Monthly Archives: December 2021

Weekly News Check-In 12/31/21

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Welcome back.

First, we’d like to acknowledge and thank everyone who traveled with us though this tumultuous year. You kept yourselves up to date on climate and energy issues by reading our newsletters, you contacted legislators, you stood with us in the street, and you supported us with donations. It’s slow, hard work, but we’re making tangible progress and, with you, we’re walking in good company.

A lot of reporting these past couple weeks has been retrospective, so it amounts to a useful overview of 2021’s major themes and sets us up for the coming year. The Weymouth compressor station is fully operational and managed to get though the year without another unplanned gas release. But it’s bad infrastructure in the wrong place, so opposition continues. The proposed peaking power plant in Peabody, MA is a similar old-think dinosaur, and we offer Ben Hillman’s latest video to explain why it shouldn’t be built.

Predictably disappointing results from recently concluded COP26 climate talks underscore the fact that governments have yet to rise to the level of action and commitment that meet the urgent demands of our three inseparable crises: climate, environment, and equity. But we’re seeing an increasingly effective trend in litigation, forcing action in areas where political will and diplomacy have failed. For an example of that political failure at a national level, look no farther than the fact that a single coal-loving Democratic Senator (along with every single Republican) has so far stopped the Build Back Better act, leaving the U.S. without desperately needed tools to drive emissions down. In the absence of Federal leadership, a few states and cities continue to show the way. New York City’s recent $3b pension fund divestment from fossil fuels is worth celebrating.

Greening the economy requires a lot of metals for batteries, and obtaining them requires mining and other forms of extraction and processing. Two stories highlight efforts to reduce environmental and social harms, while our Clean Transportation section shows why we’ll need so many batteries so quickly and also discusses how some battery chemistries are more sustainable than others.

During 2021 our changing climate seemed to force just about everyone on the planet to take precautions, take cover, or run for their lives. It’s difficult to find anyone who still believes it’s someone else’s problem. DeSmog Blog’s Nick Cunningham offers an excellent summary of what just happened and why it matters. Meanwhile we gained ground in clean energy and energy storage, while negative forces persist in hyping false solutions like carbon capture and storage, and some utilities take advantage of disruptions to gouge customers. All this while the fossil fuel industry is having a coal moment, largely resulting from our over-dependence on natural gas as a “bridge fuel”, rather than having invested early enough in renewable energy, storage, and grid modernization. So pandemic disruptions made gas temporarily scarce and expensive, and coal is filling the void.

We’ll close out the year by adding another topic to our watch list: waste incineration, or more broadly the whole suite of waste-to-energy technologies. These facilities are sources of nasty, toxic pollution, but bill themselves as producers of renewable energy. Renewable, that is, as long as humans create a nearly limitless supply of waste while failing to reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost a good percentage of it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stop Peabody peakerOutrage over plan for new dirty power plant in Peabody, MA.
By Ben Hillman, YouTube
December 22, 2021
» Watch video

» More about peaking power plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

view from Fore River Bridge
Neighbors dealt another blow in Fore River compressor station fight; court tosses lawsuit
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
December 24, 2021

WEYMOUTH – A state Appeals Court tossed out a lawsuit filed by residents challenging one of the approvals granted for the natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

A three-judge panel affirmed a Superior Court judge’s decision that the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station could not seek judicial review of the approval issued by the state Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The court ruled that the citizens group did not have a right to an agency hearing, and therefore did not have a right to judicial review.

Alice Arena of the anti-compressor group said the town initially filed the appeal and the citizens group intervened. But Arena said the residents were left “out in the ether” when the town dropped its appeal as part of a host community agreement with energy company Enbridge.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety risks.

Arena said several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

blue marble head
COP26: Five Key Takeaways on the Rising Tide of Climate Litigation
By L. Delta Merner, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
December 22, 2021

Nation-states have been trying for nearly 30 years to address climate change through global diplomacy. Creating mechanisms and processes for making global commitments to address climate change is no easy task and, while a future in which global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5° C) above pre-industrial levels is still scientifically possible, the commitments that governments have made so far will not get us there– and not nearly enough is being done to help communities that are suffering from the impacts of climate change today.

