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Bitcoin operation ignites debate around the waste from coal mining in Pennsylvania

ABC News

(PITTSBURGH) -- A once-dormant power plant is humming with activity outside Pittsburgh as thousands of miners work 24 hours a day.

The miners at this site aren’t people, but supercomputers running complex math equations. The first to solve the equation is rewarded with the digital financial token known as bitcoin.

But the large amount of power needed to run these computers has re-ignited a debate in Pennsylvania and around the country about the potential climate consequences of cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin is a type of digital money not regulated by any company or government. It can be exchanged online between people anywhere in the world without going through a bank. While coins like quarters or pennies are physically minted -- bitcoin is minted as a virtual token by computers, through a process called “mining.”

Some investors see bitcoin as the currency of the future. The value of one bitcoin has skyrocketed from around $10,000 two years ago to more than $33,000 as of this publishing.

Jeff Campbell, who oversees the bitcoin mining operation at the Scrubgrass Power Plant in Kennerdell, Pennsylvania, said each of their computers generates an average of $30 a day mining bitcoin.

“These are computers that are just designed to do one thing. They're designed to run as fast as possible 24 hours a day,” he told ABC News Live.

The computers in a bitcoin mining operation need a lot of power both to run and to operate fans that stop them from overheating. By one estimate from the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance, annual global bitcoin mining uses more electricity than the entire nation of The Netherlands.

Climate activists question whether the growth of cryptocurrency mining operations could generate more carbon emissions and create a new market for fossil fuels at a time when the world is trying to reduce energy use and cut carbon emissions as fast as possible.

Under fire for their emissions and reliance on fuels like coal and natural gas, some bitcoin mining companies in the U.S. are transitioning to more renewable types of power like solar or wind.

Stronghold Digital Mining, which owns the Scrubgrass plant, has found its power source in the form of coal waste, which is abundant at this 221-acre pit just outside of Pittsburgh. Coal waste is a combination of rock, coal, and other materials that were deemed unsuitable for burning and left abandoned since the 1970s when coal mines in the area were closed.

There are 220 million cubic yards of waste coal pits like the one in Russellton across 9,000 acres in Pennsylvania, according to testimony from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Director Patrick McDonnell. The agency says the pits cause environmental problems like leaching acid into nearby rivers and streams. There are also 40 continual fires in waste coal pits across the state that can release carbon dioxide and other pollutants as they burn, according to a document from a waste coal industry group.

The entrepreneur behind Stronghold, Bill Spence, said that while burning waste coal isn’t the cheapest form of energy, the bitcoin operation keeps the plant viable through its constant demand for power. This helps achieve his goal of reducing the toxic waste piles across the state, Spence said.

“What cryptocurrency and bitcoin has done for us is, it's enabled us to sustain the work that this power plant does as an environmental plant cleaning up the waste coal, the remnants of the mining industry here in the state of Pennsylvania,” he told ABC.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says the state has benefited from waste coal power plants because the state has limited funding to clean up the piles and address the environmental problems.

“Waste coal-fired units burn waste coal to generate electricity thereby reducing the size, number and impacts of these piles otherwise abandoned and allowed to mobilize and negatively impact air and water quality in Pennsylvania,” Press Secretary Jamar Thrasher said in an emailed statement.

Pennsylvania provides up to $20 million a year in subsidies to waste coal power plants and Thrasher said the state includes their CO2 emissions in the state’s carbon budget in an effort to help them compete with cheaper forms of energy like natural gas.

Waste coal is burned using a different process than traditional coal but still releases carbon dioxide that contributes to warming the atmosphere. The EPA says the type of waste coal found in Pennsylvania also releases more acid gas and sulfur dioxide than other types of coal.

Stronghold says they have put technology in place to capture pollutants like sulfur dioxide or methane emissions from their plant, but according to publicly available data they still released about 365,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 -- the equivalent of about 80,000 cars on the road for a year, according to an EPA emissions calculator. The facility also released more than 1,000 metric tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and nitrogen oxides, or NOx, that contribute to air pollution

Rob Altenburg, director of the environmental nonprofit Penn Future, said bitcoin is “wasteful by design” and that there are better alternatives for generating that power than burning waste coal.

“They're not removing pollution. They're moving pollution. They're moving pollution from the land and they're moving it to the air,” Altenburg told ABC News.

And because waste coal contains less coal than what would typically be used to generate energy, more of it needs to be burned to create the same amount of power which could generate more CO2 emissions and air pollution.

“The dirtiest source of power we have in the state should be your last choice for you for generating that electricity,” he said.

Altenburg said that instead of burning waste coal, the state and federal government should provide more funding to move the material to lined landfills where it can no longer contaminate the soil or water.

The federal infrastructure bill has allocated $11 billion toward abandoned mine cleanups, some of which could be used to clean up waste coal in Pennsylvania.

Spence acknowledges that Stronghold’s operation generates carbon dioxide and that their operation isn’t perfect, but they’re trying to improve further by testing technology to capture the carbon they emit. And he said the bitcoin operation is helping fund his efforts to use up the waste coal which otherwise won’t go anywhere on its own.

“I don't think we should stop what we're doing in order to get the perfect,” Spence told ABC.

“Let's evolve into perfect.”

ABC News' Seiji Yamashita contributed to this report.

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Tesla files countersuit against JPMorgan, accuses bank of 'illegitimate machinations'

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(NEW YORK) -- Tesla filed a counterclaim against JPMorgan Chase Monday, the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between the electric automaker and the country’s biggest bank.

