Monthly Archives: October 2020

Weekly News Check-In 10/23/20

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Welcome back.

We lead off this week with the story of young climate activists taking a page from the abolitionist playbook, when anti-slavery actions included waking politicians up in the middle of the night in hopes of also waking them up to the important issue at hand. Grab a nice big pan and a stout wooden spoon and set your alarm – there’s plenty of work to be done!

The Dakota Access Pipeline seems to run through dueling realities. In one, it just received a permit to double its flow. In a second, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed another injunction in Federal District Court to have it shut down altogether, citing the grave threat it poses to the Tribe’s critical water supply. The strangeness of that situation creates a good segue into the topic of virtual pipelines, especially now that the Trump administration is approving new rules for hauling liquefied natural gas by rail. If oil-carrying trains are bombs, then LNG trains are nukes. 

A new study in the journal Science concludes that the planet could retool its economies to fully comply with the Paris Climate Agreement target of 1.5 degree C of warming by spending just 10% of what Covid-19 has cost the global economy. That moves the concept of greening the economy from being a good idea, to also seeming like quite a bargain. And the climate keeps sending signals that we’re running out of time to make this transition, even as far too many political leaders remain in denial about the crisis.

In our good news section, we look at the clean energy impact of virtual power plants, tidal power, and floating offshore wind turbines. For a real lift, check out the work of BlocPower, a group bringing zero emissions energy efficiency retrofits to mid-sized buildings. Our featured article is an NPR report, and includes a link to the audio content – worth hearing simply to soak up some of CEO Donnel Baird’s immense optimism.

Green Mountain Power’s pilot distributed energy storage program – subsidizing a network of thousands of Tesla Powerwall batteries in people’s homes – has been a huge success. Declared a decisive win for both homeowners and the utility, the program will continue to expand. There’s also encouraging news in clean transportation, as the twelve states participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) are hearing from environmental justice advocates demanding less polluting and more accessible public transportation as priority concerns.

What we call the regional energy chess game currently includes a move by New England governors to assert more control over their grid operator ISO-NE. This is prompted by dissatisfaction with the pace of renewable energy integration and rate structures that continue to promote fossil fuel.

Our coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency (coal ash ponds) and fossil fuel industry (Texas, in general) both highlight regulatory agencies failing to function in the public interest.

A proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Gibbstown Logistics Center on the Delaware River is raising concern for its unconventional and risky siting and supply chain plans – including bringing LNG by rail from sources in the Marcellus shale play. See virtual pipelines, above.

The Boston Globe ran an excellent article on the proposed biomass incinerator in Springfield. It’s a must-read and represents an issue well worth contacting state legislators about.

We close with the good news that New York’s plastic bag ban, after weathering industry-supported lawsuits and a brief pandemic-related freakout, is now in effect.

button - BEAT News button - BZWI  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

wake up
‘We don’t have any choice’: the young climate activists naming and shaming US politicians
As the election nears, young Americans are calling on US politicians to take action on climate, police brutality and immigration
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
October 16, 2020

It was a Saturday night in September when 160 or so middle and high school students logged on to a Zoom call about how to confront American politicians using tactics inspired by young civil rights activists fighting for the abolition of slavery.

The teenagers were online with the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide youth-led climate justice collective, to learn about organizing Wide Awake actions – noisy night-time protests – to force lawmakers accused of ignoring the climate emergency and racial injustice to listen to their demands.

It’s a civil disobedience tactic devised by the Wide Awakes – a radical youth abolitionist organization who confronted anti-abolitionists at night by banging pots and pans outside their homes in the run-up to the civil war.

Now, in the run-up to one of the most momentous elections in modern history, a new generation of young Americans who say they are tired of asking nicely and being ignored, are naming and shaming US politicians in an effort to get their concerns about the planet, police brutality, inequalities and immigration heard.

The first one targeted the Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell after details emerged about the police killing of Breonna Taylor. In the days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sunrise activists woke up key Republican senators including McConnell and Lindsey Graham, demanding that they delay the vote on Trump’s supreme court nominee until a new president is sworn in.

“Even though we can’t vote, we can show up on the streets and wake up politicians. It’s our future on the line not theirs,” said 17-year-old Abby DiNardo, a senior from Delaware county. The high school senior recently coordinated a Wide Awake action outside the home of the Republican senator Pat Toomey, a former Wall Street banker who has repeatedly voted against climate action measures.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions            

 

PIPELINES

new DAPL injunction
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Files Request to Stop Dakota Access Pipeline
By Native News Online
October 22, 2020

A request for injunction was filed in Federal District Court of the District of Columbia last week by Earthjustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as an effort to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline.

The brief was filed to have U.S. District Judge James Boasberg clarify his ruling from July 6 that ordered Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, to shut down the flow of oil on Aug. 6. That ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

“The Tribes are irreparably harmed by the ongoing operation of the pipeline, through the exposure to catastrophic risk, through the ongoing trauma of the government’s refusal to comply with the law, and through undermining the Tribes’ sovereign governmental role to protect their members and respond to potential disasters,” attorneys Jan Hasselman and Nicole Ducheneaux wrote in a Friday filing.
» Read article          
» Read the brief          

double DAPL
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Clears Hurdle To Doubling Capacity
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 16, 2020

Illinois approved this week the plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline to double its capacity from 570,000 bpd to 1.1 million bpd, thus becoming the last state along the pipeline’s route to give its consent to the expansion.

Dakota Access, which has seen a lot of controversy since its inception and initial start-up in 2017, now has the approval of all four states through which it passes—North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois—to expand its capacity.

While the approval of the Illinois Commerce Commission is seen as a win for the oil industry, the pipeline’s operator Energy Transfer, and the North Dakota oil producers, environmentalists see the expansion of the pipeline – whose operation they still oppose – as unnecessary with the decreased oil demand in the coronavirus pandemic.

“This vital project will bring an additional half a million barrels a day of domestic energy from North Dakota that will be used to fuel our farms, communities and lives in Illinois and across the Midwest. It’s critical we continue to support and expand our nation’s pipeline infrastructure like DAPL to help family budgets and keep our economy moving – especially in this time of recovery from COVID-19,” Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) Midwest Director Chris Ventura said in a statement, welcoming the decision.

“It’s wildly inappropriate to be talking about expansion when the real conversation is about shutting it down,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney for EarthJustice who represents the Standing Rock Tribe against DAPL in the federal lawsuit, told Grand Forks Herald.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines                  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Cleveland LNG disaster
What You Should Know About Liquefied Natural Gas and Rail Cars
Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars. The Trump administration is attempting to change that.
By EarthJustice
August 18, 2020

The explosion risk of transporting volatile liquefied natural gas in vulnerable tank cars through major population centers is off the charts.

Yet the Trump administration is finalizing a rule that would allow trains to travel the country filled with an unprecedented amount of explosive liquefied natural gas. The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Association of State Fire Marshals have objected to the proposed rule.

Earthjustice has filed a legal challenge to stop these “bomb trains.”

Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars.

Liquefied natural gas can only be transported by ships, truck, and — with special approval by the Federal Railroad Administration — by rail in approved United Nations portable tanks.

UN portable tanks are relatively small tanks that can be mounted on top of semi-truck trailer beds or on railcars.

By contrast, tanker rail cars can hold roughly three times the volume of the UN portable tanks.

Here’s what you should know:
» Read article           

» More about virtual pipelines          

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Covid happenedTackling climate change seemed expensive. Then COVID happened.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 20, 2020

Climate deniers and opponents of aggressive climate action have long argued that governments can’t afford comprehensive measures to confront the climate crisis. The Green New Deal, for example, has been ridiculed as a “crazy, expensive mess” by the Republican Policy Committee.

But then COVID-19 challenged preconceived notions about the limits of government spending. Since August, world governments have pledged more than $12 trillion in stimulus spending to dig their way out of the coronavirus-caused economic downturn — a truly mind-boggling amount of cash that represents three times the public money spent after the Great Recession. How does that compare with the money that would be needed to fight climate change?

That’s the question behind a new paper published last week in the journal Science. According to the analysis, the money countries have put on the table to address COVID-19 far outstrips the low-carbon investments that scientists say are needed in the next five years to avoid climate catastrophe — by about an order of magnitude.

If just 12 percent of currently pledged COVID-19 stimulus funding were spent every year through 2024 on low-carbon energy investments and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the researchers said, that would be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate target. At present, countries’ voluntary commitments put the world on track to warm 3.2 degrees C (5.8 degrees F) or more by the end of the century.

Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change and the environment at Imperial College London and one of the study’s authors, said the findings illustrated a “win-win” opportunity for governments to not only address the acute impacts of the pandemic and its associated economic crisis, but to also put their economies on a more sustainable, prosperous, and resilient long-term trajectory.

“This crisis is not the only crisis looming over people’s heads,” Rogelj said, referring to the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the journal Science paper        

» More about greening the economy             

 

CLIMATE

driving while dismissive
Polling Shows Growing Climate Concern Among Americans. But Outsized Influence of Deniers Remains a Roadblock
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 22, 2020

More Americans than ever before — 54 percent, recent polling data shows — are alarmed or concerned about climate change, which scientists warn is a planetary emergency unfolding in the form of searing heat, prolonged drought, massive wildfires, monstrous storms, and other extremes.

These kinds of disasters are becoming increasingly costly and impossible to ignore. Yet even as the American public becomes progressively more worried about the climate crisis, a shrinking but vocal slice of the country continues to dismiss these concerns, impeding efforts to address the monumental global challenge.

“Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which leads the “Six Americas” research, said in an email describing the updated polling numbers.

Despite this growing awareness of the climate problem among the public, Americans who fall into the Dismissive category continue to have outsized influence in the public discourse, especially on the political right.

“However, because conservative media organizations prominently feature Dismissive politicians, pundits, and industry officials, most Americans overestimate the prevalence of Dismissive beliefs among other Americans,” Leiserowitz explained by email.

The “Dismissive” viewpoint is not only overrepresented in conservative media, but it has infiltrated the highest levels of the federal government, particularly under the Trump administration and among many Republican lawmakers. It has become part of the conservative orthodoxy to question human influence on the climate and downplay the seriousness of the threat.
» Read article           

melting permafrost
New Climate Warnings in Old Permafrost: ‘It’s a Little Scary Because it’s Happening Under Our Feet.’
A new study shows a few degrees of warming can trigger abrupt thaws of vast frozen lands, releasing huge stores of greenhouse gases and collapsing landscapes.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
October 16, 2020

A dive deep into 27,000 years worth of muck piled up on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean has spurred researchers to renew warnings about a potential surge of greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost.

By tracking chemical and organic fingerprints in long-buried layers of sediments remaining from previously frozen ground, the scientists showed that ancient phases of rapid warming in the Arctic, such as occurred near the end of the last ice age, released carbon on a massive scale. Vast frozen landscapes collapsed, turned to mud and flowed into the sea, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere along the way.

The study, published today in Science Advances, shows that only a few degrees of warming in the Arctic is enough “to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing,” suggesting a “sensitive trigger” for greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost. The results also support climate models that have shown “large injections of CO2 into the atmosphere” when glaciers, and the frozen lands beneath them, melted.
» Read article          
» Read the study               

not a scientist
Amy Coney Barrett’s Remarks on Climate Change Raise Alarm That a Climate Denier Is About to Join the Supreme Court
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 14, 2020

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, October 13, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett trotted out a tired and dismissive refrain from climate deniers, saying, “I’m certainly not a scientist” when Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) asked specifically about her views on climate change.

After Barrett said she doesn’t have “firm views” on the subject, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed her on those views during the hearing Wednesday, where she continued to dodge the question. “I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge,” Barrett said, adding, “I haven’t studied scientific data. I’m not really in a position to offer any informed opinion on what I think causes global warming.”

Her use of the “not a scientist” line, and her subsequent doubling down on the idea, drew swift criticism from activists, journalists, politicians, and other professionals engaged with the issue of climate change.

Whether Barrett is truly a climate science denier herself remains unclear, though the president nominating her has left no doubt about his own stance on climate change. Despite President Trump’s history of calling climate change a hoax and brushing aside the extensive scientific expertise of federal agencies on the subject, Barrett claimed she was unaware of the President’s views when Sen. Blumenthal asked point-blank whether she agreed with Trump.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen the president’s expression of his views on climate change,” she said.
» Read article           

» More about climate        

 

CLEAN ENERGY

VPP explainedSo, What Exactly Are Virtual Power Plants?
GTM helps explain a growing grid resource that can mimic power plants without dominating the landscape.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 22, 2020

We live in an increasingly virtual world. You can hold virtual meetings with virtual friends using virtual reality systems hosted on virtual servers. And in energy circles, one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years is the virtual power plant, or VPP.  

