Monthly Archives: January 2021

Weekly News Check-In 1/29/21

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Welcome back.

Last week, we posted a report that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), was considering reviewing the Weymouth compressor station’s permit. That’s still in the cards, but meanwhile the controversial facility has been given permission to begin operating. Their prior two attempts at startup both ended in emergency shut-downs and gas releases.

A federal appeals court ruling against Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation has the usual suspects reacting from two separate realities. Indigenous and environmental groups are delighted, while Canada – especially the political leadership and oil barons in Alberta – feel both blind-sided and unfairly treated. Once again, ordinary folks fighting for the planet’s future find themselves staring across contested ground at their frustrated and bewildered counterparts in industry and government, and saying, “we told you this would happen – what did you expect?”

Efforts to green the economy are moving into the policy phase. We expect to see a lot of reporting on this, and offer two good examples this week: The need for economic relief and redevelopment in coal country, and the potential to expand opportunities for rooftop solar into less affluent neighborhoods.

Climate was front and center this week, with President Biden signing more executive orders and demonstrating a sense of urgency to action. A couple of new reports underscored the high stakes, with dire warnings about accelerating loss of global ice, and evidence that the world’s great tropical forests are in danger of losing their ability to absorb atmospheric carbon – flipping from net carbon sinks to sources.

Biden’s executive orders played well for clean energy – especially support for offshore wind and investments in electricity transmission infrastructure necessary for a green grid. We always like to highlight news of emerging green technologies, and found that a 27-year-old electrical engineering student at Mapua University in the Philippines has won the first-ever James Dyson Award global sustainability prize. His unique solar panel is derived from waste crops, and generates electricity by the chemical processes of rotting fruits and vegetables.

Energy efficient affordable housing is both desirable and possible. According to a growing number of studies, allowing municipalities to adopt strict energy efficient building codes wouldn’t keep new housing from being built. This is a great time to call Governor Baker’s office and tell him you’d like to have the option of a net-zero stretch code in your city or town. This issue is at the forefront as Massachusetts’ legislative news continues to focus on the legislature’s attempts to pass its landmark climate roadmap bill. Recall that a strong, progressive, bill was passed at the end of December, but “pocket” vetoed by Governor Baker. Now, the legislature has re-passed the same bill by a veto-proof margin in its new session. We help you track all of the related issues, including the building lobby’s powerful influence and resistance to improved building codes.

Electric vehicles are on the cusp of an important “tipping point”, when they become cheaper to purchase than comparable internal combustion engine cars. Plunging battery prices are the reason, and this predicts rapidly accelerating EV sales. Over 90% of EV drivers, when polled, say they would not want to return to driving gas-powered cars.

The Biden administration served notice to the fossil fuel industry by pausing further leases for drilling on federal lands. While this won’t have a near-term effect on emissions, it’s an important signal and acknowledges the need to leave coal, oil, and gas in the ground. For its part, the industry responded by inflating expected job losses from the new policy – standard operating procedure from the denial and deception playbook.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

another startupWeymouth Compressor Operator Says It’s Starting Up Facility This Weekend
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 22, 2021

After two unplanned emergency shutdowns in September delayed the startup of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth and triggered a federal safety investigation, the company behind the project, Enbridge, says it’s “identified and addressed” any problems and is ready to go into service this weekend.

“The compressor station will methodically be placed in service beginning on January 23, in accordance with applicable regulations and with oversight from PHMSA [the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration],” Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said in a statement. “We expect to have the ability to start flowing gas through the compressor station for our customers in the coming days.”

Bergeron declined to share PHMSA’s reports on the September emergency  shutdowns, saying only: “The root cause analysis reports for the September 11 and September 30 events at the Weymouth Compressor Station presented recommendations to strengthen Enbridge’s procedures for safely commissioning new facilities. We have already begun implementing the recommendations.”

A PHMSA spokesperson did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls, but WBUR obtained a letter to Enbridge from PHMSA Eastern Regional Director Robert Burrough stating that the agency “has reviewed the root cause failure analysis” and “approves the temporary operation of the compressor units in the Station.”

The news comes days after some new members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees interstate pipelines, signaled that they were concerned about the project and might be willing to reconsider its permit.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

DAPL ruled illegal crossingAppeals Court Agrees that Dakota Access Pipeline River Crossing Is Illegal
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 27, 2021

A federal appeals court has struck another blow against the contested Dakota Access Pipeline.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court of Appeals from the D.C. Circuit agreed Tuesday with a lower court ruling that the pipeline’s crossing at the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is illegal and requires an in-depth environmental review, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

“We are pleased that the D.C. Circuit affirmed the necessity of a full environmental review, and we look forward to showing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers why this pipeline is too dangerous to operate,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in an Earthjustice press release.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has long opposed the pipeline’s crossing under Lake Oahe, a drinking water source for the tribe that is located just off of their reservation, the Grand Forks Herald explained. It became the subject of massive Indigenous-led protests in 2016 and 2017, leading the Obama administration to withhold a key permit for the project.

However, the Trump administration approved the pipeline without a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the Missouri River crossing, a coalition of Sioux tribes explained in a letter to President Joe Biden. The Army Corps of Engineers began an EIS of the crossing in September based on the lower court ruling, the Grand Forks Herald reported. This is expected to take up to 13 months, but the tribes and their allies are calling on the Biden administration to shut the pipeline down entirely.

Biden has promised to focus on the climate crisis in office, and canceled the Keystone XL pipeline on day one of his administration, leading Indigenous and environmental activists to call for a shutdown of all contested fossil fuel pipelines.

“Especially after the Keystone XL decision, the pressure is increasing for the Biden administration to take action here,” Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, pipeline proponents considered Tuesday’s court decision a win because the court did not order the pipeline to shut down while the EIS is completed. A lower court had originally ordered the pipeline to shut down in July, but that has been reversed.
» Read article         

KXL protest drummer
Keystone XL decision delights tribes, dismays Canada
‘President Biden’s action is the result of the relentless work and dedication from tribes and grassroots organizers’
Indian Country Today
January 22, 2021

Tribal leaders and advocates across Indian Country are lauding President Joe Biden’s executive order rescinding the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit to cross from Canada into the United States.

“I would like to say thank you to the President of the United States for acknowledging the danger this project poses to our land and our people,” Chairman Harold Frazier wrote in a statement released by Remi Bald Eagle, head of intergovernmental affairs for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

“It is rare that a promise to our people is kept by the United States; I appreciate your honesty.”

Leaders in Canada, however, were disappointed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the past has repeatedly indicated that the Canadian government fully supported the pipeline project, which originates in Alberta. The 1,210-mile pipeline was scheduled to begin transporting Alberta oil sands to Nebraska beginning in 2023.

On Friday, Biden met via telephone with Trudeau in the new president’s first official call to a foreign leader.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Trudeau expressed his dismay with Biden’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Biden acknowledged the hardship the decision would create in Canada, CBC News reported, citing a senior government official. But the president defended the move, saying he was upholding a campaign promise and restoring a decision made by the Obama administration.

The idea of retaliatory sanctions against the United States didn’t come up during the discussion, the CBC reported. In a letter to Trudeau, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had called on the prime minister to seek “proportional economic consequences” from the U.S. for the decision.

Earlier Friday, Trudeau said in comments to the press that Biden’s administration represents the beginning of a new era of friendship. Trudeau and former President Donald Trump had a notoriously poor relationship in which Trump described Trudeau as weak and dishonest while placing tariffs on Canadian products.

“The fact that we have so much alignment, not just me and President Biden, but Canadians and President Biden, on values, creating jobs and prosperity for everyone, investing in the fight against climate change as a way of growing the economy, these are things we can dig into significantly,” Trudeau said. “It’s not always going to be a perfect alignment with the United States; that is the case with any president.”

According to the CBC, both Trudeau and Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman have said it’s time to respect Biden’s decision and move on.
» Read article

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Cumberland KY coal
Coal Communities Across the Nation Want Biden to Fund an Economic Transition to Clean Power
The president promised to create a task force on how best to help the communities. Advocates want that and new jobs, broadband internet and funding for health and education.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
January 26, 2021

Coal-state economic development groups, labor leaders and environmentalists are asking President Joe Biden’s administration to fund a “just transition” from coal to renewable energy, given his focus on climate change, environmental justice and racial and economic equity.

Thirteen groups from areas as diverse as West Virginia and Kentucky in Appalachia to the Navajo Nation in Arizona, along with their national partners, want the immediate creation of a White House Office of Economic Transition, focused on rebuilding the economies of coal communities.

They also asked the administration last week in a letter to create a task force on communities dependent for jobs on coal and power plants.

“What we are saying is we recognize the inevitable shifts in the energy economy landscape as a result of the measures we must take to address climate change,” said Peter Hille, president of the Mountain Association, a nonprofit that serves counties in the coalfield of eastern Kentucky and is working for a new economy there. “The justice we are calling for is represented by the new investments needed to help these coal-impacted communities.”

Biden entered the White House last week with the most ambitious climate agenda of any president, having put forth a $2 trillion plan that seeks to tie  curbing heat-trapping greenhouse gases with economic growth in renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

On his first day, the president moved to rejoin the Paris climate accord and directed his administration to review and begin rolling back more than 100 rules on the environment put in place by the Trump administration, many of which benefited the fossil fuel industry. Biden’s plan includes the goal of a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.”

During the campaign, Biden also promised his administration would “invest in coal and power plant communities and other communities impacted by the climate transformation.” His campaign website said he would create a task force on how best to transition such communities.

What the coal state groups are doing is reminding Biden of his promises. They say that adding a voice in the White House for coal communities alongside those advocating for climate action will help to keep the communities a priority—especially as the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the decline of the coal industry.
» Read article         

access to cheaper solar
Cheaper Solar Power Means Low-income Families Can Also Benefit — With the Right Kind of Help
By Galen Barbose Eric O’Shaughnessy, and Ryan Wiser of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in DeSmog Blog
January 21, 2021

Until recently, rooftop solar panels were a clean energy technology that only wealthy Americans could afford. But prices have dropped, thanks mostly to falling costs for hardware, as well as price declines for installation and other “soft” costs.

Today hundreds of thousands of middle-class households across the U.S. are turning to solar power. But households with incomes below the median for their areas remain less likely to go solar. These low- and moderate-income households face several roadblocks to solar adoption, including cash constraints, low rates of home ownership and language barriers.

Our team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined how various policies and business models could affect the likelihood of people at all income levels adopting solar. In a recently published study, we analyzed five common solar policies and business models to see whether they attracted lower-income households.

We found that three scenarios did: offering financial incentives to low- and moderate-income households; leasing solar panels to homeowners; and lending money to buy panels, with the loan repaid on property tax bills. All of these approaches resulted in people at a wider range of income levels trying solar energy.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

climate policy spree
Everything you need to know about Biden’s climate policy spree
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
January 27, 2021

Themes make everything more fun, according to that friend who was always making you put on a costume for their parties pre-pandemic. Our newly elected president, Joe Biden, seems to agree. Possibly thinking some fun is just what the country needs right now, Biden dedicated each day of his first full week in office to a different theme, starting with “buying American” on Monday and racial equity on Tuesday. And Wednesday, it was climate day.

“We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis,” Biden said in a speech at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. “We can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”

Through three sweeping executive orders, Biden brought to fruition all kinds of promises he made on the campaign trail to address climate change. He directed federal agencies to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and to stimulate clean energy development. He hit the pause button on issuing new oil and gas drilling leases on federally owned lands and waters and requested a review of existing leases. (To be clear, that’s not a ban on fracking generally, which Biden can’t do unilaterally.) He hit the play button on developing a plan for the U.S. to fulfill its emissions-reduction obligation under the Paris Agreement. He hit fast-forward on getting solar, wind, and power transmission projects sited, permitted, and built.

“When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs,” Biden said in his address before signing the orders.

To that end, he ordered all federal agencies to get behind the wheels of American-made electric vehicles and to procure carbon-free electricity. He kicked off research into how to pay farmers to sequester more carbon in their soils. He revived a conservation jobs program from the New Deal era under a new name — the Civilian Climate Corps — to plant trees, protect biodiversity, and restore public lands. Along those lines, he also pledged to conserve at least 30 percent of national lands and oceans by 2030, a nod to the biodiversity initiative known as 30×30 that more than 50 other countries have signed on to.

Transitioning to clean energy presents an existential threat to communities that rely on jobs and revenue from fossil fuels, and the order nodded to the idea of a “just transition.” Biden formed a new interagency group to coordinate investments in these communities and tasked it with advancing projects to clean up environmental messes, like abandoned coal mines and oil and gas wells.

The other side of a “just transition” is addressing the disproportionate health and economic burdens Black, brown, and Native American communities suffer from living near polluting infrastructure and in areas vulnerable to climate impacts, products of systemic racism. To that end, Biden took steps to put environmental justice on the agenda of every agency, including the Department of Justice. At the center of this strategy, he created an initiative called “Justice40,” which requires 40 percent of the benefits of climate-related spending to serve “disadvantaged communities.” (Which spending, which communities, and how these “benefits” will be measured have yet to be determined.)
» Read article         

sink to source
Amazon is on the brink of turning into a carbon source, study warns
By Mongabay.com
January 25, 2021

Tropical forests are guardians against runaway climate change, but their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is wearing down. The Amazon, which accounts for more than half of the world’s rainforest cover, is on the verge of turning into a carbon source.

Overall, forests remain a carbon sink, stashing away 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change. But in the last 20 years alone, forests in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, have turned into net emitters of carbon, thanks to the spread of plantations, raging fires, and loss of peatlands.

Human activities are producing record-breaking emissions — atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a 4-million-year high last year — and they are hacking into the planet’s sturdiest defenses.

Spread across 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) in nine countries in South America, the Amazon is still sucking out carbon from the air — but only just.

Most of the Amazon lies in Brazil, and between 2001 and 2019 the Brazilian Amazon acted as a net emitter of carbon, the study found.

Since Jair Bolsonaro became president at the start of 2019, Brazil has seen increased deforestation through clearing land for cattle pastures and through fires. The 2019 fire season raised concerns across the world about the health of the forests in Brazil, but deforestation has been steadily eating away into its green cover for years.

Of the three great swaths of tropical rainforest left on Earth, only those of the Congo Basin still stand strong.

Tropical forests grow quickly and absorb the most carbon of any type of forest. During photosynthesis, they use carbon dioxide to produce energy and biomass. Because trees lock away carbon dioxide, when forests are destroyed, not only is this vital function lost, but the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

rapid defrost
World’s Ice Is Melting 65 Percent Faster Than in 1990s
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 25, 2021

A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet’s ice.

The answer? Quite a lot. The rate of worldwide ice loss has increased by more than 60 percent in the past three decades, a study published in The Cryosphere on Monday found.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Dr. Thomas Slater, study lead author and research fellow at Leeds’ Center for Polar Observation and Modeling, said in a University of Leeds press release. “Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

Previous studies have used satellite data to assess ice loss from individual sources, such as polar ice caps, The Guardian explained. However, this is the first one to consider all sources of ice loss. The study found that the world lost around 31 trillion U.S. tons between 1994 and 2017. During that time, the rate of ice loss also increased 65 percent, from 0.9 trillion U.S. tons a year to 1.4 trillion U.S. tons a year. Ice loss from ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland largely contributed to that number, the press release stated.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Biden exec orders on clean energyBiden order aims to double offshore wind, boost transmission, end fossil fuel subsidies
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 28, 2021

Wednesday’s executive orders are the latest sign the Biden administration will place a high priority on clean energy and the environment in the next four years.

Among other things, the climate crisis order promises to significantly build out offshore wind, an industry that has struggled to obtain permitting on the Atlantic coast, in part due to lack of funding for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which sits under the Department of Interior. Biden’s executive order directs the Secretary of the Interior to review the siting and permitting processes in order to identify ways the U.S. can double its offshore wind output in the next decade, something very feasible, according to the renewables industry.

