had concocted a plot, as recently as late 2017, to exfiltrate Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, according to The Guardian. “Four separate sources said the Kremlin was willing to offer support for the plan—including the possibility of allowing Assange to travel to Russia and live there. One of them said that an unidentified Russian businessman served as an intermediary in these discussions.” The plan was scuttled only because it was deemed too dangerous.

In 2015, Focus Ecuador reported that Assange had aroused suspicion among Ecuador’s own intelligence service, SENAIN, which spied on him in the embassy in a years-long operation. “In some instances, [Assange] requested that he be able to choose his own Security Service inside the embassy, even proposing the use of operators of Russian nationality,” the Ecuadorian journal noted, adding that SENAIN looked on such a proposal with something less than unmixed delight.

All of which is to say that Ecuador had ample reasons of its own to show Assange the door and was well within its sovereign rights to do so. He first sought refuge in the embassy after he jumped bail more than seven years ago to evade extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault charges brought by two women. Swedish prosecutors suspended their investigation in 2017 because they’d spent five years trying but failing to gain access to their suspect to question him. (That might now change, and so the lawyers for the claimants have just filed to reopen the cases.) But the British charges remained on the books throughout.

The Times of London leader writer Oliver Kamm has noted that quite apart from being a “victim of a suspension of due process,” Assange is “is a fugitive from it.” Yet to hear many febrile commentators tell it, his extradition was simply a matter of one sinister prime minister cackling down the phone to another, with the CIA nodding approvingly in the background, as an international plot unfurled to silence a courageous speaker of truth to power. Worse than that, Assange and his ever-dwindling claque of apologists spent years in the pre-#MeToo era suggesting, without evidence, that the women who accused him of being a sex pest were actually American agents in disguise, and that Britain was simply doing its duty as a hireling of the American empire in staking out his diplomatic digs with a net.

As it happens, a rather lengthy series of U.K. court cases and Assange appeals, leading all the way up to the Supreme Court, determined Assange’s status in Britain.

The New Statesman’s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, expended quite a lot of energy back in 2012 swatting down every unfounded assertion and conspiracy theory for why Assange could not stand before his accusers in Scandinavia without being instantly rendered to Guantanamo Bay. Ironically, as Green noted, going to Stockholm would make it harder for Assange to be sent on to Washington because “any extradition from Sweden … would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom” instead of just the latter country. Nevertheless, Assange ran and hid and self-pityingly professed himself a “political prisoner.”

Everything about this Bakunin of bullshit and his self-constructed plight has belonged to the theater of the absurd. I suppose it’s only fair that absurdity dominates the discussion now about a newly unsealed U.S. indictment of Assange. According to Britain’s Home Office, the Metropolitan Police arrested Assange for skipping bail, and then, when he arrived at the police station, he was further arrested “in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States.”

The operative word here is provisional, because that request has yet to be wrung through the same domestic legal protocols as Sweden’s. Assange will have all the same rights he was accorded when he tried to beat his first extradition rap in 2010. At Assange’s hearing, the judge dismissed his claims of persecution by calling him “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests.” Neither can his supporters.

A “dark moment for press freedom,” tweeted the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden from his security in press-friendly Moscow. “It’s the criminalization of journalism by the Trump Justice Department and the gravest threat to press freedom, by far, under the Trump presidency,” intoned The Intercept’s founding editor Glenn Greenwald who, like Assange, has had that rare historical distinction of having once corresponded with the GRU for an exclusive.

These people make it seem as if Assange is being sought by the Eastern District of Virginia for publishing American state secrets rather than for allegedly conniving to steal them.

The indictment makes intelligible why a grand jury has charged him. Beginning in January 2010, Chelsea Manning began passing to WikiLeaks (and Assange personally) classified documents obtained from U.S. government servers. These included files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. State Department cables. But Manning ran into difficulties getting more documents, owing to the limitations of her modest security clearance.

At this point, Assange allegedly morphed from being a recipient and publisher of classified documents into an agent of their illicit retrieval. “On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist [Chelsea] Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Networks, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications,” according to the indictment.

Assange allegedly attempted to help Manning do this using a username that was not hers in an effort to cover her virtual tracks. In other words, the U.S. accuses him of instructing her to hack the Pentagon, and offering to help. This is not an undertaking any working journalist should attempt without knowing that the immediate consequence will be the loss of his job, his reputation, and his freedom at the hands of the FBI.

