The ongoing protests and actions targeting Enbridge’s Line 3 are led primarily by indigenous groups executing all the components of a successful nonviolent campaign. Meanwhile, the aging and degraded Line 5 pipeline poses an imminent threat to the Great Lakes, and its most vocal opponent is Michigan’s Governor Whitmer. A latecomer to these battles against fossil fuel infrastructure is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which until recently seemed happy to rubber-stamp approval for nearly every new project. While still internally conflicted between the commissioners, Chair Richard Glick is getting backup from the DC Circuit Court, which has ordered FERC to conduct robust climate and environmental justice impact analyses prior to final approval of two Texas liquefied natural gas terminals. This could affect consideration of future projects.
Massachusetts’ green economy will anchor to the offshore wind industry, and the state is offering $1.6 million in grants for job training to reduce some of the barriers that would keep people of color and low-income people from participating in the coming boom. We’re also keeping an eye on the geothermal industry – not a newcomer, but not yet mainstream either.
We’ve heard “net-zero by 2050” so often that it seems both a good thing and also inevitable. We offer a climate report that warns both assumptions are dangerously off the mark. Related to this – an urgent issue within the larger climate puzzle is how to retire massive numbers of coal plants – many of them relatively new – sooner rather than later. The Asian Development Bank proposes a novel solution, and is enlisting private sector financing to help.
We’ve recently started tracking a couple of climate “solutions” that have some merit but are being co-opted by the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries, boosting them as excuses to continue with business as usual. Carbon offsets & reforestation, along with carbon capture & sequestration, are two areas drawing a lot of unhelpful industry attention lately. We’re starting to hear about plans for a vast network of pipelines to send carbon dioxide from where it’s captured at emitters to locations where it will be sequestered. It’s worth noting that CO2 is a toxic gas in anything but very small concentrations. It is odorless and heavier than air, and if leaked from a pipeline would pool in low terrain – displacing all the air and asphyxiating every living being in the area.
California is facing a looming energy crisis, with its power supply threatened by drought, heat, and fire. Their solution is to speed up the clean energy transition. And while the whole country struggles against entrenched interests (building trades, real estate industry, etc.) to improve energy efficiency in building codes, Colorado has stepped out front with a host of new laws. Of course, when you build a new, efficient building, the last thing you want is to incorporate carbon-intensive materials. Financiers are beginning pressure steel manufacturers to greatly reduce emissions associated with making their product.
This week’s energy storage news considers the promise of Form Energy’s recently revealed iron-air battery chemistry, while a report on a fire at an Australian lithium-ion battery reminds us that even green power carries some risk.
Since we’re on the cusp of a clean transportation revolution, it’s great that the Guardian just published an article looking back at the last time we did this. At the dawn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly replaced by machines and electric vehicles ruled the road.
Fossil fuel industry news includes some troubling new subsidies tucked into the bipartisan infrastructure legislation making its way though the Senate. Also, how Facebook looked the other way as the industry spread misinformation on its platform. Meanwhile, liquefied natural gas continues to face headwinds in North America, with the cancellation of an LNG export terminal in Québec’s Saguenay region. This comes just weeks after the collapse of Pieridae Energy’s scheme to build a similar facility in Nova Scotia.
Finally, it was a big week for biomass news in Massachusetts, as a hearing on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard ran straight into the state’s new climate laws and limits associated with siting polluters near environmental justice communities.
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Everyone has a role to play in stopping the Line 3 pipeline
Indigenous water protectors and allies are effectively engaging all four roles of social change — just what’s needed to beat a company as powerful as Enbridge.
By Eileen Flanagan, Waging Nonviolence
August 2, 2021
On Monday, July 19, in a red shirt and long black skirt, Sasha Beaulieu strode toward the Middle River in northwestern Minnesota to fulfill her official role as the Red Lake Nation Tribal Monitor. The water was incredibly low from the drought, and in parts the river bed was completely dry — all of which she would report to the Army Corps of Engineers with the hope of stopping the Canadian corporation Enbridge from drilling under Middle River to install the controversial Line 3 pipeline. Enbridge had already polluted the Willow River while trying to install the pipeline, an accident discovered by water protectors and reported to regulators. Beaulieu explained on Facebook Live that the company is supposed to stop pumping water when the river level is below a foot and a half, but Enbridge was not complying.
As Beaulieu recorded her findings, 40 people from the Red Lake Treaty Camp took up positions on the bridge, chanting and holding signs, the largest of which said, “Honor the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863,” which gives people of the Red Lake Nation the right to sustain themselves through fishing on the region’s rivers, as well as hunting and performing ceremony there. Meanwhile, at the Shell River, two hours to the southeast, a different tactic was being deployed, as famed Indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke and six other elder women sat in lawn chairs, blocking Enbridge construction in defiant civil disobedience.
» Read article
Line 5 pipeline between U.S. and Canada could cause ‘devastating damage’ to Great Lakes, say environmentalists
Canadian officials siding with Enbridge to keep pipeline running despite Michigan’s claims it is unsafe
By Samantha Beattie, CBC News
August 3, 2021
An aging pipeline that carries oil along the bottom of the ecologically sensitive and turbulent Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, is in such a state of disrepair it could burst at any moment and cause catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes, environmentalists warn.