The term first started to be bandied about in the 1990s. But VPPs have really taken off in the last 10 years, not just as a concept but as something that a growing number of energy companies are creating, using and commercializing. Here’s the real deal on this virtual energy phenomenon.

According to Germany’s Next Kraftwerke, one of the pioneers of modern VPPs, it’s “a network of decentralized, medium-scale power generating units such as wind farms, solar parks and combined heat and power units, as well as flexible power consumers and storage systems.”

In practice, a VPP can be made up of multiple units of a single type of asset, such as a battery or a device in a demand response program, or a heterogeneous mix of assets.

These units “are dispatched through the central control room of the virtual power plant but nonetheless remain independent in their operation and ownership,” adds Next Kraftwerke.

In other words, a VPP is to a traditional power plant what a bunch of Internet-connected desktop computers is to a mainframe computer. Both can do complex computing tasks, but one makes use of the distributed IT infrastructure that’s already out there. 

A key feature of VPPs is that they can aggregate flexible capacity to address peaks in electricity demand. In this respect, they can emulate or replace natural gas-fired peakers and help address distribution network bottlenecks—but usually without the same capital outlay.
» Read article          

NY tidal power
New York City Is About to Get an Injection of Tidal Power. Is This Time Different?
A tidal energy startup plans to install a small generator in New York’s East River over the coming weeks.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 20, 2020

New York City may be weeks away from seeing tidal power injected onto its local grid.

Verdant Power, a 20-year-old tidal energy startup, plans to install a half-scale generator in the East River tidal strait this autumn, adding a small but novel source of generation for a city hungry for renewable energy but with limited means to generate it locally. The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) installation will feature three underwater 35-kilowatt turbines on a single triangular base called a TriFrame.

The RITE project may have bigger implications than the Big Apple’s renewables goals. 

If the RITE generator is successful, Verdant hopes to get its technology certified by the European Marine Energy Centre, the world’s leading tidal testing facility. Subject to certification, the startup then plans to deploy two full-size arrays, equipped with 10-meter-diameter blades instead of the current 5-meter models, off the coast of Wales, U.K., by sometime in 2023, in what it hopes will be the first step in the development of a 30-megawatt tidal farm.

Back in New York, meanwhile, Verdant hopes the RITE project could form the basis for a half-scale tidal demonstration center in the East River. For nearly a decade, the New York-based startup has held a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to install up to a megawatt of tidal power in New York City, enough for thirty of its 35 kW turbines mounted on ten TriFrames.

Still, the path toward bigger tidal arrays, and even more demonstration projects, looks challenging.
» Read article           

floating offshore wind explained
So, What Exactly Is Floating Offshore Wind?
Floating wind turbines atop the ocean could be the next big renewables market. GTM helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 19, 2020

Onshore wind turbines can be found everywhere from the tropics to the Arctic. Three decades ago, developers started putting them on fixed foundations out at sea, sparking the rise of the offshore wind market, which built 6.1 gigawatts of new capacity in 2019.

More recently, the wind industry embarked on an even more ambitious endeavor: putting turbines on floating platforms in the water, rather than fixed foundations. Now on the verge of commercial maturity, floating wind has the potential to become one of the most important new renewable energy markets.

So, what is floating offshore wind?

It’s pretty much as it sounds. Instead of putting a wind turbine on a fixed foundation in the sea, you attach it to a structure that floats in the water. The structure is tethered to the seabed to stop it from drifting off into a beach or shipping lane.

Today’s floating wind designs envision using standard offshore turbines, export cables and balance of plant. The key difference between floating and fixed-foundation offshore wind is that the latter is limited to water depths of up to around 165 feet.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy          

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Donnel Baird
Fighting Climate Change, One Building At A Time
By Dan Charles, NPR
October 18, 2020

When Donnel Baird was in his twenties, he had twin passions, and he didn’t want to choose between them. “I vowed that I was going to try to combine my passion for Black civil rights with trying to do something about climate change,” he says.

He’s doing it now, with a company that he founded called BlocPower. He’s attacking one of the seemingly intractable sources of America’s greenhouse emissions: old residential buildings. And he’s focusing on neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of money to invest.

Baird wants to show me how it’s done. So we meet in New York City, in front of a classic Brooklyn brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood. “It’s still largely African American, West Indian,” Baird says of the building’s residents.

The building is four stories tall, with two apartments on each floor. It’s a cooperative that’s legally designated as affordable housing. BlocPower looked at this building and saw a business opportunity.

“We thought that they were wasting a lot of money paying for natural gas, which whey were using for heating; also to heat their hot water,” he says.

Baird’s company went to the people who live here, the coop owners, with a proposal. BlocPower offered to manage the building’s heating and cooling. The company would install new equipment, and put solar panels on the roof. “Solar panels aren’t just for rich people, or for White people. They’re for everybody,” Baird says.

The best part: The residents wouldn’t have to pay anything up-front. In fact, BlocPower promised that their bills would go down. And they’d be helping the planet, with lower greenhouse emissions.

Shaughn Dolcy, who lives in this building, was sold. “It’s the only way to go,” he says. “There’s no other way.” He says most of his neighbors liked it, too. “I would say 90 percent” of them, he says. “You maybe had, like, one particular family, they weren’t really interested in getting anything progressive or new. They were on-board at the end of the day, though.”

So BlocPower went to work. The company tore out the gas-burning boiler in the basement and installed a set of efficient electric-powered heat pumps instead. Heat pumps capture heat and move it from one space to another, in either direction: during winter they heat a home, and in summer they cool it. BlocPower put up the solar panels, elevated high enough that people still can gather for parties underneath them.

“The result is, they save tens of thousands of dollars a year on their energy costs,” Baird says. Yet they’re still paying enough that BlocPower can earn back its investment. The new equipment saves that much money.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency         

 

ENERGY STORAGE

performance confirmedFrom Pilot to Permanent: Green Mountain Power’s Home Battery Network Is Here to Stay
The Vermont utility now controls several thousand Tesla Powerwall batteries sited in customers’ homes. The results have been promising.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
October 16, 2020

Utility pilot projects aren’t famous for being standout financial successes. Usually, the goal is to verify a technology in the field before attempting broader deployment. Sometimes nothing follows the pilot.

Vermont utility Green Mountain Power not only verified the efficacy of residential batteries for meeting grid needs, but it also saved its customers millions of dollars with them. Now, that program has been ratified by the state’s Public Utility Commission as a permanent residential storage tariff, which means battery installations — and utility savings — will continue to rise.

At a time when forward-thinking companies are excited to erect networks of distributed batteries at some point in the next few years, Green Mountain Power represents something of an anomaly. It already has not several hundred, but 2,567 utility-controlled Powerwall batteries sitting in customer homes, adding up to around 13 megawatts.

“These things are functioning exactly as or better than we hoped,” said Josh Castonguay, GMP vice president and chief innovation officer. “You’ve got an asset that’s improving reliability for the customer, paying for itself and providing a financial benefit for all of our customers.”
» Read article           

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI and social justiceJustice advocates keep pressure on transportation emission pact planners
Transportation and Climate Initiative organizers recently held a webinar to discuss concerns around equity and environmental justice.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By barnimages / Flickr / Creative Commons
October 15, 2020

As organizers of a regional transportation emissions pact discuss how to make sure the initiative benefits everyone, environmental justice activists say they need to involve more people of color in the process.

“Anywhere I go, the conversation around [the Transportation and Climate Initiative] is dominated by white people,” said Joshua Malloy, a community organizer with Pittsburgh for Public Transit. “There has to be a way to make this more accessible that I’ve not seen.”

Founded in 2010, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, is a collaboration of 12 states and the District of Columbia working to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources. Nearly two years ago, nine of the states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — along with Washington, D.C., announced plans to create a market-based system to reduce these emissions.

Since the beginning of the process, environmental justice activists have pushed for the needs of low-income, immigrant, and other marginalized communities to be a central focus of the program. Air pollution is often higher in low-income communities and in areas with high populations of people of color. Industrial developments are also more likely to be located in these neighborhoods than in wealthier areas that have the resources to mount organized opposition. 

Organizers of the initiative have also expressed support for the goal of equity, and late last month held a webinar to share the progress they have made toward designing a system that will benefit all communities and underscore why such efforts are needed.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation               

 

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

NESCOE calls for change
New England states call for changes to wholesale markets, transmission planning and grid governance
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
October 19, 2020

[New England States Committee on Electricity] NESCOE’s call for reform of the ISO-NE market is the latest example of how some states are pushing back on federally-regulated markets they say ignore renewable energy and decarbonization goals.

The region’s wholesale markets “fail to sufficiently value the legally-required clean energy investments made by the ratepayers they serve,” according to the NESCOE vision statement.

Some states say their preferred resource mix and renewables goals are being undermined in regional markets overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They say the commission’s rulings have negated the impact of their support for green energy in favor of keeping fossil fuel generators competitive.
» Read article           

NE power play
N.E. governors seek bigger say in power policies

Seek greater role in oversight of grid operator
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
October 16, 2020

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and four other New England governors made a push on Friday for a much bigger say in the way the region’s electricity markets are regulated and governed, although the vision statement they issued steered clear of the top recommendation put forth by the region’s power grid operator – a carbon tax.

The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont are concerned that the long-term electricity contracts their states are negotiating with offshore wind operators and the province of Quebec are not being absorbed into the existing wholesale markets for electricity. As a result, the vision statement says, the direct purchases of electricity by states and the production of electricity through wholesale markets are working at cross-purposes and may result in ratepayers paying for the production of power they don’t need.

The vision statement reflects a growing recognition that much larger amounts of electricity will need to be produced to decarbonize the transportation and other sectors of the economy. The vision statement calls for a reimagining of the region’s wholesale electricity markets; the development of a grid that relies less on big power plants and more on local wind, solar, and battery projects; and a new governance structure for the regional grid operator.

One area the mission statement does not explore is the recommendation by the grid operator, ISO New England, that the best way to make wholesale electricity markets work effectively is to impose a carbon tax that would nudge the market in the direction of cleaner forms of energy.
» Read article          
» Read the vision statement          

Eversource strategy chief sees role for green hydrogen, geothermal in Northeast
By Tom DiChristopher, S&P Global
October 16, 2020

Decarbonizing New England’s natural gas grid will require a portfolio of solutions that likely includes green hydrogen and geothermal energy rather than systemwide electrification, according to Roger Kranenburg, vice president for energy strategy and policy at Eversource Energy.

Kranenburg sees electrification of heating playing some role in achieving Massachusetts’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. However, Kranenburg sees Eversource evolving into a “regional energy company” that delivers a range of low-carbon energy to end users, and the right solution might not always be electrification.

“We feel that if you push folks too much artificially towards electrifying heat, you will actually get a lot of backlash and it can undo what we all agree is the end objective, which is to decarbonize the economy,” Kranenburg said during an Oct. 15 webinar hosted by the U.S. Association for Energy Economics’ National Capital Area Chapter. “Instead of thinking of it as systemwide, let’s look at what the customer characteristic and needs are. … Let’s look at it that way, and you’ll come up with a portfolio solution to provide that service.”

With the exception of California, the Boston area has emerged as the most active beachhead in the movement to adopt ordinances that require electric heating in new construction. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the region’s first gas ban in July, but lawmakers in several communities have resolved to pursue building electrification.
» Read article          
» Read report from National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues
Report by M. W. Melaina, O. Antonia, and M. Penev, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), March, 2013

» More about regional energy                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

coal ash ponds
EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
October 16, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water.

Research has found even plastic-lined coal ash ponds are likely to leak, but those risks are even higher when a clay barrier is the only layer used to hold the arsenic-laced sludge.

Environmental groups have already pledged to sue over the Friday rule, which will allow unlined pits to continue operating, so long as companies can demonstrate using groundwater monitoring data that the pond is unlikely to leak.

“These focused common-sense changes allow owners and operators the opportunity to submit a substantial factual and technical demonstration that there is no reasonable probability of groundwater contamination. This will allow coal ash management to be determined based on site-specific conditions,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release.  