Further, the order directs the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget to ensure federal infrastructure investments are sustainable and reduce emissions, including through accelerating transmission and clean energy. Transmission upgrades are widely considered essential to ensuring higher levels of renewable energy are able to connect to the grid, and upgrading the planning process will likely be a priority for FERC in the coming year.

“The Department of Interior has many tools it can deploy to double offshore wind generation by 2030, and the President’s clarion call for greater transmission investment is an essential component of providing reliable and affordable renewable energy to every American,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, in a statement.

The order also calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, asking the Office of Management and Budget to eliminate subsidies for oil, gas and coal from the budget request for fiscal year 2022, and every year after.
» Read article         

AuREUS
Filipino wins sustainability award for solar panel made from waste crop
Called the AuREUS system, the new material derived from rotting fruits and vegetables absorbs UV light from the sun and converts it to electricity
By Kyle Chua, rappler.com
November 20, 2020

Carvey Ehren Maigue, a 27-year-old, electrical engineering student from Mapua University, bagged the first-ever global sustainability prize at the James Dyson Award for his invention on Thursday, November 19.

Called the AuREUS system, the new material, derived from rotting fruits and vegetables, absorbs UV light from the sun and converts it to electricity. The system can be used for windows and walls of buildings, tapping it to become sources of renewable energy.

Maigue said that he got inspiration from the auroras and polar lights for the science behind his invention.

Out of 1,800 entries worldwide, Maigue’s AuREUS system was handpicked by inventor James Dyson himself to win the award.

“AuREUS is impressive in the way it makes sustainable use of waste crops, but I’m particularly impressed by Carvey’s resolve and determination,” Dyson said.

“As a farmer, I have always been concerned about covering fertile, food-producing, agricultural land in photovoltaic cells. Carvey’s invention demonstrates a convincing way to create clean energy on existing structures, like windows, within cities,” he added.
» Read article         
» Watch interview and demonstration

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

better homes
A net-zero code doesn’t need to derail affordable housing push, advocates say
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker cited the potential impact on affordable housing as a reason for his veto of a major climate bill.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
January 27, 2021

Allowing Massachusetts cities to adopt stringent energy performance standards on new construction is unlikely to slow housing creation, according to architects, energy efficiency advocates, and lawmakers pushing back on a recent climate bill veto.

“As long as there’s demand, homes are going to be built,” said Stacey Hobart, communications director for the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit focused on improving energy performance in buildings.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed an ambitious climate bill, citing among his reasons a provision that called for the creation of a “net-zero stretch code,” a building code towns and cities could choose to adopt that would require new buildings to produce as much energy as they consume.

Massachusetts has set an ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050. Buildings, which are responsible for about 27% of the state’s emissions, are a major target for action.

Announcing his veto, Baker said he’d heard from many in the construction field that such a measure could “stop in its tracks any housing development” and that “those words get my attention.” In a letter explaining his decision, he specifically argued that a net-zero code would work against his goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing and “raise costs for Massachusetts families.”

In Massachusetts, the state sets the building codes for all municipalities. In 2009, however, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to implement an optional stretch code, which requires higher levels of energy efficiency than the base code. Today, 286 municipalities — more than 80% of the towns and cities in the state — have adopted this more stringent set of requirements.

Because Massachusetts has been an early adopter of stretch codes and a leader in advancing energy efficiency requirements, there is little direct precedent to look to in assessing the potential impact of a net-zero stretch code.

However, neither the numbers nor history bear out the governor’s concern, said many with knowledge of the industry.
» Read article         

house roof - England
Government plans to turn England homes green ‘in chaos’ with debt and job losses
Exclusive: firms out of pocket and losing faith in scheme administered by US-based corporation
By Sandra Laville, The Guardian
January 26, 2021

England’s much-hyped £2bn green homes grant is in chaos, renewable energy installers say, with some owed tens of thousands of pounds and struggling to stay in business.

Members of the public have been left waiting nearly four months, in some cases, to take advantage of the scheme to fit low carbon heating systems. Some installers say customers are pulling out after losing faith in the green grants.

Boris Johnson touted the grants as one of the key programmes in his ten 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. It aims to help 600,000 households switch their energy to low carbon and help the UK meet its commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Ministers awarded the contract to run the programme to ICF, a large American consulting corporation based in Virginia. Details of the value of the government contract have not yet been published.

But renewable energy businesses say the administration of the grants is chaotic, inefficient, confused and is creating long delays for the public and installers. Emails from the administrators are being sent during US office hours; in the evening and late at night, making communication impossible, businesses say.

Companies involved in installing heat pumps and solar thermal heating say they are laying off workers and struggling to stay afloat. Some are refusing to do more work until they are paid the tens of thousands of pounds owed for work dating back to last autumn.

“It is a desperate situation from everyone’s point of view, not just the installers,” said Bryan Glendinning, chief executive officer of Engenera, based in Newcastle. “This scheme was supposed to create jobs, but it is not doing that. We were ready to go last autumn, we had set up a call centre for 40 staff, I have now got two in there.”

Glendinning says he has 300 potential customers, some of whom have been waiting since September for vouchers from the scheme to get their renewable heating systems installed.

He told the Guardian that only 61 householders had been given the vouchers to go ahead. He has installed six systems but has not been paid for any by the government, and so far is out of pocket £250,000 from the scheme.

One installer, Eddie Gammage of EDG installations, said: “Chaos is an understatement for what is going on. We haven’t received any payments at all yet for seven jobs we have completed. I have had to lay people off.”
Blog editor’s note: This kind of nightmare could happen here too. This article is a warning that home energy programs that are poorly designed and executed could easily cause more harm than good.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV tipping point
Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption
Sales increase 43% globally in 2020 as plunging battery costs mean the cars will soon be the cheapest vehicles to buy
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 22, 2021

Electric vehicles are close to the “tipping point” of rapid mass adoption thanks to the plummeting cost of batteries, experts say.

Global sales rose 43% in 2020, but even faster growth is anticipated when continuing falls in battery prices bring the price of electric cars dipping below that of equivalent petrol and diesel models, even without subsidies. The latest analyses forecast that to happen some time between 2023 and 2025.

The tipping point has already been passed in Norway, where tax breaks mean electric cars are cheaper. The market share of battery-powered cars soared to 54% in 2020 in the Nordic country, compared with less than 5% in most European nations.

Transport is a major source of carbon emissions and electric cars are vital in efforts to fight the climate crisis. But, while they are already cheaper to run, their higher purchase price is a barrier to mass uptake. The other key factor is “range anxiety”, but this week the first factory production began of batteries capable of giving a 200-mile charge in five minutes.

Government grants and tax breaks have cut the cost of electric cars in some countries, but the point when they become cheaper without subsidies is key, said James Frith, the head of energy storage at BloombergNEF: “That’s definitely an inflection point. [Then] we really see the adoption of electric vehicles taking off and real market penetration.” In 2020, 4.2% of new cars were electric.
» Read article         
» Read about new, fast-charge batteries

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

XR at MA state house
Massachusetts lawmakers quickly approve climate change bill for second time
By STEVE LeBLANC, AP, in Boston.com
January 28, 2021

Massachusetts lawmakers quickly approved a sweeping climate change bill Thursday for a second time, shipping it back to Gov. Charlie Baker just weeks after he vetoed the measure.

The Democrat-controlled House and Senate had approved the bill earlier this month in the waning hours of the last legislative session.

Baker opted to veto the bill, but time had run out on the ability of lawmakers to address the veto, so Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano — both Democrats — decided to bring the bill back before lawmakers just weeks into the new legislative session and approve it again.

“Time is of the essence and we could not let a delay hamper our efforts to protect future generations,” Spilka said in a press release following the vote. “The necessary tools included in this legislation will soon lead to lower emissions, a thriving green economy, and cleaner air and water for all.”

The Senate engrossed the bill on a voice vote before noon on Thursday, shipping it to the House, where it was engrossed on 144-14 vote. Both chambers then enacted the bill, sending it to Baker’s desk.

Rep. Thomas Golden, one of the sponsors of the bill, hailed the decision to quickly approve the proposal a second time, saying it was too urgent to delay.
» Read article         

gov-leg divide explained
Inside the divide between Legislature, Baker on climate plan
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
January 27, 2021

While Gov. Charlie Baker portrayed Massachusetts as “a national leader” on climate during his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday, Baker and the Legislature remain at odds over how the state should reach its emissions-reduction goals.

Baker vetoed a climate bill this month, but lawmakers appear unconvinced by the rebuke. The House and Senate plan to vote Thursday on the unchanged bill, which maps a plan for Massachusetts to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Baker declared his support for that goal last January. But, in a letter detailing his veto, he claimed that the Legislature’s more aggressive interim reduction goals were too costly and that a new opt-in building code could hurt housing production.

Not swayed, lawmakers and climate advocates blasted the veto for delaying climate action they see as urgent. Some have argued that fossil fuel-aligned lobbyists played an outsize role in derailing the legislation.

While the Legislature says its approach brings the ambition necessary to address the severity of climate change, Baker’s camp cites data and research as the basis of its own strategy.

Baker, in his veto letter, said that reaching the Legislature’s 50 percent interim reduction goal would cost $6 billion more than his administration’s 45 percent goal — a claim that some lawmakers and advocates have disputed.

Either target would be the most ambitious in the nation, said Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides, noting that California and New York set interim reductions goals of 40 percent by 2030.

“You don’t necessarily want to make the changes too fast, because the costs for Massachusetts residents would be much higher,” Theoharides said, claiming that the Legislature’s goal was not based in data analysis. “We believe that ambition should be backed up with data and recognizing the costs that residents across the state will have to bear.”

Lawmakers and climate advocates, though, aren’t budging.

“The bottom line is that we need to get off of fossil fuels and reduce our carbon emissions as quickly as possible,” said Ben Hellerstein, executive director of Environment Massachusetts. “What the science tells us is, the more we can do and the sooner we can do it, the better.”

“We can’t keep doing the same-old, same-old,” said state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “Lofty goals give us something to shoot for.”
» Read article         

State House domePass the climate change bill again
And governor, this time go ahead and sign it
By Eugenia Gibbons, David Gasson and Will Havemeyer, CommonWealth Magazine / Opinion
January 27, 2021

IN VETOING An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, Gov. Charlie Baker contradicted his stated commitment to climate leadership, undermined the state’s clean energy sector, and dealt a blow to environmental justice communities in the Commonwealth.

The explanation provided in a five-page letter falsely pits economic growth against climate, health, and equity in a state that has historically demonstrated an ability to support a clean energy transformation to the benefit of its residents and economy rather than to the detriment of either.

The Legislature, in refiling the bill and promising to send it back to the governor’s desk, is giving our Commonwealth another chance to take bold and necessary action to address the greatest challenge of our lifetime. It is critical that we take it.

Increasingly, extreme weather caused by climate change ravages our natural and built environments causing billions in damaged infrastructure, inaccessible or inoperable facilities, and homes left uninhabitable by flooding and eroding coastlines. In 2020, Massachusetts experienced its worst drought in four years following prolonged stretches of dry weather that induced water restrictions and increased fire risks. And warming waters are creating uninhabitable conditions for the natural resources on which our state’s multi-million-dollar seafood industry depends.

Our health is on the line, too. Vector-borne disease is on the rise and extreme heat, occurring with greater frequency, remains the number one weather-related killer in the country. Burning of fossil fuels causes climate change, but long-term exposure to higher-than-average levels of particulate matter causes some of the most severe health impacts — asthma, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases. These impacts are at their worst in low-income communities and communities of color that have been disproportionately burdened by the generational effects of discriminatory policies.

In the face of such present and indisputable consequences, it is time to confront and let go of the false narratives that have stood in the way of ambitious climate and clean energy policy to date. A climate-smart Commonwealth is a healthy Commonwealth, one whose businesses, residents, and communities thrive, economically and otherwise. We must call out decisions to block much-needed policy change for what they really are — a choice to accede to those who have used their influence to stall progress on this issue for years, and a choice to continue ignoring the mountains of evidence showing that a smart climate plan will in fact bolster our economy and protect our most vulnerable communities that are already shouldering many of the impacts of the climate crisis.
» Read article         

» More legislative news

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills pump jacks
Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels
Even with the order, most companies can continue their current level of drilling for years. Advocates hope the pause is just a first step toward a complete phase-out.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Judy Fahys, InsideClimate News
January 27, 2021

It’s hard to overstate the symbolic importance of the executive order President Biden signed Wednesday that paused new leasing of oil and gas development on federal lands, among other actions on climate change. The United States is the world’s top oil and gas producer, and the directive, which orders a wholesale review of the federal leasing and permitting program, signals a reckoning with how that production will need to fall.

Advocates hope the halt to leasing will be the first step toward developing a comprehensive path to phase out fossil fuel production in a way that also supports workers, communities and states that depend on the resources for their livelihoods.

But the order—which pauses leasing until the review is completed—will do little in itself to reduce the nation’s oil and gas production, and will not affect the number of wells being drilled for years.

Oil and gas companies are sitting on a huge cache of undeveloped federal leases: Nearly 14 million out of more than 26 million acres leased to oil companies onshore are not in use, and more than 9 million out of a total 12 million offshore acres leased are not producing, according to the Interior Department. Biden’s order will allow companies to continue to receive permits to drill on land they have already leased.

The research firm Rystad Energy estimates that in New Mexico’s Delaware Basin, one of the most active drilling areas in the country, most companies can continue their current level of drilling for more than a decade, even without acquiring new federal leases.

Wells on federal lands also account for only about 20 percent of the nation’s oil production, and even less of its gas output. The pause in new leasing will have no impact on the state and private lands that account for the rest.

Still, fossil fuel production on federal lands is responsible for nearly a quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to one government study, and those lands are the only place where the federal government can take a direct role in managing production.

“It’s a great place to start to lay out how you transition 20 percent of what we use out of the system,” said Josh Axelrod, a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Axelrod said the Trump administration’s rush to lease federal lands had created a system where energy companies could stockpile leases and permits at extremely low costs and with few environmental safeguards, and so pausing the system to review it was hardly a dramatic move.
» Read article         

made-up numbersOil Industry Inflates Job Impact From Biden’s New Pause on Drilling on Federal Lands
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 27, 2021

On Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order directing his Department of Interior to hit pause on entering new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands, the latest in a string of climate-related directives aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Joe Biden proposed a ban on new leases on public lands, a pledge the Trump campaign falsely claimed would “end fracking.” After Biden’s victory, a coalition of nearly 600 organizations from western states wrote a letter in December to the president-elect, urging him to follow through on his promise. The executive order begins that process.

About 25 percent of U.S. fossil fuel production came from federal lands over the past decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, federal lands account for roughly 24 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, stemming from the production of oil, gas, and coal, along with the methane released during the extraction process, and the combustion of those fuels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A big slice of that comes from coal, an industry that has been in decline for years. But drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. has increased dramatically in recent years, thanks in large part to fracking. While the oil industry quickly applauded the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, it was incensed that he would halt new drilling leases on federal lands.

Big Oil’s Biden-era PR strategy:

1) Act like you’re part of the solution by supporting “frameworks” like Paris and long term targets like 2050

2) Fight meaningful action — like rejecting KXL and ending drilling on public lands — by repeating lies about jobs and the economy

— Jamie Henn (@jamieclimate) January 25, 2021

When it comes to fracking on public lands, New Mexico’s portion of the Permian basin is ground zero. Much of the drilling in other shale regions, including Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and North Dakota, occurs on state or private land, and, as a result, won’t be impacted by the new policy. But New Mexico is home to a large drilling footprint on federal land, and roughly a quarter of the state’s tax revenue comes from oil and gas.