The lawsuit accused JPMorgan of filing “cynical litigation” when the bank sued Tesla last year, claiming it was owed $162 million when Tesla stock warrants expired.

In its counterclaim, Tesla accused JPMorgan of deploying “illegitimate machinations” and is seeking a declaratory judgment that it does not owe the bank the additional funds.

“Last year, JPM obtained billions of dollars’ worth of shares of Tesla’s common stock for a bargain price that the parties negotiated in 2014. Not content with this multibillion–dollar gain, JPM now seeks, through this cynical litigation, to extract an additional nine-figure windfall from Tesla,” the lawsuit said.

The legal dispute began after Tesla’s Elon Musk posted on Twitter that he was considering taking the company private. He took back the statement but was sued by securities regulators. Musk and the SEC settled for $20 million. Part of the settlement required him to step down as chairman of the company’s board of directors.

“JPM took improper advantage of a Twitter post from August 7, 2018 – nearly three years before the Warrants’ exercise dates – in which Elon Musk stated that he was considering taking Tesla private. Ten days after that tweet, JPM falsely asserted that the tweet constituted an announcement by Tesla of an extraordinary corporate transaction,” Tesla’s lawsuit said.

The stock warrants were arranged after JPMorgan handled a 2014 transaction for Tesla and allowed the bank to buy shares of the automaker at a fixed price, below market value, for a period of years. JPMorgan claimed Musk’s tweet impacted the value of those shares, leaving the bank entitled to an additional $162 million.

Tesla, which is represented by Quinn Emanuel's Alex Spiro, the lawyer who successfully defended Musk from a defamation claim, is seeking to dismiss JPMorgan’s earlier lawsuit.

JPMorgan told ABC News in a statement, “There is no merit to their claim. This comes down to fulfilling contractual obligations.”

The dueling lawsuits add to the personal animus between Musk and JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon. Musk prefers to do business with other banks and JPMorgan recently inked a deal to be the primary lender to Tesla rival Rivian, The Wall Street Journal reported.

 

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Intel investing $20 billion to bring chip manufacturing to Ohio amid global shortage

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(NEW YORK) -- Amid a global chip shortage that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Intel announced Friday that it will invest more than $20 billion in two new chip factories in Ohio.

The new investment will significantly expand U.S. manufacturing capabilities for semiconductors, a vital building block needed for computers, smartphones, autos, and much more. Much of the global tech industry currently relies on chip manufacturing out of Asia.

"Today’s investment marks another significant way Intel is leading the effort to restore U.S. semiconductor manufacturing leadership," Intel's CEO Pat Gelsinger said in a statement Friday.

The project will make Ohio home to Intel's first new manufacturing site location in 40 years.

The California-based tech giant said the project represents the largest single private-sector investment in Ohio history, and is expected to create 3,000 Intel jobs and 7,000 construction jobs over the course of the build. The mega-site will span some 1,000 acres in Licking County, a suburb of Columbus, with construction expected to begin in late 2022 and chip production expected to begin in 2025.

"Intel’s actions will help build a more resilient supply chain and ensure reliable access to advanced semiconductors for years to come," Gelsinger added. "Intel is bringing leading capability and capacity back to the United States to strengthen the global semiconductor industry. These factories will create a new epicenter for advanced chipmaking in the U.S. that will bolster Intel’s domestic lab-to-fab pipeline and strengthen Ohio’s leadership in research and high tech."

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement the announcement is "monumental news for the state of Ohio."

"Intel’s new facilities will be transformative for our state, creating thousands of good-paying jobs in Ohio manufacturing strategically vital semiconductors, often called 'chips,'" DeWine said. "Advanced manufacturing, research and development, and talent are part of Ohio’s DNA, and we are proud that chips -- which power the future -- will be made in Ohio, by Ohioans."

In addition to the initial investment of some $20 billion, Intel pledged an additional $100 million to help "build a pipeline of talent and bolster research programs in the region," according to a company statement.

Intel also said the new factories have the goal to be powered by 100% renewable electricity and place environmental concerns at the fore throughout the building process.

The news of Intel's massive investment in U.S. semiconductor manufacturing comes on the heels of Samsung announcing late last year that it plans to build a $17 billion semiconductor factory in the U.S. just outside of Austin, Texas.

 

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Instagram testing feature that lets creators charge subscription fees

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(NEW YORK) -- A small handful of Instagram content creators can now directly charge followers a monthly subscription fee for exclusive content and benefits in the latest shakeup to impact the ever-evolving digital creator economy.

Instagram's parent company Meta announced the news in a company blog post, saying it is part of an effort to help enable creators to make a living through its platforms. Meta-owned Facebook launched a similar subscriptions service in 2020 and is now rolling the service out as a test on Instagram after positive feedback from Facebook content creators.

Meta previously said it would not collect any fees from creators on Facebook Subscription purchases until 2023 at the earliest, and said this will also apply to Instagram Subscriptions.

"With Instagram Subscriptions, creators can develop deeper connections with their most engaged followers and grow their recurring monthly income by giving subscribers access to exclusive content and benefits, all within the same platform where they interact with them already," Meta stated.

The test of subscriptions on Instagram rolled out Wednesday with a small handful of creators, who can set a monthly price of their choice, unlock a "subscribe" button on their profile and offer new benefits to these subscribers including exclusive Instagram Lives and Stories. Content creators will also see a subscriber badge next to comments and messages from their subscribers to more easily identify them.