Line 5, a 1,000-kilometre-long pipeline owned by Calgary-based Enbridge, carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids a day from Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ont., where it is shipped to other refineries in Ontario and Quebec.
It’s at the centre of a politically charged dispute between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who’s ordered what she calls the “ticking time bomb” to be shut down, and Canadian officials, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who’ve sided with Enbridge in insisting it’s safe to keep running.
“Over the past year, I have both written and spoken to the Governor to express my disappointment and stress the importance of Line 5 in ensuring economic, environmental and energy security to the entire Great Lakes Region,” Ford said in a statement to CBC News.
“Our government believes pipelines are a safe way to transport essential fuels across the Great Lakes, operating in accordance with the highest pipeline safety standards.”
Enbridge says Line 5 is safe and saves the hassle of transporting huge amounts of fuel by truck or train.
But Michelle Woodhouse, water program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence, said it’s time to put politics aside and cut through Enbridge’s “manufactured narrative.” She says the danger the pipeline poses to the Great Lakes is too risky to take “a gamble.”
Line 5 was designed in 1953 to have a lifespan of 50 years, or until 2003. Eighteen years later, it’s still running, and has had its fair share of problems, said Woodhouse.
“This is a very old, deteriorating, dangerous pipeline that has already leaked significant amounts of oil into the surrounding lands and water that it crosses through,” she said.
Since 1953, Line 5 has leaked 29 times, spilling 4.5 million litres of oil into the environment, according to media reports.
A spill would cause “devastating damage” to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan’s shorelines, compromising drinking water, fisheries, businesses and homes, said Woodhouse.
» Read article
FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION
DC Circuit orders FERC to analyze climate, environmental justice more thoroughly
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
August 4, 2021
Critics have long accused FERC of “rubber stamping” projects, a criticism Glick has often agreed with. In his dissent on the commission’s 2019 approval of the Rio Grande and Texas LNG projects, he argued that FERC was not allowed under federal law to “assume away” the impacts of these projects, and that their assessment at the time was inadequate.
The Tuesday decision “clearly demonstrates that the Commission has the authority and obligation to meaningfully analyze and consider the impacts from GHG emissions and impacts to Environmental Justice communities,” Glick said in a statement. “Moreover, failure to do so puts the Commission’s decisions – and the investments made in reliance on those decisions – in legal peril.”
In the commission’s environmental analysis of the projects, it found that it could not determine what the facilities’ impacts on the climate crisis would be, because there is no universal methodology for calculating those impacts. But petitioners argued FERC could use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted metric to make that evaluation. Ultimately, the court agreed that the commission could have tried harder in 2019 to make this assessment.
“This court is saying you really do actually need to try to evaluate impacts based on whatever information is either out there in the real world, or that is based on academic or other research,” said John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Before you say you can’t do it, you need to try a lot harder.”
» Read article
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Massachusetts grants focus on equity in offshore wind workforce development
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs aimed at reducing specific obstacles for people of color and low-income people.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 3, 2021
A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs, each of which targets a specific obstacle that might prevent people of color and low-income people from pursuing jobs in the burgeoning industry.
“We wanted to up the game a little bit,” said Bruce Carlisle, managing director for offshore wind at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the organization that awarded the grants. “We made a conscious effort in 2021 that we were going to focus exclusively on this issue.”
The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, which is slated to become the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind installation, received its last major federal approval in May, effectively jumpstarting an industry that is expected to be a major employer and economic driver in years to come.
The offshore wind industry could produce as many as 83,000 jobs in the United States and pump an annual $25 billion into the economy by 2030, according to an analysis by the American Wind Energy Association. With some of the country’s most wind-rich waters located off the New England coast, the region stands to reap significant financial benefits.
In the face of this opportunity, many community and environmental groups have been pushing to ensure that people of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups have an equal chance to participate in the benefits of a promising new sector. The existing energy system has overburdened communities of color, who often face more pollution and higher rates of respiratory illness, said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts. A diverse, inclusive workforce could help redress some of this damage, she said.
“As we are looking to a decarbonized world, we have to figure out how this new system can be equitable and not repeat the sins of the past,” Hatch said.
» Read article
A Geothermal Energy Boom May Be Coming, and Ex-Oil Workers Are Leading the Way
Start-ups see a vast opportunity to utilize heat from beneath the Earth’s surface.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
July 29, 2021
A conference last week got into a subject that is deep and superhot.
Some of the leaders in geothermal energy and energy policy gathered virtually to talk about a form of clean energy that they said is getting close to a technological leap forward.
Geothermal energy comes from harnessing heat from beneath the Earth’s surface, which can be used to run power plants, heat buildings and provide heat for industry. Some form of geothermal has been used for decades, with power plants in the West and Mountain West, and even older geothermal heating systems in cities like Boise, Idaho.
The opportunity ahead is for researchers and entrepreneurs to develop ways to affordably use geothermal energy at a larger scale and in many more places.
“One of the things that really excites me about geothermal is that every building is already sitting on this vast reservoir of renewable energy right there for the taking,” said Kathy Hannun, president and co-founder of Dandelion Energy, a company developing affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems for houses.