Various industry groups immediately sprang into action this week with the news that the Biden administration was gearing up to halt new leases. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute and the American Petroleum Institute, along with state chambers of commerce in New Mexico and Louisiana, hosted impromptu press calls for journalists on both Tuesday and Wednesday decrying the new policy.

The New Mexico Oil & Gas Association said that restricting drilling “risks the loss of more than 60,000 jobs and $800 million” in tax revenue for the state. The American Petroleum Institute (API) went further, saying a ban on new leases risks “hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in government revenue.”

Restricting this oil and gas activity on New Mexico’s federal lands risks the loss of more than 60,000 jobs and $800 million in support for our public schools, first responders, and healthcare services. #NMPol #NMLeg

— New Mexico Oil & Gas (@NMOilAndGas) January 25, 2021

The oil and gas industry only directly employs a little over 160,000 people, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

API is claiming that more people would lose their jobs than the industry actually employs. Even accounting for ripple effects on related industries, it is a staggering claim.

But it’s “standard bullshit fear mongering,” Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, told DeSmog in an email. “Industry still has a surplus of just under 500,000 acres of federal public lands leases they have not yet developed, 31,000+ existing federal public lands oil & gas wells, and a stockpile of ~5,000 approved-but-unused federal public lands drilling permits.”
» Read article         

gas is over for EU
Reality ‘Starting to Sink In,’ Says McKibben, After European Investment Bank Chief Admits ‘Gas Is Over’
“There’s nothing clean about gas—it’s not a ‘transition fuel’ or a ‘bridge fuel,’ it’s a dirty fossil fuel just like coal and oil,” said Greenpeace EU. “It’s time to stop bankrolling the #ClimateEmergency and stop public money back gas projects.”
By Jon Queally, Common Dreams
January 21, 2021

Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, “To put it mildly, gas is over”—an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.

Dr. Werner Hoyer, president of the EIB—the investment bank publicly owned by the European Union’s member states—made the comments while presenting a review of the institution’s 2020 operations at a press conference in Luxembourg.

Calling a future break with fracked gas “a serious departure from the past,” Hoer added that “without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets” to which the EU states—and therefore the bank—have committed.

McKibben and others responded to the comments as the most recent promising signal that the financial world is catching up with the climate science that demands a rapid and profound shift away from fossil fuels.

While many European climate groups and financial watchdogs have criticized the EU member states and the EIB itself for not moving forward fast enough with proposed reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Hoyer said Wednesday that the shift away from fossil fuels is paramount and that even the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the continent must not act as a roadblock.

“We have achieved unprecedented impact on climate, preparing the ground for much more,” Hoyer said in his remarks. “But the risk of a recovery that neglects climate and the environment remains.”

“The fight against climate change cannot wait until the pandemic is over,” he added. “The [Covid-19] crisis is not a reason to stop tackling the climate and environmental challenges facing humanity.”
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuel

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Weekly News Check-In 1/22/21

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Welcome back.

“… When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
— Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”, in The Guardian

What a week! The Biden/Harris administration kicked off by returning science and sanity to the White House. The inauguration was a high-volume Kleenex event for many, and we already see seismic shifts in policy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is considering allowing opponents of the Weymouth compressor station to argue that the facility doesn’t serve a public need and presents a danger to nearby environmental justice communities. We include a link with this story – please send your own comments to FERC encouraging them to follow through. This is a big break – let’s work it!

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead. Now, opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline argue it should meet the same fate, for the same reasons. Strangely, Enbridge is attempting to swim against this anti-pipeline tide by refusing to comply with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent order to shut down its aging Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.

It’s beginning to look like Baltimore’s legal action against the fossil fuel industry will become a pivotal Supreme Court case. The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction, but then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further. At stake is whether this and similar suits can be heard in any state court.

This week, Democrat Richard Glick became Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair. He has a strong and consistent record of opposing FERC’s “rubber stamp” approach to pipeline project approval, is serious about environmental justice (see Weymouth, above), and is committed to the clean energy transition. Although the Commission will remain majority-Republican till June, he may already have enough support to begin to tackle the big issue of transmission reform.

This week’s biggest, most hopeful, and least-surprising climate story is the pending U.S. return to the Paris Climate Agreement. President Biden stated his administration’s intent in a letter signed within hours of his inauguration. Our return becomes official after thirty days.

Clean energy has a new player. A “tidal kite” is generating renewable electricity from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands. Tethered to the seabed, the kite’s primary innovation is its ability to “fly” a figure 8 pattern in the tidal current, thereby increasing relative velocity through the water and maximizing energy generation from the onboard turbine.

Necessary advances in building energy efficiency are being threatened by the powerful National Association of Home Builders. We found a great article that makes the case for better buildings, and explains how the building trade’s short-sighted obsession with initial construction cost is passing large downstream bills to home owners and renters – while also cooking the planet with excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric vehicles are currently burdened with long charge times – a problem that mostly concerns drivers taking long trips. New battery designs aim to change that, by making a charge-up take about the same time as a fill-up. The trick involves replacing electrode graphite with nanopaticles that allow a higher rate of electron flow. One example of this new lithium-ion battery was developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines. While it’s not quite ready for commercial scale deployment, it proves the concept and assures a quick-charge future. Other battery manufacturers are pursuing similar designs.

Recall that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of a landmark climate bill was predicated in large part on $6 billion that he insisted the legislature’s aggressive emissions reduction goals would cost the commonwealth. That allowed the governor to claim a point for fiscal responsibility… except that it sort of looks like he just made that number up! Hopefully the bill will be reintroduced quickly. The Governor and Legislature have expressed an eagerness to move forward. Let’s keep it real….

The fossil fuel industry is sorting out its future in light of the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation and the Biden/Harris climate agenda. We found an interesting article that explores how a number of pipeline projects in the U.S. and Canada could ultimately be affected, and how they’re related.

We’ve mentioned FERC several times, and we’ll close with a story on its decision to affirm that energy company Pembina can’t move forward with the highly-contested Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. After years of battle, this federal regulator has given the opposition hope by merely acting… sensibly.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

glimmer of hopeAfter years of protests, a glimmer of hope for opponents to the Weymouth gas compressor
By David Abel, Boston Globe
January 19, 2021

After years of protests, residents opposing a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth received a glimmer of hope Tuesday that federal regulators might reconsider last fall’s decision to allow the plant to operate.

In a vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a majority of members ruled the panel had improperly denied a request for a hearing on its approval from neighbors and environmental advocates who have long opposed the compressor. The commissioners, one of whom was appointed since the facility won approval in the fall, cited safety and environmental concerns for their action.

The vote comes after the compressor had two emergency shutdowns in September — just days after regulators authorized it to start operating. It has yet to resume operations, and it’s unclear when it will be allowed to do so.

At an online hearing, Commissioner Richard Glick said the FERC must look more closely at the impact of the station on low-income residents who live nearby and “do more than give lip service to environmental justice.”

“That needs to change,” he said.

In a post on Twitter, Glick added that the station “raises serious environmental justice questions, which we need to examine. The communities surrounding the project are regularly subjected to high levels of pollution & residents are concerned emissions from the station will make things worse.”

A new commissioner, Allison Clements, a Democratic appointee, said the commission should “carefully consider how to address health and safety concerns.” The commissioners serve five-year, staggered terms, and no more than three of the five commissioners may be from the same party as the president.

This ruling comes after residents spent six years fighting the $100 million compressor, which they have said presents health and safety risks to the polluted, densely populated Fore River Basin.

The 7,700-horsepower compressor was built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline giant, as part of its $600 million Atlantic Bridge project. The compressor, the subject of a Globe investigation last year, seeks to pump 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from Weymouth to Maine and Canada.

“This is significant because this is the first time in six years that they have actually considered our concerns about environmental justice, health, and safety,” said Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.
» Read article        
» Submit comments to FERC

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

worse than crude
After a decade of struggle, Keystone XL may be sold for scrap
By Alexandria Herr, Grist
January 20, 2021

After 12 embattled years of approval, cancellation, and re-approval, Keystone XL may be done for good. President Biden rescinded the permit for the pipeline via executive order on his first day in office, delivering a long-fought victory to anti-pipeline activists.

The current Keystone pipeline carries oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. The Alberta tar sands are known for being particularly bad for the climate — emissions from oil extracted there are about 14 percent worse, on average, than a typical barrel of oil. The proposed expansion of the northern leg, which would run from Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska, would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

It’s been a complicated decade since the Keystone XL project was first proposed in 2008 by the Canadian oil company TC Energy. President Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline in 2012, and it was in use by 2013. But in 2015, after an outpouring of grassroots activism, Obama rejected the northern leg. That decision was reversed by President Trump during his early days in office in 2017. The following year, construction was halted when Montana’s U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the State Department needed to give further consideration to the pipeline’s potential for environmental damage. Then, last June, Trump dissolved Morris’ injunction by issuing a presidential permit, bypassing the State Department entirely. Today, the northern leg of the pipeline is mostly constructed, with some gaps remaining in Nebraska, but it’s not yet ready to pump oil.

Indigenous activists and environmentalists have been fighting the pipeline for much of its history, due to the risks of oil spills, its contribution to climate change, and infringements of treaty rights. Last Thursday, a group of Indigenous women leaders wrote a letter asking Biden to reject a set of pipeline projects, including Keystone XL, Line 3 in Minnesota, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Biden has not yet taken a stance on either of these other projects.) In addition to environmental risks, the letter cited the connection between pipeline construction and sexual violence. Company-owned temporary housing for laborers — “man camps” — along pipeline routes have been documented as centers of sexual assault and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, and fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure is similarly linked to the tragic epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Daniel T’seleie, a K’asho Got’ine Dene activist, told CBC news that he thought Biden’s decision was “largely due to the actions of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people on the southern side of the border who have really been fighting against this pipeline … and have been making it very clear that this pipeline is not going to get built without their consent.”
» Read article         

DAPL too‘No more broken treaties’: indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access pipeline
Tribes and environmentalists hail decision to cancel Keystone XL pipeline but call on president to go further
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
January 21, 2021

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists are urging Joe Biden to shutdown some of America’s most controversial fossil fuel pipelines, after welcoming his executive order cancelling the Keystone XL (KXL) project.

Activists praised the president’s decision to stop construction of the transnational KXL oil pipeline on his first day in the White House, but they stressed that he must cancel similar polluting fossil fuel projects, including the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), to stand any chance of meeting his bold climate action goals.

The KXL order was issued on Wednesday as part of the first wave of Biden’s promised environmental justice and climate action policies, which include rejoining the Paris agreement and halting construction of the southern border wall.

Rescinding the Canadian-owned KXL pipeline permit, issued by Donald Trump, fulfills a campaign promise Biden made in May 2020 and comes after more than a decade of organizing and resistance by indigenous activists, landowners and environmental groups.

“The victory ending the KXL pipeline is an act of courage and restorative justice by the Biden administration. It gives tribes and Mother Earth a serious message of hope for future generations as we face the threat of climate change. It aligns Indigenous environmental knowledge with presidential priorities that benefit everyone,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, founder of Brave Heart Society and a member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota nation.

“This is a vindication of 10 years defending our waters and treaty rights from this tar sands carbon bomb. I applaud President Biden for recognizing how dangerous KXL is for our communities and climate and I look forward to similar executive action to stop DAPL and Line 3 based on those very same dangers,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dine nations and the Keep It In The Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
» Read article         

sunken hazard
Michigan Pipeline Fight Intensifies as Permit Deadline Nears
Enbridge is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s move to shut down the Line 5 underwater pipeline, which environmentalists and tribes fear could cause an environmental disaster.
By Andrew Blok, Drilled News
January 14, 2021

Under the strong and fickle currents of the Straits of Mackinac, which flow through a four-mile gap between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, twin pipelines have transported two million gallons of petroleum products daily for seven decades.

This year they may shut down for good.

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement allowing the twin pipelines, known as Line 5, to run under the straits, and gave its owner, Enbridge Inc., 180 days to shut them down.

“The continued use of the dual pipelines cannot be reconciled with the public’s rights in the Great Lakes and the State’s duty to protect them,” Whitmer said in a statement.

On Jan. 12, Enbridge announced in a 7-page letter to Whitmer that it would defy her shutdown order, claiming that the governor had overstepped her authority. The Calgary, Alberta-based company has also sued the state in federal district court, arguing that the U.S. government, not Michigan, has regulatory power over pipeline safety.

The moves are the latest twists in a controversial decade for Enbridge in Michigan.

Before 2010, most Michiganders didn’t know Line 5 existed, said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water, a Michigan-based environmental policy non-profit.

But that changed, she said, after the Kalamazoo River spill: a massive leak from Enbridge’s Line 6b that ranks among America’s largest ever inland oil spills. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than one million gallons of oil polluted nearly 40 miles of waterways, injuring wildlife and scarring farmlands. Cleanup and restoration of hundreds of acres of streams and wetlands took four years and cost over $1 billion.

Despite multiple alarms, Enbridge had restarted Line 6b several times in the 17 hours before identifying the leak. According to the terms of a 2017 settlement with the EPA, Enbridge has committed to spending more than $110 million on upgrades and programs to prevent future spills, paying $62 million in civil penalties for Clean Water Act violations, and reimbursing more than $5.4 million in cleanup costs on top of $57.8 million already paid.

In the wake of this disaster, the National Wildlife Federation in 2012 issued a report, titled “Sunken Hazard,” that described how a major leak from Line 5 could spread quickly in the strong currents of the Straits of Mackinac and harm popular outdoor destinations and regional fisheries, including fisheries guaranteed to Native Americans by treaty.
» Read article        

» Read the Enbridge statement

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Baltimore inner harbor
Could Baltimore’s Climate Change Suit Become a Supreme Court Test Case?
The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction. But then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
January 19, 2021

What began as a narrow jurisdictional question to be argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court in a climate change lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore could take on far greater implications if the high court agrees with major oil companies to expand its purview and consider whether federal, rather than state courts, are the appropriate venue for the city’s case and possibly a host of similar lawsuits.

The high court initially agreed to hear a request by the oil and gas industry to review a ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which the court affirmed a federal district judge’s decision to allow Baltimore’s lawsuit to be tried in state, rather than federal, court based on a single jurisdiction rule.

The city is seeking damages related to climate-induced extreme weather—stronger hurricanes, greater flooding and sea-level rise—linked to oil and gas consumption that warms the planet. Baltimore’s attorneys argue that state court is the appropriate venue for such monetary awards.

But after the Supreme Court agreed to take on that narrow question, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and other oil companies went further in court filings and are now pressing the court to consider the much larger and consequential question of whether state courts have jurisdiction over these lawsuits at all.

The stakes could be enormous if Baltimore becomes a test case for 23 other city, county and state governments that have filed similar climate change lawsuits seeking damages.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Chairman Richard Glick
Glick named FERC chair, promises ‘significant progress’ on energy transition
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 21, 2021

Commissioner Richard Glick was named chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President Joe Biden Thursday morning.

Glick was considered a front runner for the chairmanship as the longest serving Democrat on the commission. He will succeed Chairman James Danly, and the commission is expected to retain its Republican majority until Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s term is up June 30.

Glick has said publicly that on the electric side he would prioritize transmission reform, reassessing capacity markets, and continuing efforts to lower barriers to clean energy resources in regulated markets. On gas, he believes the commission should rethink how it assesses greenhouse gas emissions and more seriously review environmental justice impacts when approving gas infrastructure.

Glick opposed many of the actions FERC took under Chairmen Chatterjee and Danly, and his long list of dissents and public comments foreshadow a commission more bullish on its role in the power sector’s energy transition.

“I’m honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be [FERC] Chairman,” Glick said in a tweet. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!”

Though Glick will still be running a majority Republican commission, he and Chatterjee have begun to find common ground on some issues in recent months, and many power sector observers think transmission reform will be one critical area Glick may tackle relatively early.
» Read article         

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

climate kick-offBiden returns US to Paris climate accord hours after becoming president
Biden administration rolls out a flurry of executive orders aimed at tackling climate crisis
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
January 20, 2021

Joe Biden has moved to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement just hours after being sworn in as president, as his administration rolls out a cavalcade of executive orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis.

