Weekly News Check-In 1/17/20

WNCI-6

Welcome back.

More Weymouth compressor station protesters have been arrested. They’re drawing attention to the documented failure of Enbridge contractors to follow required steps to avoid spreading soil contaminants through the community.

For those seeking effective actions in support of climate, we offer a report on the biggest banks supporting the fossil fuel industry. Bill McKibben has suggestions about how to deal with them.

The climate includes oceans, and new reports show their life support systems are highly stressed from all the heat they’ve absorbed. Meanwhile in the fact-free alternative universe, the Trump administration gutted NEPA, the 50 year old National Environmental Policy Act – dropping many requirements for environmental review of gas pipelines and other projects.

We found some good news about clean energy alternatives, including a forecast for strong growth in US wind and solar in 2020. Also an interesting story about how gas utilities might transform their business model to provide infrastructure services supporting networked geothermal heating and cooling.

Articles about the fossil fuel industry ping-pong between energy producers pitching their polluting products into their vision of a bright future, and warnings from the financial industry that those investments are looking more and more risky.

We close with three articles from a 6-part series on the biomass-to-energy industry. The reporting shows how European “clean energy” climate goals are leading to massive deforestation in the American southeast and actually increasing carbon emissions. This is a cautionary tale for Massachusetts, given the Baker administration’s attempts to reclassify biomass as a clean renewable energy source.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no trespassing - Weymouth
Nine more arrested in Weymouth compressor station protest
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
January 16, 2020

It was the third time protesters have been arrested at the construction site since work started in early December and brings the number of people arrested there to 19. In the past, protesters were either released without being charged or had their charges reduced from criminal trespassing to civil infractions.

The compressor station is being built by Algonquin, a subsidiary of Enbridge, and is part of the Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the Houston company’s pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Algonquin got the final go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November after a series of health, safety and environmental reviews.

The protestors said they were responding to the failure of Gov. Charlie Baker and the state Department of Environmental Protection to respond to the community’s advocacy to prevent more industrial environmental hazards from moving to the Fore River Basin.
» Read article

traffic plan
Weymouth council steers for safe compressor truck traffic
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
January 16, 2020

WEYMOUTH- Trucks leaving the construction site of a compressor station in the Fore River Basin often make illegal left turns onto Route 3A, according to a town council letter sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Since the beginning of construction, residents have appeared before the town council to discuss traffic issues,” stated the council in a Jan. 14 letter to FERC. “It has come to our attention that several sub-contractors have not used the designated routes on the traffic plan.”

The letter, addressed to FERC Secretary Kimberly Rose, was written in response to truck movement from the compressor station site by Alice Arena, leader of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station during a Dec. 16 council meeting.
» Read article    

Weymouth assaultedWeymouth and Quincy communities assaulted by Enbridge’s reckless construction practices
By Peter Nightingale, Uprise RI
January 12, 2020

Construction of a fracked gas compressor station in Weymouth, MA, started after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Notice to Proceed with Construction on November 27, the day before Thanksgiving. A spokesman for the energy company Enbridge at the time wrote in an email: “We remain committed to ensuring construction activities are conducted in compliance with all applicable requirements, with public health and safety as our priority.”

This January 9, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) held an action in which residents called upon the Massachusetts Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup, because “Enbridge is exposing the community to additional toxins by digging up soil that is saturated with arsenic, oil, coal ash, and asbestos. They are not following any of the steps necessary to limit the exposure of toxins into the air, such as washing off tires before trucks leave the site.”

Construction of the Weymouth compressor station started after five years of protests and in despite numerous pending court appeals. To allow construction to start under these circumstances is standard procedure of FERC. Indeed the same happened in 2015 when Spectra Energy (since then taken over by Enbridge) expanded the compressor station on Wallum Road in Burrillville. Construction in both locations is part of Enbridge’s project to transport fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania via Canada to the world market.
» Read article    

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Want to Do Something About Climate Change? Follow the Money
Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America are the worst offenders.
By Lennox Yearwood Jr. and Bill McKibben, New York Times Opinion
January 11, 2020

JPMorgan Chase isn’t the only offender, but it is among the worst. In the last three years, according to data compiled in a recently released “fossil fuel finance report card” by a group of environmental organizations, JPMorgan Chase lent over $195 billion to gas and oil companies.

For comparison, Wells Fargo lent over $151 billion, Citibank lent over $129 billion and Bank of America lent over $106 billion. Since the Paris climate accord, which 195 countries agreed to in 2015, JPMorgan Chase has been the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels by a 29 percent margin.