Her comments were part of Pivot 2021, a conference organized by the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas at Austin, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
One of the recurring themes across days of panels was the opportunity for the United States to build on the drilling technology and methods developed by the oil and gas industry and to shift people from the industry’s current workforce to work in geothermal energy.
» Read article
Net zero target for 2050 is too slow, and a strategy for climate failure
By Michael Mazengarb & Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
August 4, 2021
A major new research paper argues that setting “net zero by 2050” targets will fail to prompt urgent action on climate change, and won’t achieve the speed of emission reductions needed to avoid the worsening impacts of global warming.
The paper, released by the Australian-based Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, says shorter-term emission reduction targets are needed to compel action to cut fossil fuel use, including setting a more ambitious target to reach zero emissions as early as 2030.
“[Net zero by 2050] scenarios are based on models and carbon budgets generally associated with a 50 or 66 per cent chance of staying below the target, that is, a one-in-two, or one-in-three, chance of failure,” the paper says.
“We would never accept those risks of failures in our own lives. Why accept them for impacts which may destroy civilisation as we know it?”
The paper is significant because Australia’s mainstream political debate is currently dominated by Labor’s demand for a net zero target by 2050, and the federal Coalition’s commitment that net zero is nice, but it will only get there as soon as it can, or some time this century.
The Breakthrough paper is by no means the first that highlights that the Paris climate goals require much more urgent action, and that decisive action in the next 10 years is required to avoid depleting the “carbon budget.”
Last week, the Australian Energy Market Operator released a set of scenarios that observed that the only one that met the Paris stretch goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C was to reach net zero emissions, at least in the electricity supply, by 2035.
» Read article
» Read the report: “Net zero 2050”: A dangerous illusion
Earlier Coal Shutdowns on the Agenda as Finance Giants Develop Buyout Plan
By The Energy Mix
August 3, 2021
Some of the world’s biggest financial and investment firms are hatching a plan to speed up coal power plant closures in Asia, according to an exclusive report published yesterday by the Reuters news agency.
“The novel proposal, which is being driven by the Asian Development Bank, offers a potentially workable model, and early talks with Asian governments and multilateral banks are promising,” Reuters writes, citing five sources with knowledge of the discussions. Participating companies include BlackRock Real Assets, the Prudential insurance company, and Citi and HSBC banks.
“The group plans to create public-private partnerships to buy out the plants and wind them down within 15 years, far sooner than their usual life, giving workers time to retire or find new jobs and allowing countries to shift to renewable energy sources,” the news agency adds. “The initiative comes as commercial and development banks, under pressure from large investors, pull back from financing new power plants in order to meet climate targets.”
The group hopes to have its plan ready by the time this year’s United Nations climate conference convenes in Glasgow in early November.
“If you can come up with an orderly way to replace those plants sooner and retire them sooner, but not overnight, that opens up a more predictable, massively bigger space for renewables,” said Donald Kanak, chair of insurance growth markets at Prudential, who Reuters credits with coming up with the idea.
But the stakes couldn’t be higher, he told the BBC. “The world cannot possibly hit the Paris climate targets unless we accelerate the retirement and replacement of existing coal fired electricity, opening up much larger room in the near term for renewables and storage,” he said. “This is especially true in Asia, where existing coal fleets are big and young and will otherwise operate for decades.”
“The private sector has great ideas on how to address climate change and we are bridging the gap between them and the official-sector actors,” added ADB Vice President Ahmed M. Saeed.
» Read article
California speeds up energy transition to face immediate energy crisis and long-term climate goals
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 4, 2021
California’s government has issued a roadmap for the US state to achieve its long-term goal of 100% clean energy, while an immediate State of Emergency has been declared over concerns the electric system will struggle under heat waves this summer.
Energy storage, renewables and demand response are at the heart of measures to address both. The long-term roadmap also recognises the important role long-duration energy storage will play in California’s clean energy future, putting it as one of five pillars the state’s energy system will rely on in decarbonising while delivering reliable and secure service.
Governor Gavin Newsom issued the proclamation of a State of Emergency last week, stating that it is “necessary to take immediate action to reduce the strain on the energy infrastructure, increase energy capacity, and make energy supply more resilient this year to protect the health and safety of Californians”.
The state’s residents are being put into the frontline of the climate crisis, with droughts in 50 counties, wildfires, heat waves, floods, mudslides and more affecting them directly. Hydroelectric power plants have lost nearly 1,000MW of generation capacity through droughts. Record-breaking heat waves are causing strain on the electric grid, the massive Bootleg wildfire in Oregon has reduced the amount of electricity that can be delivered by an interconnector into California by nearly 4,000MW and transmission lines in high fire threat areas within the state are vulnerable.
The state could face an energy shortfall of up to 3,500MW this summer and 5,000MW by the summer of 2022. While Newsom’s proclamation acknowledged that there is insufficient time to install enough capacity of renewables and energy storage this summer, it set out some actions that will be taken immediately such as incentivising lower energy demand from industrial customers of utility companies, as well as measures to expedite clean energy projects to give California a better opportunity to meet its 2022 challenges head-on.