I left COP26 more convinced than ever that climate litigation has an important role to play to help ensure the changes we vitally need to prevent worse impacts from climate change.

Before the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, the world was on track for 4° C of warming; after the meetings in Scotland and assuming the commitments nations made there are realized, we are on track for a reality closer to 2.4° C of warming.

Unfortunately, 2.4 degrees would be devastating—and it is not aligned with the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty with a stated goal to limit global warming to well below 2, and as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, compared to pre-industrial levels. So, change is happening and it is incremental, as the process promised.

During the meetings, speakers repeated that the science is clear. It’s clear that we need to limit emissions. It’s clear where the emissions are coming from. Yet, there’s no question something huge is standing in the way of real change. Standing in those meeting rooms, the sheer influence of the fossil fuel industry at the negotiations was also on clear display.

Over the last five years, the courts have made it clear that they have the power to rule on cases related to climate change and that governments and companies have a legal duty to address climate change, which includes reducing emissions and helping communities prepare and adapt to any unavailable impacts. These decisions are being made based on science,  and international and human rights law. The impacts of judicial decisions will continue to grow with new cases and new venues, including increased use of international legal bodies such as the international court of justice.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

after Manchin
Why the collapse of Biden’s Build Back Better would be a major blow to the climate fight
It would be almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges without the $1.75tn package that Manchin refuses to support
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
December 22, 2021

The collapse of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation would have disastrous consequences for the global climate crisis, making it almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges made under the Paris accords.

The US president’s sweeping economic recovery and social welfare bill is in serious trouble after the Democratic senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the $1.75tn spending package that includes the country’s largest ever climate crisis investment.

The shock move by the fossil fuel-friendly West Virginia lawmaker came after a year of record-breaking fires, floods, hurricanes and droughts devastated families across America, and amid warnings that such deadly extreme weather events will intensify unless there is radical action to curb greenhouse gases.

The Build Back Better (BBB) legislation earmarks $555bn to tackle the US’s largest sources of global heating gasses – energy and transportation – through a variety of grants, tax incentives and other policies to boost jobs and technologies in renewable energy, as well as major investments in sustainable vehicles and public transit services.
» Read article             

» More about legislation

DIVESTMENT

divest NY‘Historic’ NYC Pension Fund Fossil Fuel Divestment Heralded as Model for Others
One activist said this is what “every pension fund can and should” do to address the climate crisis.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 22, 2021

In what climate campaigners on Wednesday celebrated as not only a “historic” win but also a model for the rest of the country, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and trustees of major public pensions funds announced a $3 billion divestment from fossil fuels.

“We’d like to thank Comptroller Stringer, for his years of public service and his leadership in protecting our pensions and our planet by divesting from fossil fuel investments. Thank you for joining the fight to reduce the money flowing to the world’s most dangerous polluters,” said 350NYC Steering Committee member Dorian Fulvio.

Stand.earth Climate Finance Program director Richard Brooks declared that “once again, New York City is a beacon of progressive climate action.”

“This ahead-of-schedule and unprecedentedly transparent completion of one of the biggest fossil fuel divestments translates words and commitment into real action,” he said. “Every pension fund and investor needs to pay attention: If divestment can be completed in New York, it can and should happen everywhere.”

Stand.earth earlier this month published what it called a “first-of-its-kind” analysis exposing how U.S. public pension funds are “bankrolling the climate crisis.” The advocacy group and fund beneficiaries nationwide responded to the findings by demanding divestment from fossil fuel holdings as well as investment in “just and equitable climate solutions.”

New York City leaders in January 2018 committed to divesting major public pension funds from fossil fuel reserve companies within five years, and have urged others to follow suit.