This investment sends a message that’s as clear as President Trump’s shameful decision to pull America out of that pact: Short-term profits are more important than the long-term health of the planet.

Mr. Yearwood and Mr. McKibben are part of the organizing team at StopTheMoneyPipeline.Com.
» Read article    
» Read “Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019”

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE

blob victims
‘Scale of This Failure Has No Precedent’: Scientists Say Hot Ocean ‘Blob’ Killed One Million Seabirds
The lead author called the mass die-off “a red-flag warning about the tremendous impact sustained ocean warming can have on the marine ecosystem.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
January 16, 2020


On the heels of new research showing that the world’s oceans are rapidly warming, scientists revealed Wednesday that a huge patch of hot water in the northeast Pacific Ocean dubbed “the blob” was to blame for killing about one million seabirds.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was conducted by a team of researchers at federal and state agencies, conservation groups, and universities. They tied the mass die-off to “the blob,” a marine heatwave that began forming in 2013 and grew more intense in 2015 because of the weather phenomenon known as El Niño.
» Read article     

bleached coral
2019 Was a Record Year for Ocean Temperatures, Data Show
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times
January 13, 2020

The past 10 years have been the warmest 10 on record for global ocean temperatures. The increase between 2018 and 2019 was the largest single-year increase since the early 2000s, according to Dr. Hausfather.

Increasing ocean temperatures have harmed marine life and contributed to mass coral reef bleaching, the loss of critical ecosystems, and threatened livelihoods like fishing as species have moved in search of cooler waters.

But the impacts of warming oceans don’t remain at sea.

“The heavy rains in Jakarta just recently resulted, in part, from very warm sea temperatures in that region,” said Dr. Trenberth, who also drew connections between warming ocean temperatures to weather over Australia. The recent drought there has helped to propel what many are calling the worst wildfire season in the nation’s history.
» Read article

sixth extinction 2030
UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit
By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
January 13, 2020

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010.
» Read article

rogue's gallery
Fossil Fuel Interests Applaud Trump Admin’s Weakening of Major Environmental Law
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
January 10, 2020

Industry groups including oil and gas trade associations were quick to pile on the praise following President Trump’s announcement Thursday, January 9 of major overhauls to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The 50-year-old bedrock environmental statute requires federal agencies to review the environmental impacts of major actions or projects, and has been a key tool for advocacy groups to challenge harmful infrastructure, from fossil fuel pipelines to chemical plants.

And in the Trump administration’s hasty efforts to assert “energy dominance,” judges have halted fossil fuel projects on grounds that the government did not adequately consider how those projects contribute to climate change.

For the fossil fuel industry, these court rulings, and the environmental law underpinning them, are an annoying setback. The industry has long been irked by NEPA, especially when it is used to delay petroleum-related projects because of climate concerns.

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced major revisions to the NEPA statute that shrink the scope and timeline of environmental review. Under new regulations proposed by the Center for Environmental Quality, the White House agency that implements NEPA, “cumulative effects” — such as how fossil fuel expansion contributes to climate change — would not need to be considered.
» Read article     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

big wind parts
Three-Quarters of New US Generating Capacity in 2020 Will Be Renewable, EIA Says
2020 will be a record year for U.S. renewables construction as 6 gigawatts of coal capacity goes offline, according to new government figures.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
January 14, 2020

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has confirmed what it and industry watchers predicted a year ago — that wind and solar power will expand on their already-large share of new U.S. generation capacity in 2020.

According to EIA data released Tuesday, wind and solar will make up 32 of the 42 gigawatts of new capacity additions expected to start commercial operation in 2020, respectively, dwarfing the 9.3 gigawatts of natural-gas-fired plants to come online this year.

EIA’s numbers also break records for both wind and solar in terms of annual capacity additions. The 18.5 gigawatts of wind power capacity set to come online in 2020 surpasses 2012’s record of 13.2 gigawatts and pushes total U.S. production well past the 100-gigawatt milestone set in the third quarter of 2019.
» Read article

networked geothermal
How A Climate Change Nonprofit Got Eversource Thinking About A Geothermal Future
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
January 13, 2020

“Geothermal ground source heating has been around a long time, and it has usually been installed one house by one house individually,” she said. “It works. However, it is a fairly high up-front cost, and you have to have the means and motivation to be able to do it.”

Magavi, a clean energy advocate, said she asked herself: Who already digs holes and puts pipes in the ground, has big money and is motivated to find a new business model? Her answer: natural gas distribution companies.