Biden’s executive action, signed in the White House on Wednesday, will see the US rejoin the international effort curb the dangerous heating of the planet, following a 30-day notice period. The world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases was withdrawn from the Paris deal under Donald Trump.

Biden is also set to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a bitterly contested project that would bring huge quantities of oil from Canada to the US to be refined, and halt oil and gas drilling at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two vast national monuments in Utah, and the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness. The Trump administration’s decision to shrink the protected areas of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will also be reviewed.

The flurry of first-day action on the climate crisis came after Biden, in his inauguration speech, said America needed to respond to a “climate in crisis”. The change in direction from the Trump era was profound and immediate – on the White House website, where all mentions of climate were scrubbed out in 2017, a new list of priorities now puts the climate crisis second only behind the Covid pandemic. Biden has previously warned that climate change poses the “greatest threat” to the country, which was battered by record climate-fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat last year.

The re-entry to the Paris agreement ends a period where the US became a near-pariah on the international stage with Trump’s refusal to address the unfolding disaster of rising global temperatures. Countries are struggling to meet commitments, made in Paris in 2015, to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, with 2020 setting another record for extreme heat.
» Read article         

ccs - if only
Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say
Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
January 14, 2021

One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal kite
First tidal energy delivered to Faroese electricity grid
By FaroeIslands.fo
January 11, 2021

For the first time ever, homes in the Faroe Islands are being run by electricity harvested from an underwater tidal kite. Renewable electricity is generated from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands, using Deep Green technology, a unique principle of enhancing the speed of the kite through the water. A rudder steers the kite in a figure of eight trajectory and as it “flies”, water flows through the turbine, producing electricity.

Minesto, a leading marine energy technology company from Sweden, has developed the system in collaboration with Faroese utility company, SEV.

Hákun Djurhuus, CEO of SEV, says: “We are very pleased that the project has reached the point where the Minesto DG100 delivers electricity to the Faroese grid. Although this is still on trial basis, we are confident that tidal energy will play a significant part in the Faroese sustainable electricity generation. Unlike other sustainable sources, tidal energy is predictable, which makes it more stable than, for example, wind power.”

Following successful trials of the DG100 system in Vestmannasund, SEV and Minesto have plans for a large-scale buildout of both microgrids (<250kW) and utility-scale (>1MW) Deep Green systems in the Faroe Islands. The long-term ambition is to make tidal energy a core energy source in the Faroe grid mix. This is part of the islands’ goal of having 100% green electricity production by 2030, including onshore transport and heating.
» Read article & watch video

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

building codes under pressure
What Will Happen to Your Next Home if Builders Get Their Way?
A lobby is trying to block building codes that would help fight climate change.
By Justin Gillis, New York Times | Opinion
January 21, 2021

Just about every new building that goes up in America is governed by construction codes. They protect people from numerous hazards, like moving into firetraps or having their roofs blown off in storms. Increasingly, those codes also protect people from high energy bills — and they protect the planet from the greenhouse gas emissions that go with them.

Yet the National Association of Home Builders, the main trade association and lobby for the home building industry, is now trying to monkey around with the rules meant to protect buyers and ensure that new homes meet the highest standards.

If the group succeeds, the nation could be saddled with millions of houses, stores and offices that waste too much energy and cost people too much money to heat and cool. Weakened construction standards could also leave houses and other buildings more vulnerable to the intensifying climate crisis, from floods to fires to storms. And they will make that crisis worse by pouring excessive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

State and local governments tend to adopt model codes drawn up every three years at the national level instead of devising their own. The group that puts out the most influential models is the International Code Council. The council is supposed to consider the public interest, broadly defined, in carrying out its work, even as the home building industry participates in drawing up the codes. The builders’ short-term interest is to weaken the codes, which cuts their costs. The interest of home buyers and of society at large is exactly the opposite: Strong building standards, even when they drive up the initial cost of a house, almost always result in lower costs over the long run. That was on vivid display in Miami in 1992.

Building codes must play a critical role as the nation confronts the climate crisis, and the need to cut its emissions drastically. The codes can require better insulation, tighter air sealing, advanced windows and more efficient delivery of hot water, heating and air-conditioning. They can also increase the resilience of buildings in an age of intensifying weather disasters, turning every new building into a climate asset.

That brings us to the new effort to weaken these codes.

Proposals to the council called for sharp cuts in energy use by new buildings in the 2021 code update. Under the council’s procedures, those proposals were put to a vote by state and local governments. Their representatives turned out in record numbers to approve the tighter measures.

The big turnout seems to have caught the builders’ association off guard. Through tortuous committee procedures, it managed to kill some important provisions, including a requirement that new homes come already wired for electric vehicle chargers.

Luckily, most of the other energy provisions survived. As a result, buildings constructed under this year’s model code will be on the order of 10 percent more efficient than under the previous code. This was a big step forward, given that the builders had managed to stall progress for most of the last decade. Compared to the 1980s, buildings going up under the new code will be roughly 50 percent more efficient, showing what kind of progress is possible.

The builders are now trying to upend the voting process that led to the more stringent rules. They are trying to rush through a rewrite of the rules to block future voting by state and local governments. The builders’ lobby wants the energy provisions of the model code put under the control of a small committee, which the builders would likely be able to dominate.

The International Code Council denies that is unduly influenced by the home builders. However, in 2019, The New York Times revealed a secret agreement between the council and the National Association of Home Builders. That agreement — whose existence the council acknowledged only under pressure — gives the builders inordinate power on a key committee that approves residential building codes.

Even now, only a synopsis of the deal is available; the council refuses to release the full text. The council’s board is to consider the proposed rewrite of the rules in a meeting on Thursday.

Given the International Code Council’s influence over the construction of nearly every new building in America, as well as those of some foreign countries, it needs to become a major target of scrutiny and of climate activism.

Change may be on the way. In a letter on Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded information from the council, including a copy of the secret agreement with the home builders.

That is good news. If the council persists in undermining the public interest, Congress or a coalition of states could potentially turn the job of drawing up building codes over to a new, more objective group. And lawmakers ought to adopt a national policy to govern this situation, mandating steady improvement in the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of new buildings.

With the climate crisis worsening by the year, America can no longer indulge the stalling tactics of the home builders.
» Read article         

BlocPower CEO Baird
Watt It Takes: BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird Wants to Electrify Buildings for Everyone
This week on Watt It Takes: Donnel Baird talks harnessing his anger over racial inequities and using it to build a clean-energy business model.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
January 14, 2021

BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird is on a mission to clean up old, inefficient buildings in America’s cities — and help people who are exposed to the worst pollution.

BlocPower was founded in 2012. It’s raised venture capital from Kapor Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. But that process was not easy for a company with a mostly non-white leadership team. As a Black founder, Donnel was turned down 200 times before any venture firms were willing to back his vision.

“It was really difficult for us raising capital. One of our investors, when I talked to him two or three years ago and said I was struggling to raise capital, he was like, ‘Yeah, man, just hire some white people and send them into the fundraising meetings, and it’ll clear things up,’” explains Donnel.

BlocPower is a Brooklyn, New York startup electrifying and weatherizing buildings in underserved communities — slashing pollution and saving money in the process. This includes housing units, churches and community centers.

And the mission for Donnel isn’t just about hitting milestones for investors. It’s about changing the fabric of underserved communities that are plagued by pollution and energy poverty. That’s because Donnel has lived it himself.

In this episode, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch talks with Donnel about how he channeled his frustration and anger around racial unfairness into a business model for the energy transition.
» Listen to podcast              

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

fast charge future
Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced
Exclusive: first factory production means recharging could soon be as fast as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 19, 2021

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step towards electric cars becoming as fast to charge as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of action to tackle the climate crisis but running out of charge during a journey is a worry for drivers. The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its “extreme fast-charging” battery in phones, drones and scooters and the 1,000 batteries it has now produced are to showcase its technology to carmakers and other companies. Daimler, BP, Samsung and TDK have all invested in StoreDot, which has raised $130m to date and was named a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer in 2020.

The batteries can be fully charged in five minutes but this would require much higher-powered chargers than used today. Using available charging infrastructure, StoreDot is aiming to deliver 100 miles of charge to a car battery in five minutes in 2025.

“The number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles is no longer cost, it is range anxiety,” said Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot. “You’re either afraid that you’re going to get stuck on the highway or you’re going to need to sit in a charging station for two hours. But if the experience of the driver is exactly like fuelling [a petrol car], this whole anxiety goes away.”

“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” he said. “But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates it is feasible and it’s commercially ready.”

Existing Li-ion batteries use graphite as one electrode, into which the lithium ions are pushed to store charge. But when these are rapidly charged, the ions get congested and can turn into metal and short circuit the battery.

The StoreDot battery replaces graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. These nanoparticles are currently based on germanium, which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing. But StoreDot’s plan is to use silicon, which is much cheaper, and it expects these prototypes later this year. Myersdorf said the cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.
» Read article         

Toyota greenish
Toyota to Pay a Record Fine for a Decade of Clean Air Act Violations
Toyota’s $180 million settlement with the federal government follows a series of emissions-related scandals in the auto industry.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
January 14, 2021

Toyota Motor is set to pay a $180 million fine for longstanding violations of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced on Thursday, the largest civil penalty ever levied for a breach of federal emissions-reporting requirements.

From about 2005 to 2015, the global automaker systematically failed to report defects that interfered with how its cars controlled tailpipe emissions, violating standards designed to protect public health and the environment from harmful air pollutants, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan.

Toyota managers and staff in Japan knew about the practice but failed to stop it, and the automaker quite likely sold millions of vehicles with the defects, the attorney’s office said.

“Toyota shut its eyes to the noncompliance,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement. Toyota has agreed not to contest the fine.

Eric Booth, a spokesman for the automaker, said that the company had alerted the authorities as soon as the lapses came to light, and that the delay in reporting “resulted in a negligible emissions impact, if any.”

“Nonetheless, we recognize that some of our reporting protocols fell short of our own high standards, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter,” Mr. Booth added.

Toyota is the world’s second-largest automaker behind Volkswagen, and once built a reputation for clean technology on the back of its best-selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrid passengers cars. But the auto giant’s decision in 2019 to support the Trump administration’s rollback of tailpipe emissions standards — coupled with its relatively slow introduction of fully-electric vehicles — has made it a target of criticism from environmental groups.

Toyota’s more recent lineup of models has been heavy on gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicles, which come with far bigger price tags and have brought far higher profit margins. According to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency, Toyota vehicles delivered some of the worst fuel efficiency in the industry, leading to an overall worsening of mileage and pollution from passenger cars and trucks in the United States for the first time in five years.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

fuzzy math
Questions on Baker’s $6b climate change cost estimate
Barrett, CLF’s Campbell say governor’s veto letter not convincing
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
January 19, 2021

THE SENATE’S POINT person on climate change legislation said he doesn’t know where Gov. Charlie Baker came up with his estimate that the Legislature’s target for emissions reductions in 2030 would cost state residents an extra $6 billion.

“Boy, would I like to know,” said Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington. “I have never – and I am familiar with all of the written documents the administration has released on this topic – I had never seen that $6 billion figure until [Thursday]. I wonder if the governor had ever seen the $6 billion figure until [Thursday].”

In his letter vetoing the Legislature’s climate change bill, Baker said the difference between a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels versus a 50 percent reduction was $6 billion in extra costs incurred by Massachusetts residents. “Unfortunately, this higher cost does not materially increase the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its long-term climate goals,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the Baker administration wasn’t able to produce the analysis yielding the $6 billion figure on Friday but promised more information this week.

Barrett, appearing on The Codcast with Bradley Campbell, the president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said he has asked repeatedly for information on the $6 billion figure and never received it.

“I can’t wait to see the economic study that buttresses that claim because it will be unlike any economic study I’ve ever read,” he said. “These figures to some extent are arbitrary. Neither figure [45 percent or 50 percent] is supported by modeling. Both are judgment calls.”
» Read article        
» Listen to Barrett and Campbell on the CodCast 

» More legislative news

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NoKXL
Keystone XL Pipeline Canceled. Here’s What It Means for the Future Fight Against Fossil Fuels
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 20, 2021

[While] the defeat of Keystone XL is historically momentous, it raises questions about other routes for Canadian tar sands. After sitting on the drawing board for years, Canada’s oil industry has already turned to alternative pipelines, such as Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement through Minnesota and, even more importantly, the Trans Mountain Expansion from Alberta to British Columbia.

“With Line 3 and TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion], Alberta has sufficient capacity to get its oil to market,” Werner Antweiler, a business professor at the University of British Columbia, told DeSmog.

In fact, scrapping Keystone XL arguably makes these other projects more urgent. “For the federal government of Canada, which has a vested interest in the commercial success of TMX, the cancelation of the KXL project may ultimately be good news because it ensures that there is sufficient demand for TMX capacity,” Antweiler said. “This means it is more likely now that TMX will become commercially viable and can be sold back to private investors profitably after construction is complete.”

This at a time when Keystone XL proved to be an expensive gamble. In 2019, Alberta invested $1.1 billion in Keystone XL in order to add momentum to the controversial project, funding its first year of construction. Now the province may end up selling the vast quantities of pipe for scrap, while also hoping to obtain damages from the United States.

Others are less convinced that the cancelation of one project is a boon to another. Even the Trans Mountain Expansion faces uncertainties in a world of energy transition. “Looking back a century ago, as one-by-one carriage manufacturers shut down as car manufacturers expanded production, prospects for the remaining carriage manufacturers didn’t improve,” Tom Green, a Climate Solutions Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, told DeSmog.

“Canada can take its cue from Biden: recognize the costly Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t needed or viable, it doesn’t fit with our climate commitments, and instead of throwing ever more money into a pit, government should invest those funds in the energy system of the future,” he said.
» Read article         

Total quits API
Total Quits Fossil Fuel Lobby Group the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate Change
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 15, 2021

French oil giant Total announced on Friday that it would not renew its membership to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a stunning blow to the oil industry’s most powerful business lobby. Total pointed to its differences with API over climate policy as its main motivation.

“We are committed to ensuring, in a transparent manner, that the industry associations of which we are a member adopt positions and messages that are aligned with those of the Group in the fight against climate change,” Patrick Pouyanné, Total’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Total cited API’s support for the rolling back of U.S. methane emissions on oil and gas operations, as well as the lobby group’s opposition to subsidies for electric vehicles and its opposition to carbon pricing.

Last year, the French oil company, along with BP and Royal Dutch Shell, cut ties with another oil industry lobby group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refiners. BP also withdrew from the Western States Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance, two other powerful lobby groups in the western United States.

However, Total is the first oil major to quit API. The decision highlights the growing divergence between European oil majors, who have announced decisions to begin transitioning towards cleaner energy, and their American counterparts, who appear determined to continue to increase oil and gas production. The withdrawal also reflects the growing pressure for the oil industry to slash greenhouse gas emissions from investors, policymakers, activists and the public amid a worsening climate crisis.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jordan Cove rallyFeds: Jordan Cove LNG terminal can’t move forward without state water permit
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
January 19, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Plans for a major West Coast liquified natural gas pipeline and export terminal hit a snag Tuesday with federal regulators after a years-long legal battle that has united tribes, environmentalists and a coalition of residents on Oregon’s rural southern coast against the proposal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that energy company Pembina could not move forward with the proposal without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. The U.S. regulatory agency gave its tentative approval to the pipeline last March as long as it secured the necessary state permits, but the Canadian pipeline company has been unable to do so.

It had appealed to the commission over the state’s clean water permit, arguing that Oregon had waived its authority to issue a clean water certification for the project and therefore its denial of the permit was irrelevant.