On Wednesday, Stringer and trustees of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) revealed that those funds “have completed their process of divesting approximately $1.8 billion and $100 million in securities, respectively,” bringing the total for all funds to approximately $3 billion.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

nickel processing plantCan a Tiny Territory in the South Pacific Power Tesla’s Ambitions?
Nickel is vital to electric car batteries, but extracting it is dirty and destructive. A plant with a turbulent history in New Caledonia is about to become an experiment in sustainable mining.
By Hannah Beech, New York Times
Photographs by Adam Dean

December 30, 2021

GORO, New Caledonia — From the reef-fringed coast of New Caledonia, the Coral Sea stretches into the South Pacific. Slender native pines, listing like whimsical Christmas trees, punctuate the shoreline. The landscape, one of the most biodiverse on the planet, is astonishingly beautiful until the crest of a hill where a different vista unfolds: a gouged red earth pierced by belching smokestacks and giant trucks rumbling across the lunar-like terrain.

This is Goro, the largest nickel mine on a tiny French territory suspended between Australia and Fiji that may hold up to a quarter of the world’s nickel reserves. It also poses a critical test for Tesla, the world’s largest electric vehicle maker, which wants to take control of its supply chain and ensure that the minerals used for its car batteries are mined in an environmentally and socially responsible fashion.

Tesla’s strategy, the largest effort by a Western electric vehicle maker to directly source minerals, could serve as a model for a green industry confronting an uncomfortable paradox. While consumers are attracted to electric vehicles for their clean reputation, the process of harvesting essential ingredients like nickel is dirty, destructive and often politically fraught.

Because of its nickel industry, New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita. And mining, which began soon after New Caledonia was colonized in 1853, is intimately linked to the exploitation of its Indigenous Kanak people. The legacy of more than a century of stolen land and crushed traditions has left Goro’s nickel output at the mercy of frequent labor strikes and political protests.

If done right, the approach by Tesla, which has the capacity to churn out close to a million cars a year, could lead the way in setting global standards for the electric vehicle revolution, in yet another convention-defying move by the company’s enigmatic founder, Elon Musk. It also provides Western car companies a path to begin sidestepping China, which currently dominates the production of electric vehicle batteries.

If done wrong, Goro will serve as a cautionary tale of how difficult it is to achieve true sustainability. “Going green” or “acting local” are nice bumper stickers for a Tesla. Meeting these ideals, however, will require not just cash and innovation but also savvy about one of the most remote places on earth, a scattering of French-ruled islands hovering on the cusp of independence. Some of the world’s biggest nickel miners have tried to profit at Goro — and failed.
» Read article             

SQM Li plant
Chile Rewrites Its Constitution, Confronting Climate Change Head On
Chile has lots of lithium, which is essential to the world’s transition to green energy. But anger over powerful mining interests, a water crisis and inequality has driven Chile to rethink how it defines itself.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
Photographs by Marcos Zegers

December 28, 2021

SALAR DE ATACAMA, Chile — Rarely does a country get a chance to lay out its ideals as a nation and write a new constitution for itself. Almost never does the climate and ecological crisis play a central role.

That is, until now, in Chile, where a national reinvention is underway. After months of protests over social and environmental grievances, 155 Chileans have been elected to write a new constitution amid what they have declared a “climate and ecological emergency.”

Their work will not only shape how this country of 19 million is governed. It will also determine the future of a soft, lustrous metal, lithium, lurking in the salt waters beneath this vast ethereal desert beside the Andes Mountains.

Lithium is an essential component of batteries. And as the global economy seeks alternatives to fossil fuels to slow down climate change, lithium demand — and prices — are soaring.

Mining companies in Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer after Australia, are keen to increase production, as are politicians who see mining as crucial to national prosperity. They face mounting opposition, though, from Chileans who argue that the country’s very economic model, based on extraction of natural resources, has exacted too high an environmental cost and failed to spread the benefits to all citizens, including its Indigenous people.

And so, it falls to the Constitutional Convention to decide what kind of country Chile wants to be. Convention members will decide many things, including: How should mining be regulated, and what voice should local communities have over mining? Should Chile retain a presidential system? Should nature have rights? How about future generations?

Around the world, nations face similar dilemmas — in the forests of central Africa, in Native American territories in the United States — as they try to tackle the climate crisis without repeating past mistakes. For Chile, the issue now stands to shape the national charter. “We have to assume that human activity causes damage, so how much damage do we want to cause?” said Cristina Dorador Ortiz, a microbiologist who studies the salt flats and is in the Constitutional Convention. “What is enough damage to live well?”