There are more than 400 coal ash ponds in the U.S. 

An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities.
» Read article           

EPA coal ash pone rule
EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer
By TRAVIS LOLLER, AP
October 16, 2020

The Trump administration will let some leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash storage ponds stay in operation for years more and some unlined ponds stay open indefinitely under a rule change announced Friday.

The move by the Environmental Protection Agency is the administration’s latest rollback of environmental and public health regulations governing operators of coal-fired power plants, which are taking hits financially as cheaper natural gas, solar and wind power make dirtier-burning coal plants less competitive.

Friday’s move weakens an Obama-era rule in which the EPA regulated the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash for the first time, including closing coal-ash dumping ponds that were unstable or contaminating groundwater.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for power and contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous heavy metals. U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tonnes) annually of ash and other waste.

Data released by utilities in March 2018, after the Obama administration required groundwater monitoring around coal ash storage sites, showed widespread evidence of contamination at coal plants from Virginia to Alaska.

For decades, utilities largely disposed of coal ash by sluicing it into huge open pits. In 2008, the six-story-tall dike on a massive coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Swan Pond community. It remains the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and prompted the 2015 regulations that were intended to increase oversight of the industry.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Texas regulators failingTexas Regulators Failing to Act on Pollution Complaints in Permian Oilfields, New Report Finds
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
October 21, 2020

Over the past five years, environmental advocates with the nonprofit Earthworks have made trips to 298 oil and gas wells, compressor stations, and processing plants across the Permian Basin in Texas, an oil patch which last year hit record-high methane pollution levels for the U.S. During those trips, Earthworks found and documented emissions from the oil industry’s equipment, and on 141 separate occasions, they reported what they found to the state’s environmental regulators.

However, in response to those 141 complaints, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) took action to reduce pollution — by, for example, issuing a violation to the company responsible — just 17 times, according to a new report published today by Earthworks, which describes a pattern in which Texas regulators failed to address oilfield pollution problems, allowing leaks to continue in some cases for months.

TCEQ took “other” regulatory action, which the report said might be contacting the company operating the site or sending out an inspector, in response to 60 complaints, but in many cases Earthworks said TCEQ’s response came weeks or months after the report was filed.

In 22 cases, TCEQ closed the complaint but took no action at all, the report says. And 42 of the nonprofit’s pollution complaints remain open.

“It’s not surprising to Texans that state law favors the oil and gas industry,” said Sharon Wilson, an Earthworks thermographer and Texas coordinator who filed the complaints described by the report. “What should be a surprise is that Texas regulators charged with protecting the public often can’t be bothered to enforce what laws do exist.”
» Read article          
» Read the Earthworks report            

» More about fossil fuels            

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Gibbstown LNG
Controversy Mounts Over Proposed LNG Export Facility on the Delaware River
By Yale Environment 360
October 22, 2020

A plan to build a major liquefied natural gas export facility in southern New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is being met with increasing scrutiny and opposition from environmentalists and nearby communities. The $450 million project would send liquified natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region to ports in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Europe.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), an interstate agency that regulates river development, originally approved the project — an expansion of the Gibbstown Logistics Center — in June 2019, but the decision was appealed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, delaying the project. In September, the DRBC voted to delay the final permitting. A final decision on the facility, which has also received permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is expected by year’s end.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the project’s supply chain and location are unusual. Most export facilities are located near deepwater ports, and fuel is loaded directly from an LNG plant onto vessels. But the proposed Gibbstown expansion requires dredging the Delaware River to make it deeper and building a second dock. The natural gas will also be transported hundreds of miles on trains and trucks to the facility from the Marcellus Shale region. According to a permit application, New Fortress Energy, one of the developers of the project, said it expects the facility will receive natural gas from several 100-car trains or up to 700 tractor trailers every day.

“We look at every part of the supply chain that this project entails, and we consider every single step of it to be dangerous and untested,” Delaware Riverkeeper Network Deputy Director Tracy Carluccio told FreightWaves, an industry news site.

More than a dozen environmental groups have joined the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club in opposing the Gibbstown export facility.

In addition to fighting the approval of the Gibbstown export facility, environmental groups have also filed a lawsuit against a new rule approved by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allowing for the transit of liquefied natural gas by rail.
» Read article           

» More about LNG        

 

BIOMASS

Springfield biomass plant resistance
In the nation’s asthma capital, plans to burn wood for energy spark fury
By David Abel, Boston Globe
October 20, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — For more than a decade, Amy Buchanan has lived in a small house in an industrial section of the state’s third-largest city, where a pall of pungent air hangs over the neighborhood and heavy trucks spew diesel fumes on their way to a nearby paving company.

Like many of her neighbors in what last year ranked as the nation’s asthma capital, Buchanan has the respiratory disease, while her husband and sister suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now, they worry their neighborhood could soon become home to the state’s largest commercial biomass power plant, one expected to burn nearly a ton of wood an hour and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

Plans to build a 42-megawatt incinerator have been in the works for more than a decade. In an interview with The Boston Globe last year, Victor Gatto Jr., Palmer’s founder, said the company had already broken ground on the project, which he estimated would cost about $150 million.

“The plant will be built,” he said.

Despite local protests and opposition from nearly all city councilors, the plant’s prospects were given a boost when the Baker administration last year proposed to alter rules that designate woody biomass as a form of renewable energy. The draft rules would make developers eligible for valuable financial incentives, potentially saving Palmer millions of dollars a year.

The revised rules, which are still being vetted by state regulators, are supported by the logging industry that seeks to promote woody biomass, a fuel derived from wood chips and pellets made from tree trunks, branches, sawdust, and other plant matter.

Environmental advocates oppose the rule changes, saying they would increase carbon emissions, create more pollution in the form of soot, and lead to greater deforestation. Trees and plants grow by absorbing carbon dioxide; when they’re burned, they release the heat-trapping gas back into the atmosphere.

Opponents note that a state-commissioned study in 2010 by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found that biomass — which accounts for about 1.5 percent of the state’s carbon emissions — “generally emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels per unit of energy produced.” The study also found that large biomass plants are likely to produce greater emissions than coal and natural gas plants, even after they’ve been in operation for decades.

The administration’s push to promote biomass was criticized by Attorney General Maura Healey, who called financial incentives to burn wood for energy a “step backward” in addressing climate change.

In comments submitted to the state, she said the draft rules “raise significant concerns about the potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions . . . and may undermine the commonwealth’s nation-leading efforts to address climate change.”

In Springfield, opponents’ concerns about the biomass plant go beyond greenhouse gases. The soot from burning wood, in addition to asthma, has been linked to heart and other lung diseases.
» Read article          

» More about biomass           

 

PLASTICS BANS

NY ban starts nowNew York Will Finally Enforce Its Plastic Bag Ban
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
October 19, 2020

 

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

“New York’s bag ban has already improved New York’s health by cutting down on plastic pollution,” Environmental Advocates NY deputy director Kate Kurera told NBC4 New York. “We look forward to the State beginning enforcement and stores complying with this important law.”

The new law prohibits most stores from giving out thin plastic shopping bags. They can dispense paper bags, for which counties have the option of charging a five cent fee. Any business caught handing out the banned plastic bags will face a fine, according to NY1.

The law offers exceptions for takeout orders and bags used to wrap meat or prepared food, according to NBC4 New York. Families who use food stamps will also not have to pay the fee for paper bags.
» Read article           

» More about plastics bans            

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Weekly News Check-In 10/16/20

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Welcome back.

We took a break last week, but the news kept coming. Events are unfolding rapidly around the Weymouth compressor station, but fortunately WBUR’s Mariam Wasser published another of her excellent “explainer” articles. She pulls all the complicated pieces together and provides much-appreciated clarity.

Elsewhere on the pipeline beat, Eversource Energy has completed its purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. And while they’re still committed to pumping volatile, explosive gas under our streets and into our homes, their message is “this time it will be different.” In the interest of fair and balance reporting, we offer a sobering report about problems with anti-corrosion coatings on natural gas pipes.

We’re catching up on the big-picture impact of recent climate-related lawsuits with an excellent summary article from Dana Drugmand in DeSmog Blog. Closer to home, we found useful information on the health effects of indoor gas use – particularly gas ranges used in non-ventilated kitchens.

Those of us looking forward to a green, sustainable economy apparently have like-minded friends in Helsinki. We found an uplifting article from Finland’s capital, describing a whole population that’s embracing and working toward sustainability.

Our climate section opens with another warning about what will happen if we don’t get our act together quickly, and then follows with potentially hopeful news that China has made its first significant climate policy announcement, committing the country to net-zero by 2060. While that’s too slow, it’s an important beginning.

New York City took a big step toward clean energy when its utility agreed to work with environmental organizations and communities to replace six highly-polluting “peaking” power plants with low- or non-emitting alternatives. That means battery storage, charged during off-peak hours by some combination of conventional and renewable sources. Elsewhere in this section, we look at the complicated issues around hydropower, the down-side of solar in the smoke-choked west – and close with a study showing that reliance on nuclear power actually slows the deployment of renewable power sources.

We found an article describing a financing model for energy efficiency improvements that allows property owners to pay for improvements over time through utility savings. Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS) has been around for decades, but now seems primed for broad application.

Utility Dive’s Kavya Balaraman wrote an extensive 4-part series covering all aspects of energy storage, and we give that whole section to her this week. Taken together, it’s an excellent tour of past, present, and future developments.

The electric vehicle community could see improvements in charging station accessibility and reliability soon, based on a new agreement between EV Connect, vehicle manufacturers, and other partners.

A lot of press lately has focused on cleaning up the fossil fuel industry mess that will inevitably be left behind as we move beyond carbon. It’s a good thing to talk about now, since the industry appears to be actively maneuvering to stick taxpayers with the huge bill. We include cautionary reports from Venezuela and Ecuador, where oil booms went bust without sufficient environmental regulations or remediation.

The South Korean government is defending its renewable energy subsidies for biomass in court. A potentially game-changing suit was brought by the country’s solar industry along with a Canadian citizen who’s trying to stop the clearcutting of British Columbia’s ancient forests to supply wood pellets. The suit charges that biomass burning has “worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector.”

We close with an article describing a recent study that concludes there is currently 15.5 million tons of microplastics on the ocean floor.

button - BEAT News  For even more environmental news and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)!

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor explained
The Controversial Natural Gas Compressor In Weymouth, Explained
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 13, 2020

For the last five years, a coalition of South Shore towns, politicians and local activists have tried to block the construction of a natural gas compressor station in North Weymouth. They’ve waged public awareness campaigns, challenged the project’s environmental permits in court, and even resorted to civil disobedience. Meanwhile, the company building the compressor station cleared every legal and regulatory hurdle in its way, and construction has moved forward.

The Weymouth compressor itself is a complicated project that involves multiple state and federal agencies and private companies — and that’s before you factor in all the litigation and local controversy the facility has generated.

WBUR published an explainer about the compressor station in June 2019, but given how much has happened since then, we felt it was time for an update. So once again, whether you’ve been reading about the issue for years and have questions, or are just hearing about the project for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article               

 

evacuation planWeymouth compressor station evacuation plan in the works
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

A new compressor station in the Fore River Basin has a federal operation permit, but an evacuation plan for residents during a potential emergency at the site remains unknown, according to compressor foes.

“It is simply unacceptable that this compressor station has received its final operating permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but we still have no safety and evacuation plan available to the vulnerable residents,” said Alice Arena, leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station during a Town Council Meeting, Oct. 5.

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund said an evacuation plan is “being finalized.”

“We anticipate it will be done before that station is fully operational,” he said.

The compressor station was scheduled to begin service, Oct. 1, but natural gas leaks on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30 have delayed the facility from being put into use.
» Read article               

 

FRRACS want clarity
Weymouth compressor foes want clarity on gas leaks
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

The Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station want Town Council to determine whether Enbridge Inc. properly notified the police and fire departments when natural gas leaks occurred at the compressor station, Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

“We are asking the council…to request, review, and report on the police and fire 911 records for Friday, Sept. 11 and Wednesday, Sept. 30,” said FRRACS leader Alice Arena during an Oct. 5 council meeting.

According to Enbridge spokesman Maxwell Bergeron, the leaks forced an emergency shutdown of the compressor, and they are under investigation by the company.

