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How Federal Tax Dollars Meant To Fight Climate Change Could End Up Boosting Louisiana’s Fossil Fuel Production

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Louisiana accounted for nearly one-sixth of the nation’s oil-refining capacity and shipped 63% of its liquefied natural gas exports in 2022. Adbar/Wikimedia, CC BY

Billions of federal tax dollars will soon be pouring into Louisiana to fight climate change, yet the projects they’re supporting may actually boost fossil fuels – the very products warming the planet.

At issue are plans to build dozens of federally subsidized projects to capture and bury carbon dioxide from industries.

On the surface, these projects seem beneficial. Keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere prevents the greenhouse gas from fueling climate change. In practice, however, this may lead to a net increase in fossil fuel production and more emissions.

That’s because many of these carbon capture projects will be handling emissions from facilities that rely on oil and natural gas – in fact, many of the projects are tied to major oil and gas companies through subsidiaries. Under new federal rules, the projects can receive generous tax subsidies. The more carbon dioxide the factories produce and capture, the more federal money the projects can receive.

The coup de grâce: Louisiana can authorize as many of these federally subsidized projects as it sees fit. The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved its quest to become only one of three states with regulatory “primacy” over such carbon storage wells.

Fossil fuel industry advocates are eager to get projects approved. “Louisiana has a chance with our geological structures to make a big splash in the pond for CO2 in the world,” Mike Moncla, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, told a legislative task force in December 2023.

A man in a sport coat stands in front of a refinery.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan stands near the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Louisiana. The Biden administration granted Louisiana’s request to administer its own permit program for carbon dioxide storage wells.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Louisiana has taken advantage of disasters to boost the fossil fuel industry before. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana’s marshlands and disrupted oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, Louisiana authorities pushed to expand drilling in federal waters in the name of hurricane recovery and coastal restoration.

In my book, “Muddy Thinking in the Mississippi River Delta: A Call for Reclamation,” I show how efforts to reduce such environmental destruction end up greenwashing industries that created the problem.

Using disaster to promote fossil fuels

Louisiana has been wrestling with environmental issues and coastal erosion since the early part of the 20th century, sped by a confluence of federal flood control levees on the Lower Mississippi River and oil and gas drilling.

Over the years, the fossil fuel industry drilled thousands of leaky wells and dug over 10,000 miles of pipeline and navigation canals. Coastal erosion accelerated, which also left oil and gas infrastructure exposed.

A map shows pipelines all across the state, particularly in the coastal third.
Fossil fuel pipelines and gas and petroleum facilities crisscross Louisiana.
U.S. Energy Information Administration

In the late 1990s, state leaders joined with the oil and gas industry on a public relations campaign to convince Congress to help fund a $14 billion coastal restoration plan. The effort stalled after Congress declined to approve the spending.

Then hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the state in 2005. Oil and gas production in the region went offline, and U.S. energy prices surged.

Within days of Hurricane Katrina, Republicans in Congress were calling for lifting a 25-year drilling moratorium on the Gulf of Mexico’s Outer Continental Shelf.

A photo of flooded streets across New Orleans.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc across the New Orleans region, including the state’s oil and gas wells and refineries.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Within the year, Congress had voted to lift the moratorium and to share 37.5% of the federal royalties from the wells with Louisiana and the other Gulf states. The money would help fund the state’s coastal restoration plans, which were later bolstered by the huge disaster settlement from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The arrangement made coastal restoration dependent on future revenue from an industry that continues to damage the coast.

Carbon capture has similarly turned the oil and gas industry into a critical component of mitigating climate change while the industry continues producing products that are heating the planet.

Clearing the way for taxpayer funds

Congress first created a tax credit for carbon sequestration in 2008, but the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act opened the flood gates. It boosted the federal tax credit to $85 per ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored from industrial facilities and $180 per ton for carbon captured from the air and stored. Companies that reuse carbon dioxide for industrial products or enhanced oil recovery will receive $60 per ton.

The tax credits by some estimates could cost the federal treasury well over $100 billion, depending on the program’s popularity, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

At least 24 carbon capture applications are now pending in Louisiana. Many more are in preliminary stages, according to a Louisiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman.

Environmental advocacy groups say the program is riddled with problems, including lacking third-party verification that the carbon is being stored as claimed. An earlier federal investigation by the U.S. Treasury found that 90% of the $1 billion in tax credits awarded to companies for carbon storage between 2010 and 2019 was incorrectly documented.

Globally, there are only about 40 commercial carbon capture, use and storage facilities in operation. They capture 45 million metric tons of carbon annually – just over 1% of global emissions. The vast majority of this captured carbon is used to increase oil production from old wells.