Indeed the questions facing this Convention aren’t Chile’s alone. The world faces the same reckoning as it confronts climate change and biodiversity loss, amid widening social inequities: Does the search for climate fixes require re-examining humanity’s relationship to nature itself?

“We have to face some very complex 21st century problems,” said Maisa Rojas, a climate scientist at the University of Chile. “Our institutions are, in many respects, not ready.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

recap 20212021: Year in Review for Climate Change Wins and Losses
As the climate crisis worsens, the calls for more aggressive action grow louder. 2021 saw more business as usual, industry obfuscation and delay, but also some reasons for optimism.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on a year that was full of climate chaos, relentless oil industry propaganda, and frustrating progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But 2021 also saw a significant number of victories against the expansion of the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. and around the world, and some glimmers of hope for climate action.

The year started with a conspiracy-fueled coup plot on the U.S. government by President Trump and his supporters in what was ultimately a failed attempt to stay in power. Two weeks later, President Biden was sworn into office, and he quickly signed a flurry of executive orders that included the cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline and a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Those moves signaled an intention to prioritize climate change during the Biden era after years of giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.

But the oil industry and its allies fought hard this year to delay meaningful climate policy, part of a decades-long campaign to protect corporate profits at the expense of people and the planet. Campaigns of misinformation and misleading PR continue to characterize public discourse around energy and climate change, even as those corporate strategies and tactics evolve.

On a hopeful note, renewable energy and electric vehicles made substantial strides, putting the entrenched fossil fuel industry on the defensive. Looking forward, the clean energy transition will continue to progress even absent big federal policy. And strong grassroots movements once again demonstrated their ability to stop major oil and gas pipeline projects around the country, even against steep odds.
» Blog editor’s note: This is an excellent summary and analysis, and well worth reading the whole article!
» Read article             

tornado damage
The Year in Climate Photos
From the president’s desk to protests and disasters around the world, photos showed climate change is always easy to see but sometimes hard to look at.
By Katelyn Weisbrod, Inside Climate News
December 27, 2021
» Blog editor’s note: This is a roundup of Inside Climate News’ biggest stories from the past year. It includes striking photos, and also links to related articles.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

more offshore wind in NE
Massachusetts taps Vineyard Wind, Mayflower Wind to deliver an additional 1.6 GW
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
December 20, 2021

Massachusetts on Friday announced the selection of two offshore wind projects totaling 1,600 MW of new capacity, bringing the state to 3,200 MW of a 5,600 MW offshore wind procurement goal by 2027.

The state’s third offshore wind procurement awarded two developers that are already working on large-scale projects in the area, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind, doubling the amount of offshore wind secured by the state.

As of Friday, U.S. states have procured over 17,100 MW of offshore wind, nearly double the January total of 9,100 MW, according to the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

Massachusetts is also aiming to build up the supply chain, drawing investments to ports in Salem and Falls River, and supporting the construction of a cable facility at Brayton Point, through the latest contracts.

“Offshore wind is the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ climate goals and our effort to achieve Net Zero emissions in 2050, and this successful procurement will build on our national clean energy leadership and the continued development of a robust offshore wind supply chain in the Commonwealth,” Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement.
» Read article             

Dwight IL
Inside Clean Energy: Here Are 5 States that Took Leaps on Clean Energy Policy in 2021
While federal policy fell short of expectations, many states had high ambitions and delivered results.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 23, 2021

It’s understandable if people are feeling dour during this unseasonably warm December when, once again, the U.S. Congress has failed to pass major climate legislation.

But while the federal government might have failed in pushing through the Build Back Better bill, with its many climate provisions, 2021 has seen some long-awaited successes in the states.

Five states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, North Carolina and Rhode Island) passed laws requiring a shift to 100 percent carbon-free electricity or net-zero emissions. And Washington State passed a law that takes steps to implement its 2019 and 2020 climate and clean energy laws.