"Creators do what they do to make a living, and it's important that that is predictable," Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said in a video posted to Twitter. "And subscriptions are one of the best ways to have a predictable income, a way that is not attached to how much reach you get on any given post, which is inevitably going to go up and down over time."

The announcement comes as fellow social media giant Twitter recently announced a similar subscription business model for users, and as Meta and more social media platforms have invested heavily in content creators for their platforms.

Meta alone said last July that it plans to invest more than $1 billion in programs "that give creators new ways to earn money for the content they create on Facebook and Instagram."

The major investments also come, however, as lawmakers and regulators have renewed scrutiny on the power and reach of U.S. tech giants in recent months -- and particularly their impact on the mental health of young people. Just last month, Mosseri was called to testify before lawmakers for the first time specifically about the platform's impact on young users.

Despite the high-profile attention out of Washington, D.C., policymakers have struggled to agree on any concrete law or regulatory changes to crack down on Big Tech.

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Amazon announces its 1st clothing store: here's what to know

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(LOS ANGELES) -- Amazon has expanded in many ways throughout the years, and now the e-commerce giant is launching a brick-and-mortar clothing store.

The company announced Thursday that its Amazon Style fashion retail space will open later this year at The Americana at Brand shopping mall in Los Angeles.

The new concept will offer a selection of apparel, shoes and accessories. The items will have QR codes providing information from sizing to customer ratings, the company said.

With the Amazon Shopping app users can also send items to a fitting room where they can use a touch screen to look through more options as well as request more sizes or styles to be delivered directly to their room, according to Amazon.

While Amazon has not revealed which specific brands will be featured, it said customers will have the option to browse emerging designers across hundreds of its top brands.

"Shoppers will find great looks at a broad range of prices, including trend-inspired pieces at affordable price points and sought-after styles that will become wardrobe staples," Amazon Style managing director Simonia Vasen wrote in the company's blog. "With Amazon’s vast fulfillment center network, the selection at Amazon Style will be frequently updated so customers can discover new items each time they visit."

The clothing store isn't Amazon's first foray into a physical fashion store, the retail conglomerate has opened physical grocery stores, book stores, and in 2017, it bought Whole Foods Market.

In 2021, Amazon launched a hair salon in London for augmented reality hair consultations.

An exact date for Amazon Style's store opening has yet to be announced, but the company said it will be inviting a select group of customers to experience the store "soon" in its announcement.

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FBI warns criminals are using fake QR codes to scam users

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(WASHINGTON) -- Cybercriminals could use altered Quick Response (QR) codes to steal personal and financial information of unsuspecting customers, the FBI warns.

QR codes are all around us these days, and they're used for everything from restaurant orders to donations. During the pandemic, many restaurants began using QR codes in place of paper menus.

How it works: A code is scanned via a phone camera app, and the user is then redirected to the relevant website.

Troubles can arise, the FBI says, in cases where the codes have been altered. Unwitting users can be directed to malicious sites that prompt them to enter their financial and login information or expose them to malware.

"While QR codes have been around for a very long time, certainly in recent years, they've gained more widespread use," Dave Ring, section chief of the FBI's Cyber Division told ABC News. "Part of that is with the pandemic and a drive toward being as contactless as possible, QR codes give people the opportunity to just use their phone camera and scan a QR code."

Police in San Antonio, Texas, warned that fake QR codes were found on parking meters throughout the city. "People attempting to pay for parking ... may have been directed to a fraudulent website and submitted payment to a fraudulent vendor," a tweet from the department said.

Ring said the San Antonio scam was the "perfect example" of people exploiting a simple, daily exercise, and the FBI warned that criminals could be taking advantage of people through other similar tactics.

"A cybercriminal can swap out a completely innocuous legitimate QR code for one that directs people to a malicious site, and that malicious site may prompt someone to click a link and could potentially download malware onto their device," Ring said.

The redirect can also take users to what appears to be a banking website but is actually fraudulent, he added.

"Malicious QR codes may also contain embedded malware, allowing a criminal to gain access to the victim's mobile device and steal the victim's location as well as personal and financial information," the FBI bulletin said. "The cybercriminal can leverage the stolen financial information to withdraw funds from victim accounts."

To avoid any trouble, the agency urges people to use caution by checking the URL of the code, and when entering financial and other personal information.

"Just always practice caution when you're looking at putting in any login information, personal information or financial information when you navigate from a QR code or from any link that you that you don't know for sure is where you're trying to go," Ring said.

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Jan. 6 committee asks Ivanka Trump for cooperation, testimony

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack requested on Thursday that Ivanka Trump cooperate with its investigation and asked her to testify regarding conversations with her father, former President Donald Trump, before and on Jan. 6, 2021, as they pertain to the attack and the challenging of election results.

In a new letter addressed to the former president's daughter, Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., requested she voluntary provide an interview with the committee, citing her presence in the Oval Office.

"As January 6th approached, President Trump attempted on multiple occasions to persuade Vice President Pence to participate in his plan. One of the President's discussions with the Vice President occurred by phone on the morning of January 6th. You were present in the Oval Office and observed at least one side of that telephone conversation," Thompson says in the letter.

"[T]he Committee would like to discuss any other conversations you may have witnessed or participated in regarding the President's plan to obstruct or impede the counting of electoral votes," the letter says.

Thompson wrote that the panel's questions to Trump's eldest daughter, who also served as a senior adviser in the White House for four years, would be "limited to issues relating to January 6th, the activities that contributed to or influenced events on January 6th, and your role in the White House during that period."