The new gold rush

Carbon capture technology is now being used as a rationale to maintain oil and gas production.

Gregory Upton, executive director of the Louisiana State University Center for Energy Studies, testified on Capitol Hill in September 2023 that the Biden administration’s plan to limit new offshore leases would jeopardize Louisiana’s carbon capture projects. “In my opinion, policies aimed at reducing fossil fuel supply in the U.S. put this decarbonization strategy at risk,” he said.

Indeed, many planned carbon capture projects are tied to natural gas.

For example, a $4.5 billion “blue hydrogen” plant proposed by the Pennsylvania-based company Air Products uses natural gas to produce hydrogen, which also generates carbon dioxide emissions. The company has proposed burying 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year below Lake Maurepas, and presumably would garner $510 million in tax credits over 12 years.

Communities are worried

Critics argue that using carbon capture as a transition technology will divert billions of dollars in federal resources away from more proven renewable energy development and require building thousands of miles of specialized pipelines.

Capturing and storing emissions also requires energy. Adding carbon capture to a power plant, for example, requires one-sixth to one-third more power production, according to a Congressional Budget Office report. The tax credit rules also don’t account for the emissions released to produce the natural gas or transport and store the carbon dioxide.

A woman stands beside a large lake surrounded by plants, trees and tall grasses.
People living near Lake Maurepas, such as Polly Glover, fear a plan to pump captured carbon under the lake bed will harm the area’s valuable wetlands.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

When Louisiana petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency for regulatory primacy over these projects, the agency received 45,000 public comments. Residents raised fears that projects would contaminate underground aquifers or that stored carbon dioxide could escape through the state’s thousands of old oil wells.

The company Air Products triggered a public outcry when it began seismic testing with dynamite below Lake Maurepas, which had enjoyed no-dredging, no-drilling protection for decades.

Supporters of the industry, meanwhile, suggested to a state carbon capture task force that resisting even a single project would send a message that Louisiana is not open for business.

But, as I see it, the message seems quite the opposite. With a windfall of federal funding, Louisiana has put out the welcome mat.

The Conversation

Ned Randolph provides research support to the nonprofit organizations Invest in Louisiana and Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

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TikTok Fears Point To Larger Problem: Poor Media Literacy In The Social Media Age

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Tiktok is not the only social media app to pose the threats it’s been accused of. picture alliance via Getty Images

The U.S. government moved closer to banning the video social media app TikTok after the House of Representatives attached the measure to an emergency spending bill on Apr. 17, 2024. The move could improve the bill’s chances in the Senate, and President Joe Biden has indicated that he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

The bill would force ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, to either sell its American holdings to a U.S. company or face a ban in the country. The company has said it will fight any effort to force a sale.

The proposed legislation was motivated by a set of national security concerns. For one, ByteDance can be required to assist the Chinese Communist Party in gathering intelligence, according to the Chinese National Intelligence Law. In other words, the data TikTok collects can, in theory, be used by the Chinese government.

Furthermore, TikTok’s popularity in the United States, and the fact that many young people get their news from the platform – one-third of Americans under the age of 30 – turns it into a potent instrument for Chinese political influence.

Indeed, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently claimed that TikTok accounts run by a Chinese propaganda arm of the government targeted candidates from both political parties during the U.S. midterm election cycle in 2022, and the Chinese Communist Party might attempt to influence the U.S. elections in 2024 in order to sideline critics of China and magnify U.S. social divisions.

To these worries, proponents of the legislation have appended two more arguments: It’s only right to curtail TikTok because China bans most U.S.-based social media networks from operating there, and there would be nothing new in such a ban, since the U.S. already restricts the foreign ownership of important media networks.

Some of these arguments are stronger than others.

China doesn’t need TikTok to collect data about Americans. The Chinese government can buy all the data it wants from data brokers because the U.S. has no federal data privacy laws to speak of. The fact that China, a country that Americans criticize for its authoritarian practices, bans social media platforms is hardly a reason for the U.S. to do the same.

The debate about banning TikTok tends to miss the larger picture of social media literacy.

I believe the cumulative force of these claims is substantial and the legislation, on balance, is plausible. But banning the app is also a red herring.

In the past few years, my colleagues and I at UMass Boston’s Applied Ethics Center have been studying the impact of AI systems on how people understand themselves. Here’s why I think the recent move against TikTok misses the larger point: Americans’ sources of information have declined in quality and the problem goes beyond any one social media platform.