Several other states moved forward, even if they didn’t pass their own versions of “100 percent” laws. Colorado and Maryland are examples of states that are making progress on climate and clean energy through a series of smaller, targeted actions, rather than swinging for the fences on single pieces of legislation.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

graphene material
Australian discovered graphene material could be key to low-cost next-gen batteries
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
December 22, 2021

Australian researchers have struck a deal to commercialise a new next-generation graphene material they say could unlock cheaper and better performing lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), based at the University of Wollongong, say they have discovered a new form of graphene, called ‘Edge Functionalised Graphene’ (EFG), which is both highly conductive and processable for use in a range of electronics.

This includes lithium-ion batteries, with the innovative graphene material promising to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of battery technology used in energy storage devices and electric vehicles.

The research team, which included a collaboration with the Australian National Fabrication Facility – itself based at Melbourne’s Monash University – says the inclusion of graphene material in battery designs could help improve battery lifetimes and charging speeds by improving the conductivity of battery components.
» Read article             
» Caution: Graphene has potential for health and environmental harm

random Tesla photo
Volta bets on space technology for battery storage fire prevention
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
December 21, 2021

Energy storage developer Volta Energy Products last week announced a three-year deployment order with San Diego-based KULR Technology Group to apply KULR’s thermal safety solutions — initially designed for space missions — to energy storage.

KULR’s passive propagation resistant (PPR) solution suite — designed to stop lithium-ion battery failures from spiraling out of control without external fire suppression — has been used on NASA missions. The system prevents cell-to-cell thermal runaway and contains any fire and debris inside a battery pack protection, turning the system off to prevent any spread in damage.

The partnership between KULR and Volta parent company Viridi Parente marks the first application of PPR for energy storage and will see Volta deploy up to 1,000 new storage units with the safety technology. Viridi Parente CEO Jon Williams said the “failsafe system” can make energy storage safer and less expensive for a variety of residential and business uses by limiting the need for external fire suppression tools.

Although lithium-ion batteries are the dominant energy storage technology on the market because of their cost and availability of materials, they do carry safety risks. One of the biggest concerns is thermal runaway, where a cell in a lithium-ion battery pack overheats and causes a chain reaction of other overheated cells, resulting in a fire or explosion. While any number of factors can contribute to a cell overheating, experts say that preventing those failures from escalating is key for safety.

“For a pack system to be in someone’s home or a hospital or a daycare center or a university or gas station or even an accountant’s office, that pack has to be failsafe,” Williams said. “When everything fails, will it be safe? Getting there is critically important at a macro level to expand storage for renewables, but on a micro level for Volta, this is the most significant product we will have on the market.”
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

NJ diesel truck phaseout
In an East Coast first, New Jersey will phase out diesel trucks
New Jersey joins California, Oregon, and Washington in setting ambitious goals to electrify trucks by 2035.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 23, 2021

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection earlier this week adopted a rule to phase out diesel-powered trucks – meaning anything bigger than a delivery van – starting in 2025. Based on California’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule, or ACT, New Jersey’s policy will require between 40 to 75 percent of new truck sales in the state be pollution-free, zero-emission by 2035.

“New Jersey is already experiencing the adverse impacts of climate change, but we have the power and obligation to reduce its worsening in the years ahead by acting now to limit our emissions of climate pollutants,” Shawn LaTourette, the state’s commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, said in a press release about the new rule.

Contributing to about 40 percent of New Jersey’s total carbon emissions, the transportation sector is the largest greenhouse gas source in the state. In turn, the almost 423,000 medium and heavy trucks that make up NJ’s fleet represent about 20 percent of vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, and Union of Concerned Scientists analyzing the benefits of implementing the rule. These vehicles are also responsible for large quantities of pollutants, including nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, which have been linked to multiple health issues like premature deaths, asthma, pulmonary cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
» Read article             

pretending to think
We ranked 3 types of EV batteries to find the most efficient and sustainable one
Lithium vs sodium vs solid-state batteries
By Ioanna Lykiardopoulou, The Next Web
December 28, 2021

Amidst the booming influx of electric vehicles worldwide, automakers and tech companies have been focusing on optimizing the most vital and expensive part of EVs: the batteries.