“The idea is that a gas utility takes out its leaky gas pipe and, instead of putting in new gas pipe, we put in a hot water loop,” Magavi said. “If we’re going to invest in infrastructure, let’s invest in infrastructure for the next century. Let’s not invest in infrastructure that was hot in 1850.”

HEET commissioned a study to investigate if there were a way to make geothermal energy appealing to both utilities and environmentalists.

Under a networked system, homes and businesses would own the geothermal heat pumps, while Eversource would own and manage the system of pipes, sensors and pressure regulators, Conner said. That would convert the gas utility into a networked, thermal management company.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

business as usual
U.S. Energy Industry Looks for Clarity in China Trade Deal
Oil and gas companies may see an export revival from the accord, but they seek commitments that tariffs will be dropped.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
January 15, 2020

On paper, China and the United States should fit nicely as energy trading partners. China is a fast-growing energy market, while the United States is a fast-growing energy exporter. China is trying to clean up the air of its polluted cities by burning less coal, and the United States is producing an enormous surplus of cleaner-burning natural gas. So any sign of an improvement in trade relations was viewed positively by executives.

Jack Fusco, chief executive of Cheniere Energy, the liquefied natural gas exporter with perhaps the most to gain from the deal, characterized it as “a step in the right direction that will hopefully restore the burgeoning U.S. L.N.G. trade with China.”
» Blog editor’s note: this is a window into the gas industry’s world – one that ignores the climate effects of continued natural gas production and consumption. To Big Gas, the object is to displace Big Coal. Decarbonization can wait until the gas runs out.
» Read article

boiler Bob2020 outlook: Natural gas faces regulatory, environmental scrutiny but still wants role in carbon-free grid
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 15, 2020

“We see a really strong role for natural gas now and in the future,” Natural Gas Supply Association Executive Vice President Patricia Jagtiani told Utility Dive. “Not only through the way it currently has contributed to reducing carbon emissions, but through its partnership with renewable energy, and how we work together to make each other more reliable and affordable.”

But an increased push on climate and clean energy goals means more states, cities and utilities are aiming for carbon-free power mixes in the next few decades, and some industry observers worry utilities are over-purchasing on natural gas — and will soon be left with the same stranded asset burdens that now plague the coal industry.

There are $70 billion worth of planned natural gas plants in the pipeline through 2025 and 90% of those investments are more expensive than clean energy portfolios, which include a combination of demand response, energy efficiency, storage and renewables, according to a September 2019 report from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Seventy percent of those investments will be rendered uneconomic by 2035, posing a serious question for investors and utilities about the prudence of some of those buildouts, and that question will only grow more urgent in 2020, according to the report’s authors.
» Read article

BlackRock C.E.O. Larry Fink: Climate Crisis Will Reshape Finance
In his influential annual letter to chief executives, Mr. Fink said his firm would avoid investments in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.”
By Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times
January 14, 2020

Laurence D. Fink, the founder and chief executive of BlackRock, announced Tuesday that his firm would make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal.

BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager with nearly $7 trillion in investments, and this move will fundamentally shift its investing policy — and could reshape how corporate America does business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit.

“Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” Mr. Fink wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times. “The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.”

The firm, he wrote, would also introduce new funds that shun fossil fuel-oriented stocks, move more aggressively to vote against management teams that are not making progress on sustainability, and press companies to disclose plans “for operating under a scenario where the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees is fully realized.”
» Read article

pipeline stop-ped
Editorial: Vir. gas pipeline ruling reverberates in Bay State
Greenfield Recorder Editorial
January 14, 2020

Many in Franklin County think the prospect of a natural gas pipeline through our towns is not dead, but only resting until the price of natural gas goes up enough to make it look profitable to a utility. Indeed, with heightened tension in the Middle East, the price of crude oil has already risen — and with it the renewed specter of a natural gas pipeline through our area. That’s why a court ruling in Virginia against Dominion Energy for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline is reverberating through the Bay State.

Last week’s court ruling vacating a permit for a natural gas compressor station in Virginia, as reported by State House News Service, is being analyzed in Weymouth, where a natural gas compressor station has been opposed by residents. In a ruling issued last Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board did not sufficiently consider the consequences a proposed natural gas compressor station would have on the predominantly African-American community near its site.