But the commission found instead that Pembina had never requested the certification and that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality “could not have waived its authority to issue certification for a request it never received.”

The ruling was hailed as a major victory by opponents of Jordan Cove, which would be the first such LNG overseas export terminal in the lower 48 states. The proposed 230-mile (370-kilometer) feeder pipeline would begin in Malin, in southwest Oregon, and end at the city of Coos Bay on the rural Oregon coast.

Jordan Cove did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment and it was unclear what next steps the project would take.

Opposition to the pipeline has brought together southern Oregon tribes, environmentalists, anglers and coastal residents since 2006.

“Thousands of southern Oregonians have raised their voices to stop this project for years and will continue to until the threat of Jordan Cove LNG is gone for good,” said Hannah Sohl, executive director of Rogue Climate.
» Read article         

» More about liquefied natural gas

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Weekly News Check-In 1/15/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

The fate of Massachusetts’ ambitious climate roadmap legislation generated plenty of drama this week, amid speculation that Governor Charlie Baker might veto the state’s first major revamp of its emissions reduction program in a dozen years. He did. We gathered news including why he did, why he should have signed it, and speculation on what could happen next.

Opponents of the Weymouth compressor station have long argued that the facility – if allowed to operate – should use electric motor drive to power the compressor. Compressor stations are typically located far from population centers, where the emissions from natural gas turbines don’t immediately impact human health. Now the MA-DEP has rejected a petition for Enbridge to use electric motor drive instead of a polluting gas turbine in Weymouth. The logic for the decision is stunning.

Protesters are actively resisting Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, and Sunrise-CT is standing out against the proposed natural gas generating plant in Killingly.

Related to all of the above, we found a thoughtful essay that considers how to make the green energy transition equitable – avoiding the trap of repeating, with green infrastructure, the same injustices that defined the fossil energy era.

In case anyone reading this newsletter isn’t sufficiently freaked out about the climate, a group of seventeen prominent scientists published a paper intended to wake people up to the “ghastly future” we’re sleepwalking into. Theirs is a call for mass mobilization at a World War II level of urgency. It’s also an appeal to their colleagues to step out of the lab and join the fray – challenging the scientist’s traditional dispassionate role.

Despite clear urgency, clean energy faces a thicket of outdated and cumbersome regulations that slow connection to the U.S. grid. Progress for energy efficiency in buildings also faces obstruction – primarily from the powerful National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups. There’s an effort underway to strip energy code voting rights from municipal officials. This follows a very successful drive in 2019 to recruit climate-aware voters, who forged a meaningful increase in building efficiency for the upcoming revision of residential and commercial building codes. This effort to disenfranchise municipal officials is seen by energy advocates as direct industry blowback. The building lobby’s reflexive objection to better efficiency may have influenced Governor Baker’s veto of the climate roadmap bill.

Massachusetts proposes to clean up its transportation sector by eliminating sales of gas-powered cars by 2035, joining California in this nation-leading goal. Meanwhile, the EV sector is abuzz with news about advances in solid-state batteries, and your future vehicle may double as battery storage for your home and the grid.

We found an excellent opinion piece from Utility Dive, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to make fundamental changes in how it considers energy infrastructure projects – explaining critical flaws in its “public need” evaluation, on which recent pipelines were justified.

Our wrap-up brings us full circle, because the fortunes of the liquefied natural gas industry directly impact the Weymouth compressor station – intended to push fracked gas from the Marcellus shale play north to Canada for eventual export through the proposed Goldboro LNG facility in Nova Scotia. While Pieridae Energy has brought man-camp trailers to the construction site, the company still lacks the necessary investment to proceed. Completion is years away and not yet guaranteed.

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

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

call for action not answered
Reluctantly, governor vetoes Mass. climate change bill, but it may soon be back on his desk
By Matt Stout and David Abel, Boston Globe
January 14, 2021

Governor Charlie Baker vetoed a far-reaching package of climate change and energy legislation Thursday, rejecting — perhaps temporarily — a bill that would have set the state on a path to in effect eliminate its carbon emissions over the next three decades.

The move disappointed but didn’t surprise lawmakers and advocates, who had feared the Republican governor would veto the bill, despite having laid out his own ambitious plan to achieve zero emissions on a net basis by 2050.

The legislation, considered the state’s most sweeping measure to address climate change since the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008, would have required the state to reduce its emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade.

In a letter to the Legislature, Baker said he shared lawmakers’ goals but differed with them “on how these goals should best be achieved.”

“Reluctantly, I cannot sign this legislation as currently written,” he wrote.

Baker could only sign or veto the 57-page bill, since lawmakers passed and sent it to him one day before their two-year legislative session ended last week.

With more time, Baker said, he would have returned the bill to lawmakers with proposed amendments.

His five-page letter cited a list of reasons why he refused to sign the bill. He said it would have countered a recently enacted law that seeks to promote affordable housing; lacked provisions to help fortify the state against rising seas and other impacts of climate change; would potentially harm regional efforts to procure clean energy; and was not supported by scientific analysis.

He also cited the uncertain consequences of the bill on the state’s economy as it emerges from the pandemic. “As we are all learning what the future will hold, I have concerns about the impacts portions of this bill will have for large sectors of the economy,” Baker said.

But his veto may be short-lived. Democratic leaders in the Legislature have vowed to rush the bill back to Baker’s desk, potentially within days, quickly reviving a package free of the parliamentary limits that Baker suggested had tied his hands.
» Read article           

Vineyard Wind 1
Mariano ready to refile accord on climate, emissions
By Matt Murphy, WWLP Channel 22 News
January 13, 2021

As Gov. Charlie Baker weighs a possible veto of climate legislation on his desk, House Speaker Ronald Mariano is preparing to refile the bill in its entirety on Thursday should the governor reject the bill as passed, according to the speaker’s office.

The step is intended to send a message to Baker that House Democrats stand behind the proposal, which would require Massachusetts to go carbon-neutral by 2050 and set a series of interim benchmarks intended to keep Massachusetts on the path.

The bill would also direct utilities to purchase more offshore wind power, set efficiency standards for appliances and increase the amount of renewable sources that feed the state’s electricity supply to 40 percent by 2030.

“This is meant to send a strong message to people supportive of the bill to stand firm, and that there’s not a lot of appetite for changes,” said someone close to the speaker, who asked to speak anonymously. Mariano also intends to approach Senate President Karen Spilka on Wednesday to discuss his plan.

Both the House and Senate unanimously passed the climate legislation on Monday, Jan. 4, a day before the Legislature brought its two-year session to a close.
» Read article             

they made me do itReal estate groups push for veto of climate bill, saying it could thwart economic recovery
Developers worry that rules allowing towns to adopt “net zero” building requirements could drive up costs and drive away business
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
January 12, 2021

A business-backed lobbying push over one controversial provision could end up sinking a far-reaching climate and energy bill that the Massachusetts Legislature passed on the penultimate day of its two-year session.

The point of contention: one sentence in the 57-page bill that would allow cities and towns to adopt rules requiring new buildings to be “net zero,” presumably with regard to greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate bill’s success, seemingly assured just over a week ago, now hangs in the balance. Environmental advocates are increasingly jittery that months of work could be in jeopardy. Governor Charlie Baker has until the end of the day Thursday to decide whether the concern over net-zero buildings and any other issues outweigh all the bill’s potential benefits, such as sparking more offshore wind and solar projects.

The Legislature didn’t end up passing the bill until roughly one day before the two-year session ended last week. For that reason, Baker cannot send the bill back with amendments. He can either sign it or reject it by either explicitly vetoing it or not signing it, a “pocket veto.”

Among the groups calling for a veto: development lobbyist NAIOP Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts. Among those urging support: environment-focused nonprofits such as Ceres and RENEW Northeast, and a coalition of municipal leaders in 17 cities and towns in Greater Boston.

For some in the business community, the debate mirrors one that played out during the past year or so over banning new natural-gas hookups in several cities and towns. Those efforts hit a big setback in July when Attorney General Maura Healey ruled that a ban in Brookline was preempted by state law.

While advocates for builders and developers support most aspects of the climate bill, they worry this net-zero building provision in particular could derail the state’s economic recovery by creating a new source of construction costs and delays.
» Read article           

Emily Reichert PhDA letter to Gov. Baker: Sign the climate bill
By Tim Cronin | Emily Reichert, Boston Business Journal / Opinion
January 11, 2021

Comprehensive climate action remains a collaborative process. We need investors to support the entrepreneurs who are developing new technologies. We need business leaders who are eager to test, deploy and believe in climate-tech solutions. And we also need policymakers who are willing to implement smart, ambitious policies to support them. 

This is how we build a just and sustainable future for all citizens of the commonwealth. This, Gov. Baker, is why you need to sign the climate bill. 

The act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy is the first major legislative update of climate policy in Massachusetts in over a decade. In the midst of the pandemic’s devastation, and a growing economic downturn, this bill comes just in time to bolster our recovery efforts. Like the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, Senate Bill 2995’s mix of ambitious climate goals and 21st century energy solutions is the foundation we need to unleash a new era of economic prosperity in our Massachusetts.

The bill plays to our competitive strengths in areas like energy efficiency and clean technology. We’ve consistently ranked top in the nation for energy efficiency, with that sector representing our fastest job growth in recent years. This bill modernizes our energy efficiency standards, collectively saving businesses and residents $160 million annually and creating tens of thousands of jobs over the coming decade. Similarly, Massachusetts has emerged as a regional and national hub for cleantech incubators, like Greentown Labs. SB2995 will make Massachusetts the first in the nation to set numerical benchmarks for the adoption of clean technology. Meaning businesses can invest in climate tech, with a clearer understanding of the future market for solutions like electric vehicles, charging stations, solar tech, energy storage and heat pumps in Massachusetts.

The climate bill advances markets toward other landmark technology needed to tackle the climate crisis. It nearly doubles the state’s offshore wind capacity over the coming decade, getting us to 5,600 megawatts and creating green jobs in the process. We will also see new incentives to build out the state’s renewable hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure, as well as pilot programs to transition the state’s largest utilities toward renewable thermal technology.

By signing the bill, you will signal to investors that Massachusetts is open for business and fully committed to the kind of climate investments the 21st century demands of us. Importantly, this bill ensures that we go beyond just setting a goal of net zero emissions reductions by 2050. It puts us on the economically prudent path towards a 50 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030, with a specific focus on emissions reductions in every sector of the economy. We uniquely have the opportunity to lead the research, development, and deployment of new clean technology in the commonwealth, creating companies and jobs here.
» Read article          

» More about legislation             

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

petition denied
Petition for electric compressor station motor rejected
By Ed Baker, The Patriot Ledger
January 13, 2021

WEYMOUTH — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection denied a citizens group petition to have an electric powered turbine at a compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

DEP presiding officer Jane Rothchild said federal regulations don’t support a “wholesale replacement” of the gas turbine by Algonquin Gas Transmission, the Enbridge subsidiary that runs the compressor station. 

“A preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that a combustion turbine is a different design than an electric motor drive,” said the ruling on Tuesday. “The equipment in a combustion turbine is different than the equipment in an electric motor drive, and an electric motor drive cannot run on natural gas.”

Rothchild further stated an electric motor drive “is not a pollution-controlled technology that can be applied to the proposed source.”

“Installing an electric motor drive would require additional infrastructure and improvements, including a half-mile of underground high voltage transmission line,” she stated. “Mass DEP took a hard look at the design elements and properly determined that the use of colocating natural gas is integral to the design of the facility.”

Rothchild’s ruling upholds the DEP’s previous determination that an electric motor drive is not the best available control technology to reduce nitrogen oxide and pollutant emissions at the compressor station.
» Blog editor’s note: It is absurd to conclude that a zero-emissions electric motor drive system “is not the best available control technology to reduce nitrogen oxide and pollutant emissions at the compressor station.” Ms. Rothchild’s prior comment gets to the heart of the matter: “Installing an electric motor drive would require additional infrastructure and improvements, including a half-mile of underground high voltage transmission line…”. Yes – it’s an additional investment. It should have been part of the original design because of this facility’s close proximity to an already environmentally burdened community. But it’s clearly not money Enbridge cares to spend. Sadly, the Baker administration has chosen not to defend the public health interest of its Weymouth constituents.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor         

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

school strike for climate
Protests Today, Saturday Against Proposed Killingly Gas Plant
By Public News Service
January 13, 2021

HARTFORD, Conn. – Opponents of the proposed Killingly natural-gas power plant are ramping up public pressure, with a protest today in Hartford and another on Saturday in New Haven.

At 2 p.m. today, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the Hartford protest, where there will also be a symbolic “die-in” on the back steps of the Capitol building.

Gov. Ned Lamont has said he wants the state to be carbon-neutral by 2040, so rally organizer Sena Wazer, co-director of the group Sunrise Connecticut and a junior at the University of Connecticut, said she thinks Lamont should intervene to deny final approvals for the plant.

“And it’s really just to show the governor the really disastrous effects that climate change is going to have on our future,” she said, “especially as young people.”

A second protest is planned for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the New Haven Green.

The state has said the plant would be a source of “bridge fuel” for times when energy from wind or solar isn’t sufficient. The Governor’s Council on Climate Change is supposed to release its final report by the end of the month. If approved, the Killingly plant would go online in 2024 and generate 650 megawatts of power. The Sierra Club estimates it could dump 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year.

Angel Serrano, a community organizer for the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said the state never will reach its decarbonization goals if it keeps green-lighting new fossil-fuel infrastructure.
» Read article        

honor treaties
As Enbridge Races to Build Line 3 Pipeline, Resistance Ramps Up in the Courts and On the Ground
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
January 8, 2021

On January 2, 2021, during the first weekend of the New Year, dozens of water protectors gathered to demonstrate and pray along Great River Road near Palisade, Minnesota. They joined in song, protesting a controversial tar sands oil pipeline called Line 3, which is currently being constructed through northern Minnesota and traditional Anishinaabe lands. Ojibwe tribes have helped spearhead the opposition to this pipeline, alongside Indigenous and environmental groups.

A clash with police hours later resulted in the arrest of 14 demonstrators. As one water protector, Shanai Matteson, described the confrontation: “There were more police, and fewer Water Protectors, in an unreasonable show of force by officers … who escalated the situation.”

This Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 pipeline is reminiscent of Standing Rock in North Dakota, where, since 2015, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has led fellow Native and non-Native water protectors in taking a stand against the Dakota Access pipeline, which ultimately went into operation in 2017. Both of these battles over new tar sands pipelines also have featured direct action demonstrations and legal challenges, all with significant stakes for Native rights and sovereignty, the integrity of impacted water bodies and land, and the global climate.

In Minnesota, the fight over Line 3 has dragged on for over six years. Now, with the Canadian-based energy pipeline giant Enbridge Corporation commencing construction, opponents are continuing their resistance on the ground and in the courts.

Pipeline opponents have been battling Enbridge since the company first proposed the Line 3 project in 2014. Enbridge has pitched it as a replacement of an older, corroding pipe built in the 1960s, though the new pipeline will be larger and much of it traverses through a different area compared to the older pipeline. Opponents therefore describe it as a new pipeline rather than a replacement. This new Line 3 project would nearly double the capacity to carry heavy crude, almost a million barrels per day, from the Alberta tar sands fields in Hardisty to the end point over a thousand miles away in Superior, Wisconsin.

The majority of the nearly $3 billion U.S. portion of the pipeline, around 337 miles of it, would run through Minnesota. State regulators like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission have issued key permits for the pipeline, despite expert studies — including a review by the Minnesota Department of Commerce — showing the project is unnecessary and would have harmful and costly impacts, particularly to the environment and to tribal communities.