They aren’t all alike, and manufacturers use a range of different kinds of batteries. So we’ve decided to select and rank the three most prominent (or promising) battery types: lithium, solid-state, and sodium-ion batteries.

We’ll compare the batteries using four criteria: safety, energy density and charging time, sustainability, and price.

But before we begin, let’s brush up the basics we need to know.

Lithium-ion and solid-state batteries are very much alike. Both types use lithium to produce electrical energy and they have an anode (the battery’s negative terminal), a cathode (the battery’s positive terminal), and an electrolyte, which helps  transfer ions from the cathode to the anode and vice versa.

They primarily differ in the state of the electrolyte: lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes and solid-state batteries use solid electrolytes.

As for sodium-ion batteries, imagine the exact same structure — the only difference is that sodium ions replace lithium ions.

And now that we’ve laid the basis, let’s rank these battery types on our selected criteria:
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

smells like fertilizer
Scientist: CO2 Pipelines are a ‘scheme’
By Elijah Helton, nwestiowa.com
December 27, 2021

Climate change is the purported catalyst for the multibillion-dollar pipelines set to scuttle across Iowa, but environmental experts say the ag projects smell like fertilizer.

Chris Jones is an environmental engineering researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He argues that the carbon-capture pipelines — namely the Midwest Carbon Express and the Heartland Greenway — are more economical than ecological.

“This is more of a scheme to make money, and so, if we’re really serious about climate change and we’re going to use public dollars to address that, then we should focus our efforts on long-term strategies that are going to reduce the emissions,” he said.

Jones, like many others opposed to the pipeline, points out that the corporate interests behind the Midwest Carbon Express and Heartland Greenway are the ones poised to profit most off the nominally low-carbon biofuels.

“This is more of a strategy — it’s a lifeboat, if you will — for ethanol, which is now under some threat from electric vehicles emerging in their marketplace,” Jones said. “That’s what’s driving this.”
» Read article             

CO2 removal investors
The cash behind carbon removal: Big Oil, tech and taxpayers
By Corbin Hiar, E&E News
December 17, 2021

After making his mark in the advertising world, Andrew Shebbeare wanted to help the rest of the globe. It was 2018, a few years after the 500-person firm he’d helped found had been bought by the ad industry’s largest agency.

“The question was, where can I make the most difference?” Shebbeare recalled in an interview last week. The audacious answer he eventually settled on: bankrolling startups working to reverse climate change.

Shebbeare and the other United Kingdom-based founders of Counteract Partners Ltd. are part of a wave of investors betting on the world-saving potential of small, privately held carbon dioxide removal companies.

To remove heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere, the firms use nature-based approaches, like planting carbon-hungry trees and cover crops, or engineered systems, which can deploy fans, solvents and pipes to trap carbon molecules and inject them underground.

The startups are part of a burgeoning sector attracting billions of dollars from interests as varied as oil major Exxon Mobil Corp., movie star Leonardo DiCaprio and the U.S. government.

Once a theoretical tool to tackle climate change, sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has now become a necessity.

To have a shot at avoiding the collapse of coral reef ecosystems, widespread extreme heat waves and other impacts associated with warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the world will need to remove more than 5 billion tons of carbon from the air annually by midcentury, according to the most optimistic scenario in the latest United Nations climate report. By comparison, all the world’s forests combined currently offset 7.5 billion tons of CO2 each year, a recent peer-reviewed analysis found.

Then in the latter half of the century, the U.N. data shows billions more tons of yearly carbon removals would be needed — even as emissions fall. The slower emissions decline, the more need there would be for future CO2 removals.
» Read article             

» More about carbon capture and storage

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Uri post mortem
‘Anecdotal evidence’ points to price gouging during winter storm Uri, NERC official says
Robert Walton, Utility Dive
December 22, 2021

There is “anecdotal evidence” of natural gas price gouging in Texas during February’s winter storm Uri, according to an official with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC). Millions were left without electricity during the storm as power plants struggled to obtain fuel and freezing temperatures halted some wind production.