"The Committee is aware that certain White House staff devoted time during the violent riot to rebutting questions regarding whether the President was attempting to hold up deployment of the guard[…]," it says in the letter. "But the Committee has identified no evidence that President Trump issued any order, or took any other action, to deploy the guard that day. Nor does it appear that President Trump made any calls at all to the Department of Justice or any other law enforcement agency to request deployment of their personnel to the Capitol."

In a press release Thursday announcing the letter, the committee said the evidence it has already obtained shows "that Ms. Trump was in direct contact with the former President at key moments on January 6th and that she may have information relevant to other matters critical to the Select Committee's investigation."

A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump responded to the letter in a statement but did not directly address whether she would voluntarily comply with the committee's request.

"Ivanka Trump just learned that the January 6 Committee issued a public letter asking her to appear. As the Committee already knows, Ivanka did not speak at the January 6 rally," the statement says. "As she publicly stated that day at 3:15pm, 'any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful.'"

Notably, the spokesperson omitted part of the now-deleted tweet from Jan. 6, 2021, where she referred to those breaching the Capitol as "American Patriots," before calling for an end to the violence.

And while she did not deliver remarks at the rally that day, she was present backstage and seen in a video speaking with her father while viewing video of the crowd.

The former president has repeatedly attempted to discredit the work of the committee and has urged his allies and aides not to comply.

Earlier this week, the select committee subpoenaed former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell, who pushed unfounded claims of widespread 2020 election fraud. ABC News also confirmed that the committee acquired phone records from Trump's son, Eric, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fiancee of Donald Trump Jr.

In the six months since it was created, the select committee has interviewed more than 350 witnesses, received more than 300 substantive tips and issued more than 50 subpoenas -- for phone and email records, Trump administration documents, witness testimony and bank records, according to the committee's public disclosures and lawsuits filed by witnesses.

The panel has also received nearly 40,000 pages of records -- including text messages, emails and Trump administration documents provided by the National Archives in four separate tranches.

The request to Trump's daughter comes on the heels of the Supreme Court on Wednesday denying the former president's request for a stay of a lower court mandate that hundreds of pages of his presidential records from Jan. 6 be turned over to the congressional committee -- a huge win for the panel, which is planning to issue an interim report on its findings over the summer.

ABC News' John Santucci, Will Steakin and Libby Cathey contributed to this report.

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Experts slam oil giant Exxon Mobil's net-zero 'ambition'

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(NEW YORK) -- Exxon Mobil Corp. announced on Tuesday an "ambition" to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its operations in the next three decades, but fell short of making any commitments to offset or reduce the massive amounts of Earth-warming emissions from the fossil fuels that account for the company's profits.

The net-zero aspirations were outlined in the company's Advancing Climate Solutions 2022 Progress Report, and builds upon previously announced emission-reduction initiatives.

"ExxonMobil is committed to playing a leading role in the energy transition, and Advancing Climate Solutions articulates our deliberate approach to helping society reach a lower-emissions future," Darren Woods, Exxon Mobil Corp.'s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "We are developing comprehensive roadmaps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our operated assets around the world, and where we are not the operator, we are working with our partners to achieve similar emission-reduction results."

As the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry stem from the consumption of its products, scientists and environmental researchers have slammed the headline-grabbing announcement from the U.S. energy giant as ineffective and insufficient at a time when climate change is already harming communities around the globe.

"ExxonMobil's emissions reduction pledge misses the mark and is too little, too late," Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director in the Climate and Energy program at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, told ABC News in a statement. "This commitment solely covers operational emissions, known as scope 1 and 2, which make up only a small portion of the global warming emissions associated with a fossil fuel company's business."

"By not making any commitment to reduce the emissions that come from burning oil and gas, known as scope 3, ExxonMobil is shifting blame for the bulk of its emissions onto consumers who are using its products exactly as the company intended," Mulvey added.

Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the U.S., confirmed in a press release Tuesday that "the net-zero aspiration applies to Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions."

Scope 1 emissions refers to the direct emissions coming from the company and Scope 2 refers to the emissions associated with energy they purchase or use to run their operations, according to Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist at climate advocacy group Greenpeace USA. Scope 3 emissions, which Exxon's goals make no mention of, refers to the emissions that result from the products they sell -- in this case, fossil fuels.

"For an oil and gas company, 90% of their emissions are Scope 3," Donaghy told ABC News. As a result, Donaghy says Exxon Mobil's net-zero announcement is "obscuring the real issue here."

"We need to keep our eye on the ball," Donaghy added. "The climate system, the laws of physics don't really care about a press release, they care about actual concrete emissions reductions into the atmosphere."

Donaghy noted that global climate goals, as outlined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Since data directly ties the rising average surface temperature on our planet to greenhouse gas emissions from humans, the Paris Agreement called for nations to drastically reduce emissions. In a subsequent calculation, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that in order to keep global warming below the dire 1.5 degrees Celsius benchmark, the world must bring its emissions to "net-zero" levels by 2050.

In the years since the Paris Agreement, scientists told ABC News, policymakers and the private sector have put a dangerous emphasis on the vague "net" part of these "net-zero" commitments -- shifting the focus from actually reducing emissions to "offsetting" them with nature and tech-based solutions that simply don't exist yet at the scale necessary to meet the need.

Moreover, while many of the individual climate goals announced by companies and countries continue to use this "net-zero by 2050 language" as a guide, later U.N. data has indicated that the world is already on track to surpass the carbon budget necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius at around 2030.