Arena said FRRACS wants the council to obtain an investigative report about the gas leaks from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“We ask the Council to make this report available to the public,” she said.
» Read article               

 

FBI may investigateLynch: FBI To Investigate Possibility of Cyberattack At Weymouth Compressor
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
October 02, 2020

The FBI has been asked to investigate whether a “cyber intrusion” triggered this week’s emergency shutdown at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

The cause of the emergency shutdown on Sept. 30 — the second that month — is still unknown, though it seems to have originated in the plant’s electrical system, said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch.

“Because this is an international pipeline, and because of the national security implication, the FBI has been asked to take a look at any possible cyber intrusion that might have triggered the release,” Lynch said.

The FBI declined to comment on whether it was conducting an investigation involving the station.

The plant has been shut down since Sept. 30, and will remain so until an independent safety analysis is done and officials with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sign off on a re-start plan.

Lynch also submitted a request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday, asking the agency to revoke the station’s certificate of public convenience and necessity, which would effectively pull the plug on the project. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey made the same request earlier in the week.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

 

PIPELINES

William Akley
‘Safe and reliable’: Eversource says Agawam, Longmeadow pipeline projects necessary after acquiring Columbia Gas
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
October 13, 2020

Proposed natural gas pipeline work in Longmeadow and Agawam could help Eversource — now the owner of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts — end leaks from aging cast-iron pipes in Springfield and address other reliability and safety issues.

But the projects — which are opposed by environmentalists and some living in those towns — need a more thorough review now that Eversource is owner of the system, said Bill Akley, the company’s president of gas operations.

Akley spoke at a Tuesday afternoon news conference at what is now an Eversource Gas maintenance depot, formerly a Columbia Gas facility, in Springfield.

Eversource was celebrating the completion of its purchase of the former Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for $1.1 billion. State regulators approved the purchase last week. The federal government had already given an OK.

Also there, uninvited, were members of the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign, a group opposing pipelines.

Susan Grossberg, a campaign member from Agawam, questioned how the pipeline projects fit with Eversource’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.
» Read article               

 

degraded coatings
Too Much Sun Degrades Coatings That Keep Pipes From Corroding, Risking Leaks, Spills and Explosions
Pipeline installation delays leave pipes stored longer than recommended aboveground, where UV light can deteriorate the coatings that prevent corrosion.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
October 11, 2020

For natural gas pipeline developers hunting for a good deal on a 100-mile section of steel pipe, a recent advertisement claimed to have just what they are looking for.

Following the cancelation of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York, a private equity firm recently offered a “massive inventory” of never-used, “top-quality” coated steel pipe.

What the company didn’t mention is that the pipe may have sat, exposed to the elements, for more than a year, a period of time that exceeds the pipe coating manufacturers’ recommendation for aboveground storage, which could make the pipe prone to failure.

Long term, aboveground pipe storage has become commonplace as pipeline developers routinely begin construction activity on pipeline projects before obtaining all necessary permits and as legal challenges add lengthy delays.

Whether canceled or stalled, overdue oil and gas pipelines across the country may face a little-known problem that raises new safety concerns and could add additional costs and delays.

Fusion bonded epoxy, the often turquoise-green protective coating covering sections of steel pipe in storage yards from North Dakota to North Carolina, may have degraded to the point that it is no longer effective. The coatings degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun while the pipes they cover sit above ground for years.

The compromised coatings leave the underlying pipes more prone to corrosion and failures that could result in leaks, catastrophic spills or explosions. Degraded coatings were implicated in an oil spill from a failed pipeline near Santa Barbara, California in 2015. Toxic compounds may also be released as the coating breaks down, raising concerns that the pipes could pose a health threat to those who live near the vast storage yards holding them.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

climate suit update
Fossil Fuel Companies Keep Getting Sued Over Climate Impacts. Here’s Where the Cases Stand
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 7, 2020

September saw a flurry of new lawsuits filed by cities and states against major fossil fuel companies over the climate crisis and the resulting impacts that are already being felt. After Hoboken, New Jersey sued Big Oil and its largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, on September 2, back-to-back lawsuits came the following week from Charleston, South Carolina and the state of Delaware. Connecticut then followed with a lawsuit singularly targeting ExxonMobil, which remains one of the largest oil companies in the world and appears determined to double down on its core fossil fuel business despite knowing decades ago about the climate consequences of using its products. 

These climate lawsuits seek to hold companies like Exxon accountable for spending decades misleading the public on climate risks. Those dangers, projected long ago, have literally hit home in recent months with scorching heat, “record breaking” storms battering the Gulf Coast, and unprecedented and devastating wildfires burning millions of acres in the western U.S.

“Long before Trump entered office, oil and gas CEOs predicted this would be the result of their unfettered industry,” Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said in a late August press release responding to the landfall of Hurricane Laura. “Climate denial is not a victimless crime, and it’s time for the fossil fuel industry to be held accountable.”

The current wave of climate accountability lawsuits started three years ago with a handful of coastal California communities, and has since burgeoned to include nearly two dozen communities across the country so far that are taking the fossil fuel industry to court. Six attorneys general are currently suing Exxon for alleged climate deception, litigation that has started to garner comparisons to the state lawsuits targeting Big Tobacco firms for lying about the health risks of smoking.

The climate cases have not yet made it to trial, with the exception of a securities fraud lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General against Exxon. A judge dismissed that case following a trial held last October, finding that Exxon did not deceive its investors over climate risks to its business. Since then, attorneys general have filed several new cases alleging that major oil companies such as Exxon misled consumers in violation of state consumer protection laws.

“These companies were not simply reckless in the pursuit of profits,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who sued BP, Chevron, Exxon, and Shell in June, explained during a recent online briefing. “Their deceptive advertisements and misleading claims violated the D.C. Consumer Protection law.”

One legal expert who is following these climate cases told DeSmog that these consumer protection cases may have an easier path towards trial in state courts. “These are straight-up state consumer rights laws,” Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School (and this writer’s former law professor) said. “So those [cases] are going to go straight to trial I think.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions       

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF INDOOR GAS USE

kill your gas stove
Kill Your Gas Stove
It’s bad for you, and the environment. If you can afford to avoid it, you probably should.
By Sabrina Imbler, The Atlantic
October 15, 2020

Most Americans these days use electric stoves, but approximately a third cook primarily with natural gas, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Many of these cooks swear by the blue flame, which can supercharge a cast-iron pan in a way that would put an electric coil to shame. Cooking over a fire may seem natural enough, but these stoves should be a hotter topic: Given advances in induction technology, concerns about the climate, health anxieties, or some combination of the three, should anyone be using one?

If you can afford to avoid it, probably not.

On the air-quality front, at least, the evidence against gas stoves is damning. Although cooking food on any stove produces particulate pollutants, burning gas produces nitrogen dioxide, or NO2,, and sometimes also carbon monoxide, according to Brett Singer, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies indoor air quality. Brief exposures to air with high concentrations of NO2 can lead to coughing and wheezing for people with asthma or other respiratory issues, and prolonged exposure to the gas can contribute to the development of those conditions, according to the EPA.
» Read article             

» More about health effects of indoor gas use        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

sustainable Helsinki
Helsinki Makes Sustainability a Guiding Principle for Development
By Dorn Townsend, New York Times
October 14, 2020

HELSINKI, Finland — When his tour as the American ambassador to Finland ended in 2015, Bruce Oreck decided to linger. Part of the draw was a business opportunity. In a neighborhood just north of the city center, Mr. Oreck paid about 11 million euros for a vast, abandoned, century-old train factory.

He has been transforming the site into a market and community center that he intends to be a model of green building and consumerism. But Mr. Oreck, who was a New Orleans tax lawyer and professional bodybuilder before he became an Obama political appointee, said he had stayed because he was enchanted by something besides the potential for real estate success.

“You don’t hear about it unless you spend time here, but something is happening in Helsinki that isn’t happening almost anywhere else,” Mr. Oreck said. “Helsinki is a city full of people waiting for the revolution. They really want to make the world a better place, and they’re trying to lead by example. Which is a paradox, because Finns are decidedly not showy people.”

The qualities Mr. Oreck is referring to are sometimes summed up by the term sustainability. In the world’s second-most northern capital, sustainability has moved from concept to guiding principle. It’s rare for a day to pass without hearing a form of the word deployed multiple times as an environmentally friendly noun, adjective or adverb.

But Helsinki has a parallel goal: The city has endorsed measures it hopes will earn it recognition as the world’s most functional city.

In Helsinki this aspiration will be judged against a measurable and widely shared benefit: New master-planned communities must integrate features allowing inhabitants to enjoy an extra hour of free time each day.
» Read article                             

 

diversity and inclusion initiative
Solar firms unite to launch diversity and inclusion initiative
By Jules Scully, PV Tech
October 13, 2020

A group of trade organisations and solar companies have launched a new initiative that aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the industry.

The ‘Renewables Forward’ partnership will see stakeholders share corporate practices and policies as well as invest in under-resourced and minority communities in the US. The goal is to identify tangible ways to collaborate and drive a larger industrywide partnership between CEOs and solar organisations.

Founding members include Capital Dynamics, Cypress Creek Renewables, EDF Renewables, Generate Capital, Mosaic, Nautilus Solar Energy, New Columbia Solar, Nextracker, Sol Systems and Volt Energy, as well as the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation.

“From a mission perspective, the lack of diversity in solar means that whole segments of the American population are simply not participating in climate solutions and are being left out of the economic opportunities that these jobs create,” said Dan Shugar, CEO of Nextracker. “Words are good, but we are overdue in our industry to do better in terms of minority and gender representation.”

Renewables Forward’s initial efforts include coordinating an educational and fundraising programme to support US civil rights organisations the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Urban League.

Gilbert Campbell, CEO of solar project developer Volt Energy, said: “Our diversity issue is not simply a hiring problem, but an issue of education, access, political voice, environmental impact, community protection and sustainability.

“We cannot commit to building a better, more sustainable future without committing both to address the inequities of the past and to build a solution that elevates opportunity for all Americans.”
» Read article                            

 

casting doubt
Fishing industry group casts doubt on offshore wind’s job creation promises
Wind advocates counter that a recent report obscures the potential for long-term employment as the industry continues to grow.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
October 12, 2020

While offshore wind developers are promising tens of thousands of U.S. jobs from wind farm development along the East Coast over the next decade, the commercial fishing industry is sowing doubt about the projections. 

An economic analysis commissioned by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a fishing industry coalition, concludes that “a surprisingly low” number of new positions will be permanent, and that the bulk of jobs will be created overseas. 

“The claim that the huge investments on offshore wind would provide significant job and economic benefits in the U.S. has been grossly inflated,” wrote the report’s author, Janet Liang, an economist with Georgetown Economic Services, a consulting firm. 

Wind industry representatives are not convinced by the findings, however. So long as Eastern Seaboard states can provide sufficient training to help businesses and workers capitalize on wind industry opportunities, the economic benefit is bound to be substantial, said Liz Burdock, chief executive and president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. 

“The number that I point to, which is based on annual aggregate data, is what’s happened in Europe, where offshore wind sustains 40,000 jobs,” Burdock said. “I feel fairly confident that we’re going to hit or exceed that number with what we have in the pipeline now.” 

The Georgetown report comes as federal regulators near a long-awaited decision on Vineyard Wind, which is poised to become the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm. Fishing industry interests are imploring regulators to fully consider the impacts on fisheries. While state economic development officials tout offshore wind as an economic boon, some in the fishing industry feel the projections don’t take into account the potential damage to their sector.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

human cost of disasters
‘Uninhabitable Hell:’ UN Report Warns of Planet’s Future for Millions Without Climate Action
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 13, 2020

A new report from the United Nations found that political leaders and industry leaders are failing to do the necessary work to stop the world from becoming an “uninhabitable hell” for millions of people as the climate crisis continues and natural disasters become more frequent, as Al-Jazeera reported.

The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 was released Monday to mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which falls on Oct. 13, according to a statement from the office behind the report.

The bulk of the disasters were climate-related, as there were sharp increases in the number of floods, storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires in the last two decades, according to CNN.

The report found that the world is on a worrying trend line as natural disasters become more frequent and more expensive. In the last 20 years, there were more than 7,300 natural disasters worldwide, accounting for nearly $3 trillion in damages. That’s almost double the prior two decades when there were just over 4,200 natural disasters that totaled $1.6 trillion in economic losses, according to the statement.

“It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction,” said UNDRR chief Mami Mizutori and Debarati Guha-Sapir of Belgium’s Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in a joint foreword to the report, as CNN reported.