I might further direct you to Assange’s own unique brand of journalism, when he could still be said to be practicing it. Releasing U.S. diplomatic communiqués that named foreigners living in conflict zones or authoritarian states and liaising with American officials was always going to require thorough vetting and redaction, lest those foreigners be put in harm’s way. Assange did not care—he wanted their names published, according to Luke Harding and David Leigh in WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. As they recount the story, when Guardian journalists working with WikiLeaks to disseminate its tranche of U.S. secrets tried to explain to Assange why it was morally reprehensible to publish the names of Afghans working with American troops, Assange replied: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” (Assange denied the account; the names, in the end, were not published.)

James Ball, a former staffer at WikiLeaks—who argues against Assange’s indictment in these pages—has also remarked on Assange’s curious relationship with a notorious Holocaust denier named Israel Shamir:

Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache. Such was Shamir’s controversial nature that Assange introduced him to WikiLeaks staffers under a false name. Known for views held by many to be antisemitic, Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers—myself included—when he asked for access to all cable material concerning ‘the Jews,’ a request which was refused.

Shamir soon turned up in Moscow where, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, he was offering to write articles based on these cables for $10,000 a pop. Then he traveled to Minsk, where he reportedly handed over a cache of unredacted cables on Belarus to functionaries for Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, whose dissident-torturing secret police is still conveniently known as the KGB.

Fish and guests might begin to stink after three days, but Assange has reeked from long before he stepped foot in his hideaway cubby across from Harrods. He has put innocent people’s lives in danger; he has defamed and tormented a poor family whose son was murdered; he has seemingly colluded with foreign regimes not simply to out American crimes but to help them carry off their own; and he otherwise made that honorable word transparency in as much of a need of delousing as he is.

Yet none of these vices has landed him in the dock. If he is innocent of hacking U.S. government systems—or can offer a valid public-interest defense for the hacking—then let him have his day in court, first in Britain and then in America. But don’t continue to fall for his phony pleas for sympathy, his megalomania, and his promiscuity with the facts. Julian Assange got what he deserved.

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The Trump administration is making a push to combat shareholder climate change advocacy as part of an effort to break barriers to fossil fuel use and development.

President Trump issued an executive order Wednesday primarily designed to curb states’ power to block pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects.

But it also contained a short provision requiring the Labor Department to study pension funds’ energy sector investments and to investigate whether the growing and successful shareholder campaign for pension managers to consider companies’ exposure to climate change risks is harming the economic performance of the funds.

Trump also wants the Labor Department to explore whether activist investors’ so-called “environmental, social and governance efforts” emphasizing climate change risks is discouraging financing of energy projects in capital markets.

“The ‘keep it in the ground’ movement has two tools,” said Kevin Book, a managing director of the ClearView energy research group who studies oil and gas. “It’s not just cutting off pipelines. The second part is cutting off capital, either making it so capital is more expensive or discouraging capital market investments in energy producing companies. Trump’s executive order pushes back on both things.”

Trump critics say his administration’s targeting of shareholder climate change advocacy is irresponsible.

“The Trump administration’s attempt to intimidate pension funds that have decided not to invest their members’ savings in the very companies whose activities put the global economy at risk is a new low,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told the Washington Examiner.

Trump’s order focuses specifically on employer-sponsored retirement funds, such as 401(k) accounts and pensions, which the Labor Department is empowered to regulate under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

In recent years, activist shareholders have pushed for resolutions calling on major oil and companies to disclose the risk posed to their business by climate change. These shareholders argue the stocks of fossil fuel-dependent energy companies are overvalued because of climate change risk, and fossil fuel debt is risky considering the future effects of global warming and the potential of government regulation over carbon emissions.

The pressure has resulted in many companies publishing, or committing to release, reports on climate risk, and promising actions to reduce that risk.

For example, Shell recently announced it is leaving a major industry lobbying group, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, because of the trade association’s inaction on climate policy.

Shell acted after it reached an agreement last year with activist shareholder groups to set short-term carbon emissions reduction targets.

“There is a growing number of shareholder groups asking for proxy votes where shareholders require oil-producing or coal-producing hydrocarbon-intensive companies to make decisions constraining their activities, lowering their carbon footprint, or disclosing what their climate risks are,” Book said.

