End of oil glut? Manchin: make coal acceptable. Climate media vs. climate science.

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Are Alaska Native corporations Indian tribes? A multimillion-dollar question
Gregory Ablavsky, SCOTUS Blog, April 16, 2021

Are Alaska Native corporations — special corporations that Congress created in 1971 when it resolved Native claims in Alaska — “Indian tribe[s]” under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act? On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear argument on that question in Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. Immediately at stake in the answer is billions of dollars in federal CARES Act funding. But the outcome could also have longer-term consequences for how, and from whom, Alaskan Natives receive essential services.

First, some background. Just as, in McGirt v. Oklahoma last term, the court confronted the complex past of Oklahoma’s Native nations, Chehalis turns on the unique legal history of Alaskan Natives. Though Alaska became part of the United States in 1867, the federal government only fitfully devoted attention to the status of the new territory’s Indigenous peoples. Consequently, when Alaska became a state in 1959 and when, soon thereafter, oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, federal law left open many questions — especially land ownership. Alaskan Natives pressed their enduring ownership of much of the new state; in response, in 1971, Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which extinguished all Alaskan Native aboriginal land claims in return for nearly $1 billion in compensation and 38 million acres of fee title to land.

Most importantly for Chehalis, ANCSA departed from long-standing models of federal Indian law that governed the lower 48 states. ANCSA created two sets of for-profit Alaska Native corporations: two hundred village corporations and thirteen larger regional corporations. Based on residence or origin, Alaskan Natives became shareholders in both a village and regional corporation; both sets of corporations received land and money under ANCSA. Today, the regional ANCs in particular are among the most important companies in Alaska, with billions in revenue from energy development, tourism and government contracting.

ANCSA left unsettled, however, the status of Alaskan Native governments. Federal law had long spoken of federal recognition of “Indian tribes,” a process formalized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1978. In 1993, after long uncertainty, the bureau determined that Alaskan Native villages remained federally recognized Indian tribes with inherent sovereignty under federal law. The next year, Congress passed the List Act, which requires the bureau to publish an annual, official list of “all federally recognized tribes which are eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.” Today, 574 federally recognized tribes are listed, including 229 tribes in Alaska.

Because of this history, there are three kinds of Alaskan Native entities today: Alaska Native village corporations, Alaska Native regional corporations, and federally recognized tribes, often called Alaska Native villages. The first two are for-profit corporations that also provide some services to Alaskan Natives; the third are sovereign governments.

The meaning of these distinctions is at the core of the current litigation over the 2020 CARES Act. The act provided $150 billion in emergency relief during the coronavirus pandemic to states, territories, and local governments, including, after intense negotiation, $8 billion earmarked for tribes.

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Historic Oil Glut Amassed During the Pandemic Has Almost Gone
Grant Smith, Julian Lee, Bloomberg, April 17, 2021

The unprecedented oil inventory glut that amassed during the coronavirus pandemic is almost gone, underpinning a price recovery that’s rescuing producers but vexing consumers.

Barely a fifth of the surplus that flooded into the storage tanks of developed economies when oil demand crashed last year remained as of February, according to the International Energy Agency. Since then, the lingering remnants have been whittled away as supplies hoarded at sea plunge and a key depot in South Africa is depleted.

The re-balancing comes as OPEC and its allies keep vast swathes of production off-line and a tentative economic recovery rekindles global fuel demand. It’s propping international crude prices near $67 a barrel, a boon for producers yet an increasing concern for motorists and governments wary of inflation.

“Commercial oil inventories across the OECD are already back down to their five-year average,” said Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Inc. “What’s left of the surplus is almost entirely concentrated in China, which has been building a permanent petroleum reserve.”

The process isn’t quite complete. A considerable overhang appears to remain off the coast of China’s Shandong province, though this may have accumulated to feed new refineries, according to consultants IHS Markit Ltd.

Working off the remainder of the global excess may take some more time, as OPEC+ is reviving some halted supplies and new virus outbreaks in India and Brazil threaten demand.

Still, the end of the glut at least appears to be in sight.

Oil inventories in developed economies stood just 57 million barrels above their 2015-2019 average as of February, down from a peak of 249 million in July, the IEA estimates.

It’s a stark turnaround from a year ago, when lockdowns crushed world fuel demand by 20% and trading giant Gunvor Group Ltd. fretted that storage space for oil would soon run out.


BP Wants to Stop Burning Off Gas in America’s Top Oil Field
Christopher M. Matthews, The Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2021

 BP 0.28% PLC has been one of the companies most responsible for the burning of unwanted natural gas in the busiest U.S. oil field. Now it is trying to clean up its act.

The British oil giant plans to spend about $1.3 billion to build a massive network of pipes and other infrastructure to collect and capture natural gas produced as a byproduct from oil wells in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico. It plans to announce Monday that it will eliminate routine flaring of natural gas in the oil field by 2025.