» Read article
The Fight to Change US Building Codes
In cities and states around the country, conflicts over climate-friendly standards for buildings are heating up.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, Inside Climate News
August 2, 2021
To date, more than 40 California jurisdictions have established policies that either entirely ban natural gas in new construction or encourage electrification. And in the months since San Francisco’s sky glowed orange, the California Energy Commission has proposed state building standards that require “electric ready” equipment and encourage electric heating rather than the use of natural gas.
Last year, California became the first state to enact standards that encourage the installation of rooftop solar on most new homes. If regulators approve the “electric ready” code, it will be another first-in-the-nation state standard, and California will have accomplished both policies through an often-overlooked mechanism: codes that govern the design and construction of new buildings.
Though California is often seen as a trailblazer in climate policy, similar efforts are increasingly cropping up around the country. Advocates and progressive code officials are trying to push forward building codes that help drive decarbonization.
Energy consumed in buildings produced more than 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, making them a key part of the climate challenge. And the window to decarbonize them is narrowing: Analysts at organizations such as the International Energy Agency have said that new construction worldwide will need to start switching to all-electric around 2025, if nations are to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in this century.
“The place that we are working right now is to get a better code on paper,” said Kim Cheslak, director of codes at the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit that works with utilities and governments on energy efficient codes. “The place we need to work after that is to make sure that cities, states and building departments have the resources to enforce full compliance.”
» Read article
Social cost of methane changes the equation for Colorado utility policy
Colorado is believed to be the first state in the nation to apply the social cost of methane to a broad range of regulatory decisions. A batch of new laws are expected to dramatically improve the case for building energy conservation.
By Allen Best, Energy News Network
August 2, 2021
As a growing list of states pass laws aimed at curbing carbon emissions, Colorado has widened its scope, taking the groundbreaking step of requiring state officials to consider the social cost of methane in regulatory decisions.
Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, has powerful heat-trapping properties before it breaks down into water vapor and carbon dioxide after 12 years. It is 84 to 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“By focusing on methane reduction now, it has the greatest potential to bend the curve on fighting climate change,” said state Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Democrat from Boulder County and a prime sponsor or co-sponsor of several bills passed this year that instruct state utility regulators to use the social of cost of methane when evaluating proposals.
Other successful bills seek to reduce natural gas in buildings and other applications, and to stanch leaks in the supply chain of natural gas. Most natural gas is extracted from geological deposits by drilling.
Legislative and environmental advocates say the new laws have made Colorado the national leader in tackling emissions from buildings.
» Read article
Investors call for urgent action by steelmakers on carbon emissions
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 4, 2021
LONDON – Steelmakers need to take urgent action on producing less carbon in order to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change, investors managing $55 trillion in assets said on Wednesday.
Emissions from steel production account for 9% of the global total and must fall 29% by 2030 and 91% by 2050 to meet the net zero scenario laid out by the International Energy Agency in May, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change said.
The IIGCC, as part of the Climate Action 100+ initiative, said in a statement that while it was technically feasible to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, the steel industry was being too slow to act.
Steel firms needed to set short, mid and long-term targets in line with the IEA report, and align their capital expenditure plans with net zero, including not investing in new, unabated production capacity, the IIGCC added.
They also needed to demonstrate that emerging technology can work and produce reports by the end of 2022 on how carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen-based processes can be used.
In addition, they needed to be transparent about the public policy positions they will take to accelerate their transition, for example on carbon pricing and research and development.
» Read article
Is this a green-energy breakthrough, or just hype?
BY DAVID VON DREHLE, Berkshire Eagle | Opinion
August 2, 2021
The most important news story of 1903 received modest coverage, and it wasn’t very accurate.
Two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, conducted four machine- powered, heavier-than-air flights under human control on a single day in December. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, not far from the Kitty Hawk, N.C., testing ground, ran an exaggerated account of the Wright Brothers’ triumph — but in Dayton, a hometown paper, refused to mention it. “Man will never fly,” a local editor harrumphed (perhaps apocryphally). “And if he does, he won’t be from Dayton.”
Another possible milestone of technology passed quietly not long ago. It might be the beginning of the end for fossil fuels and the key to reaching the goal of a green power grid. If so, it will certainly be among the most important stories of the year — bigger than space tourism, bigger than the Arizona election audit, bigger than the discovery that amazing Simone Biles is human, not a god.
One caveat: Very few engineering breakthroughs change the world. Most end up being less than meets the eye. That said, let’s have a look.
A Boston-area company, Form Energy, announced recently that it has created a battery prototype that stores large amounts of power and releases it not over hours, but over more than four days. And that isn’t the best part. The battery’s main ingredients are iron and oxygen, both incredibly plentiful here on God’s green Earth — and therefore reliably cheap.
Put the two facts together, and you arrive at a sort of tipping point for green energy: reliable power from renewable sources at less than $20 per kilowatt-hour.
» Read article
Crews battle Tesla battery fire at Moorabool, near Geelong
By Leanne Wong, ABC News, AU
July 30, 2021
A toxic blaze at the site of Australia’s largest Tesla battery project is set to burn throughout the night.
The fire broke out during testing of a Tesla megapack at the Victorian Big Battery site near Geelong.
A 13-tonne lithium battery was engulfed in flames, which then spread to an adjacent battery bank.
More than 150 people from Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority responded to the blaze, which has been contained and will be closely monitored until it burns itself out.