The deeper problem

Perhaps the most compelling argument for banning TikTok is that the app’s ubiquity and the fact that so many young Americans get their news from it turns it into an effective tool for political influence. But the proposed solution of switching to American ownership of the app ignores an even more fundamental threat.

The deeper problem is not that the Chinese government can easily manipulate content on the app. It is, rather, that people think it is OK to get their news from social media in the first place. In other words, the real national security vulnerability is that people have acquiesced to informing themselves through social media.

Social media is not made to inform people. It is designed to capture consumer attention for the sake of advertisers. With slight variations, that’s the business model of all platforms. That’s why a lot of the content people encounter on social media is violent, divisive and disturbing. Controversial posts that generate strong feelings literally capture users’ notice, hold their gaze for longer, and provide advertisers with improved opportunities to monetize engagement.

There’s an important difference between actively consuming serious, well-vetted information and being manipulated to spend as much time as possible on a platform. The former is the lifeblood of democratic citizenship because being a citizen who participates in political decision-making requires having reliable information on the issues of the day. The latter amounts to letting your attention get hijacked for someone else’s financial gain.

If TikTok is banned, many of its users are likely to migrate to Instagram and YouTube. This would benefit Meta and Google, their parent companies, but it wouldn’t benefit national security. People would still be exposed to as much junk news as before, and experience shows that these social media platforms could be vulnerable to manipulation as well. After all, the Russians primarily used Facebook and Twitter to meddle in the 2016 election.

Media literacy is especially critical in the age of social media.

Media and technology literacy

That Americans have settled on getting their information from outlets that are uninterested in informing them undermines the very requirement of serious political participation, namely educated decision-making. This problem is not going to be solved by restricting access to foreign apps.

Research suggests that it will only be alleviated by inculcating media and technology literacy habits from an early age. This involves teaching young people how social media companies make money, how algorithms shape what they see on their phones, and how different types of content affect them psychologically.

My colleagues and I have just launched a pilot program to boost digital media literacy with the Boston Mayor’s Youth Council. We are talking to Boston’s youth leaders about how the technologies they use everyday undermine their privacy, about the role of algorithms in shaping everything from their taste in music to their political sympathies, and about how generative AI is going to influence their ability to think and write clearly and even who they count as friends.

We are planning to present them with evidence about the adverse effects of excessive social media use on their mental health. We are going to talk to them about taking time away from their phones and developing a healthy skepticism towards what they see on social media.

Protecting people’s capacity for critical thinking is a challenge that calls for bipartisan attention. Some of these measures to boost media and technology literacy might not be popular among tech users and tech companies. But I believe they are necessary for raising thoughtful citizens rather than passive social media consumers who have surrendered their attention to commercial and political actors who do not have their interests at heart.

The Conversation

The Applied Ethics Center at UMass Boston receives funding from the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Nir Eisikovits serves as the data ethics advisor to Hour25AI, a startup dedicated to reducing digital distractions.

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How Trump Is Using Courtroom Machinations To His Political Advantage

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Former President Donald Trump sits in a New York courtroom as jury selection proceeds in one of his criminal cases. Jabin Botsford/Pool Photo via AP

The second week is wrapping up in former President Donald Trump’s first criminal trial on charges from the state of New York related to paying hush money to an adult film star. So far, the jury has been selected, but no other proceedings have begun.

The Conversation U.S. interviewed Tim Bakken, a former New York prosecutor and now a legal scholar teaching at West Point, and Karrin Vasby Anderson, a political communication expert at Colorado State University, to find out what overarching themes they have observed, both in the courtroom and outside it.

Is this trial proceeding normally?

Bakken: It seems like an ordinary trial, but it is an extraordinary trial underneath if we really look at some of the details. The first thing that struck me was on Day 1, when Judge Juan Merchan questioned 96 jurors. Fifty of them said they could not be fair to Trump. On Day 3, 48 of that day’s 96 said the same thing.

That does not bode well for a defendant in a jurisdiction where Democrats outnumber Republicans 9 to 1.

In addition, the judge did not make an accommodation to alleviate the possible difficulty that such antagonism represents. If 50 out of 96 people raised their hands and said they couldn’t be fair because of the color of the defendant’s skin, that would signal a problem. In a trial, that problem is addressed through allowing the defense to ask more questions of the jurors and to get more peremptory challenges, which allows them to dismiss a juror without having to explain why.

There are 10 already allotted because this is a low-level felony trial. In other cases in New York, you would have 20, such as a murder case. And the judge has the discretion to increase that number. He could have done that in this case, but he didn’t.