BP’s investment reflects the growing pressure big oil companies face from regulators, investors, and buyers of natural gas to reduce the fossil fuel’s carbon footprint and contributions to climate change.

BP has pledged to reinvent itself as a cleaner energy company, saying it will let its oil and gas fuel production fall 40% by 2030 and ultimately sell more renewable energy than oil while reducing its net carbon emissions to zero. But to finance its ambitious transformation, BP is counting on continuing revenue from oil and gas production.

“We will be producing oil and gas for decades, but it will be a certain kind of oil and gas,” said Dave Lawler, the chairman of BP America Inc. “It’s a highly profitable barrel and it’s a responsibly produced barrel.”


Arizona mining fight pits economy, EVs against conservation, culture
Reuters, April 19, 2021

Early last year, Darrin Lewis paid $800,000 for a hardware store in a tiny Arizona town where mining giant Rio Tinto Plc hopes to build one of the world’s largest underground copper mines.

Rio buys materials from Lewis’s Superior Hardware & Lumber for its Resolution mine site, accounting for a third of the store’s sales and helping to keep it afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

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But U.S. President Joe Biden put the mining project on hold last month in response to the concerns of Native Americans who say it will destroy sacred land and of environmentalists who worry it will gobble up water in a drought-stricken state.

That’s fueled anxiety among Lewis and others here in Superior, Arizona, who want to reap the economic benefits of a mine that would harvest more than 40 billion pounds of copper.

“I sunk everything I have into this place,” said Lewis, surrounded by hammer drills, wrenches and other goods in his store. “It would absolutely devastate us if this mine doesn’t open.”

In halting the project, Biden reversed a decision by predecessor Donald Trump that would have given Rio land for the mine. Biden ordered more government analysis of the project.

The ongoing fight pits conservationists and Native Americans against local officials and residents who support its economic benefits. The complex debate is a harbinger of battles to come as the U.S. aims to build more electric vehicles, which use twice as much copper as those with internal combustion engines. The Resolution mine could fill about 25% of the demand for U.S. cooper.

The Arizona dispute centers on Oak Flat Campground, which some Apache consider home to deities known as Ga’an. Religious ceremonies are held at the site, near the San Carlos Apache Reservation, to celebrate teenage girls coming of age. Many Apache have ancestors buried under the volcanic rock.

In 2014, the Obama administration and Congress set in motion a complex process intended to give Rio 3,000 acres of federally owned land, including the campground, in exchange for 4,500 acres that Rio owns nearby. Biden has paused that transfer.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

“If Rio gets this place, then the mine will kill the angels and the deities that live here,” said Wendsler Nosie, a San Carlos Apache tribe member who has led a protest camp for 18 months at the site. A sign there describes the land, known as Chi’chil Bildagoteel in the Western Apache language, as the physical embodiment of the earth’s spirit.

Nosie has marshaled widespread support for his cause, helped by rising global attention to the rights of indigenous peoples. Rio itself fueled that cause last year when it blew up culturally significant Aboriginal rock shelters in Australia.

If the land swap is approved, Rio has said it would keep the campground open for the next few decades before the underground mine causes a crater that would swallow the site. The company has also said it would seek tribal consent for the project and study ways to avoid causing the crater.

“The land exchange gives us the opportunity to collect more data, then we can refine our plans and look for ways that we can do further avoidance and minimization” of site damage, said Vicky Peacey, a senior permitting manager for the Rio project.

Rio, which is based in Australia and the United Kingdom, has also promised to preserve other cultural sites including Apache Leap, a rock cliff that overlooks Superior and where Apaches jumped to their deaths to avoid capture by U.S. troops in the late 19th century.

“American copper”

Politicians in Superior – a town of 3,000 residents that voted nearly two-to-one for Democrat Biden last November in a majority-Republican county – are now prodding the president to change his mind.

The land swap, if Biden approves, would also let the town of Superior buy more than 600 acres that officials say is crucial to diversifying the local economy by expanding the airport, developing an industrial park and building affordable housing.

“President Biden is going to have to make some courageous decisions,” said Mayor Mila Besich, a Democrat.

Mining is essential to accomplishing Biden’s goal of expanding EV production, she said. “We’re going to need more American copper,” she said.

While the region has long been popular with hikers and campers, it is better known as the “Copper Corridor,” with mines from Freeport-McMoRan Inc and others.

The closure of the Magma copper mine in 1996 devastated Superior’s economy. Officials have pinned their hopes now on Resolution. Since the copper deposit was first discovered in 1995, Rio and minority partner BHP Group Plc have spent more than $2 billion to dig an exploratory mine shaft and dismantle an old Magma smelter. They have yet to produce any copper. BHP declined to comment.

More than half of the buildings in Superior’s downtown sit empty. Several Tesla Inc charging stations hint at the town’s aspirations to be part of the EV boom. Nikola Corp and Lucid Motors are building their own EV plants less than 50 miles (80 km) away.

Rio has promised to hire 1,400 full-time workers at an average annual salary of more than $100,000. That’s nearly half the population in a town whose median income is a third below the national average.