As a result, scientists have been sounding the alarm that many of the more recent "net-zero" emissions pledges, especially from businesses, are already coming much too late to be meaningful and in some cases are even becoming a dangerous distraction that lets them continue business as usual.

"To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, the fossil fuel industry needs to shrink by 2050, and we need to wean ourselves off of using dirty energy and switch away to clean energy," Donaghy said. "This particular announcement doesn't really touch on that question, but we know that these oil companies like Exxon Mobil are making investments today, they're spending money on new extraction and drilling projects that they're hoping they are going to continue to produce oil and profits for decades to come."

"The question of whether their business model is consistent with net zero by 2050 is a little more complicated than just our Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions," he added, "because the way the oil and gas industry works today isn't consistent with a stable climate."

Data indicates that burning fossil fuels -- coal, natural gas and petroleum -- accounts for an outsized share of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Fossil fuel combustion for energy accounted for 92% of the total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and 74% all greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, per the Energy Information Administration. The same agency said that petroleum use in 2020 alone was the source of nearly half (45%) of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions and natural gas accounted for 36%.

While Exxon Mobil's net-zero "ambition" doesn't go far enough in his eyes, Donaghy said he sees a bright spot in the fact that an oil industry giant is even acknowledging climate realities. He attributes this noticeable shift in part to the climate movement, especially as young activists like Greta Thunberg accuse the fossil fuel industry of robbing her generation of a future.

"I would say it's a testimony to the climate movement, that's really made it so there's nowhere to hide anymore," Donaghy said. "It's really just not feasible in 2022 to be a serious person and deny that the climate crisis is upon us."

"I think it's a victory that we're seeing these companies put out even weak statements, that they're forced to at least pay attention to it," he said.

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'Significant evidence' of alleged fraud in Trump business investigation, NY AG says

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(NEW YORK) -- New York Attorney General Letitia James said that her office has uncovered "significant evidence" of fraud in her civil investigation of former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization.

The unusual statement amid an ongoing investigation came as James' office argued in court papers that Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump have not sufficiently responded to subpoenas issued as part of the investigation.

"Thus far in our investigation, we have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit," James said in a release late Tuesday night. "The Trumps must comply with our lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony because no one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them."

The motion to compel their testimony, filed late Tuesday after the Trumps sought to quash the subpoenas, said each of the individuals was directly involved in one or more transactions under review. The investigation is reviewing whether the Trump Organization used fraudulent or misleading valuations of its holdings in different ways to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.

A parallel criminal investigation is underway by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office that has already resulted in criminal charges against the company itself and its chief financial officer. Each has pleaded not guilty.

The Trumps have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and attacked the investigations as politically motivated.

"In 160 pages of legal briefing, the Attorney General’s Office deliberately fails to address Ms. James’s repeated threats to target the Trump family and her assertions about her criminal investigation -- all which are the essence of our motion to quash the subpoenas or stay them," Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas said in a statement. "The Office fails to answer how they can be conducting a criminal investigation and indicting on July 1, 2021, the arraignment of which Ms. James attended arm in arm with Cy Vance and issued press releases and talk show statements about, and yet ignore the NY Constitutional grand jury protections provided to the very people she is investigating.”

The Trumps have “used delay tactics and litigation in an attempt to thwart a legitimate investigation into its financial dealings,” James said in a statement.

The investigation began in March 2019, after Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress that Trump’s annual financial statements inflated the values of Trump’s assets to obtain favorable terms for loans and insurance coverage, while also deflating the value of other assets to reduce real estate taxes.

According to the filing, investigators have determined that the "Statements of Financial Condition " issued annually to describe Trump's financial condition described the valuation process in broad terms and in ways which were often inaccurate or misleading when compared with the supporting data and documentation that the Trump Organization submitted to its accounting firm.

For instance, the AG's office alleges that the statements misstated facts, like the size of Trump's New York penthouse and alleges that there's evidence the Trump Organization submitted "false or misleading" valuations to the IRS pertaining to a golf course in LA and property in Westchester County, New York.

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Verizon, AT&T delay 5G rollout around some airports after stark warnings from US airlines

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(WASHINGTON) -- A showdown between the nation's major airlines, the FAA and AT&T and Verizon appears to be cooling after both telecom giants agreed at the last minute to pause a portion of their 5G-C rollout on Wednesday.

"At our sole discretion we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment," AT&T said in a statement Tuesday.

Verizon followed AT&T saying, "We have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our nation's airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries."

CEOs from American, United, Delta and seven other major carriers warned of "significant" disruptions in the country's aviation system if the 5G rollout continued as planned.

Aviation officials are concerned that the frequency used for 5G may interfere with airplanes' radio altimeters -- devices used by pilots to measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground in order to land.

In the letter, U.S. airline leaders wrote to government officials Monday asking that the wireless carriers not deploy 5G within two miles of runways at certain airports.

"This will allow 5G to be deployed while avoiding harmful impacts on the aviation industry, traveling public, supply chain, vaccine distribution, our workforce and broader economy," the CEOs wrote.

The FAA warned pilots won't be able to use radio altimeters to land at 88 airports closest to Verizon and AT&T's 5G towers. Earlier this month, the FAA and wireless carriers agreed to implement "buffer zones" around 50 airports across the country to try to mitigate the issue.

Airline officials, however, said this is not enough. United Airlines said the current plan will have "devastating" impacts on its operation, impacting an estimated 1.25 million of the carrier's passengers and at least 15,000 flights.