“If we try and cool them down it just prolongs the process,” the CFA’s Assistant Chief Fire Officer Ian Beswicke said.
“But we could be here anywhere from 8 to 24 hours while we wait for it to burn down.”
The Tesla battery is expected to become the largest battery in the southern hemisphere as part of a Victorian Government push to transition to renewable energy.
» Read article
The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport
To every age dogged with pollution, accidents and congestion, the transport solution for the next generation seems obvious – but the same problems keep coming back
By Tom Standage, The Guardian
August 3, 2021
Much of the early enthusiasm for the automobile stemmed from its promise to solve the problems associated with horse-drawn vehicles, including noise, traffic congestion and accidents. That cars failed on each of these counts was tolerated because they offered so many other benefits, including eliminating the pollution – most notably, horse manure – that had dogged urban thoroughfares for centuries.
But in doing away with one set of environmental problems, cars introduced a whole set of new ones. The pollutants they emit are harder to see than horse manure, but are no less problematic. These include particulate matter, such as the soot in vehicle exhaust, which can penetrate deep into the lungs; volatile organic compounds that irritate the respiratory system and have been linked to several kinds of cancer; nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide; and greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change. Cars, trucks and buses collectively produce around 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Reliance on fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel has also had far-reaching geopolitical ramifications, as much of the world became dependent on oil from the Middle East during the 20th century.
None of this could have been foreseen at the dawn of the automobile age. Or could it? Some people did raise concerns about the sustainability of powering cars using non-renewable fossil fuels, and the reliability of access to such fuels. Today, electric cars, charged using renewable energy, are seen as the logical way to address these concerns. But the debate about the merits of electric cars turns out to be as old as the automobile itself.
In 1897, the bestselling car in the US was an electric vehicle: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia Motor Carriage. Electric models were outselling steam- and petrol-powered ones. By 1900, sales of steam vehicles had taken a narrow lead: that year, 1,681 steam vehicles, 1,575 electric vehicles and 936 petrol-powered vehicles were sold. Only with the launch of the Olds Motor Works’ Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1903 did petrol-powered vehicles take the lead for the first time.
Perhaps the most remarkable example, to modern eyes, of how things might have worked out differently for electric vehicles is the story of the Electrobat, an electric taxicab that briefly flourished in the late 1890s. The Electrobat had been created in Philadelphia in 1894 by Pedro Salom and Henry Morris, two scientist-inventors who were enthusiastic proponents of electric vehicles. In a speech in 1895, Salom derided “the marvelously complicated driving gear of a gasoline vehicle, with its innumerable chains, belts, pulleys, pipes, valves and stopcocks … Is it not reasonable to suppose, with so many things to get out of order, that one or another of them will always be out of order?”
The two men steadily refined their initial design, eventually producing a carriage-like vehicle that could be controlled by a driver on a high seat at the back, with a wider seat for passengers in the front. In 1897 Morris and Salom launched a taxi service in Manhattan with a dozen vehicles, serving 1,000 passengers in their first month of operation. But the cabs had limited range and their batteries took hours to recharge. So Morris and Salom merged with another firm, the Electric Battery Company. Its engineers had devised a clever battery-swapping system, based at a depot at 1684 Broadway, that could replace an empty battery with a fully charged one in seconds, allowing the Electrobats to operate all day.
» Read article
CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION
US Forest Fires Threaten Carbon Offsets as Company-Linked Trees Burn
At least two forestry projects used by businesses including BP and Microsoft to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions are burning in Oregon and Washington.
By Camilla Hodgson, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
August 4, 2021
Forests in the United States that generate the carbon offsets bought by companies including BP and Microsoft are on fire as summer blazes rage in North America.
Corporate net-zero emission pledges rely on such projects to compensate for the carbon dioxide generated by companies that are unable to make sufficient cuts to their actual emissions.
In principle each offset represents a ton of carbon that has been permanently removed from the atmosphere or avoided. Offsets generated by projects that plant or protect trees, which absorb carbon, are among the most popular.
But forestry projects are vulnerable to wildfires, drought and disease—permanent threats that are being exacerbated by global warming.
“We’ve bought forest offsets that are now burning,” Elizabeth Willmott, Microsoft’s carbon program manager, told attendees at an event hosted by Carbon180, a non-profit organization that focuses on carbon removal.
In Washington and Oregon, at least two forestry projects used by companies including BP and Microsoft are ablaze.
Given the risks from fire and drought, forestry offsetting schemes contributed about 10 to 20 percent of the credits they generate to the “buffer pool.”
Critics of the unregulated offsetting system have warned that buffer pools may be too small to compensate for the damage done by major fires.
“The concern is that the pool is not large enough to cover the increased risk of [the carbon benefits being reversed] with climate change over the full set of participating projects,” said Barbara Haya, research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
» Read article
Reforestation hopes threaten global food security, Oxfam warns
Over-reliance on tree-planting to offset carbon emissions could push food prices up 80% by 2050
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
August 3, 2021
Governments and businesses hoping to plant trees and restore forests in order to reach net-zero emissions must sharply limit such efforts to avoid driving up food prices in the developing world, the charity Oxfam has warned.