Book said Trump wants the Labor Department to investigate the financial effects of pension managers, driven by shareholder pressure, prioritizing climate change concerns over profitability in making investments.

Supporters of Trump’s effort say the push to prioritize climate risk efforts runs counter to pension managers’ fiduciary obligations to employees.

“What they are doing is responding to what they and others on the center-right believe is a corporate governance shareholder process that has been hijacked to push a social and political agenda that wasn’t able to get through the halls of Congress and now is not able to come through the administrative state with Trump in charge,” said Tim Doyle, vice president of policy and general counsel at the American Council for Capital Formation. “They are putting people on notice.”

The shareholder climate disclosure effort recently suffered a setback when the Securities and Exchange Commission granted ExxonMobil’s request to dismiss an investor resolution that would have pushed the company to disclose greenhouse gas emission reduction targets aligned with the goals of the Paris climate change agreement.

The SEC agreed with Exxon’s position that the resolution would unfairly “micromanage” the oil and gas company’s affairs.

Book said that SEC decision, and Trump’s move to review shareholder climate change advocacy, could slow such efforts but “may not put the genie back in the bottle now that large energy producers have started to report climate risk.”

When it comes to the possibility of a sweeping infrastructure package, it’s all about the money. Despite some gridlock between the White House and Congress, lawmakers are hoping for a bipartisan infrastructure package sometime this year. What that package would look like, and more importantly what the price tag would be, is still very much up for discussion.

At a recent Democratic retreat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled hope for the prospects of Republicans and Democrats coming together to embrace some sort of sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package. She said Democrats are looking for up to $2 trillion in funding for the project.

“It has to be $1 trillion. I’d like it to be closer to $2 trillion,” Pelosi said.

That number is high, but lawmakers are exploring funding options, including the possibility of raising the federal gas tax, which sits at 18.4 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1993. There have been multiple reports that President Trump, behind closed doors, supports raising the federal gas tax by 25 cents, but he has yet to acknowledge those reports publicly.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also said last month that “everything is on the table” when asked about the possibility of increasing the tax. A 25 cent increase is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Since 2013, more than two dozen states have raised gas taxes in response to federal inaction on the matter.

As talk of an increase in the gas tax grows, some are pushing back. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity will begin running ads in April in 20 states, urging members of the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee not to push for an increase in the tax.

Another idea floated for increasing funding is a “vehicle miles traveled” tax. With that policy, motorists would be taxed based on how far they travel rather than on the gas their cars consume. This is an appealing idea to some, as cars have become increasingly fuel-efficient, further reducing revenue from gas taxes.

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has signaled support for a vehicle miles traveled tax, while acknowledging full implementation would be a long way off. During testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on March 6, Graves called the tax “the most promising long-term solution.”

“A VMT has the potential to be a true user-funded program that captures everyone and gets the Highway Trust Fund back to where it needs to be to maintain our network and improve it,” Graves told the committee. However, he also acknowledged some trepidation about the idea, including privacy concerns about the data that would be collected in order to determine a vehicle’s miles traveled.

Joseph Kane, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution, confirmed to the Washington Examiner that support for an infrastructure package is ultimately going to come down to funding.

“Funding is still the most vexing question for policymakers in Washington and throughout the country,” Kane explained. “A $1 trillion investment has been referenced in several previous proposals, and is likely to keep coming up — as a talking point if nothing else. But for Congress, the White House, and many other agencies and groups to actually act on such a proposal will take a level of coordination not seen up to this point.

“The energy and visibility are there, but there are still serious questions on where this money will come from and how it will be deployed effectively. The next few months will hopefully lead to more details on that front,” Kane added.

Despite lingering questions over funding, Democrats are determined to try to work with the president to build support for a plan. Pelosi said during the March 11 retreat that she would be personally reaching out to Trump on the matter. Having voiced her preference for a price tag between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, she said that she and the president would “talk about what the number would be.”

“Even if it isn’t 100%, there is plenty of area of common ground to move forward,” Pelosi said. “I think the president wants to do that, and I think the president needs to do that.”

Trump made rebuilding U.S. infrastructure a major pillar of his 2016 campaign, and now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has concluded, the White House is beginning to look ahead to other issues.


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