"We won't compromise on safety – full stop," United said in a statement.

Captain Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines 737 pilot and a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, also called the rollout "unsafe."

"We're not going to fly the airplane unless it's safe," Tajer told ABC News. "But putting that added distraction of other systems going wrong close to the ground is not the way you run a safety culture."

The telecom giants have insisted 5G-C Band technology is safe and has been proven in more than 40 other countries, albeit at much lower power levels than what's planned in the U.S.

In a statement, AT&T made clear its frustration with the federal government, writing in part: "We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner. We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers."

When asked why the FAA did not act over the past two years, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, "There will be lots of time to look back and see how we got here. And I know many of you will do that. And, of course, that is understandable. But right now, over the next 24, or less than 24 hours, what we're focused on is trying to come to a solution that will minimize travel -- you know disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations -- on our economic recovery."

President Biden thanked Verizon and AT&T for the delay, saying in a statement, "This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled."

The president said the agreement "protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans."

ABC News' Mina Kaji, Mary Bruce and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Microsoft to acquire gaming giant Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion

Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Microsoft Corp. announced plans on Tuesday to acquire gaming giant Activision Blizzard Inc., the maker of immensely popular franchises including "Call of Duty" and "Warcraft," for $68.7 billion.

The companies jointly announced news of the all-cash deal on Tuesday, which involves tech giant Microsoft purchasing the controversy-marred gaming company for some $95 per share. When the transaction closes, Microsoft will become the world's third-largest gaming company by revenue -- behind only Tencent and Sony -- Microsoft said in a statement Tuesday.

The deal comes as the gaming industry has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in the entertainment industry, and as Microsoft seeks to accelerate its mobile, PC, console and cloud gaming as well as prepare for the mainstream adaption of the metaverse.

"Gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms," Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, said in a statement. "We’re investing deeply in world-class content, community and the cloud to usher in a new era of gaming that puts players and creators first and makes gaming safe, inclusive and accessible to all."

The announcement also comes as Activision Blizzard has been rocked by accusations of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Bobby Kotick will continue to serve as CEO of Activision Blizzard, and once the deal closes, the Activision Blizzard business unit will report to Microsoft Gaming's CEO Phil Spencer.

"For more than 30 years our incredibly talented teams have created some of the most successful games," Kotick said Tuesday. "The combination of Activision Blizzard’s world-class talent and extraordinary franchises with Microsoft’s technology, distribution, access to talent, ambitious vision and shared commitment to gaming and inclusion will help ensure our continued success in an increasingly competitive industry."

The transaction has been approved by the board of directors for both Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, but remains subject to the latter's shareholder approval, the companies said. It is expected to close in fiscal year 2023.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Small yield of Florida oranges could mean higher juice prices

Matt Stroshane/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- It's peak citrus season in the U.S., but Florida orange groves had a bitter yield of the beloved sweet and tart winter fruit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that orange crops are projected to be down for the second consecutive season, which could send prices that were already high due to the pandemic, even higher.

The historically low production could be 16% less than last season's final count, the USDA found.

Growers in the Sunshine State are forecast to harvest 44.5 million boxes of fruit from the 2020-21 season, according to the USDA, down1.50 million boxes from the December forecast.

The current USDA forecast looks at 17.5 million boxes of non-Valencia oranges (early, mid-season, and Navel varieties) and 27 million boxes of Valencia oranges.

Only one year since 1947 has yielded fewer oranges, according to the USDA; 2017-2018 when Florida crops were battered by Hurricane Irma.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Woman goes viral for showing off tattoos in company headshot

Jessica Leonard

(CLEVELAND) -- Over the last few decades, it has been considered taboo to reveal tattoos, piercings or even unconventional hair colors in a professional work setting, but one woman is challenging that idea after showing off her full sleeves of arm tattoos in her company headshot and going viral on LinkedIn.

"As soon as it started going viral, I thought, 'I know how this works. If I put myself out there, and it's something that is controversial, I should be prepared,'" Jessica Leonard said.

Leonard, 36, received over 30,000 reactions and nearly 3,000 comments on her LinkedIn post, which showed a two side-by-side images -- one of her posing in a suit jacket and one of her exposing her tattoos.

"I did get some comments where people felt like they needed to advise me or others to still be careful about tattoos, because there is still judgment out there," she said. "And you certainly don't want to close any professional doors by being too forward."

After roughly two years of heightened lifestyle and work changes, ranging from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to "the great resignation," Leonard's post proves that the concept of what is deemed acceptable in a professional setting is rapidly changing. With one in four Americans working remotely last year, according to Upwork's "Future of Workforce Pulse Report," a tattoo or piercing in view doesn't seem to hold as much weight as it did before.

Leonard, a Cleveland, Ohio, native, said she was initially nervous about posting the tattoo photo, but her boss actually gave her the confidence boost she needed.

"'Loud and proud' is what he said," Leonard said, recalling her conversation with her boss. "I read the text message aloud and I was literally brought to tears. And then my husband got a little emotional about it too. It was such a shocking response to have that kind of inclusion from someone that you work for, and just overall acceptance of who I am. I felt so moved."

After being in public accounting for nearly 14 years, Leonard said she was ready for a change. Although she loved her former firm and they never had an anti-tattoo policy, she never felt like she could divulge her tattoos in internal or client meetings, as she was fearful that work or promotional opportunities could be at stake. She especially felt that way when she went to a women's conference and received some comments at dinner.