Planting trees has been [presented] as one of the key ways of tackling the climate crisis, but the amount of land needed for such forests would be vast, and planting even a fraction of the area needed to offset global greenhouse gas emissions would encroach on the land needed for crops to feed a growing population, according to a report entitled Tightening the net: Net zero climate targets implications for land and food equity.
At least 1.6bn hectares – an area five times the size of India, equivalent to all the land now farmed on the planet – would be required to reach net zero for the planet by 2050 via tree-planting alone. While no one is suggesting planting trees to that extent, the report’s authors said it gave an idea of the scale of planting required, and how limited offsetting should be if food price rises are to be avoided.
Nafkote Dabi, climate policy lead at Oxfam and co-author of the report, explained: “It is difficult to tell how much land would be required, as governments have not been transparent about how they plan to meet their net-zero commitments. But many countries and companies are talking about afforestation and reforestation, and the first question is: where is this land going to come from?”
Food prices could rise by 80% by 2050, according to some estimates, if offsetting emissions through forestry is over-used. About 350m hectares of land – an area roughly the size of India – could be used for offsetting without disrupting agriculture around the world, but taken together the plans for offsetting from countries and companies around the world could soon exceed this.
» Read article
» Read the Oxfam report
CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION
The infrastructure deal could create pipelines for captured CO2
The bipartisan infrastructure package gives billions to carbon capture and removal
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 3, 2021
A new generation of pipelines could be born out of the bipartisan infrastructure deal making its way through Congress. But instead of hauling oil and gas, the pipelines would carry planet-heating carbon dioxide. The massive bill would allocate funding for new infrastructure devoted to capturing carbon dioxide, and transporting it to places where it can be buried underground or used in products like carbonated soda.
Carbon capture technology aims to scrub CO2 directly at the source of emissions — but it’s remained controversial among climate activists, with many seeing it as a false solution that distracts from emission reduction goals. But Congress’ new bipartisan infrastructure plan would invest billions of dollars into the idea, committing the US to ambitious carbon capture and removal schemes that have never been attempted at this large scale.
“The infrastructure bill has opened the floodgates for carbon capture piping. Watch out,” tweeted Alan Ramo, professor emeritus at Golden Gate University School of Law.
The new provisions focus mostly on using carbon capture and removal to tackle industrial emissions, rather than emissions from the power sector. The Biden Administration has particularly encouraged carbon capture for industries like cement and steel, which are difficult to electrify and decarbonize. (Cement alone is responsible for 8 percent of global CO2 emissions.) Focusing on those industries might keep carbon capture from being used as a way to extend the life of coal plants or other heavy-emitting power sources, a problem that’s come up with carbon capture technologies used in the power sector.
» Blog editor’s note: Adapted from BOC (Industrial Gases)…CO2 is a toxic gas. It is heavier than air and, if there is a leak from a CO2 [pipeline], it tends to accumulate [in low terrain] and pushes the oxygen-rich air upwards…. Air normally contains about 0.03% carbon dioxide, but breathing air with increased concentrations of the gas can lead to effects ranging from heavy breathing and a feeling of suffocation through loss of consciousness to asphyxiation.
» Read article
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Includes $25 Billion in Potential New Subsidies for Fossil Fuels
Instead of reducing the role of fossil fuels in the economy, critics say, the bill subsidizes industry “greenwashing.”
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
August 3, 2021
The Senate’s new bipartisan infrastructure bill is being sold as a down payment on addressing the climate crisis. But environmental advocates and academics are warning the proposed spending bill is full of new fossil fuel industry subsidies masked as climate solutions. The latest draft bill would make fossil fuel companies eligible for at least $25 billion in new subsidies, according to an analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law.
“This is billions upon billions of dollars in additional fossil fuel industry subsidies in addition to the $15 billion that we already hand out to this industry to support and fund this industry,” said Jim Walsh, Food and Water Watch’s senior policy analyst. Scientists say that to meet the goals of the international Paris climate accord, the U.S would need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — and be well on the way there by 2030. With subsidies that keep fossil fuel industries going, Walsh said, “We will never be able to meet the Paris agreement if we fund these kind of programs.”
Just as concerning is the new economy the subsidies could entrench, said Walsh, through the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure. “This would support the development of four petrochemical hubs that would create profit incentives for greenhouse gas emission production and would be focused on finding new ways of integrating fossil fuels into our economy for transportation, energy, petrochemical development, and plastics.”
In short, he added, “This deal envisions a world where we will use fossil fuels into perpetuity.”
The subsidies would go toward technologies sold as dream fixes for ending the nightmare of the climate crisis without the colossal political hurdle of dislodging the fossil fuel industry from the U.S. economy. Such technologies include carbon capture and decarbonized hydrogen fuel. Both purported solutions in practice help fossil fuel companies mask the continued release of climate-warming gases. Neither of the technologies are currently commercially viable at a large scale, so the energy industry requires government help to carry out what critics see as a public relations scheme.
» Read article
Facebook let fossil-fuel industry push climate misinformation, report finds
Thinktank InfluenceMap accuses petroleum giants of gaming Facebook to promote oil and gas as part of climate-crisis solution
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
August 5, 2021
Facebook failed to enforce its own rules to curb an oil and gas industry misinformation campaign over the climate crisis during last year’s presidential election, according to a new analysis released on Thursday.