According to a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the state last year, the social cost of the project over a 30-year life cycle is estimated at $287 billion — far greater than the roughly $2 billion Enbridge says will flow to the Minnesota economy during construction. This “social cost” is based on the social cost of carbon, or an estimate of societal damages occurring from carbon emissions that drive the climate crisis.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions            

GREENING THE ECONOMY

justice first
Justice First: How to Make the Clean Energy Transition Equitable
Switching to renewables won’t solve the inequities already baked into our system, says energy and environmental law expert Shalanda Baker. We need a different approach.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
January 11, 2021

When Shalanda Baker stopped in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2009 to brush up on her Spanish before heading to Colombia, she didn’t realize it would be a life-changing event. She’d just left her job at a corporate law firm with the hope of lending her expertise to communities fighting coal mines or other dirty energy projects in South America.

But in Oaxaca she met Indigenous community members fighting a different type of energy project: large-scale wind development. “Their struggles echoed the stories of countless communities around the world affected by oil and gas development: dispossession, displacement, environmental harm, unfair contracts, racism and a litany of concerns about impact to culture and community,” she writes in her new book Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition.

And she realized that in the pursuit of clean energy and climate solutions, we were on course to replicate many of the same injustices of the fossil fuel economy.

“I knew, in that moment, that this tension — between Indigenous rights and clean energy, between the rush to avert catastrophic climate change and social justice — would form the foundation of my work as an activist and scholar. It would also become my life’s work,” she writes.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

dire assessment
With Dire Assessment, Scientists Warn Humanity in Denial of Looming ‘Collapse of Civilization as We Know It’
“We aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
January 13, 2021

In an example to the rest of the scientific community and an effort to wake up people—particularly policymakers—worldwide, 17 scientists penned a comprehensive assessment of the current state of the planet and what the future could hold due to biodiversity loss, climate disruption, human consumption, and population growth.

“Ours is not a call to surrender—we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future,” according to the perspective paper, co-authored by experts across Australia, Mexico, and the United States, and published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

Co-author Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology—who has raised alarm about overpopulation for decades—told Common Dreams his colleagues “are all scared” about what’s to come.

“Scientists have to learn to be communicators,” said Ehrlich, citing James Hansen’s warning about the consequences of “scientific reticence.” Hansen, a professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified to Congress about the climate crisis in 1988.

Ehrlich was straightforward about how “extremely dangerous things are” now and the necessity of a “World War II-type mobilization” to prevent predictions detailed in the paper: “a ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health, and climate-disruption upheavals (including looming massive migrations), and resource conflicts.”

“What we are saying might not be popular, and indeed is frightening. But we need to be candid, accurate, and honest if humanity is to understand the enormity of the challenges we face in creating a sustainable future,” said co-author Daniel T. Blumstein of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a statement about the paper.

“By scientists’ telling it like it is, we hope to empower politicians to work to represent their citizen, not corporate, constituents,” he said in an email to Common Dreams.
» Read article          
» Read the scientists’ perspective article         

» More about climate          

CLEAN ENERGY

FERC 2003
Report: Renewables Are Suffering From Broken US Transmission Policy
Interconnection backlogs and excessive upgrade costs require ground-up reform to solve, grid advocates say.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
January 12, 2021

Rob Gramlich, president of Grid Strategies, has a simple explanation for why U.S. transmission grid policy has stalled the growth of wind and solar power. 

“If you talk to a developer, they will say [that] the grid operators and transmission owners are woefully slow and unpredictable in terms of what it costs to connect, and the process is extremely frustrating,” he said in a Monday interview.  

“If you talk to the grid operators, they’ll say, ‘Renewables developers keep throwing in different projects, [so] I have to study each of them — and when I give them an answer, they drop out of the queue and I have to go back and study everything else.’” 

“They’re both right — and it’s because we have a systemic problem,” said Gramlich, co-author of a new report, Disconnected: The Need for a New Generator Interconnection Policy. Despite incremental attempts by the country’s major interstate transmission operators to solve these problems, Gramlich and his colleagues felt they “had to point out how everybody’s working in a fundamentally broken system.”

These observations are backed up by a rising tide of evidence from clean-energy advocates and academic research indicating that attempts to decarbonize the U.S. electricity system may be stymied by a lack of transmission to carry wind and solar power from where it’s most cheaply generated to where it’s most needed. 

The fundamental disconnect stems from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 2003, created in the same year, which allows independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs) to hold developers of new generation facilities responsible for the costs of upgrades needed to interconnect their projects to the transmission grid. 

The purpose was to avoid cost-sharing structures to force the cost of connecting new generators onto the broad base of utilities and customers. That made sense when the primary new resource being added to the grid was large-scale natural-gas generators that could be sited at the most advantageous interconnection locations.

But it has become a major problem as wind and solar projects, which tend to be most productive in far-away locations, have come to make up about 90 percent of new interconnection requests in the queues of the ISOs and RTOs that manage the transmission networks that provide electricity to about two-thirds of the country’s population.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

ICC cuts out stakeholders
Cities, states would lose voice on model energy code updates under proposal
The International Code Council is set to consider a proposal that would strip public sector members of their voting rights on updates to influential model building energy code.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
January 13, 2021

Months after record participation by state and local governments helped pass one of the most ambitious building energy code updates in years, the organization that oversees the process is taking steps that would sideline thousands of public sector members from voting on future updates.

Energy efficiency advocates say the proposed changes would give outsized influence to the National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups and make it more difficult to incorporate stricter efficiency requirements into future model energy codes.

“This could potentially strip out the public sector voice in the process, or at least reduce it greatly, which is concerning because it’s supposed to be a code enforced by public officials for health and safety, among other reasons,” said Kathryn Wright, building energy program director with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, which opposes the changes. 

The International Code Council, a nonprofit that oversees the development of building energy codes, is considering changes this month that would put decisions on future energy codes in the hands of a committee comprised of code officials, industry groups and other stakeholders, including some representing clean energy groups.

The proposed overhaul is in response to concerns raised by industry groups representing homebuilders and developers over the recently completed code development process during which a record number of state and local government officials cast votes, helping win approval for a slate of efficiency-boosting changes.

Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the code council’s proposal “a thinly veiled attempt to prevent clean energy progress from happening in the future.”
» Read article           

» More about energy efficiency           

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

electric cars MA
Gasoline Car Sales to End by 2035 in Massachusetts
Charging stations will need to become as common as gas stations
By Maxine Joselow, E&E News, in Scientific American
January 8, 2021

Massachusetts plans to phase out sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035, speeding down the same road as California.

While many climate hawks have their eyes trained on the federal government, the proposal last week from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) heralds significant climate action at the state level.

“I’m really excited to see Gov. Baker moving forward to address global warming pollution from cars and get more zero-emission vehicles on the road,” said Morgan Folger, director of the Zero Carbon Campaign at Environment America.

“Transportation is one of the largest sources of global warming pollution in Massachusetts, and, in particular, gas-powered cars are a big chunk,” Folger added. “So phasing out gas-powered cars in the state could make a big dent.”

Baker issued the proposal as part of his interim Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which outlines how the state can reduce carbon emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030—an interim target on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Transportation accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, according to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Passenger cars alone are responsible for roughly 27% of all carbon pollution.

“There is no way we can achieve our net-zero 2050 target without urgent action in the transportation sector. And helping people get out of polluting vehicles and into clean vehicles is the fastest way to get there,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center, a clean energy-focused nonprofit with offices in Boston.

Stutt said he thinks Massachusetts can reach 100% electric vehicle sales within 15 years if the state addresses two overarching challenges: a lack of point-of-sale incentives for EV drivers and a dearth of EV charging infrastructure.
» Read article           

solid state game changer
Toyota’s Solid-State Battery Prototype Could Be an EV Game Changer
New technology brings electric cars closer to the convenience of their gas-powered counterparts.
By Aaron Gold, MotorTrend
December 14, 2020

Imagine an electric car battery that provides more than 300 miles of range, charges in approximately ten minutes, requires no bulky heating and cooling systems, maintains 80 percent of its charge capacity for 800 cycles (about 240,000 miles), and isn’t prone to spontaneous combustion. Such is the promise of the solid-state car battery, a holy grail that automakers and manufacturers are racing to find. Now, Toyota announced it’ll have a running prototype with a solid-state battery ready by next year.

Before you yawn and click the back button on your browser, consider the implications of this technology. Range and charge times are the biggest barriers to EV adoption, and while a ten-minute charge is still quite a bit longer than it takes to fill a gas tank with liquid fuel, it’s a lot better than having to make lunch plans while your car recharges. A compact fast-charging battery could be the EV equivalent of the electric starter, as it would allow battery-powered electric cars to conquer internal-combustion power once and for all.

Toyota is far from the sole entrant in this race, nor is it the only company making headlines. Last week, a California company called QuantumScape, which has a strategic partnership with Volkswagen, announced promising test results for its own solid-state cell. Toyota’s announcement of its upcoming Euro-market electric SUV included the note that the company plans to have solid-state battery technology in its production vehicles by 2025.

The race to develop a solid-state battery for electric vehicles is on, and if Toyota’s plans to produce a running prototype in 2021 come to fruition, then we could very well be looking at the dominant automotive technology of the future within the next year.
» Read article           

V2G2021 Outlook: The future of electric vehicle charging is bidirectional — but the future isn’t here yet
Within a few years, cars may be able to power homes, participate in energy markets and help businesses lower power bills, experts say.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
January 12, 2021

Electric vehicles are growing in popularity, and utilities are preparing for a future where their value goes far beyond transportation.

As more EVs hit the road, there are growing questions about how utilities will manage their charging needs. Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has estimated that electrifying all of the roughly 251 million light duty vehicles on U.S roads today would increase annual electricity demand by about 25% — and that doesn’t include medium and heavy-duty applications like freight and public transit along with a host of other applications.

While the transition to a fully electric fleet could take decades to achieve, the near-term implications for grid management as more and more EVs hit the road are significant.

Along with adding demand, EVs are increasingly seen as potential grid assets: aligning their charging needs with times of higher renewables production and lower grid stress can help decarbonize transportation and operate electric systems more efficiently. Managed charging, through time-of-use rates and demand response programs, is known as vehicle-grid integration and is already the subject of utility programs around the country.

This approach to managing EV demand — largely reliant on unidirectional power flows that adjust how and when chargers are pulling energy from the grid — is sometimes referred to as level 1 integration (V1G). But there is also interest in using the energy in EV batteries to serve other loads, with what are known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities.

While those capabilities are utilized in parts of Europe and Asia, experts say the United States is still years away from widespread use of V2G. There are a few utilities rolling out pilot programs to test the capabilities, including Duke Energy in North Carolina, but there are still safety and engineering concerns to be addressed, technical problems to solve and business cases to study.

“It can be pretty complicated to make it all work. I’ve read hundreds of technical papers on these topics and I just don’t think the value proposition of V2G is at all clear,” said Chris Nelder, a manager with RMI’s mobility practice. 

That said, there is a growing consensus that millions of vehicle batteries will one day serve as energy resources beyond V1G managed charging, to power buildings and microgrids and feed energy back into the bulk power system.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation      

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

reboot FERCFederal Energy Regulatory Commission needs a reboot
By Ashish Solanki, Utility Dive / Opinion
January 8, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency within the Department of Energy responsible for regulating the interstate transmission and sale of electricity and natural gas, needs a massive revamp. The incoming Biden Administration would do well to look for new leadership.

The need for a different approach is especially evident when it comes to gas pipeline approvals. FERC is neglecting to analyze significant energy market changes and continuing to rely on a flawed assumption that the mere existence of a contract to supply gas implies “public need” for a pipeline.

FERC has not only failed to fulfill its statutory responsibilities, but also has continued to make costly and environmentally harmful decisions. Three major pipeline projects — the Constitution, Northeast Supply Enhancement Project and Atlantic Coast Pipeline — were scrapped in 2020 after being approved by the commission. These fiascos could have been avoided if FERC had analyzed the energy market’s needs more efficiently.

The U.S. energy market has undergone significant changes since FERC last updated its guidelines for approving pipelines in 1999. When the guidelines were adopted, natural gas was seen as a relatively scarce resource. The commission’s decisions were made with the goal of increasing the availability and supply of the gas; very few large-scale energy alternatives to natural gas existed.

During the last decade, however, excessive production of natural gas has created a surplus that has vastly exceeded demand. At the same time, renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies have gained momentum, and the renewable energy industry has grown considerably. Renewables are competing directly with the natural gas industry for cheaper and more efficient energy production. This has changed the calculation of necessity for natural gas project proposals.
Ashish Solanki is an Energy Finance Research Associate at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
» Read article           

» More about FERC        

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

still not financed
LNG prices skyrocket, but fresh delays mean Canadian projects will miss the boom
The only LNG export facility even under construction in Canada is years away from completion
By Geoffrey Morgan, The Financial Post
January 14, 2021

Canadian natural gas producers are watching with envy as liquefied natural gas prices in Europe and Asia hit new records this month while Canada’s only under-construction export facility is years away from completion and the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt fresh delays to other proponents.

“I won’t hide the fact that COVID has had an impact on the overall development timeline,” GNL Quebec acting president Tony Le Verger said in an interview of his company’s proposed $9-billion Energie Saguenay LNG export project in northern Quebec.

Less than a year ago, at the beginning of March 2020, GNL Quebec confirmed it had lost a major potential investor in the LNG export facility when Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. pulled out of the proposed terminal amid concerns about political risk following rail blockades.

Then, two weeks later, at the beginning of March 2020, the spread of the coronavirus sent natural gas and LNG prices crashing as economies around the world closed down for months. This led Quebec regulators to question whether GNL Quebec’s plans remained viable and the pandemic also delayed regulatory hearings for Energie Saguenay.

While the commodity price has skyrocketed globally, the Canadian export project closest to completion, LNG Canada, isn’t expected to be in service until 2023 at the earliest, which means Canadian producers will largely miss out on the current boom.

Alfred Sorensen, president and CEO of Calgary-based Pieridae Energy Ltd., has been trying to secure financing for an LNG terminal called Goldboro in Nova Scotia [emphasis added] and described 2020 as “a perfect storm,” that has frustrated his company’s capital-raising efforts.

“We had a scenario where gas built up coming into winter, there was no winter in Europe, then COVID-19 came and gas got destroyed,” Sorensen said, adding that he hasn’t been able to travel to meet potential investors in the project through 2020 but is still hopeful he’ll be able to engage investors this year.

“To do the kind of deals we’re going to do, we’re going to have to see how we can go to places. I don’t think that’s going to occur for the next three or four months,” Sorensen said, adding he’s looking to raise $1 billion in the first half of this year.

Sorensen said the company’s new engineering and construction contractor, Virginia-based Bechtel Corp., is due to send the company a preliminary all-in cost estimate for the project by the end of March. The company hopes to make a decision on pre-construction work by the end of June.
» Blog editor’s note: the proposed (and still un-financed) Goldboro LNG terminal is the intended destination for a substantial portion of fracked natural gas to be pumped north from the Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article           

» More about LNG             

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Weekly News Check-In 1/8/21

banner 08

Welcome back.

The Trump administration derailed this week, arriving at what some observers might describe as its inevitable destination. But we still managed to keep at least some of our attention on the energy scene.

Opponents of Weymouth’s compressor station have vowed to keep up the fight, focusing on a petition drive and information campaign. That project was typical of the recent fossil fuel infrastructure build-out, where construction proceeded even prior to obtaining final permits. This sets up an awkward situation when, as in the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project is cancelled. Property was taken and damaged. Trees were felled and miles of pipe are in the ground – now what?

ExxonMobil is playing the victim card in an attempt to evade litigation in Massachusetts court, where it is being sued for fraud related to climate change. Ironically, the giant oil company claims that Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit amounts to a SLAPP, or “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation”. Anti-SLAPP legislation exists to protect against lawsuits aimed at quelling free speech, and it’s typically invoked by environmental groups seeking shelter from frivolous litigation brought against them by the fossil fuel industry attempting to quell protest.