"I found it a little surprising," she said. "I came without a jacket on and that's when the conversation turned. I thought, 'That's weird. We just came out of a conference talking about women empowerment, and now I'm kind of being told that I can't be a leader because of my tattoos.'"

Last September, Leonard decided to leave the more traditional firm she worked at and take a position as a partner at Evolution Capital Partners, a small business private equity firm in Cleveland. When it was time to take headshots, she said she had the photographer take some photos with her jacket on for LinkedIn and the company website and some photos showing her tattoos to keep for herself. It was her manager that encouraged her to post both online.

"It is the content of one's character that is most important to us," said Jeffrey Kadlic, founding partner of Evolution Capital Partners. "Authenticity and transparency are cornerstones of the culture we are working to create. We see Jess for who she is and embrace all of her because she shares our core values and is a tremendous talent. At the end of the day, that is all that really matters."

Leonard said she is very proud of her ink and not shy in talking about it. Some of her more fun tattoos include Harry Potter-themed art while others hold deeper meanings. One is in memory of her nephew who passed away from brain cancer at just 4 years old.

"I actually had a father reach out to me who is in public accounting," she said. "He asked me very pointed advice about advising his daughter on getting tattoos -- maybe in places that could be easily covered -- because, as a father and as a professional, he was guiding her in that way. After seeing my post, he said he would consider having another perspective."

Leonard said many people have approached her with positive feedback, and some have said they feel ready to get more tattoos or piercings, especially since many are working from home.

"I think everyone needs to go where they feel comfortable in their skin," she said. "They shouldn't feel like they work in an environment where it's hindering them as an individual. There are a lot of places you can work where you're not going to feel that."

"I hope this will resonate or help someone who may have experienced judgment or bias in the past," Leonard added. "There are leaders that are super inclusive and accepting, and if you haven't found them, just know they exist and they are out there. I'm glad I could inspire at least one person in my network."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Wealth of 10 richest men doubled in pandemic as 99% of incomes dropped: Oxfam

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The 10 richest men in the world doubled their fortunes during the COVID-19 pandemic, a report published Monday by advocacy group Oxfam said, highlighting how the global health crisis has deepened the divide between the haves and have-nots as well as the need for policy intervention to address these "deadly" inequities.

While the wealth of the world's 10 richest men more than doubled -- increasing from approximately $700 billion to $1.5 trillion between March 2020 and November 2021 -- the incomes of approximately 99% of people around the globe fell during that time, and more than 160 million people have been forced into poverty, the Oxfam report added.

The poverty and economic justice advocacy group calculated the wealth gains of the ultra-elite based on Forbes' real-time data on billionaires. The richest men were Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault & family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffett.

Information on the falling incomes of the global 99% was taken from World Bank data, Oxfam said in its methodology.

The calculations also indicate that the wealth of the world's billionaires has increased more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years.

"Billionaires have had a terrific pandemic. Central banks pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom," Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement Monday accompanying the latest report.

Bucher added that if the 10 richest men in the world were to lose 99% of their wealth, they would still be richer than 99% of all the people on this planet.

The wealth of the world's billionaires tends to be more tied up in stocks than their less-wealthy counterparts. In the U.S., the wealthiest 1% of households in the U.S. own more than half of all the publicly traded stock in the market, according to Federal Reserve data, and the bottom 50% of households own less than 1%.

While the pandemic recovery in the labor market and economy as a whole is still sputtering, the stock market has rallied sharply since March 2020 in part due to monetary policies enacted by the Federal Reserve -- leading to massive, often untaxed, wealth gains for the rich and leaving the poor who don't own any market shares behind.

Oxfam said this stark inequality is killing people because of lack of access to health care, hunger and more. The group is advocating for a tax on the ultra-rich to address these deadly inequities.

Bucher added that taxation is one of the key ways to start "righting the violent wrongs of this obscene inequality."

The report calling for a new tax targeting the world's wealthiest comes after an investigation into the taxes of billionaires, published by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica last year, found that the ultra-wealthy are able to use legal loopholes to avoid paying taxes on wealth gains.

The ProPublica report published tax documents of the wealthy and said that while the median American household paid 14% of their income in federal taxes, the wealthiest 25 Americans had an average so-called "true tax rate" of just 3.4% of the amount their wealth grew each year between 2014 and 2018. This was in large part due to keeping their reported income, and thus reported income tax, to just a fraction to what their net worth actually is and storing most of their wealth in stocks -- which are only taxed once they are sold.

The Oxfam report cited these differing tax rates and is advocating for billionaires to pay taxes every year on their wealth increases -- whether these gains are realized or not (i.e. whether a billionaire sells the stock after it rises in value or holds onto it to avoid paying taxes on those gains).

While the idea of a billionaires tax has gained momentum in Washington and beyond in recent years, especially over the pandemic, it has faced an uphill battle in implementation. Critics call these type of taxes on unrealized gains unconstitutional based on the definition of income.

The researchers at Oxfam, meanwhile, view a tax on the rich as an imperative and obvious way to address the "deadly inequality" wrought by the pandemic.

"One of the single most powerful tools we have to address this level of egregious and deadly inequality is to tax the rich," Abby Maxman, the chief of Oxfam America, said in a statement Monday. "Instead of lining the pockets of the ultra-wealthy, we should be investing billions of dollars into our economy, our children and our planet, paving the way for a more equal and sustainable future."