Wellhead freeze-offs accounted for a large portion of the gas issues, as well as, to a lesser extent, power outages at compressor stations that move gas through pipelines, NERC Chief Technical Advisor Thomas Coleman said during a presentation on Friday to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Texas regulators are rushing to make grid and market improvements ahead of potential freezing temperatures this winter. On Thursday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) approved changes to the state’s wholesale markets intended to improve reliability when electricity supplies become scarce.

Coleman’s presentation to an ERCOT working group sheds new light on February’s outages across Texas and the U.S Southwest, and raises questions about whether consumers were cheated by gas producers.

A November joint report by NERC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that a combination of freezing and fuel issues caused about three-quarters of the unplanned generating unit outages, derates and failures to start in February. Of those, gas-fired units experienced 58% of all generator issues.

Most of the problem came from frozen gas facilities and, to a lesser extent, gas compressor facilities that lost power when electricity companies cut power.
» Read article             
» Read the NERC-FERC joint report

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Coal 2021
Coal isn’t dying yet. 2021 brought a record surge in use.
As much of the world emerged from lockdown, coal stepped in to meet energy needs.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 17, 2021

In the span of a year, coal power generation went from a historic drop to an all-time high.

In 2021, global electricity generation from coal increased by nine percent, the highest in history, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency, or IEA. Most of that increase came from power plants in China and India, where the need for electricity jumped by nine and 12 percent, respectively. According to the IEA, Europe saw a 12 percent increase while the U.S. went up by 17 percent – despite nearly a decade of declines in coal power generation in both regions.

“Coal and emissions from coal are stubborn,” said IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol in a press call. “Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected – we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming.”

According to the IEA’s projections, as more economies recover from the pandemic, coal demand will increase, peaking in 2022 and staying elevated until at least 2024.

The IEA says the report should serve as a reality check of government policies, which they say are insufficient to curb coal use and its carbon emissions. The report, Fatih Berol says, “is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero.”
» Read article             
» Read the IEA report

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

Wheelabrator Saugus
Burned: Why Waste Incineration Is Harmful
By Daniel Rosenberg, Veena Singla, and Darby Hoover, NRDC | Expert Blog
July 19, 2021

Since the Biden administration took office, Congress is considering bills to fund infrastructure, tackle plastic pollution, and combat climate change. While legislative action is welcome, Congress must avoid ideas disguised as environmental advances that actually threaten public health and the environment. One example is the bundle of troubling technologies that all involve waste incineration, such as “waste-to-energy” or many forms of “chemical recycling” (processes frequently used to convert plastics into fuel that is then burned). These technologies are touted as being environmentally beneficial by various industries, but waste incineration—even if it’s masquerading as “chemical recycling”—is a false solution that Congress should firmly reject.

Regardless of what is being burned (mixed municipal solid waste, plastic, outputs from “chemical recycling”), waste incineration creates and/or releases harmful chemicals and pollutants, including:

  • Air pollutants such as particulate matter, which cause lung and heart diseases
  • Heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which cause neurological diseases
  • Toxic chemicals, such as PFAS and dioxins, which cause cancer and other health problems

These chemicals and pollutants enter the air, water and food supply near incinerators and get into people’s bodies when they breathe, drink, and eat contaminants.
» Read article             

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 12/17/21

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Welcome back.

We’re leading with an update on the 55MW gas/oil peaking power plant heading for construction in Peabody despite stiff opposition from activists and municipal leaders. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, offers this: “I think it’s misguided. It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future.”

The transition to that future is not as straightforward as one would hope. A lot of this week’s reporting buzzed with the disappointing revelation that the Biden Administration’s recent leasing of huge Gulf of Mexico seabed tracts for new oil and gas drilling was not, in fact, compelled by court order as previously claimed. The move appears to have been a political bon-bon to coax West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to play nice and stop stonewalling critical climate legislation. And how did that go? The fossil fuel industry was the clear winner of this round, and Biden is now the subject of derisive holiday parody videos calling him out as a hypocrite.