Greening the economy inevitably involves building a lot of new green infrastructure, and that requires a whole lot of concrete. To help minimize the embodied carbon in all this new construction, planners are increasingly turning to a new tool: EC3, or the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator.

Our climate section looks back at 2020, which by all accounts was brutal on both an individual and global level. It was the hottest year on record, with the cost of climate-driven disasters doubling in the U.S. from the previous year. And a new study concludes that we’ve now locked in at least two degrees celsius of warming over the preindustrial benchmark.

On a happier note, deep geothermal is a source of clean energy made accessible by drilling techniques and knowledge of geological formations developed by the fracking industry. It is now technologically possible to drill miles down to hot rock, water, and steam in Earth’s mantle, and apply that energy directly to district heating systems.

Energy efficiency is a good news / bad news story this week. On the one hand, Boston is implementing zoning that requires new large buildings to be net-zero energy consumers. The bad news involves a proposed policy change by the International Code Council (ICC), to eliminate voting by municipal officials when a new base energy efficiency code is developed. We feel this is direct blow-back by the powerful building and development lobbies, in response to tremendous voter participation in 2019, which resulted in a roughly 10% improvement in building energy efficiency. We urge you to take just three minutes right now to use this template and object to this anti-democratic policy change (deadline Monday, 1/11 at 8PM).

If you top up your car in Cambridge, you’ll soon notice a sticker on the fuel pump reminding you that burning gasoline is bad for the planet. It also asks users to consider alternative clean transportation.

The big legislative news involves a major climate bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature and currently awaiting Governor Baker’s signature. There is massive public support for this, along with considerable uncertainty about whether or not the Governor will sign it.

The Environmental Protection Agency implemented a rule change that disregards scientific studies unless they fully disclose all underlying data. That sounds reasonable until you consider that any legitimate study involving the effects of pollution on human health necessarily requires vast amounts of personal medical data protected by privacy laws. This is simply another pro-industry, anti-science move by Trump’s EPA, and takes a page directly from the tobacco industry’s original self-defense playbook.

Meanwhile, Mark C. Christie was sworn in this week to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The fossil fuel industry largely shrugged off the Trump administrations offer to lease drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Countering that bit of good news is a disturbing forecast for an expected 12% investment bump in Canada’s oil industry during 2021.

And we wrap up our news with biomass. While the just-passed Massachusetts climate legislation appears to put the brakes on applying renewable energy credits for biomass-to-energy plants, there’s still considerable uncertainty about the fine print. Recently proposed changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard further complicate the situation. Opponents of the proposed biomass generating plant in East Springfield are actively seeking clarification.

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

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRRACS petition drive
Compressor opponents continue their fight
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local
January 4, 2021

WEYMOUTH- The natural gas compressor station could be fully operative sometime in January, but opponents of the facility show no signs of quitting.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the group is launching a No Compressor Weymouth  petition drive for people to state their opposition to the facility to government leaders.

“More than anything, we are trying to get people to know about the situation,” she said. “It makes you a little crazy that there are some people who literally live blocks away from the place, and they don’t know what it is about.”

The compressor station is owned by Enbridge Inc. and is managed by the company’s subsidiary, Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Enbridge received a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January 2017 to construct the facility.

Opponents say the compressor station poses health and safety dangers to Weymouth, Quincy, East Braintree, Hull, and Hingham.

Gas leaks occurred at the facility during tests on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

According to state and local officials, both seepages collectively released 444,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the facility’s air and forced emergency shutdowns.

The leaks are under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor station          

 

PIPELINES

unwrap the ACP
Regulators get plan for undoing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By Sarah Rankin, Associated Press, on PBS News Hour
January 5, 2021

The developers of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline have laid out plans for how they want to go about unwinding the work that was done for the multistate natural gas project and restoring disturbed land.

In a filing with federal regulators made public Tuesday, the pipeline company proposed an approximately two-year timeline for efforts across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, where progress on the project ranged from uninitiated to essentially complete.

The plan outlines where the company wants to clean up felled trees and where it plans to leave them behind, and it proposes abandoning the approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) of pipe that was installed in place.

“We spent the last several months working really closely with landowners and agencies to develop the most responsible approach for closing out the project,” said Aaron Ruby, an employee of lead developer Dominion Energy who has served as a spokesman for the joint project with Duke Energy. “And ultimately our primary goal is to complete the project as efficiently as possible, and with minimal environmental disturbance.”

Ruby also confirmed for the first time that the company does not intend to voluntarily release the easement agreements it secured on landowners’ properties.

In most cases, the legal agreements were obtained through negotiations with landowners, who were paid and who the company has previously said will keep their compensation. But in other cases, in which sometimes vociferously opposed landowners fought the project, the easements were obtained through eminent domain proceedings.
» Read article             

Enbridge utility contractors
Ojibwe bands ask appeals court to stop Enbridge Line 3 construction
The Red Lake and White Earth bands filed suit, the second such filing in a week by pipeline opponents.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
December 30, 2020

Two Ojibwe bands have petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to suspend state regulators’ approval of Enbridge’s new Line 3 and stop construction of the controversial pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The petition filed late Tuesday by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is the second such filing in the past week by pipeline opponents to shut down construction on the $2.6 billion pipeline. Enbridge earlier this month started work on the replacement for the aging and corroding current Line 3 earlier this month.

In a separate filing Wednesday, Friends of the Headwaters also asked the state appellate court to halt the pipeline, citing “irreparable” environmental harm.

The two bands — plus the Sierra Club and the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth — last week sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asking for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of Line 3.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state’s primary pipeline regulator, approved Line 3 in February after nearly six years of review.

Several groups, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, challenged that decision before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing among other things that the PUC didn’t properly evaluate Enbridge’s long-term oil demand forecast.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Mobil in Saugus
Exxon Doubles Its Defense, Urges Mass. State Court to Toss Mass. Attorney General’s Climate Fraud Case with Two Motions to Dismiss

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
January 3, 2021

ExxonMobil is pushing back, and trying to play the victim card, in response to a climate change accountability lawsuit filed in October 2019 by the Massachusetts attorney general alleging investor and consumer fraud over the oil major’s statements and advertising pertaining to its fossil fuel products and their impacts on the climate system.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil on October 24, 2019 for allegedly misleading investors and consumers on climate risks of Exxon’s business and products – including systemic risks to the economy – in violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection statute. The complaint includes allegations of failing to disclose climate-related risks to Exxon’s business to investors, deceptive marketing of certain Exxon products as environmentally friendly to consumers, and ongoing misleading or greenwashed advertising of the company to obscure Exxon’s harmful environmental and climate impact. It is just one of almost two dozen lawsuits targeting Exxon and similar petroleum giants for deceptive behavior on the climate consequences of their products to protect their business interests.

The oil major is not only pushing back with a standard motion to dismiss, but is complaining that its protected speech or “petitioning rights” are unlawfully targeted by the lawsuit. In other words, Exxon is playing the victim card and demanding the court dismiss the lawsuit under an anti-SLAPP action. SLAPP refers to “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation” and anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect against lawsuits quelling free speech.

Exxon filed a special motion to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute on July 30, 2020. In its motion, Exxon argues that the Mass. AG lawsuit amounts to “lawfare,” and is an attempt to squash political opponents who do not share the Commonwealth’s views on climate change.      

“Those, like ExxonMobil, who decline to parrot the Attorney General’s call for an immediate transition to renewable energy are not simply diverse viewpoints in a public debate with state, federal, and global policy implications, but targets who must be silenced through ‘lawfare,’” Exxon attorneys write.  

Exxon also alleges that the Attorney General “conspired” with private interests like environmental activists and attorneys to bring this litigation, and that the real objective is to impose the AG’s preferred “views” and policies on climate. In essence, Exxon argues that the AG’s allegations concern policy disagreements, not deceptive or fraudulent conduct. According to Exxon, the “Attorney General brought this suit to advance its preferred climate policies by silencing perceived political opponents.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

global cement productionCutting Concrete’s Carbon Footprint
New approaches could reduce the carbon-intensity of cement production and lessen concrete’s broader environmental impact.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
January 5, 2021

After years of slow headway, building design and industry professionals say sharp reductions in the climate impact of concrete are possible now. That is significant because cement, the critical glue that holds concrete together, is so carbon-intensive that if it were a country, it would rank fourth in the world as a climate polluter. 

The Global Cement and Concrete Association this year committed to zero emissions concrete by 2050. No single solution has surfaced to reach this goal. But an expanding set of data tools and departures from tradition are starting to add up. 

Take LinkedIn’s new headquarters in Mountain View, California, which eliminated 4.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been embedded in the new building, much of it by cutting back on cement. Jenny Mitchell, the company’s senior manager of design and build, works under the gun — parent company Microsoft has committed to removing all its historic carbon from the atmosphere. 

Mitchell believes concrete will actually get to net zero. “I think it is a tall task, but I think we can,” she told 200 people at the virtual Global Concrete Summit this month.

To help get there, Mitchell’s team uses a tool that’s swiftly gaining traction called EC3, for Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator. EC3 launched last year under the auspices of the Carbon Leadership Forum in Seattle.

The free calculator compares the embodied carbon of similar products. Rock aggregate that travels by barge could have a much smaller carbon footprint than aggregate that travels by truck, for example, even if it comes from farther away.

The EC3 software works by comparing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that are fed into it by suppliers. Picture a nutrition label, but instead of calories and carbohydrates, it lists carbon quantities. 

“The number of EPDs for concrete is exploding,” rising from 800 to 23,000 over the past year or so, said Don Davies, president of Magnusson Klemencic Associates, a structural and civil engineering firm in Seattle. “Embodied carbon is starting to be a differentiator as to [which firm] gets the work.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

hot 2020
2020 Ties 2016 as Earth’s Hottest Year on Record, Even Without El Niño to Supercharge It
Annual reports from European and Japanese climate agencies show that last year was yet another marked by extraordinary global heat.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
January 8, 2021

European climate scientists have tallied up millions of temperature readings from last year to conclude that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record for the planet.

It’s the first time the global temperature has peaked without El Niño, a cyclical Pacific Ocean warm phase that typically spikes the average annual global temperature to new highs, said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, who was lead author on its annual report for 2020.

That report shows the Earth’s surface temperature at 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1850 to 1890 pre-industrial average, and 1.8 degrees warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average that serves as a baseline against which annual temperature variations are measured.

In the past, the climate-warming effect of El Niño phases really stood out in the long-term record, Vamberg said. The 1998 “super” El Niño caused the largest annual increase in global temperatures recorded up to that time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

“If you look at the 1998 El Niño, it was really a spike, but now, we’re kind of well above that, simply due to the trend,” Vamberg said.
» Read article             

Silverado Fire
U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change
The $95 billion in damage came in a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires recorded in California.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
January 7, 2021

Hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters across the United States caused $95 billion in damage last year, according to new data, almost double the amount in 2019 and the third-highest losses since 2010.

The new figures, reported Thursday morning by Munich Re, a company that provides insurance to other insurance companies, are the latest signal of the growing cost of climate change. They reflect a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires ever recorded in California.

Those losses occurred during a year that was one of the warmest on record, a trend that makes extreme rainfall, wildfires, droughts and other environmental catastrophes more frequent and intense.

“Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” Ernst Rauch, the chief climate scientist at Munich Re, said in an interview. He said continued building in high-risk areas had also contributed to the growing losses.

The new numbers come as the insurance industry struggles to adjust to the effects of climate change. In California, officials have tried a series of rule changes designed to stop insurers from pulling out of fire-prone areas, leaving homeowners with few options for insurance.

Homeowners and governments around the United States need to do a better job of making buildings and communities more resilient to natural disasters, said Donald L. Griffin, a vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents insurance companies.

“We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way,” Mr. Griffin said in an interview. “We’ve got to place an emphasis on preventing and reducing loss.”
» Read article             

locked-in warming
More Than Two Degrees of Climate Warming Is Already Locked In, New Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 6, 2021

Existing greenhouse gases will eventually push the climate into more than two degrees of warming, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday.

That number puts the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels out of reach, says Andrew Dessler, study coauthor and Texas A&M University climate scientist. Still, he warned against “climate doomers,” The Associated Press reported.

“While I would not categorize this as good news, it is not game over for the climate,” Dessler said in a video explaining the paper.

So what exactly does the study say?

Dessler worked with colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) and Nanjing University in China to analyze what is called “committed warming,” or the amount of warming that would occur if atmospheric greenhouse gases were paused at their current concentrations.

Previous estimates had put committed warming at around 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Dessler said in the video. But those estimates were based on faulty assumptions about Earth’s climate system, the paper authors argued.

“Typically, committed warming is estimated assuming that changes in the future will pretty much follow changes in the past,” Mark Zelinka, coauthor and LLNL atmospheric scientist, said in a press release. “But we now know that this is a bad assumption.”

Specifically, the researchers pointed to the regions of the planet that have not yet warmed, such as the Southern Ocean. The temperatures of these regions cause clouds to form that reflect sunlight and further cool the planet. But eventually those regions will warm too, dispersing the clouds and further raising temperatures.

“After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates,” lead author Chen Zhou of Nanjing University said in the press release.

The researchers estimated that a likely total of 2.3 degrees Celsius of warming is now locked in, about a full degree above the previous estimate.

The good news is that this warming could take centuries to occur, provided the world acts now to reduce emissions.

“If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we currently are, then we will blow through the 1.5 and two degree Celsius limits possibly within a few decades,” Dessler said in the video. “This means that our work is consistent with the conclusion that we need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.”

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who was not involved with the research, called the study fascinating on Twitter.

“I don’t think this paper fundamentally changes our understanding of committed warming, and pattern effects are still an area of active research. But it should make us a bit cautious about being too confident in predictions of zero warming after emissions reach net-zero,” he concluded.
» Read article            
» Watch video explaining the research       
» Read article predicting less locked-in warming after net-zero achieved        

» More about climate                  

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Svartsengi geothermalCan Geothermal Power Play a Key Role in the Energy Transition?
Aided by advances in deep-drilling technology for fracking, engineers are developing new methods of tapping into the earth’s limitless underground supplies of heat and steam. But the costs of accessing deep geothermal energy are high, and initial government support will be crucial.
By Jim Robbins, Yale Environment 360
December 22, 2020

A river of hot water flows some 3,000 feet beneath Boise, Idaho. And since 1983 the city has been using that water to directly heat homes, businesses, and institutions, including the four floors of city hall — all told, about a third of the downtown. It’s the largest geothermal heating system in the country.

Boise didn’t need to drill to access the resource. The 177-degree Fahrenheit water rises to the surface in a geological fault in the foothills outside of town.

It’s a renewable energy dream. Heating the 6 million square feet in the geothermally warmed buildings costs about $1,000 a month for the electricity to pump it. (The total annual cost for depreciation, maintenance, personnel, and repair of the city’s district heating system is about $750,000.)

“We’re heating 92 of the biggest buildings in the city of Boise,” said Jon Gunnarson, the city’s geothermal coordinator. “The buildings strip heat, collect it, and run it to an injection well. We use it once and reinject it and use it again.”

The Boise district system is how geothermal energy is most often thought of — natural hot water is pumped into radiators or used to generate electricity. It is considered a local phenomenon — few places are sitting on an underground river of steaming hot water — and so geothermal has not been viewed as a major feature on the alternative energy landscape.

But a number of experts around the world say that notion is wrong. Thanks especially to the deep-drilling techniques and knowledge about underground formations developed by the oil and gas industry during the fracking boom, a type of geothermal energy called deep geothermal can access hot temperatures in the earth’s mantle as far down as two to three miles. At various depths up to this level, much of the planet contains extremely hot water or there is hot rock into which water can be injected and heated, a technology known as enhanced geothermal systems. In either case, the hot water is pumped out and used to directly heat buildings or to generate electricity with steam or hot water.