An artist's rendering of a courtroom scene.
A courtroom sketch depicts Judge Juan Merchan, Donald Trump, prospective jurors and other court and legal personnel.
Christine Cornell via AP Pool

How fast is the judge moving?

Bakken: Merchan has told Trump he may not be able to attend his child’s high school graduation, scheduled for May 17. That indicates that the judge is moving apace.

But in many cases in New York – on Fridays, for example, when a defendant or defense lawyer or prosecutor is Muslim or Jewish – some or all of the entire day will be taken off by the judge. There won’t be any trial.

I think the judge will let Trump attend the high school graduation, because otherwise he might seem to treat Trump a little bit differently than other defendants.

What is most important for the public to understand so far?

Anderson: I think it’s important for the casual observer, who might wonder whether being on trial for a felony was hurting Trump’s presidential campaign, to understand that he’s strategically using the trial to his advantage.

Voters following the trial in the mainstream media are hearing from experts that the legal proceedings are progressing relatively normally and the system is standing up under the unprecedented circumstances of this case.

But in the conservative media sphere, Trump is using the trial as a campaign strategy pretty effectively, stoking his base’s fears and quoting pundits and hosts from Fox News, Newsmax and OAN who echo his framing of the trial.

Trump has said the requirement to be in the courtroom every day is harming his ability to campaign. The Guardian reported, however, that while he is in court, his “Truth Social page is putting up new posts minute by minute.”

If you look at those posts, you see a series of complaints about the case interspersed with pro-Trump campaign messaging and posts telling voters to be afraid of what he says is rampant crime under Joe Biden’s tenure as president.

Individually, the campaign posts are consistent with Trump’s usual messaging. But when Trump layers messages about crime with others about an allegedly corrupt justice system, the goal is to not only intensify voters’ fears but also tell voters they should be afraid because powerful people are coming for him and are going to come after regular people next.

Trump is also charging that the process of his trial is undermining democracy. He posted a video in which his close adviser Stephen Miller urged, “So when you hear them say that democracy is on trial, they’re right. Democracy is on trial. Freedom is on trial. The rule of law is on trial. … If Donald Trump is convicted then all of these principles are convicted and destroyed with him.”

This sets up a catch-22. If Trump is not convicted, he gets to say he was exonerated. If he is convicted, then he just pivots to this charge that a normally operating courtroom is what’s undermining justice and democracy – not his actions or the actions of his campaign.

If Trump was just posting on his social media account, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful. But Fox News, OAN and Newsmax are really functioning as his campaign surrogates. Since much of the country is paying attention to that media space, that’s a really consequential campaign strategy. It’s savvy of him to use the court proceedings in this way.

A man walks out a door that is guarded by a police officer.
Donald Trump walks outside during a break in trial proceedings.
Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP

Is any of what Trump is saying a fair criticism or statement?

Bakken: The New York district attorney decided to prosecute Trump in this case. He didn’t have to. It seems unquestionable that Trump filed or made false business documents. That’s a misdemeanor. And in this instance, the misdemeanor statute of limitations had run out by the time the district attorney issued the charges. But the prosecutor chose to say the actions were related to another crime, which makes them felonies.

Anderson: The charges also have context. Maybe no other businessperson would be prosecuted for this filing of paperwork. But that’s only half of the problem. Donald Trump would not be in trouble for filing this paperwork if he hadn’t done it to allegedly illegally influence an election.

I think that’s actually why Trump is so aggressively pushing his narrative of “election interference.” He knows that the charges against him are really about breaking campaign finance laws and his conduct in an election more than a particular business filing.

Bakken: In the last week or so, it came out that Merchan had contributed to Democratic candidates, including President Biden, in the past. It was reportedly a total of US$35, which seems very minimal. But one of New York’s legal ethics leaders, Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University, said it is a judicial ethics violation, though he said it would likely only merit a warning and not removal from the case.

What does the trial mean so far in terms of politics or the 2024 presidential election?

Anderson: I think the media has to report on the facts on all sides of this trial. But I worry that it may not actually be as consequential as maybe people who are following it think that it will be, because many undecided voters have opted out of political news altogether.

Bakken: The trial emphasizes an extraordinary level of political antagonism between the parties, and also an extraordinary reluctance of people who are not inclined toward party politics to tune out and protect themselves.

The people who are tuning out might not be strong advocates, politically, for one side or the other but the people who would be neutral if they collected all the information. They could be the moderators, the good-faith, middle-minded people who can help bridge the gap between the political combatants.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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South Korean President Yoon Faces Foreign Policy Challenges After The National Assembly Election

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South Korea’s pesident faces political woes. Kim Hong-Ji/AFP via Getty Images

South Korea’s parliamentary election of April 10, 2024, was widely seen as a referendum on President Yoon Suk Yeol’s first two years in office.

