Looking back at the environmental and energy news items that made headlines over the past year, some were downright mind-boggling.
From emissions cheating to sweeping blackouts that affected millions of C&I customers, here are five industry lows of 2019 that aren’t likely to be forgotten any time soon.
Chemical tank catches fire near Houston
On March 17, a fire broke out at Intercontinental Terminals Company’s petrochemical storage site in Deer Park, Texas, near Houston. It burned for days, and prompted multiple environmental lawsuits. Eleven days after the disaster, the company’s CEO finally posted an apology online.
‘Dieselgate’ continues with new indictments
Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to equipping about 11 million cars globally with software that allowed them to cheat on emissions testing. Although the company has paid out more than $30 billion in fines since the deception first came to light, “dieselgate” refuses to die. Over the summer German prosecutors filed charges against former Audi CEO Rupert Stadler and three others in connection to the scandal. This month the Canadian government brought charges against the company for knowingly violating federal emissions standards.
US fuel efficiency standards divide automakers
Major automakers lobbied the Trump administration in 2017 to dial back the Obama administration’s aggressive fuel efficiency standards for the future. But Trump’s EPA proposed a freeze that actually clashed with some automakers’ lower emissions plans — and California’s requirements. Everything came to a head this year. Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda agreed to voluntary California standards in July. The EPA and DOT struck back. Then, in late October, GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, and several smaller automakers sided with the Trump administration in a lawsuit over gas mileage.
Walmart sues Tesla over solar panel installations
Walmart filed a lawsuit against Tesla in August over breach of contract for rooftop solar installations at the retailer’s stores. The company’s filing in New York State Supreme Court detailed fires that broke out on several store rooftops leased to Tesla for solar arrays. In early November, Bloomberg reported that the two companies settled the lawsuit for undisclosed terms.
Planned power outages devastate California businesses
For hundreds of thousands of electricity customers in California, the fall was hellish. In October, PG&E began a series of public safety power shutoffs, citing heightened wildfire conditions. The blackouts affected an enormous number of organizations. But the utility’s website with info about the outages kept crashing and customers struggled to get through to call centers. By one estimate, small C&I customers lost billions of dollars. PG&E CEO William Johnson said that fixing the system to avoid these shutoffs could take at least a decade.
Although this additional news from 2019 didn’t make the shortlist above, these articles are worth revisiting:
- Environmental Groups to Sue EPA for Not Enforcing Air Quality Standards in Utah
- Trump Appoints Ex-Oil Lobbyist to Interior Secretary, Environmentalists Express Concern
- Northeast States Sue Trump Admin to Enforce Ozone Standards on Upwind States
- Investigators Pursue Cause of Sweeping South American Power Outage
- Jim Beam Distillery Fire Kills Fish as Runoff Heads Toward Ohio River
- NYC May Still Experience Blackouts as Cause of Grid Failure Still Unknown
- In Largest Settlement of Its Kind, Formosa Plastics Agrees to Pay $50 Million
- ExxonMobil, Accused of Underreporting Climate Risk, Heads to Court in Anti-Fraud Case
- Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo Named ‘Top Global Polluters’ in New Report
The deadline for submitting your 2020 Environment + Energy Leader Awards entry is coming up on December 30, 2019. Learn more here.