“Wherever we are on the surface of the planet, and certainly the continental U.S., if we drill deep enough we can get to high enough temperatures that would work like the Boise system,” said Jefferson Tester, a professor of sustainable energy systems at Cornell University and a leading expert on geothermal energy. “It’s not a question of whether it’s there — it is and it’s significant. It’s a question of getting it out of the ground economically.”
» Read article

MA State House
US solar sector welcomes tax clarity in Massachusetts climate bill
By Edith Hancock, PV Tech
January 5, 2021

A new bill that would require the state of Massachusetts to run on 40% renewable energy by 2030 has been lauded by the US solar industry for making key changes to net metering and tax incentive policies.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts have put forward a new bill that would require the state to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Called An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, it outlines a number of key policies that would accelerate the transition to renewable energy and offer tax breaks for utilities and entities that adopt small solar systems over the coming decade. If passed by Governor Charlie Baker, the conference committee bill could raise the standard requirement for utilities’ renewable energy portfolios in the state by 3% each year between 2025 and 2029.

The bill would also relax the state’s net metering thresholds for solar PV energy, allowing large businesses to sell wholesale rooftop solar power at retail rates. It also included a provision clarifying how taxes are assessed by towns and municipalities on wind, solar and energy storage systems, providing tax breaks for households and small businesses that install behind-the-meter solar systems.

In addition, it provides incentives for entities enrolled in the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) programme to serve lower income areas. Under the programme, which was introduced two years ago, solar power system owners in the state receive fixed rate payments for the energy they produce based on the kilowatt-hours of power produced. The agreements last 10 years and vary based on system size. The state’s lawmakers had issued emergency regulation for the programme last April to double its PV capacity deployment target to 3.2GW, as well as mandating the addition of energy storage on projects exceeding 500kW.
» Read article            
» Read the legislation – S2995         

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston net-zeroBoston zoning change would require net-zero emissions from new buildings
The initiative is among the most aggressive of existing or proposed strategies to cut energy consumption in buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Edward Faulkner / Flickr / Creative Commons
January 5, 2021

The city of Boston is laying plans to require newly constructed large buildings to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, a move supporters hope will help make carbon-neutral design more approachable and mainstream. 

“There are going to be folks that find this incredibly challenging — there are a lot of industry norms that are being questioned and challenged,” said John Dalzell, senior architect for sustainable development at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. “But I’m pleased to see some of these old norms starting to fall away.”

In 2019, the city released the Carbon Free Boston report, a framework for making the city carbon neutral by 2050. Reducing emissions from buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output, is a critical part of the plan. 

Other strategies for cutting building emissions are already in play or in the works. Boston has an existing energy disclosure ordinance, which requires buildings over 35,000 square feet to report their energy use each year. The city is also developing a performance standard that will require these buildings to meet targets for emissions reduction. And last year, Boston partnered with utility Eversource to launch an energy efficiency hub, a set of resources that will help the owners and operators of large buildings find ways to reduce their energy consumption.

One of the most aggressive measures the city intends to take is the plan to require new large buildings to achieve net-zero emissions. 

The details are still under development. The new requirements will modify existing green building zoning guidelines that apply to projects larger than 50,000 square feet, a threshold that includes about two-thirds of all new construction in the city. Over time, the threshold is likely to fall, encompassing more and more buildings over time, Dalzell said.
» Read article           

IECC changes
Code Development Changes Could Silence Voter Voices
By Lauren Urbanek, National Resource Defense Council
December 21, 2020

This year was a busy one when it came to defending strong building energy codes—and it looks like the work won’t be slowing down any time soon. After approving a 2021 energy code that will be more efficient than ever before, the International Code Council (ICC) is considering changes to the code development process that will eliminate local input. The ICC just announced it wants to change how the nation’s model building energy code is developed—moving it from a large, open process to having it be developed by a committee without input from the local government building officials who administer it.

The ICC—which is the body that manages creation of the building code—recently announced a public comment period for a proposal to use a standards process to develop the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), rather than the code development process that has been in place for the past decade and a half. The implications are unclear about what that will mean to the efficiency of future codes, but it’s a substantial change to the process used to develop a code that is referenced in federal law and adopted by jurisdictions in every state of the country.

For years the building energy code development process has been dominated by builders and industry interests, with input from environmental groups like NRDC. Governmental members showed up in a big way to develop the 2021 IECC, with voter turnout at its highest level ever. They voted in droves to approve proposals to make the code the most efficient one ever, with improvements in insulation, lighting, and other building components that will reduce energy consumption while lowering energy bills and keeping inhabitants more comfortable.

It’s impressive progress, achieved through a process that ultimately puts the final vote in the hands of the code officials and other local government employees who are the ones using the code—not anyone with a vested financial interest in the code’s outcome. So why is the ICC proposing such a dramatic change? That’s our question, too.
» Read article          
» Public comment information – deadline for written submissions 8 PM ET, January 11, 2021 (template here – takes about 3 minutes)           

» More about energy efficiency             

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cambridge stickers fuel pumps
Massachusetts city to post climate change warning stickers at gas stations
Bright yellow stickers warn drivers burning of gasoline has ‘major consequences on human health and the environment’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 25, 2020

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has become the first US city to mandate the placing of stickers on fuel pumps to warn drivers of the resulting dangers posed by the climate crisis.

The final design of the bright yellow stickers, shared with the Guardian, includes text that warns drivers the burning of gasoline, diesel and ethanol has “major consequences on human health and the environment including contributing to climate change”.

The stickers will be placed on all fuel pumps in Cambridge, which is situated near Boston and is home to Harvard University, “fairly soon” once they are received from printers, a city spokesman confirmed.

“The city of Cambridge is working hard with our community to fight climate change,” the spokesman added. “The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation              

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Hull turbine
8 Ways The New Climate Bill Affects You, Your Washing Machine And Our Climate Goals
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 5, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker has 10 days to decide whether to sign — or kill — a massive climate bill.

The legislation, which the House and Senate approved Monday, represents the state’s first big update to the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. It writes into law the ambitious goal of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050, and could radically transform the energy sector, building codes, transportation and more.

From geothermal energy to lightbulbs, the bill covers a lot of ground, but here’s what you need to know — in plain English — about how it will affect you, if Baker signs it:
» Read article       

» More legislative news             

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

new EPA rule
A Plan Made to Shield Big Tobacco From Facts Is Now E.P.A. Policy
The E.P.A. has finalized a so-called transparency plan that it says will improve the credibility of science. Scientists say it is designed to stop new public health protections by limiting what research the agency can consider.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 4, 2021

Nearly a quarter century ago, a team of tobacco industry consultants outlined a plan to create “explicit procedural hurdles” for the Environmental Protection Agency to clear before it could use science to address the health impacts of smoking.

President Trump’s E.P.A. has now embedded parts of that strategy into federal environmental policy. On Tuesday Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., formally released a new regulation that favors certain kinds of scientific research over others in the drafting of public health rules.

A copy of the final measure, known as the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information Rule, says that “pivotal” scientific studies that make public their underlying data and models must be given more weight than studies that keep such data confidential. The agency concluded that the E.P.A. or anyone else should be able to independently validate research that impacts regulations.

“It’s sunshine, it’s transparency,” Mr. Wheeler said of the regulation on Tuesday during an online forum with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes most environmental regulation. He described the policy as an effort “to reduce misunderstanding of our regulatory decisions.”

The new rule, public health experts and medical organizations said, essentially blocks the use of population studies in which subjects offer medical histories, lifestyle information and other personal data only on the condition of privacy. Such studies have served as the scientific underpinnings of some of the most important clean air and water regulations of the past half century.

Critics say the agency’s leaders disregarded the E.P.A.’s scientific review system to create an additional layer of scrutiny designed to impede or block access to the best available science, weakening the government’s ability to create new protections against pollution, pesticides, and possibly even the coronavirus.
» Read article            
» Read the new EPA rule        

» More about the EPA                

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
Christie Sworn in as Newest FERC Commissioner
FERC press release
January 4, 2021

Mark C. Christie was sworn in today as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during a ceremony in the chambers of the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Judge G. Steven Agee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit performed the swearing-in ceremony.

Commissioner Christie comes to FERC from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, having served three terms totaling almost 17 years, most recently as Chairman. He is a former president of the Organization of PJM States, Inc. (OPSI), which is comprised of regulators representing the 13 states and the District of Columbia that form the PJM region. He also is a former president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (MACRUC).

A West Virginia native, Commissioner Christie earned Phi Beta Kappa honors upon graduating from Wake Forest University, and received his law degree from Georgetown University. He has taught regulatory law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia School of Law and constitutional law and government in a doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Commissioner Christie also served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
» Read article             

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

unbidden ANWR
Trump auction of oil leases in Arctic refuge attracts barely any bidders
Coastal plain was up for sale as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
January 6, 2021

The Trump administration’s last-minute attempt on Wednesday to auction off part of a long-protected Arctic refuge to oil drillers brought almost zero interest from oil companies, forcing the state of Alaska into the awkward position of leasing the lands itself.

The coastal plain of the Arctic national wildlife refuge was up for sale to drillers as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue. Conservatives argued the leases could bring in $900m, half for the federal government and half for the state.

But the lease sales fell dramatically short of that amount – with the high bids totaling about $14m on 11 tracts of land that cover about 600,000 acres of the 1.6m-acre coastal plain.

The results back up the arguments from environmental advocates and watchdog groups that leasing the public land is a bad deal for the country, particularly when oil is in such low demand and public scrutiny grows of the industry’s role in the climate crisis and damage to sensitive habitats. Drilling for new oil now, when the planet is already experiencing dangerous heating, would be irresponsible, they said.

“This lease sale was an epic failure for the Trump administration and the Alaska congressional delegation,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “After years of promising a revenue and jobs bonanza they ended up throwing a party for themselves, with the state being one of the only bidders.”
» Read article             

Exxon reports Scope 3
Exxon, under investor pressure, discloses emissions from burning its fuels
By Reuters staff
January 6, 2021

Exxon Mobil Corp, under increasing pressure from investors and climate change activists, reported for the first time the emissions that result when customers use its products such as gasoline and jet fuel.

The largest U.S. oil producer said the emissions from its product sales in 2019 were equivalent to 730 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, higher than rival oil majors. The data comes as the company has drawn the ire of an activist investor focused on its climate performance.

The so-called Scope 3 data is included in its latest Energy & Carbon Summary released Tuesday, though Exxon downplayed its significance. “Scope 3 emissions do not provide meaningful insight into the Company’s emission-reduction performance,” the report said.

“Even to get to the point of having them disclose this has been like pulling teeth,” said Andrew Grant at think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. “Quite a lot of the rest of the world has moved on from the disclosure to ‘What are we going to do about this?’”

Most major oil companies already report Scope 3 emissions and some have reduction targets, including Occidental Petroleum, which in November set a goal to offset the impact of the use of its oil and gas by 2050.
» Read article             

Alberta pumps it up
Investment In Canada’s Oil Industry Set To Grow 12% In 2021
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 5, 2021

Canada’s oil industry expects that 2021 will be the year of recovery from the downturn caused by the pandemic in 2020, with total investments in Canada’s oil sector expected to increase by 12 percent this year compared to last year.

Combined investments in oil sands operations and conventional oil and gas production are expected to rise to nearly US$21 billion (C$27 billion) in 2021, compared to US$19 billion (C$24 billion) in 2020, Calgary Herald reports, citing forecasts from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“An extra $2 billion of investment into the Western Canadian economies, relative to 2020, I’d say is a pretty significant vote of confidence there will be some stability and recovery in energy markets,” CAPP vice president Ben Brunnen told Calgary Herald’s Chris Varcoe.

According to CAPP’s November 2020 capital investment and drilling forecast, exploration and production (E&P) capital spending was US$27 billion (C$35 billion) in 2019, down by 10 percent compared to 2018. Due to the pandemic, the forecast for the 2020 investment showed an unprecedented 32-percent slump from 2019 to US$19 billion (C$24 billion).

The association expected that around 3,000 oil and gas wells would have been drilled in 2020, while the number would increase to around 3,300 oil and gas wells drilled in 2021.

Oil companies have plans to ramp up their production after the Alberta government said it would remove oil production limits at the end of last year.
» Read article           

» More about fossil fuel          

 

BIOMASS

Baker is wrong
Baker is wrong to subsidize wood burning
4 scientists say using wood to generate electricity will worsen climate change
By William Moomaw, John Sterman, Juliette Rooney-Varga and Richard Birdsey, CommonWealth Magazine
January 4, 2021

GOVS. CHARLIE BAKER of Massachusetts and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan were featured US officials at the fifth anniversary celebration of the Paris Climate Agreement. Their presence demonstrated that state leaders, from both political parties, are actively battling the climate emergency.

It is therefore baffling that the Baker administration just released new regulations that directly undermine the governor’s and Legislature’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The regulations allow wood-burning electric power plants that currently fail to meet Massachusetts’ environmental standards to receive subsidies from ratepayers. But burning wood to generate heat or electricity is unnecessary, will increase carbon emissions, and worsen climate change.

By removing trees from our forests, the proposed regulations also reduce the ability of our forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This undermines the governor’s net zero emissions plan that relies on our forests to soak up carbon emitted by any fossil fuels we still use in 2050.  As Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides has noted, “The conservation of the Commonwealth’s forests is critical to meet our ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050.”

The Department of Energy Resources justifies weakening the existing standards by falsely arguing that burning wood instead of natural gas will reduce carbon emissions.  Wood burning releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than any fossil fuel – 75 percent more than natural gas. Therefore, generating heat or electricity with wood immediately increases greenhouse gas emissions more than fossil fuels, worsening climate change.

Eventually, regrowth might remove enough carbon to equal the additional carbon emitted when the wood is burned. But regrowth takes time. New England forests take upwards of a century or more for additional growth to capture enough carbon to breakeven with fossil fuels. Break-even times are far longer for wood bioenergy compared to wind and solar, even after counting  the emissions from making and installing the turbines and panels.

Under the Baker administration’s proposed regulations, utilities will be charging electricity users – all of us – to burn more of our forests, worsen climate change, harm our health, and erode social justice. We urge Baker to preserve his reputation as a champion for climate, health, and justice by withdrawing these flawed regulations. The legislature should also eliminate wood bioenergy from the energy sources eligible for subsidies in the climate legislation they are now considering, and support climate-friendly energy instead.
» Read article            
» Read the proposed regulations           

Palmer Paving Corp
Massachusetts lawmakers deal blow to Springfield biomass project
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
January 4, 2021

Power from wood-to-energy plants — like the long-proposed Palmer Renewable Energy in East Springfield — won’t qualify as “green power” for municipal power utilities for at least five years under new rules announced over the weekend by state lawmakers.

A conference committee of state senators and representatives also called on Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration to complete a new study examining the impact of these biomass plants on greenhouse emissions, global climate change and public health. The conference report – meant to hammer out differences between the Senate and House bills passed in 2020 – will go to lawmakers for a vote before the term ends Tuesday.

It’s part of a major climate change legislation.

The five-year moratorium removes one incentive utilities would have had to buy power from Palmer Renewable Energy.

State. Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, praised the conference report Sunday, calling it “a major win for environmental justice.”

But Laura Haight, a biomass opponent and U.S. Policy Director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said another subsidy that could benefit the Palmer Renewable Energy plant is still alive.

“However, this bill may not have any impact on the proposed biomass plant in Springfield,” she said.

Also winding its way through the statehouse in Boston is a different set of regulations – ones introduced in December by the Baker administration – that would make the Springfield biomass project eligible for green energy credits.

Those regulations, now sitting in front of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, would grant the Palmer Renewables project as much as $13 million a year in green energy subsidies paid for by the state’s electricity customers through the Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards program, also called RPS.

Haight’s group and others have been speaking out against Baker’s proposed rule changes since they came out in December.
» Read article             

» More about biomass              

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