That being the case, the nation collectively expressed its strong disapproval.

With a relatively high turnout of 67%, voters handed Yoon’s conservative People’s Power Party defeat, with its share of the 300-seat National Assembly dropping from 114 to 108.

The opposition Democratic Party retained its large majority in the National Assembly, winning 175 seats and maintaining control in the populous metropolitan areas of Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi provinces. Voters also delivered a disappointing outcome for most third-party candidates, the exceptions being the Rebuilding Korea Party, which campaigned as more combative opposition to the DP, and the New Reform Party, which broke away from the ruling PPP earlier this year.

As a political scientist with a focus on East Asia and international affairs, I believe the election results will have ramifications on Yoon’s foreign and domestic agenda during the remainder of his term.

Growing domestic pressure

Yoon had hoped the election would end the political gridlock that has stymied his first two years as president.

Throughout that time, the opposition has held a legislative majority. Subsequently, Yoon’s government has seen key parts of its agenda for education, labor and pension reforms blocked. Yoon has also vetoed multiple bills passed by the opposition-controlled legislature.

But the election saw the DP and other opposition parties amass 192 seats, just short of a veto-proof, two-thirds majority. As such, President Yoon again faces a divided government for the remainder of his term. In fact, he will be the only South Korean president whose party has failed to control the National Assembly at any time during the five-year presidential term.

A better parliamentary outcome for Yoon’s party would have bolstered the chances for the government’s legislative agenda on pressing domestic issues, such as addressing the country’s declining birthrate, high inflation and expanding medical student enrollment, as well as relaxing business regulations.

Instead, the Yoon government is more likely to be on the defensive after the election. Opposition parties have vowed to investigate alleged stock manipulation involving first lady Kim Keon Hee and probe former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup over claims that he influenced an earlier report into the drowning death of a Korean marine.

Though Yoon retains veto power, there is now growing uncertainty over whether ruling PPP assembly members will continue defending the president’s actions if and when the two probes move forward.

Meanwhile, President Yoon’s prime minister, Han Duck-soo, announced his resignation after the assembly election. The National Assembly can vote against the president’s nominee to replace him, which may compel Yoon to pick a candidate acceptable to the opposition parties.

A trickier foreign policy climate

Under South Korea’s political system, the presidency has greater leeway in national security and foreign affairs than in domestic policy.

As such, the Yoon government will likely continue its foreign policy of expanding trilateral partnerships with the U.S. and Japan, building ties with NATO and striving to be a “global pivotal” state in the Asia-Pacific region.

During his first two years in power, Yoon has generally aligned South Korea closer to the West, though he has also been careful to avoid direct confrontation with China and Russia – both of which are geographic neighbors and trade partners.

While the opposition-controlled National Assembly has, to date, been generally supportive of the Yoon government’s attempts to strengthen ties with the U.S. – a policy that remains popular among the South Korean public – the same cannot be said about its attempts to bolster relations with Japan.

In particular, the Democratic Party and the Rebuilding Korea Party have criticized the prospect of a closer partnership with Japan – whether through military exercises or intelligence sharing – mainly due to Korea’s experiences under Japanese colonial rule.

And despite being generally welcoming of ties with the West, the two opposition parties are more cautious than the Yoon government when it comes to engaging in geopolitical rivalry. Specifically, Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung warned during the recent election campaign that South Korea should not become involved in the Russia-Ukraine war or China-Taiwan tensions.

The opposition might not directly stop Yoon from pursuing his foreign policy, but they are likely to pressure the president to pay attention to domestic political issues.

Moreover, opposition parties will be pushing the Yoon government to demonstrate what diplomatic “wins” the country has secured through its partnership with Japan and the United States. Notably, if the point of strategic partnership with the United States and Japan is to ensure security in East Asia, some voters may legitimately ask why it has failed to deter North Korea’s continued military provocations.

If the Yoon government cannot demonstrate diplomatic successes, opposition parties are likely to frame his foreign policy as one-sided “subservient diplomacy.”

Yoon has three years to show that his foreign policy has paid dividends; South Korea’s next presidential election is in the spring of 2027.

How successfully the president can navigate the domestic and international constraints exacerbated by the results of the parliamentary election could determine whether he exceeds the political expectations of a president facing a divided government or encounter, as some predict, an early “lame-duck presidency.”

The Conversation

Jong Eun Lee 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.

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