“It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.”
» Read article                   
» Read the report             

 

China sets a marker
China Has Surprised the World With Climate Action Announcement
By Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, John Mathews, Sung-Young Kim, The Conversation, in EcoWatch
October 8, 2020

China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming “carbon neutral” barely rated a mention in China’s national policies.

China currently accounts for about 28% of global carbon emissions – double the U.S. contribution and three times the European Union’s. Meeting the pledge will demand a deep transition of not just China’s energy system, but its entire economy.

Importantly, China’s use of coal, oil and gas must be slashed, and its industrial production stripped of emissions. This will affect demand for Australia’s exports in coming decades.

It remains to be seen whether China’s climate promise is genuine, or simply a ploy to win international favor. But it puts pressure on many other nations – not least Australia – to follow.
» Read article               

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

goodbye NY peakers
New York says goodbye to 6 dirty power plants and hello to working with communities
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
October 15, 2020

New York’s latest move toward its aggressive decarbonization goals makes good on the promise of a more equitable transition. On Tuesday, the New York Power Authority (NYPA), a publicly owned power utility, announced an agreement to work with environmental justice groups on a plan to transition six natural gas–fired power plants in New York City to cleaner technologies.

These are not just any power plants. The six facilities in question are “peaker plants,” designed to fire up only during times of peak demand, like hot summer days when New Yorkers are cranking up their air conditioners — and air quality is already compromised.

Peaker plants typically operate less than 10 percent of the time, but they have an outsized effect on communities and the environment. Of the city’s 16 peaker plants, most of them are at least 50 years old, and some run on especially dirty fuels like oil or kerosene. These old plants are disproportionately located in communities of color in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens that are simultaneously burdened with other health risks like heat vulnerability. In addition to emitting carbon dioxide that is heating up the planet, they release harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and tiny, easily inhalable particles that contribute to respiratory issues.

Residents in these communities also feel the burden year-round on their energy bills. A recent report estimated that New Yorkers pay $450 million per year to run the city’s peaker plants no more than a few hundreds hours. The report was authored by the newly formed PEAK Coalition, an alliance of five leading environmental justice groups working to replace fossil fuel peaker plants with renewable energy and battery storage.

Now NYPA has agreed to bring PEAK into the fold as it studies ways to transition its six plants to cleaner technologies. In a memorandum of understanding, the two parties agreed to “evaluate the potential to replace existing peaker units” and “augment or otherwise install renewable and battery storage systems” on these sites and in surrounding communities.
» Read article              
» Read the PEAK Coalition report on peaker plants       
» Read the memorandum of understanding          
» Read the press release              

 

Hoover DamEnvironmentalists and Dam Operators, at War for Years, Start Making Peace
Facing a climate crisis, environmental groups and industry agree to work together to bolster hydropower while reducing harm from dams.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
October 13, 2020

The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an unusual agreement Tuesday to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams, in a sign that the threat of climate change is spurring both sides to rethink their decades-long battle over a large but contentious source of renewable power.

The United States generated about 7 percent of its electricity last year from hydropower, mainly from large dams built decades ago, such as the Hoover Dam, which uses flowing water from the Colorado River to power turbines. But while these facilities don’t emit planet-warming carbon dioxide, the dams themselves have often proved ecologically devastating, choking off America’s once-wild rivers and killing fish populations.

So, over the past 50 years, conservation groups have rallied to block any large new dams from being built, while proposals to upgrade older hydropower facilities or construct new water-powered energy-storage projects have often been bogged down in lengthy regulatory disputes over environmental safeguards.

The new agreement signals a desire to de-escalate this long-running war.

In a joint statement, industry groups and environmentalists said they would collaborate on a set of specific policy measures that could help generate more renewable electricity from dams already in place, while retrofitting many of the nation’s 90,000 existing dams to be safer and less ecologically damaging.
» Read article              
» Read the joint statement            

 

CANADA-ECONOMY-ENERGY-FOREST-WATER

Aerial view of Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec, October 3, 2018. – On a frigid night, the roar of heavy machinery chipping away at rock echoes through Canada’s boreal forest: in the far north of Quebec province, four massive hydroelectric dams that will produce power for US markets are nearing completion. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Clement SABOURIN (Photo by LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images)

New York and New England Need More Clean Energy. Is Hydropower From Canada the Best Way to Get it?
Two massive projects, requiring hundreds of miles of transmissions lines, have left Indigenous communities in Canada, and some U.S. activists, up in arms.
By Ilana Cohen, InsideClimate News
Photo: Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec. Credit: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images
October 4, 2020

 

With only months until developers start making both projects on-the-ground realities, they have seized public attention within, and beyond, their regions.

Officials and transmission line proponents say importing Canadian hydropower offers an immediate and feasible way to help decarbonize electricity portfolios in New York and New England, supporting their broader efforts to combat climate change. 

But some environmental activists say hydropower has a significant carbon footprint of its own. They fear the projects will make states look “greener” at the expense of the local environment, Indigenous communities, and ultimately, the climate. 

“We’re talking about the most environmentally and economically just pathway” to decarbonization, said Annel Hernandez, associate director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. “Canadian hydro is not going to provide that.” 

To that end, environmental groups opposing Canadian hydropower say New York and New England should seize the moment to expedite local development of wind and solar power.
» Read article               

 

filtered sunlightCalifornia’s solar energy gains go up in wildfire smoke
Pollution from wildfires blocked sunlight and coated solar panels
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 1, 2020

Smoke from California’s unprecedented wildfires was so bad that it cut a significant chunk of solar power production in the state. Solar power generation dropped off by nearly a third in early September as wildfires darkened the skies with smoke, according to the US Energy Information Administration. 

Those fires create thick smoke, laden with particles that block sunlight both when they’re in the air and when they settle onto solar panels. In the first two weeks of September, soot and smoke caused solar-powered electricity generation to fall 30 percent compared to the July average, according to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which oversees nearly all utility-scale solar energy in California. It was a 13.4 percent decrease from the same period last year, even though solar capacity in the state has grown about 5 percent since September 2019.
» Read article              

 

no nukes here
Nuclear power hinders fight against climate change
Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
October 6, 2020

Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.
» Read article              
» Obtain the study            

» More about clean energy                           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

EEaaS
Cities push ahead on Energy Efficiency as a Service as private sector plays catch up
Forms of EEaaS have existed for decades as alternative funding mechanisms in cities. Now, as technologies accelerate and COVID-19 continues, the private sector wants in.
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 5, 2020

The proliferation of new technologies has transformed areas of mobility and software into comprehensive service offerings to bolster operations. Now, public sector entities are leading the charge on a tech-driven service offering that’s been bubbling under the surface for decades: Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS).

Under EEaaS, businesses and governments can underwrite the up-front costs of energy efficiency upgrades, then pay for them with the savings they get from those upgrades over the course of a long-term financial contract. Those upgrades are typically in the areas of lighting, air conditioning (HVAC) and energy management.

As an alternative funding mechanism, forms of EEaaS have existed for decades. But in contrast to typical innovation trends, the public sector is pushing ahead on EEaaS as private companies try to catch up.
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

ENERGY STORAGE

lithium and moreTo batteries and beyond: Lithium-ion dominates utility storage; could competing chemistries change that?
The industry is growing increasingly comfortable with lithium-ion, but its limitations open up a space for other technologies to compete in the storage mix.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 15, 2020

Lots of utilities are coming out with carbon goals, and renewables are going to play a big part in that, said Zachary Kuznar, managing director of energy storage, microgrid and CHP development at Duke Energy.

“As you put more and more solar and wind on the grid, the batteries are going to be, in my opinion, kind of an essential resource to help smooth out that intermittency,” Kuznar said. 

“But also, as we get more into some of these more long-duration technologies, like flow batteries and others, I think it’s going to be a critical piece to potentially offset the need to build some kind of future peaking plants.”
» Read article              

 

long-duration energy storage
To batteries and beyond: Compressed air, liquid air and the holy grail of long-duration storage
Proponents of the technologies are looking to carve out a niche for themselves in the market. In both cases, a key draw is duration.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

In 1991, generation and transmission cooperative PowerSouth — then known as the Alabama Electric Cooperative — started operating a 110 MW compressed air energy storage (CAES) plant in McIntosh, Alabama.

The project was the first of its kind in the U.S., and had a 26-hour duration. It essentially served as a peaker plant, to smooth demand between the low weekday loads and high weekend peaks that came from having a predominantly residential load, according to Bobby Bailie, business development director for energy storage at Siemens Energy. Bailie used to work for Dresser-Rand, the company that built the equipment at the McIntosh plant, which was acquired by Siemens in 2015.

Nearly three decades later, the McIntosh plant is still the only operational utility-scale CAES plant in the U.S. But more recently, utilities and developers have taken a renewed interest in the technology for a completely different reason: the ability to store large amounts of renewable energy for long periods of time.
» Read article              

 

pumped hydro storageTo batteries and beyond: In a high-renewables world, pumped hydro storage could be ‘the heavy artillery’
Experts say pumped hydro is notoriously difficult to site. But as more renewables come online, the industry is eyeing new locations and fresh technologies.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 13, 2020

 

“You just can’t keep bringing on more and more solar and wind, and just have it then stop when the sun goes down,” [Jim Day, CEO of Daybreak Power] said. “With pumped storage, they were all built some decades ago and they haven’t been built since then, because there was no demand for it…. But there is now, and there will be more and more and more in the coming years.”

Pumped storage hydropower accounted for around 95% of commercial energy storage capacity in the U.S. as of 2018, with around 21.6 GW of installed capacity around the country. Facilities traditionally include two reservoirs, at different elevations; they draw power by pumping water to the upper reservoir, and generate it by passing that water through a turbine. But experts say it’s notoriously difficult to find suitable locations for the pumped hydro plants, which are large, rely on specific geographies like mountains, and have prolonged permitting and development timelines that can stretch to a decade. 

“Pumped storage is very difficult to site. It has a lot of environmental issues with it,” said Glenn McGrath, leader of the electricity statistics, uranium statistics and product innovation team at the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In 2017, the National Hydropower Association issued a white paper looking at the challenges and opportunities tied to developing new pumped storage, and noted that past projects have generally required constructing a minimum of one dam on main stem rivers, which could affect the local ecology. According to the report, developing “closed-loop” projects — built in areas not connected to river systems — could reduce those concerns.
» Read article             
» Read the NHA white paper       

 

 

hydrogen storageTo batteries and beyond: With seasonal storage potential, hydrogen offers ‘a different ballgame entirely’
The ability to provide weeks — or even months — of storage could give power-to-gas technologies an edge as renewables grow on the grid, some experts think.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 12, 2020

Jack Brouwer started thinking about the potential of using hydrogen to store massive amounts of energy around 12 years ago.

The idea was this: take inexpensive or excess renewable energy, run it through an electrolyzer to create hydrogen, store that hydrogen for as long as needed, and then use fuel cells to convert it back into electricity. Brouwer, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Irvine, took the idea to the U.S. Department of Energy, and tried to convince the agency that the technology was essential to achieving carbon policy goals and supporting a renewables-heavy grid.

But the agency didn’t move forward with the idea so Brouwer and a group of his students began researching the issue. In 2013, they published a paper that looked at the potential of using large-scale compressed gas to store energy and smooth out intermittent wind resources. That paper caught the attention of some people at Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) — the nation’s largest gas utility — who reached out, saying they too had been thinking about the potential of hydrogen and wanted to talk, Brouwer said in an interview.

The discussion led to a demonstration project that was set up at UC Irvine’s campus in 2016, Brouwer said, that made renewable hydrogen from solar power using an electrolyzer — “and then taking that renewable hydrogen, injecting it into our natural gas grid and then delivering it, through our natural gas grid, to a natural gas combined cycle plant to make partially decarbonized electricity from it.”

It ran for four years. By the end, Brouwer’s vision for the technology had crystallized: transforming the natural gas delivery system into a renewable hydrogen delivery system, and using it as a cost-effective way to introduce massive amounts of storage.

“If you need to store terawatt hours of energy — which is what the grid will need if it’s 100% renewable — it’s going to be way cheaper to store it in the form of hydrogen,” Brouwer said.
» Read article             
» Read the 2013 paper        

» More about energy storage               

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charge partnership
Electric vehicle firms partner to ramp up charging station access, reliability
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

Electric vehicle (EV) charging management company EV Connect announced its Partner Program on Wednesday to expand access to EV charging stations and improve their maintenance. BTCPower, EVBox and EVoCharge were named the initial program partners.