“What’s sacred to my community is that people have a job and have a home,” said Besich, the mayor.

The mine would boost state, local and federal tax coffers by $280 million annually and add $1 billion to the state’s economy, Arizona’s governor said.

Besich pushed back when studies showed Rio would only pay the town $350,000 a year in taxes, far below the $1 million would need annually for increased police, firefighting, and road maintenance.

Rio agreed to pay the town more, to guarantee Superior’s water supply and to donate $1.2 million to the school district. Superintendent Steve Estatico said without Rio’s support the district’s schools – where enrollment has dropped 13 percent since 2016 – may close.

“Rio’s had to learn over the last few years that it cannot take host communities for granted,” Besich said.

Stalled negotiations

The San Carlos Apache – one of the first Native American tribes to endorse Biden’s presidential bid – have not negotiated with Rio because its tribal council favors direct talks with the U.S. government, said Chairman Terry Rambler.

Rio’s copper chief, Bold Baatar, said he hopes to negotiate directly with the tribe when he visits Arizona as early as June, once pandemic restrictions allow.

“We are hearing the concerns from everyone,” Baatar told Reuters. “There will not be a mine until we achieve maximum effort to seek consent.”

Not all local Native Americans oppose the mine. Some members of the White Mountain Apache tribe, whose reservation is just north of the San Carlos Apache’s, say they do not consider the campground a sacred site.

“The belief that the site is religious, that’s news to me,” said Alvena Bush, a White Mountain Apache councilwoman who supports the project.

Water worries

Rio has dug a mine shaft nearly 7,000 feet (2 km) underground on land it owns near the campground. The bottom of the shaft has become a staging ground for future mining operations.

The miner is draining water from the nearby copper deposit to make it easier to extract. More than 600 gallons of water are pumped each minute to treatment plants on the surface for use in local farming.

Rio plans to mine the copper using a technique known as block caving. It involves carving a cave out of a large section of rock, which then collapses under the weight of the rock above, creating a crater 2 miles (3 km) wide and 1,000 (304 m) feet deep.

This method would damage aquifers that feed two local springs, according to an environmental study from the U.S. Forest Service. The entire mine would reduce available groundwater in the area, which has been in a drought since the late 1990s, the report said.

“This land is going to be worthless if there’s no water to go with it,” said Henry Muñoz, who leads a group of retired Superior miners opposed to the project.

Biden is expected to decide later this spring on whether to give Rio the land for the mine. Lewis, the hardware store owner, hopes his plight will be considered among all the competing interests.

“If I had one thing to say to President Biden, it would be: ‘Let the mine open,’” he said.


From the Washington Examiner, Daily on Energy:

MANCHIN…INFRASTRUCTURE DEBATE CAN’T NEGLECT COAL WORKERS: Sen. Joe Manchin, a key swing vote on Biden’s infrastructure proposals, said this morning that any package cannot allow coal workers to be “left behind” in his home state of West Virginia.

Manchin, speaking at the National Press Club with United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, plugged his bill to expand tax credits for manufacturers in rural areas to retool to produce clean energy technologies (the Biden proposal nods at this idea).

He also touted the importance of carbon capture technology investment and announced he is co-sponsoring the PRO Act, a Democratic bill to expand labor protections that UMWA supports that has passed the House multiple times.

Roberts, meanwhile, said carbon capture could be the lifeline to save the coal mining industry, which lost 7,000 jobs last year and is down overall to 34,000 coal miners from 90,000 a decade ago.

“We need to find a way to make coal acceptable in the environment we find ourselves in,” Roberts said. “The only way is [carbon capture].”


Climate Media vs. Climate Science
Homan W. Jenkins Jr., The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2021

Joe Biden has put a presidential imprimatur on climate change being an existential threat, and he doesn’t mean in the Jean-Paul Sartre sense of man’s search for meaning in an uncomforting universe.

He means the end of humanity, a claim nowhere found in climate science.

This is odd because the real news today is elsewhere. Its movement may be ocean-liner-like, the news may be five years old before the New York Times notices it, but the climate community has been backing away from a worst-case scenario peddled to the public for years as “business as usual.”

A drumroll moment was Zeke Hausfather and Glen Peter’s 2020 article in the journal Nature partly headlined: “Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome.”

This followed the 2017 paper by Justin Ritchie and Hadi Dowlatabadi asking why climate scenarios posit implausible increases in coal burning a century from now. And I could go on. Roger Pielke Jr. and colleagues show how the RCP 8.5 scenario was born to give modelers a high-emissions scenario to play with, and how it came to be embraced despite being at odds with every real-world indicator concerning the expected course of future emissions.

In a simple model of the world, authority figures say absurd and false things, and the media calls them out. The reverse happened this time, with the climate crowd reacting to the media’s botched coverage of the Fourth National Climate Assessment in 2018, itself a strained compilation of extreme worst-case scenarios that still couldn’t deliver the desired global meltdown.

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