Whether the case in Virginia relies more on Virginia law than Federal law remains to be seen. But any ruling on behalf of local factors and environmental justice is good news for Franklin County in the event that a natural gas pipeline should arise, vampire-like, from its defunct state.
» Read article

DoJ on industry team
Emails Reveal U.S. Justice Dept. Working Closely with Oil Industry to Oppose Climate Lawsuits

DOJ attorneys describe working with industry lawyers as a ‘team,’ raising questions about whether government was representing the American people.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
January 13, 2020

In early 2018, a few months after the cities of Oakland and San Francisco sued several major oil companies over climate change, attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice began a series of email exchanges and meetings with lawyers for the oil companies targeted in the litigation.

Legal experts say the conversations raise questions about the federal government’s objectivity and whether the Department of Justice, in these cases, was acting in the best interest of the country’s people.
» Read article

the price of coalAustralia’s Fires Test Its Winning Growth Formula
The country’s vulnerable environment and growing dependence on China have raised questions about the sustainability of its economic success.
By Keith Bradsher and Isabella Kwai, New York Times
January 13, 2020

Australia’s leaders face growing pressure to address climate change, as scientists blame the country’s increasingly hot and dry conditions for the disastrous blazes. That would mean reckoning with Australia’s dependence on providing China and other countries with coal.

The fossil fuel, used to fire many of the world’s power plants and steel mills, is one of Australia’s biggest exports. Coal is also one of the biggest sources of climate change gases, and produces most of Australia’s own electricity.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

NC to Drax
SLOW BURN (Part 3): World’s largest wood pellet maker both welcomed and condemned in NC
By Richard Stradling, The News & Observer
January 03, 2020

Tractor-trailer trucks carrying timber arrive one after another at a factory in Northampton County, where logs are piled up to 35 feet high in rows as long as two football fields. Still more trucks come, carrying sawdust and wood chips from lumber mills or from shredded limbs and small trees those mills won’t buy.

The logs and chips will be ground up, dried and turned into cylindrical pellets about as big around as a pencil. Every day of the year, barring any breakdowns at the plant, a truckload of these pellets leaves about every 24 minutes for the Port of Chesapeake in Virginia, where they’re loaded onto ships bound for Europe to be burned for heat and electricity.

John Keppler, the CEO of the mill’s owner, Enviva, calls this an environmentally friendly solution to climate change, and he’s not alone. Ten years ago, the European Commission directed its member countries to derive 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020 and said the burning of biomass such as wood pellets was one way to meet that goal.
» Read article

SLOW BURN (Part 2): From Poland to NC, activists plea for reduced carbon dioxide
By Justin Catanoso, The News & Observer
January 03, 2020

Just over a year ago, people from 196 countries were gathering in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Climate scientists and environmental activists approached the meeting with something close to desperation. They viewed it as perhaps their last best chance to repair what they saw as an obvious policy flaw that allows nations to greatly underreport their emissions of carbon dioxide — the gas most responsible for climate change.

Peg Putt, a former member of Tazmania’s parliament and now a carbon emissions expert with the international Climate Action Network, was one of the activists in Katowice. She pleaded with delegates from around the world to consider her research.

“We’ve published a new report,” Putt said, brandishing a six-page, full-color pamphlet titled, “Are Forests the New Coal?”

“Countries are going from burning coal to burning wood pellets in their power plants,” Putt said. They say that by doing so they are eliminating all of the carbon dioxide that would have come from the coal. They don’t have to measure the carbon dioxide they are adding when they burn wood pellets because the European Union has declared wood pellets to be “carbon neutral” — as if they gave off no gas at all.

That decision, Putt said, is “not doing anything for the environment. It’s actually making things worse.”
» Read article

SLOW BURN: Europe uses tons of NC trees as fuel. Will this solve climate change?
By Saul Elbein, The News & Observer
January 03, 2020

From the outskirts of Selby, a 1,200-year-old former coal-mining town in northern England, you can see the smokestack and the dozen cooling towers of the Drax Power Station, the largest power plant in the United Kingdom.

For much of its 45-year-history, Drax burned coal mined from the nearby Selby coalfield. But the last coal mine closed in 2004 and now Drax says it has gone green — with help from the trees of North Carolina.

Thousands of acres’ worth of North Carolina trees have been felled, shredded and baked into wood pellets, which have mostly replaced coal as Drax’s fuel.

In 2009, members of the European Union agreed to obtain 20% of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

About half of those “renewables” are the familiar ones: wind, solar, tidal, hydropower. But the other half is biomass: energy derived, ultimately, from plants. In the case of Drax and other converted coal plants in Denmark and the Netherlands, biomass means energy that comes from trees.
» Read article

» More about biomass

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