Through the new EV Connect Manufacturer Portal, the partners can provide manufacturers with insight into charging stations’ performance, meaning maintenance can be managed more quickly and proactively, in a bid to ensure that charging station availability is not affected by downtime. The companies will be able to keep track of stations’ performance data, EV Connect CEO Jordan Ramer said, meaning they can “proactively fix stations before they break.”

For EV users, Ramer said the partnership can help expand charging station access by improving reliability at those stations and reducing downtime for maintenance issues. Meanwhile, cities and site owners looking to manage EV charging infrastructure will benefit from reduced maintenance and operating costs as issues can be more easily tracked and fixed, Ramer said.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation                   

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

planned abandonmentWith Bankruptcies Mounting, Faltering Oil and Gas Firms Are Leaving a Multi-billion Dollar Cleanup Bill to the Public
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 15, 2020

Amid a record wave of bankruptcies, the U.S. oil and gas industry is on the verge of defaulting on billions of dollars in environmental cleanup obligations.

Even the largest companies in the industry appear to have few plans to properly clean up and plug oil and gas wells after the wells stop producing — despite being legally required to do so. While the bankruptcy process could be an opportunity to hold accountable either these firms, or the firms acquiring the assets via bankruptcy, it instead has offered more opportunities for companies to walk away from cleanup responsibilities — while often rewarding the same executives who bankrupted them. 

The results may be publicly funded cleanups of the millions of oil and gas wells that these companies have left behind. In a new report, Carbon Tracker, an independent climate-focused financial think tank, has estimated the costs to plug the 2.6 million documented onshore wells in the U.S. at $280 billion. This estimate does not include the costs to address an estimated 1.2 million undocumented wells.

Greg Rogers, a former Big Oil advisor, and co-author of a previous Carbon Tracker report on the likely costs of properly shutting down shale wells, suggested to DeSmog that oil and gas companies have factored walking away from their cleanup responsibilities into their business planning.
» Read article        
» Read background article from 10/4              
» Read the Carbon Tracker report       

 

airborne radioactivity
Airborne radioactivity increases downwind of fracking, study finds
Particles released by drilling could damage the health of nearby residents, say scientists
By Damian Carrington, the Guardian
October 13, 2020

The radioactivity of airborne particles increases significantly downwind of fracking sites in the US, a study has found.

The Harvard scientists said this could damage the health of people living in nearby communities and that further research was needed to understand how to stop the release of the radioactive elements from under the ground.

The radioactivity rose by 40% compared with the background level in the most affected sites. The increase will be higher for people living closer than 20km to the fracking sites, which was the closest distance that could be assessed with the available data.

The scientists used data collected from 157 radiation-monitoring stations across the US between 2001 and 2017. The stations were built during the cold war when nuclear war was a threat. They compared data with the position and production records of 120,000 fracking wells.

“Our results suggest that an increase in particle radioactivity due to the extensive [fracking development] may cause adverse health outcomes in nearby communities,” the team concluded.
» Read article        

 

end of an eraVenezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era
Venezuela’s oil reserves, the world’s largest, transformed the country and the global energy market. Now its oil sector is grinding to a halt. Will it ever recover?
By Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, New York Times
Photographs by Adriana Loureiro Fernandez
October 7, 2020

CABIMAS, Venezuela — For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela.

Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned or left to flare toxic gases that cast an orange glow over depressed oil towns.

Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen.

Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles.

Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and American sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment, and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse.

In Cabimas, a town on the shores of Lake Maracaibo that was once a center of production for the region’s prolific oil fields, crude seeping from abandoned underwater wells and pipelines coats the crabs that former oil workers haul from the lake with blackened hands.

When it rains, oil that has oozed into the sewage system comes up through manholes and drains, coursing with rainwater through the streets, smearing houses and filling the town with its gaseous stench.

Cabimas’s desolation marks a swift downfall for a town that just a decade ago was one of the richest in Venezuela.
» Read article              

 

sangre del diablo
Blood of the Devil

A brief history of oil colonialism in Ecuador, and what happened in the decades leading up to a landmark lawsuit against Texaco in the 1990s.
By Karen Savage and Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
October 2, 2020

Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians have been locked in legal battle with the oil major Chevron for decades. In recent years media attention has been focused on the lawyers in this case, but to understand what’s at stake we need to go back and look at what actually happened in Ecuador as the original defendant in this case, Texaco, began to explore for oil there.

Texaco began its search for Ecuadorian oil in March 1964, when the junta, the military government that had seized power the previous year, granted the firm a concession agreement. The initial agreement gave TexPet, Texaco’s Latin American subsidiary, the right to explore for oil in the Oriente region (in the eastern side of the country, covered primarily by rainforest).

Three years later, in the northern region of the concession that was home to the Indigenous A’i, or Cofán people, Texaco found what it was looking for deep under the rainforest: a vast, untapped reservoir of crude. Texaco and the government expanded their concession agreement, making a subsidiary named TexPet the “consortium operator” in charge of exploration and development of new oil fields.

TexPet’s operations in the A’i ancestral lands eventually expanded to include 15 fields, 18 production facilities, and 316 wells, as well as hundreds of miles of pipelines connecting them.

Texaco’s discovery made bold national headlines and mesmerized government officials, who anticipated that the black gold would line Ecuador’s coffers…and possibly their own pockets.

But the inhabitants of the region knew better, because by the late 1960s, Texaco and its frenzied search for oil, or sangre del diablo, “blood of the devil,” as locals came to call it, had already taken a devastating toll on Indigenous tribes including the Cofán, Secoya, Siona, Huarani, Sansahuari, Kichwa, Rumipamba, and Tetete.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels                

 

BIOMASS

Korea biomass suit
Korean solar industry makes unprecedented legal challenge to “green” credentials of biomass energy

Canadian citizen joins suit against Korean government alleging irreparable harm to forests and climate from use of British Columbia wood pellets
By Adam Eagle and Joojin Kim, Partnership for Policy Integrity
September 27, 2020

Solar developers in South Korea are filing a potentially game-changing lawsuit against their national government today (midday Korea Standard Time, 28 September), citing unconstitutional renewable energy subsidies to wood burning that have worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector. The case represents the first national-level lawsuit challenging the status of wood-burning as renewable energy.

Joining as a plaintiff in the case is a Canadian citizen who represents ancient forests of British Columbia that are being harvested to make wood pellets burned in South Korea, the UK, and Europe.  The suit represents the first time a non-Korean plaintiff has challenged the Korean government for failing in their climate duties and breaching human rights. Other plaintiffs in the case include residents of Korea who live near plants burning biomass and who are affected by the resulting air pollution.

Korea already has some of the most polluted air in the world. Last year, South Korea passed emergency powers to combat the ‘social disaster’ of air pollution leading to the temporary closure of a quarter of its coal-fired power plants.  Joojin Kim, managing director of Seoul-based Solutions For Our Climate, the organization coordinating the case, said: “Data from the plant operators themselves show that biomass plants can emit even more air pollution per megawatt-hour than coal plants, yet the Korean government is increasingly dependent on bioenergy to meet our renewable energy goals, stunting the growth of vital zero-emissions technologies like solar power.”

In addition to conventional air pollutants, burning biomass for electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than burning coal, and multiple scientific studies have found that slow forest regrowth cannot come close to compensating for the excess greenhouse gases in time to meet emissions reduction targets. Bioenergy generation received nearly 40% of total renewable energy subsidies issued between 2014 and 2018 in Korea, the highest among renewable energy sources according to research by Solutions for Our Climate.
» Read article               

» More about biomass             

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

ocean floor plasticsNew Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 6, 2020

Microplastics can be found everywhere from Antarctica to the Pyrenees. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, but very little has been known about how much ends up on the ocean floor — until now.

A new study has found that the ocean floor contains nearly 15.5 tons of microplastics, CNN reported.

Researchers from Australia’s government science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), examined microplastics on the ocean floor near the Great Australian Bight, a large expanse that comprises the bulk of the country’s southwest coastline.

The researchers used a robotic submarine to gather and analyze samples taken from six locations up to 236 miles off the coast, and up to almost 10,000 feet deep, reported CNN.

The results, which were published Monday in Frontiers in Marine Science, revealed about 35 times more plastic at the bottom of the ocean than floating at the surface. In 51 samples taken between March and April 2017, researchers found an average of 1.26 microplastic pieces per gram of sediment, a concentration that’s up to 25 times greater than any previous deep-sea study, CNN reported.
» Read article              
» Read the research article          

» More about plastics in the environment  

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Weekly News Check-In 10/2/20

banner 16

Welcome back.

This week, the Weymouth compressor station suffered its second unplanned gas blowout and emergency shutdown since September 11. The Feds are investigating, and the facility’s planned opening is now on hold until these mishaps are understood. Meanwhile, activists emphasize – as they have all along – that this compressor poses a health and safety hazard by its very existence on this too-small and too-populated site.

News about other pipelines includes a report exposing a $10 million donation to a Trump super PAC by Kelcy Warren, CEO of the company that owns the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline. The donation was made on August 31, just two weeks before the Trump administration proposed regulations that could “make the federal pipeline permitting process more secretive and create a fast track for Big Oil.”

The organization Law Students for Climate Accountability has taken action against top law firms representing the oil and gas industry. The story includes access to their 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard. According to the accompanying analysis, the top 100 firms “worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change.” We’re also following major climate cases in the courts.

The divestment movement works by exposing financial support for the fossil fuel industry in both obvious (banking) and unlikely places. In the “unlikely” category, it’s surprising that the retirement fund covering many fire fighters battling California’s blazes continues to invest in coal. That almost seems like arson.

Lots of climate news because of just-published studies covering Antarctic ice loss, Amazon rain forest collapse, and the increasing depth of ocean heating. All of these add to the understanding that we’re in serious trouble and our window of opportunity is swinging rapidly closed. But we end on the very positive note that 94-year-old international treasure Sir David Attenborough lauched a climate-focused Instagram account last Thursday, and racked up his first million followers in just 44 minutes. With that accumulation rate, he now holds the Guinness world record previously belonging to Jennifer Aniston.

The clean energy debate in the power sector is moving to a question of when, not whether, net zero will happen. The year 2050 has become the default target of most major U.S. utilities, while activists declare a need to move faster (see everything in the Climate section, above). Meanwhile, energy efficiency in the building sector benefits from efforts to adjust aspects of state programs to better meet the needs of lower income communities, and also to reduce the carbon embodied in construction materials. And Massachusetts has awarded $1.4 million in clean transportation grants that pair promising electrification solutions with organizations to deploy them.

The fossil fuel industry is facing a massive amount of litigation. We found a story exploring this trend and the industry’s vulnerabilities. Another report explains the abrupt departure of the industry-friendly head of the Bureau of Land Management, and we wrap with an investigation of Exxon’s carbon capture greenwash program.

Residents of Springfield have fought a proposed biomass-to-energy plant for a decade, and the outcome hangs in the balance as the legislature considers a bill that would classify woody biomass as carbon neutral and make it eligible for clean energy credits. Burning woody biomass is far from carbon neutral, and emits fine particulate pollution – something the asthma capital of the country shouldn’t have to absorb. This is an important local story with broader implications as the biomass industry presses everywhere for growth opportunities.

The state of Maryland is the first to ban foam food containers, and it may soon be possible to truly recycle some plastics using newly-developed super-enzymes that break polymers down to chemical building blocks that can be reformulated into virgin plastic. This opens the possibility of a “circular” plastic container economy that relies much less on oil and gas for new stock – and provides value to materials currently discarded or burned as trash.

button - BEAT News  For even more environmental news and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)!

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

feds investigating Weymouth compressor blowoutsFeds Investigating Unplanned Gas Releases At Weymouth Compressor
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 1, 2020

The federal government is investigating what caused an emergency shutdown and unplanned gas release at the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station on Wednesday, and whether it’s related to the station’s Sept. 11 shutdown and gas release.

The announcement by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency in the U.S. Department of Transportation, comes on the same day the facility was slated to start sending gas northward to Maine and Canada.