The report, by the London-based thinktank InfluenceMap, identified an increase in advertising on the social media site by ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel companies aimed at shaping the political debate about policies to address global heating.
InfluenceMap said its research shows the fossil-fuel industry has moved away from outright denying the climate crisis, and is now using social media to promote oil and gas as part of the solution. The report also exposed what it said was Facebook’s role in facilitating the dissemination of false claims about global heating by failing to consistently apply its own policies to stop erroneous advertising.
“Despite Facebook’s public support for climate action, it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil-fuel propaganda,” the report said. “Not only is Facebook inadequately enforcing its existing advertising policies, it’s clear that these policies are not keeping pace with the critical need for urgent climate action.”
The report found that 25 oil and gas industry organisations spent at least $9.5m to place more than 25,000 ads on Facebook’s US platforms last year, which were viewed more than 431m times. Exxon alone spent $5m.
“The industry is using a range of messaging tactics that are far more nuanced than outright statements of climate denial. Some of the most significant tactics found included tying the use of oil and gas to maintaining a high quality of life, promoting fossil gas as green, and publicizing the voluntary actions taken by the industry on climate change,” the report said.
» Read article
» Read the InfluenceMap report
LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
Quebec Rejects $14-Billion LNG Terminal
By The Energy Mix staff
August 1, 2021
Quebec has rejected GNL Québec’s application to build a C$14-billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Saguenay region, capping years of opposition by Indigenous communities, climate campaigners, scientists, and health professionals.
The announcement comes just a week after three Innu First Nations in Quebec declared a pipeline to the Énergie Saguenay project from Western Canada would not be allowed to cross their ancestral lands. “We listened, we did our own research on the project, and following the conclusions of the BAPE report, it is clear that our position will remain the same,” said Charles-Edouard Verreault, vice-chief of Mashteuiatsh First Nation and spokesperson for the three nations. “This project won’t be happening on our territories.”
“Relief!” headlined Coalition Fjord, a campaign group that waged a three-year fight against the project.
“The end of the GNL project and pipeline is an encouraging sign for citizen mobilization,” the group said in a release. “It’s a relief for the climate, after the science was finally heard”, so that the province will dodge an increase in its greenhouse gas emissions.
“Locally, it’s a massive relief for biodiversity,” including beluga whale populations that were threatened by the project. And “above all, it’s a relief to see the end of division and the beginning of a constructive dialogue,” the coalition said. “To many people, this project looked like a chance to create jobs and boost the local economy, but that was just a mirage” that masked the project’s “irreversible negative impacts”.
Previously, Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) had issued a 500-page report concluding that the risks from the 750-kilometre-long gas pipeline would “far outweigh” the benefits. The project drew the widest response ever to a BAPE review with more than 2,500 briefs presented, 91% of them opposing the development.
» Read article
DC Circuit faults FERC’s environmental analysis in two LNG project orders
By Maya Weber, S&P Global
August 3, 2021
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has found fault with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s climate and environmental justice reviews for the Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG projects, planned in the Brownsville, Texas, area, and has remanded to FERC the orders authorizing the projects.
The Aug. 3 decision, marking the second blow the court delivered to FERC’s gas project orders, could have broader implications going forward for the commission’s approach to considering climate impacts. It arrives as FERC has remained split on the extent of its legal requirements to assess climate impacts of projects.
The orders remanded by the court Aug. 3 include applications for the 7 million mt/year Rio Grande project and the 4 million mt/year Texas LNG project. FERC first approved the projects in 2019, with rehearing orders issued in early 2020.
In one benefit for the projects, the court agreed not to vacate the FERC authorizations, acknowledging the LNG developers’ concerns that such a remedy could “imperil the intervenors’ ability to obtained funding necessary to complete the projects in a timely fashion.”
The three-judge panel of the DC Circuit agreed with petitioners that FERC failed to adequately assess the impact of the projects’ greenhouse gas emissions because it neglected to respond to the argument that it was required to use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted method to assess the GHG emissions’ effects.
FERC did not discuss or even cite the relevant Council on Environmental Quality regulation in its rehearing order that would have seemed to require it to evaluate the impacts based on theoretical approaches or research methods generally accepted by the scientific community, said the ruling Judge Robert Wilkins filed.
While the court did not rule on what method FERC should have applied on GHGs, it held that FERC was required to address the petitioners’ argument concerning the significance of a CEQ regulation and that its failure to do so rendered its analysis of the projects’ GHG emissions deficient.
The panel also found FERC’s environmental justice analysis for the two projects to be flawed. It agreed with petitioners that the decision to analyze the impact on environmental justice communities only in census blocks within two miles of the projects was arbitrary, given FERC’s determination that environmental effects would extend well beyond two miles. FERC determined air quality impacts could occur within 31 miles, the court said.
“The commission has offered no explanation as to why, in light of that finding, it chose to delineate the area potentially affected by the projects to include only those census blocks within two miles of the project sites for the purposes of its environmental justice analyses,” it said.