 

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Puppies and all-wheel drive: How Subaru built its ardent fan base

Robert Hradil/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Some automakers tout engine performance, cutting-edge technology or exclusivity to attract buyers. Japanese automaker Subaru has a different approach.

In 2019 the company transformed 10,000 square feet of the Javits Convention Center in New York into a state-of-the-art immersive exhibit where Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser and Denali's snowcapped peak were the focus -- not the company's sport utility vehicles.

Deer, foxes and muskrats can be spotted along the walking trails at Subaru's Indiana facility, the sole U.S. manufacturing plant to be designated a backyard wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Materials on site are either reused, recycled or repurposed and in 2004 the plant achieved zero landfill status -- another industry first.

"Business has to have a purpose besides selling cars and making money -- it has to make our society better," Thomas Doll, president and CEO of Subaru of America, Inc., told ABC News. "We pride ourselves that we have that community aspect."

Subaru, a longstanding partner of the National Parks Foundation, has given more than $68 million to organizations working to conserve national parks and helped fund projects to protect over 85 million acres in 400 national parks. The company also donates millions of dollars to various charities such as Make-A-Wish and ASPCA as part of its "Share the Love" event, now in its 14th year. Shelter puppies are often the stars of Subaru's auto exhibits and the marque has helped find homes for more than 74,000 rescue animals across the country.

"Subaru's support of various causes attracts a certain type of buyer and really does contribute to their success," Ed Kim, president and chief analyst of AutoPacific, told ABC News. "Subaru customers are among the most affluent."

Industry watchers agree that Subaru could do even more to protect national parks and the planet: Build more EVs. Owners who are eager for an all-electric Subaru will have to wait until later this year, when the Solterra SUV enters production.

"We're a small company but we're not afraid of EVs," Doll said.

Slower road to electric vehicles

The small automaker decided early on to tap into potential markets that were overlooked by mainstream brands, according to Kim.

"It was the first auto brand that actively marketed to the LGBTQ community when no one else was doing that," he said. "It attracted a lot of LGBTQ customers and became a brand for people who identified with a more progressive mindset."

Karl Brauer, executive analyst of iSeeCars.com, said Subaru's aggressive push as a lifestyle utility automaker -- one that also offered standard all-wheel drive for its vehicles -- was prescient and helped boost sales.

"Subaru made off-road vehicles a core component of its entire brand image a decade or more ahead of the industry," he told ABC News. "The company decided what it wanted to be and it's worked really well. It's cultivated a fairly specific and loyal customer base."

The company, though, has been surprisingly slow to bring an electric vehicle to the market. Subaru currently only makes one hybrid -- the Crosstrek plug-in. In November, it debuted the Solterra, an AWD, emissions-free ute that was developed in partnership with Toyota. The Solterra gets an estimated range of more than 220 miles and produces 215 horsepower from its front and rear electric motors. Sales begin in mid-2022.

"It's a technically advanced EV that's versatile and has a lower center of gravity and better handling," Doll said.

Federal regulations are going to require that Subaru participate in the electric world, according to Stephanie Brinley, an automotive analyst at IHS Markit.

"The company can't sit out that part of the market," she told ABC News. "That's the reality."

Added Kim: "The mindset of a Subaru customer is so perfect for electrification. They'd be more than happy to pay more for a hybrid or an EV."

Chip shortages and younger drivers a challenge

The lack of EVs, however, has not caused the company to lose sales nor customers, according to Brauer. What has? The ongoing global chip shortage. Subaru of America delivered 51,146 vehicles in December, a 19.5% plunge from a year ago. In 2021 the brand sold 583,810 vehicles, a 4.6% drop compared to 2020.

"It's not a demand problem, it's a supply problem. We're trying to recover from this microchip shortage which is much worse than [2020]," said Doll. "Retailers are sold out essentially -- each dealer has six cars on average. We have car lines that are sold out. It pains me ... but there is nothing Subaru can do. We're not going to produce cars without certain chips or build a car and park it until a chip comes in."

Kim noted that all automakers are still struggling to build vehicles and stock showrooms as consumer demand soars.

"The chip shortage is real," he said. "Subaru is suffering like almost everyone else. The product is sought after but Subaru doesn't have the means to build cars without all these chips."

Subaru has another obstacle to conquer this year: Getting young drivers to buy its newly revamped BRZ sports car, a slinky, lightweight rear-wheel drive coupe that's geared toward male drivers in their late 20s and early 30s. Even Doll has questioned how much longer true performance cars, like the BRZ and WRX sedan, can survive in the U.S. But scuttling production of either car is not on the table -- for now.

"The BRZ and WRX are gateways to the brand," said Doll. "And we're definitely committed to the manual and expect 85% of customers to buy the manual in the BRZ."

In fact, performance cars and Subaru's rally racing history have brought dedicated enthusiasts to the brand, who learned about these conveyances from video games and internet groups.

"So many U.S. enthusiasts wanted the WRX -- they were screaming for this car -- but it took a while for Subaru's U.S. division to bring these models to the country," said Kim. "This is a fantastic performance car with a tremendous legacy in rallying."

He added, "These buyers skew very heavily male and are not political. There is a cultural divide between Subaru's regular lineup versus its performance lineup."

Charitable causes, puppies, conservation, AWD -- all these factors have solidified Subaru's position in the hyper competitive automotive industry, according to Brinley. Now Subaru has to accept that it is no longer a niche automaker.

"A lot of customers connect and identify with the brand," she said. "The constant challenge for Subaru is brand authenticity."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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