According to PHMSA, Enbridge — the Canadian company behind the project — cannot restart the facility until the federal investigation is complete and a series of mechanical “corrective actions” have been met. Just hours earlier on Thursday, Enbridge announced it was “temporarily” pausing all operations at the compressor.
» Read article        

Weymouth hits pause
Gas company delays Weymouth compressor station startup after yet another ‘blowout’
The area’s congressional representatives want it shut down for good.
By Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com
October 1, 2020

Following two emergency shutdowns in less than three weeks, the energy company Enbridge says it will delay the start of service at its controversial gas compressor station in Weymouth.

The decision — first reported by the State House News Service — comes after the energy company disclosed that an unspecified incident triggered the station’s automatic shutdown system Wednesday morning and resulted in an “unplanned release” of at least 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the area, as WBUR reported. In a separate incident on Sept. 11, a gasket failure caused a similar shutdown and venting of gas at the unfinished station, which had won approval from federal regulators last month to begin shipping gas as soon as Thursday.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s larger “Atlantic Bridge” plan to connect two existing interstate pipelines in order to increase its capacity to ship gas to New England and eastern Canada. However,  the project has faced vocal protests from local South Shore residents and environmental advocates over safety concerns and opposition to the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who has deferred to federal regulators on the project, told reporters Thursday that he supports the decision to press pause.

“We believe that until these issues are completely and thoroughly investigated, and signed off on by the feds, it shouldn’t open,” the Republican governor said. “And my understanding is the feds made an unqualified statement earlier today saying just that, which we agree with, and support.”

But local Democratic delegation members, who have opposed the project’s location for roughly a year, are now calling on federal officials to pull the station’s permit.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Stephen Lynch said the second “dangerous blowout event” shows the danger of operating in “such a densely residential area.”

“While additional details on this latest safety incident are still under investigation, these accidents endangered the lives of local residents and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington and Braintree residents, as well as surrounding communities,” Lynch said, adding that he was “extremely concerned for the public’s safety.”
» Read article        

MA delegation reacts
Mass. members of Congress seek to block opening of Weymouth Compressor Station
By Jeremy C. Fox, Boston Globe
September 30, 2020

The state’s two Democratic senators and a South Shore congressman called for the federal government to block the planned opening Thursday of a controversial gas compression station in Weymouth after equipment failures led to emergency shutdowns of the facility.

The Weymouth Compressor Station had a “dangerous blowout event” Wednesday morning involving its emergency shutdown system — the second safety incident at the facility this month, according to Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who represents Weymouth.

Lynch said Wednesday afternoon that officials at the facility were “in the process of ordering a temporary emergency shutdown of the station.”

Separately Wednesday, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey asked a federal regulator to block the opening of the station and “conduct a thorough review of [an earlier] natural gas leak and the station’s ongoing activities.”

Opponents have argued for years that the Weymouth site, located on a peninsula, is too small, too polluted, and too close to too many dangers to safely accommodate the compressor.

Lynch said he has asked that an official from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration join him for a walk-through of the facility when he returns to Boston later this week.

“I have already asked the Secretary of Transportation to suspend the opening of the compressor station pending a comprehensive review,” Lynch said, “and I am now demanding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission … revoke the certificate of approval for the site and suspend operations due to the repetitive occurrence of these extremely dangerous events.”
» Read article        

second leak at Weymouth
Second ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release At Weymouth Compressor This Month
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
September 30, 2020

For the second time this month, something triggered the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station’s emergency shutdown system and caused an “unplanned release” of at least 10,000 standard cubic feet (scf) of natural gas into the nearby area.

The venting happened around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and occurred in a “controlled manner,” according to the company that operates the compressor, Enbridge.

In a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the company said it would “follow up with more information in 3 business days, including an estimate of the actual volume of gas released.” It is legally required to notify MassDEP and the towns around the compressor about any unplanned gas releases that exceed 10,000 scf.

But while Enbridge says it’s “proceeding with safety as our priority,” opponents of the project are furious about the lack of details and terrified about what a second shutdown before the facility even goes into operation portends for the future.

Less than three weeks ago, a gasket failure at the facility caused a shutdown that forced operators to vent the entire contents of the station — about 265,000 scf of gas, which includes about 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds. It remains unclear how much of that gas was vented through a tall stack and how much was released at ground level, a distinction opponents of the project say is important because gas at ground level is more likely to ignite and explode.

“We still don’t know how much they released at ground level from the first accident, and now we have a second accident?” said Alice Arena of the Fore River Residents Against The Compressor (FRRACS).
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

greasing the DAPL skids
After Dakota Access CEO gave $10M, Trump pushed secret pipeline permits

By Steve Horn, Real News Network
September 29, 2020

On Sept. 15, the Trump administration proposed regulations that could make the federal pipeline permitting process more secretive and create a fast track for Big Oil. Just two weeks earlier on Aug. 31, one of the potential beneficiaries of that proposal, the CEO of the company that owns Dakota Access pipeline—Energy Transfer Equity’s Kelcy Warren—gave a Trump super PAC $10 million.

“It wouldn’t be the first time he’s given Trump cash shortly before getting lucky with his pipelines,” Hopkins told The Real News. “He donated to Trump’s presidential campaign, and one of the first executive orders Trump signed after being inaugurated was to push through Dakota Access and Keystone XL.”

The Army Corps of Engineers proposal calls for a reauthorization of the Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) oil and gas pipeline permitting program, the same expedited permit Dakota Access got in the months leading up to the standoff at Standing Rock Sioux tribal land in North Dakota in 2016. NWP 12 is also the subject of ongoing high-profile federal litigation because of that expedited permit. The legal news website Law360 noted that the new NWP 12 proposal could be an attempt to make that litigation moot, because it pertains to the 2017 NWP 12 regulation and not the new proposed rule.

The proposal comes two years before NWP 12 expires and appears to tie the hands legally of a prospective Biden administration if Trump loses the election in November. If it advances, the proposal could make even more opaque a regulatory regime already slammed by climate justice activists as circumventing transparency and democracy. It would add to the list of the 100 proposed or enacted environmental regulation rollbacks put in place by Trump.
» Read article        

State legislators update Westborough officials on Eversource project
By By Jennifer L. Grybowski, Community Advocate
September 24, 2020

Westborough – Town officials heard an update on the Eversource project from State Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston), State Rep. Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough), State Rep. Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury), and Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) at the Board of Selectmen meeting Sept. 22.

Dykema noted that the town has had a number of contacts with Eversource since January regarding the Worcester Feed Line Improvement Project, and that because it’s such a large project involving permitting processes from both the state and several communities it is important to maintain effective partnerships. Westborough town officials were not pleased with Eversource’s last presentation to the board, citing a real lack of effort on Eversource’s part to provide answers to questions the town has.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

law firm climate scorecardTop Law Firms Called Out for Serving Fossil Fuel Industry Clients in New Climate ‘Scorecard’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 1, 2020

With lawsuits against major fossil fuel producers over climate damages on the rise, a new report and initiative examines how prestigious law firms are enabling climate breakdown. The student-led initiative, Law Students for Climate Accountability, calls for holding the legal industry accountable for profiting from work defending and lobbying for fossil fuel clients as the world faces what scientists say is a climate emergency. This campaign is emerging as industries ranging from finance to insurance are facing greater scrutiny in a rapidly warming world.

“Law firms write the contracts for fossil fuel projects, lobby to weaken environmental regulations, and help fossil fuel companies evade accountability in court. Our research is the first to expose the broad extent of firms’ role in driving the climate crisis,” Alisa White, a student at Yale Law School and a lead author on the report, said in a press release.

The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, as the report is titled, looks at the top 100 most prestigious law firms in the U.S. (known as the Vault 100) and grades them according to their work in service of the fossil fuel industry. According to the analysis, the top 100 firms “worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change; were the legal advisors on five times more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than the renewable energy industry;” and “lobbied five times more for fossil fuel companies than renewable energy companies.”

Overall, per this scorecard, only four firms received an “A” grade while 41 firms scored a “D,” and 26 received an “F.”
» Read article       
» Read the scorecard and report          

youth climate plaintiffs CanadaCourt Set to Hear Arguments in Youth Climate Lawsuit Against Canadian Federal Government
By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 30, 2020

A landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 15 young Canadians against Canada’s federal government will come before a court this week for two days of hearings to determine if the case will advance to trial. Should the case go to trial, it would be one of the first courtroom trials anywhere in the world in litigation brought by youth against their national government over the climate crisis.

The Canadian lawsuit La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, filed almost exactly a year ago in October 2019, argues that Canada is contributing to dangerous climate change – such as by permitting fossil fuel projects – despite knowing the risks and that this amounts to violations of young people’s rights under a part of Canada’s constitution called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The youth also say the Canadian government is violating its legal obligations to protect life-sustaining natural resources under a legal doctrine known as the public trust doctrine. The claims are essentially the same as ones brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. federal government in the groundbreaking case Juliana v. United States. The La Rose lawsuit is the Canadian equivalent of the Juliana climate case.
» Read article       

as the world burns
‘As the World Burns’: Q&A With Author Lee van der Voo on Her New Book About a Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
September 29, 2020

Earlier this year a pair of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to dismiss the groundbreaking American youth climate change lawsuit Juliana v. United States. But the case is not yet over — while the 21 young people who sued the U.S. government await a decision on whether the full appeals court will review the ruling to toss the lawsuit, a brand-new book by award-winning environmental journalist Lee van der Voo takes a behind-the-scenes look at this landmark legal case and the youth plaintiffs known collectively as the Juliana 21.

The book, AS THE WORLD BURNS: The New Generation of Activists and the Legal Fight Against Climate Change, tells the stories of these young people who are part of a generation of youth fighting for their lives and their rights amidst the unfolding climate crisis. “AS THE WORLD BURNS is climate breakdown like you’ve never seen it — through the eyes of the young,” the book’s description notes.

DeSmog reporter Dana Drugmand recently chatted with author Lee van der Voo about this new book on the Juliana youth climate lawsuit. The interview, which has been edited slightly for brevity, explores why the book is so timely, how the Juliana lawsuit is part of a broader youth movement, and how the mainstream media “is in danger of being on the wrong side of history” when it comes to covering the climate crisis.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

CalPERS in coal
Retirement Fund for Many California Firefighters Battling Wildfires Puts Money in Coal
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
September 27, 2020

This week, the Creek Fire in California officially became the largest single wildfire in the state’s history — and the blaze remained just 32 percent contained. Already this year, more than 3.6 million acres have burned in nearly 8,000 separate fires.

Five of the six largest fires to strike California since reliable record-keeping began are currently burning according to Cal Fire. Smoke from the fires has already reached the Atlantic coast and turned skies along the West coast eerie shades of orange and red. The fires have killed at least 26 people — and the smoke may have already caused the deaths of an additional 1,200 people, researchers from Stanford University estimated earlier this month.

Meanwhile, a new report finds that California’s largest pension fund has continued to invest in fossil fuel companies, whose products are the biggest driver of climate change. CalPERS, the nation’s largest pension fund, still invests in, for example, a South African mining firm that calls itself a “leading coal producer” — despite the sector’s massive downturn over the last several years and a state law that directed CalPERS to divest from coal.
» Read article         

» More about divestment             

CLIMATE

Antarctic ice loss modeled
Antarctica’s ice loss could soon be irreversible
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
October 2, 2020

The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

Amazon collapseFire and drought could trigger Amazon collapse
Amazon collapse could soon mean the end of one of Earth’s richest habitats, leaving the rainforest destroyed by humans.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
September 30th, 2020

Within one human lifetime, Amazon collapse could have turned the rainforest into open savannah.

The combined devastation of human-induced global warming, rapidly increasing degradation or destruction of the forest, natural climate cycles and catastrophic wildfires could be enough to bring the world’s biggest, richest and most vital forest to a tipping point: towards a new kind of habitat.

“The risk that our generation will preside over the irreversible collapse of Amazonian and Andean biodiversity is huge, literally existential,” warns Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology, in the latest Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Professor Bush bases his argument on the evidence of history: painstaking study of fossil pollen and charcoal in the sediments of Andean lakes confirms that the profligate biodiversity of the Amazon has been disturbed many times in the past, as global climate has varied with the retreat and advance of the glaciers.

It has, however, never reached a tipping point towards collapse, if only because it has never before had to face the hazard of fire on the present scale.

There is another factor: ever-greater human intrusion into, degradation of, or conversion of forest into plantation or ranch land heightens the hazard of a dramatic shift from moist tropical canopy to open and wooded grasslands.

