Another big contributor to greenhouse gases and toxic chemical emissions are petroleum refineries. Companies have succeeded in controlling some but not all chemicals. Nitrogen compounds, which also show up as an area of concern in the monthly wastewater data published by the EPA, are particularly stubborn.
Decarbonization too often is reduced to electrification (ban all gas stoves). Obviously it matters how power is generated, and a lot has been happening on that front.
Once we break down the toxic release data further to find the industrial activities that release the highest amount of chemicals, materials manufacturing comes to the fore. Emissions and emission rates have moderated, but there are factors beyond the recovery from the pandemic that will push them higher.
Total discharges fell due to the drop in activity in some industries, but waste control efforts diverged. The economic sectors that remained open stagnated or got worse. The ones that were shut did better.
The Environmental Protection Agency published its preliminary 2020 Toxic Release Inventory data for 2020, and – no surprise – total emissions are down. The US annual total at under 3bn pounds is the lowest since the mid 1990s.
To mention food and toxic chemicals in the same sentence raises eyebrows or even alarm, but food is like any other major industry: It uses mechanical and chemical processes to make a product. Some of the chemicals used in food production, or output as waste from that production are toxic and regulated by the EPA.
Food safety has been a central concern since the publication of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” who famously quipped that he aimed the book at America’s heart and hit it in the stomach. It turns out that working conditions (what Sinclair meant by “heart”) and food safety (the stomach) are related. If a subsegment of the industry is bad at one, it is likely to be bad at the other as well.
A poor record in environmental compliance is strongly suggestive of a poor record in worker safety. Companies that exceed the limits set by the EPA on pollutants released into nearby bodies of water are more likely to have worker accidents that have to be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Beyond work accidents, facilities that suffer severe accidents typically also have high numbers of EPA violations.
Snarled shipping and material shortages are on the front pages of the financial press these days. Also, investors are interested in the total carbon content of a product, which needs to take into account scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions.
We were curious: Are environmental scores calculated by various providers aligned with the detailed facility level environmental data that we collect.? The answer is complicated but does help reframe the debate on sustainability in investing.
News of a possible breach of an abandoned impoundment at a phosphate plant in Manatee County, FL reminds the public again of the silent threat of toxic waste surface pools. The last major similar accident in the US was the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina in 2014. How many such impoundments are there, where are they and what do they contain.