In deciding to remand, rather than vacate, the FERC orders, the decision called it “reasonably likely” that, on remand, FERC could address its failures to explain its approach on climate change and environmental justice while reaching the same result. [emphasis added]
» Blog editor’s note: once FERC performs the required climate impact and environmental justice studies, their rigor and validity can be scrutinized by environmental and legal experts. Should FERC reach the “same result” based on shoddy or flawed analysis, we expect further litigation to follow.
» Read article
Environmental justice designation coming under scrutiny
Is Lexington really environmentally overburdened?
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
August 3, 2021
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE communities, marginalized areas of the state overburdened with pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, and highways, are turning out to be more commonplace in Massachusetts than you might think.
Earlier this year, when the Legislature passed a sweeping climate change bill containing language defining an environmental justice, or EJ community, advocates said the measure was needed to protect areas of the state with high populations of people of color, low-income residents, and other marginalized groups that face disproportionate environmental burdens.
But as the definition is being applied, the number of EJ communities is turning out to be larger than expected. According to a state analysis of Census data, close to 200 of the state’s 351 cities and towns contain some EJ neighborhoods.
There were municipalities containing EJ neighborhoods you would expect, including Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, and Randolph, where the entire city was an EJ community. Others high on the list included Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lowell, Malden, New Bedford, North Adams, Quincy, Springfield, and Worcester.
But there were also cities and towns containing fairly high concentrations of EJ neighborhoods that one would hardly describe as environmentally overburdened, including Acton, Amherst, Arlington, Avon, Brookline, Lexington, Waltham, Watertown, and Westborough.
Last week, state environmental officials showed just how powerful the EJ designation could be. In setting regulations for the construction of wood-burning power plants, the officials said the facilities would not qualify for essential ratepayer subsidies if they were located in an EJ community or within five miles of one. That ruling meant that 89 percent of the state was essentially off-limits to biomass plants and someone looking to build such a facility in Massachusetts could only locate it in 35 of the state’s 351 cities and towns.
» Read article
Biomass power rules leave 35 towns in industry ‘crosshairs’
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in Berkshire Eagle
July 31, 2021
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have let the Baker administration know that they are not happy with proposed regulations that would effectively protect environmental justice communities and surrounding areas from new wood-burning power generation facilities while singling out just 35 towns as possible plant hosts.
In April, the Baker administration announced that its proposed updates to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard regulations would prohibit biomass projects from qualifying for the RPS program if they are located within an environmental justice community or within five miles of an environmental justice community.
The latest version of that plan got a hearing before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Friday, with Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock detailing the proposed changes for lawmakers.
The RPS governs the increasing amount of clean energy that utilities and municipal light plants must purchase each year. State law requires that DOER make biomass facilities eligible for the RPS program and rules that have been in place since 2012 make only efficient combined-heat-and-power biomass plants eligible to sell renewable energy credits into the RPS market.
But once each environmental justice community and its corresponding five-mile buffer was mapped out, about 90 percent of the state’s land area was excluded.
That leaves just 10 percent of the state — a stretch of communities west of the Connecticut River and along the Connecticut border, a strip of coastline that runs through Cohasset, Scituate and Marshfield, and small shreds of various other towns — where future biomass facilities could be located and be eligible for incentives under the Baker administration’s policy.
“It doesn’t matter where a facility is sited in Massachusetts or elsewhere, the science still says no,” Sen. Jo Comerford said, referring to the fact that biomass generation pollutes more than other sources like solar. “The logic here in these regulations is tortured. A biomass plant cited more than five miles away from the nearest environmental justice community is not any greener than a biomass plant in Springfield. The location of the facility has never been a factor in RPS class one eligibility. Class one should be reserved for the cleanest energy sources.”
» Read article
Proposed biomass limits restrict new plants in 90 percent of state
Remaining 35 communities worried about pollution
By Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine
July 30, 2021
MONTHS AFTER THE Baker administration pulled the plug on plans for a controversial new biomass plant in Springfield, state environmental officials proposed new regulations that would drastically limit where biomass plants can be located.
The rules promulgated by the Department of Energy Resources in April say new biomass plants located in or within five miles of an environmental justice community will not qualify as a renewable energy source under a state program, the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, or RPS, that requires energy producers to obtain a certain amount of energy from renewable sources. Financially, that would likely make it impossible for a company to locate a plant there. Environmental justice communities are generally poor communities of color that are disproportionately affected by pollution.
Practically, Massachusetts has adopted an expansive definition of environmental justice communities, which means that about 90 percent of the state is within five miles of one of these communities. Most of the remaining places where biomass would be eligible for the incentive are in rural Western Massachusetts.
The restrictions, which will be the subject of a legislative hearing on Friday, are angering representatives of the few communities that could still be targeted to host biomass plants.
“If we’re going to regulate biomass out of 90 percent of the Commonwealth, we might as well make it ineligible for [incentive programs] across the entire Commonwealth,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat who represents 17 towns where biomass would remain eligible. Hinds worries that the towns in his district will be aggressively pursued by biomass companies, and he worries about pollution.
Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat who represents three eligible communities, said she has long believed biomass should not be eligible as a renewable energy source because of the pollution it creates – which makes it less “green” than wind or solar power. Comerford said she agrees with DOER’s decision to keep biomass out of environmental justice communities. But she said retaining eligibility in 10 percent of the state puts DOER “in a pretzel-like argument.”
» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!