And then, the argument goes, there are the ever-higher temperatures driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions from human investment in fossil fuel energy, and ever more extensive destruction of the natural habitats that in the past have absorbed atmospheric carbon. And with higher temperatures, there arrives the risk of ever more catastrophic drought.
» Read article         
» Read the AMBG article

ocean stratification study
New Study Shows a Vicious Circle of Climate Change Building on Thickening Layers of Warm Ocean Water
Global warming is deepening blankets of warmer water that alter ocean currents, hinder absorption of carbon, intensify storms and disrupt biological cycles.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
September 28, 2020

Near the surface of the ocean, global warming is creating increasingly distinct layers of warm water that stifle seawater circulations critical for regulating climate and sustaining marine life. The sheets of warm water block flows of heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients within the water column, and between the oceans and atmosphere.

A new study shows more heat is building up in the upper 600 feet of the ocean than deeper down. That increasingly distinct warm layer on the surface can intensify tropical storms, disrupt fisheries, interfere with the ocean absorption of carbon and deplete oxygen, Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State, said.

The intensified layering, called ocean stratification, is happening faster than scientists expected, an international team of researchers reported in the study, published Sept. 28 in the journal Nature Climate Change. And that means the negative impacts will arrive faster and also be greater than expected, said Mann, a co-author of the study.

The research suggests that some of the worst-case global warming scenarios outlined in major international climate reports can’t be ruled out, he said. If the ocean surface warms faster and less carbon is carried to the depths, those processes along with other climate feedbacks could lead atmospheric CO2 to triple and the global average temperature could increase 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, he added.
» Read article         
» Read the study

Sir David goes social
Climate Champion David Attenborough Breaks Jennifer Aniston’s Instagram Record
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

Sir David Attenborough wants to share a message about the climate crisis. And it looks like his fellow Earthlings are ready to listen.

The beloved 94-year-old nature broadcaster joined Instagram Thursday, and quickly broke the world record for the shortest amount of time to reach one million followers, Guinness World Records announced. He reached the milestone in just two hours and 44 minutes.

“I’ve been appearing on radio and television for the past 60 years,” Attenborough said in a video accompanying his first post, “but this is my first time on Instagram.”

In the video, Attenborough said he was trying the new (to him) form of communication in order to spread awareness about the threats facing life on Earth.

“As we all know, the world is in trouble,” he said. “Continents are on fire. Glaciers are melting. Coral reefs are dying. Fish are disappearing from our oceans. The list goes on and on. But we know what to do about it.”

Attenborough said he would be recording video messages over the next few weeks explaining both the problems facing our planet and possible solutions.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

net-zero 2050 new norm
Inside Clean Energy: Net Zero by 2050 Has Quickly Become the New Normal for the Largest U.S. Utilities
New plans from Ameren and Entergy show the trend to renewables is accelerating because coal just can’t compete. Some activists want it to go even faster.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
October 1, 2020

In 2018, when Xcel Energy became the first large U.S. utility to pledge to get to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, I wondered how long it would take for those kinds of commitments to become the industry standard.

The answer, as we learned in recent days, is “less than two years.”

Ameren and Entergy each issued plans to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, joining a list of some of their largest peers like Duke Energy and Dominion Energy.

Also, Vistra Energy, the country’s largest independent power company that is not a utility, released a plan this week to get to net-zero by 2050 and said it would close all seven of its Midwestern coal-fired power plants by 2027.

Each of the corporate announcements demonstrate that the transition to clean energy is accelerating. Taken together, they make clear that we are in the middle of great change in the energy economy in which electricity producers have concluded that they can save money and reduce risks by investing in wind, solar and energy storage, and by closing fossil fuel plants.

But this is not a quick shift from coal to renewables. Ameren says it will gradually reduce its use of coal, starting with a plant closing in 2022 and continuing until the final plant closes in 2042.

The slow timetable is a problem for environmental advocates who otherwise are excited to see Ameren commit to net-zero emissions.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Fall River MA liquor and lotto
Massachusetts seeks solutions to expand access to energy efficiency dollars
A recent report shows that renters, lower-income residents and non-English speakers are less likely to benefit from the state’s widely praised energy conservation program.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons
October 1, 2020

As cold weather approaches and COVID-19 continues to hit harder in disadvantaged neighborhoods, advocates in Massachusetts are pushing the state and its utilities to do more to ensure everyone has equal access to the energy efficiency services that could help them stay warmer and healthier throughout the winter.

This latest surge of activism has been driven, at least in part, by a recent report by the major utility companies that concludes residents use energy efficiency services at significantly lower rates in communities with lower median incomes, more renters, or higher populations of non-English speakers.

“There are real barriers that need to be addressed here,” said Cindy Luppi, New England director for environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action. “There is a big disconnect here that needs to be a priority for the program.”
» Read article         
» Read the report

addressing embodied carbonBuilding Industry Gets Serious About Its Embodied Carbon Problem
Wringing carbon out of buildings, including the materials, is a major climate challenge. Industry veterans see changes stirring.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
September 30, 2020

In the not-too-distant past, a small group of architects and people in the building industry, saddened and motivated by the urgent arc of climate change, set out to discover just how much their own profession was to blame.

They began by summing all the emissions released at power plants to keep buildings cool and electricity flowing to wall outlets. Then they added the invisible gases drifting out of roof vent pipes from heaters and hot water heaters that burn fuel inside of buildings. The picture was already sobering: Just keeping buildings running this way amounted to 28 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

But there was another, still more intractable series of smokestacks: for the glass, vinyl, drywall, and especially steel and concrete that go into buildings.

In the case of cement, the very chemical reaction at its heart generates massive carbon dioxide. Since carbon dioxide is so lasting in our air, the furnace roar of material creation reverberates for generations.

When the clean building advocates added in this embodied carbon, buildings turned out to be directly and indirectly responsible for nearly 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

This growing cadre of change makers has now set in motion a transition in the building industry that is as hopeful and may be as important as the better-known transition sweeping our electrical sector. They are trying to change the way materials are made. And they are trying to do it now, to preserve the delicate blanket of gases enveloping Earth, and with it, any hope of a recognizable climate.

As the professionals who specify or “spec” materials for buildings, they are powerful, and it is that power they are wielding.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

CEC grants announced
Massachusetts transportation grants emphasize partnerships to cut emissions
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center this month awarded $1.4 million in grants that pair promising electrification solutions with organizations to deploy them.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 29, 2020

A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $1.4 million in grants to nine transportation projects that promise to speed the spread of electric vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center earlier this month announced the recipients of its Accelerating Clean Transportation Now (ACTNow) program grants, awarding between $37,000 and $200,000 to a range of projects including school bus electrification, a car-sharing program using electric vehicles, training and certification programs for car dealers selling electric vehicles, and the creation of a fleet electrification planning tool.

“This is our first large-scale banner effort on clean transportation,” said Ariel Horowitz, senior program director at the center. “This is an area of key importance for greenhouse gas reductions in the commonwealth.”

As Massachusetts pursues its goal of slashing carbon emissions 85% by 2020, the transportation sector is a major target for reductions. As of 2016, transportation was responsible for 43% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

tidal wave
Why a Tidal Wave of Climate Lawsuits Looms Over the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Karen Savage, The Climate Docket, in DeSmog Blog
September 28, 2020

Amid a summer rife with climate-related disasters, the liability lawsuits came like an advancing flood, first Minnesota and Washington D.C. within days of each other in June, followed by Hoboken, Charleston, Delaware and Connecticut in rapid succession in September. Their suits have turned a summer of unrest into a quest to make fossil fuel companies pay for the damages caused by the burning of their products, joining a trend that began three years ago but evolving to match the circumstances of today.

The latest round of lawsuits draws from the dozens filed across the country since 2017, but with a few new twists. They continue to charge fossil fuel companies with public nuisance for producing and marketing a dangerous product, but they increasingly allege the companies acted together to also violate state consumer fraud statutes. And for the first time, they have begun to include the industry’s largest trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), among the alleged culprits in deceiving the public.

“There is a very strong evidentiary basis for showing that these companies knew about the impacts of climate change and colluded to prevent the dissemination of that information,” said Jessica Wentz, a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
» Read article         

trespassing at BLMTrump’s Bureau of Land Management Chief Forced Out After Judge Says He’s Serving Unlawfully
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

A federal judge in Montana ordered William Perry Pendley, the head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to quit immediately after finding that the Trump administration official had served in the post unlawfully for 14 months, according to CNN.

The ruling may reverse an entire year of decisions that Pendley made to open up the American West to oil and gas drilling, as The Washington Post reported. The judge in the case, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, said that Pendley had been appointed to the post, but his name had never been submitted to the Senate for confirmation.

“Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director,” wrote Morris in a 34-page ruling he issued on Friday, as The New York Times reported. He added that Pendley’s authority “did not follow any of the permissible paths set forth by the U.S. Constitution.”
» Read article         

not actually sequestered
Exxon Touts Carbon Capture as a Climate Fix, but Uses It to Maximize Profit and Keep Oil Flowing
The company sells the CO2 to other companies that use it to revive depleted oil fields and has relentlessly fought EPA oversight of the practice.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
September 27, 2020

Sprawled across the arid expanse of southwestern Wyoming is one of the world’s largest carbon capture plants, a hulking jumble of pipes, compressors and exhaust flues operated by ExxonMobil.

The oil giant has long promoted its investments in carbon capture technology—a method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions—as evidence that it is addressing climate change, but it rarely discusses what happens to the carbon captured at the Shute Creek Treating Facility.

The plant’s main function is to process natural gas from a nearby deposit. But in order to purify and sell the gas, Exxon must first strip out carbon dioxide, which comprises about two-thirds of the mix of gases extracted from nearby wells.

The company found a revenue stream for this otherwise useless, climate-warming byproduct: It began capturing the CO2 and selling it to other companies, which injected it into depleted oil fields to help produce more oil.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

welcome to Springfield
Activists Continue 10-Year Fight Over Biomass Project
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
September 29, 2020

Environmental activists fear a climate bill in the Massachusetts legislature will breathe new life into a long-proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

The House version of a climate bill currently in a conference committee on Beacon Hill would define commercial grade wood-burning biomass as non-carbon emitting sources of energy. Unless that language is taken out, a long-stalled biomass power plant in Springfield could get financing, according to Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman.

“There should not be any green energy subsidy given to these types of incinerators,” said Lederman.

Lederman, who chairs the council’s Sustainability and Environment Committee recently forwarded to the co-chairs of the legislative conference committee an online petition with over 2,500 signatures opposing state incentives for biomass energy projects.   Ten Springfield City Councilors also signed a letter urging the state legislature to eliminate the language in the climate bill they say would provide a boost to the controversial local project.
» Read article         

» More about biomass

PLASTICS BANS

foam clam
Maryland Will Be First State to Ban Foam Food Containers
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

Maryland will become the first state in the nation Thursday to implement a ban on foam takeout containers.

The law, which was passed in 2019, prohibits restaurants and other institutions that serve food, such as schools, from using polystyrene containers, The Baltimore Sun reported.

“Single-use plastics are overrunning our oceans and bays and neighborhoods,” chief bill sponsor Democratic Delegate Brooke Lierman told CNN when it passed. “We need to take dramatic steps to start stemming our use and reliance on them … to leave future generations a planet full of wildlife and green space.”

Lierman said she had tried twice before to pass the bill, but a shift in public opinion against plastic pollution finally pushed it over the finish line.
» Read article         

» More about plastics bans

PLASTICS RECYCLING

super-enzymes
New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster
Breakthrough that builds on plastic-eating bugs first discovered by Japan in 2016 promises to enable full recycling
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
September 28, 2020

A super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before has been created by scientists and could be used for recycling within a year or two.

The super-enzyme, derived from bacteria that naturally evolved the ability to eat plastic, enables the full recycling of the bottles. Scientists believe combining it with enzymes that break down cotton could also allow mixed-fabric clothing to be recycled. Today, millions of tonnes of such clothing is either dumped in landfill or incinerated.

Plastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from the Arctic to the deepest oceans, and people are now known to consume and breathe microplastic particles. It is currently very difficult to break down plastic bottles into their chemical constituents in order to make new ones from old, meaning more new plastic is being created from oil each year.

The super-enzyme was engineered by linking two separate enzymes, both of which were found in the plastic-eating bug discovered at a Japanese waste site in 2016. The researchers revealed an engineered version of the first enzyme in 2018, which started breaking down the plastic in a few days. But the super-enzyme gets to work six times faster.
» Read article         

» More about plastics recycling

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