Closer to home, utility Eversource heard from residents opposing its planned Springfield and Longmeadow pipeline expansion, and a bold energy efficiency plan that would have put solar panels, heat pumps, and batteries in low- and moderate-income Cape Cod households won’t be implemented quite yet. But here’s some good news: New York has become, by far, the largest US city to ban new gas hookups in new buildings.

Bill McKibben’s review of the past year’s climate news for New Yorker Magazine leans into just how strange, extreme, and unsettling the June/July Pacific Northwest heat event was – and what it says about the fragility of some very big systems that humans have knocked off-kilter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently debunked utility claims that large amounts of Southwest wind power was being “curtailed” because the grid was over-supplied with renewable energy. In addition to the problem actually being too much inflexible fossil-fuel generators clogging that grid, insufficient storage was also a factor. Help is on the way. We’re seeing lots of action in long-duration energy storage lately, including an innovative air battery design from Israeli company Augwind.

This is a great time to think about what it might take for a state like Massachusetts or California to go the final mile in their journey to “net-zero” carbon emissions. Grist explains some of the opportunities, challenges, and hype surrounding carbon capture and carbon removal. We also delve into the real, “break glass in event of emergency” possibility that someone might initiate a solar geoengineering project in the future – and the scientific debate over how to prepare for that.

We check in on cryptocurrency developments because activities like Bitcoin mining consume increasingly ridiculous amounts of energy. So, if you move your modular servers into the Permian Basin and run them off waste gas from fracking rigs, are you saving the planet? Not really…. Which brings us tangentially to methane released from landfills, and news that the Environmental Protection Agency may be way off in accounting for it.

We’ll wrap up the same way we started – with a little common sense from people who know what they’re talking about. Partnership for Policy Integrity Director Mary S. Booth takes the Baker Administration to task for its relentless promotion of biomass energy, reminding us that “if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.” And what about the plastics waste problem? Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and coauthor of a high-profile report in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine writes, “Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally.”

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

retiring peaker plant
Proposed Peabody ‘peaker’ plant ‘misguided,’ Environmental League of Massachusetts president says
By Mackenzie Farkus, WGBH
December 9, 2021

A proposed 55-megawatt peaking power plant in Peabody is drawing strong opposition from local climate activists. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to share why she believes the area should look to alternative energy solutions.

“I think it’s misguided,” Turnbull Henry said. “It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future. I’m sorry that it’s moving forward.”

Peaking power plants, also known as peaker plants and “peakers,” are power plants that run when there is a peak demand in electricity. Peakers are typically turned on during the coldest and warmest days of the year to compensate for spikes in space heating and air conditioning. Most peakers run on oil or gas.

Critics of the Peabody peaker plant are concerned over high amounts of CO2 and other pollutants emitted from the plant, believing that the plant is incompatible with a new Massachusetts law aimed at lowering carbon emissions by at least 45% of 1990 levels by 2030 before attaining “net zero” emissions by 2050.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Biden BabyCampaigners Say Biden ‘Deserves Lump of Coal This Christmas’ for Broken Climate Promises
Twelve days of “Biden’s Oily Christmas” events conclude with classic holiday movie parodies.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 13, 2021

Friends of the Earth on Monday concluded its campaign calling out U.S. President Joe Biden for breaking his promise to end new leasing of public lands and waters to fossil fuel companies with the release of three parody movie trailers based on classic Christmas films.

The trailers mark the environmental group’s final action as part of the “Biden’s Oily Christmas” campaign, which kicked off on December 2 with climate-emergency-themed carols and spanned a dozen days, inspired by the well-known song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

The videos—A Christmas Barrel, Biden Baby, and A Wonderful Lie, parodies of A Christmas Carol, Santa Baby, and A Wonderful Life—will play on eight mobile billboard trucks across Washington, D.C. from 9 am to 5 pm local time on Monday.

“President Biden promised to be the first president of the United States to comprehensively address the growing climate crisis. But instead, his Interior Department failed to fully address climate in its recent report on oil and gas leasing and is plowing forward with new lease sales that wreck our public lands and exacerbate climate change—all while enriching Big Oil CEOs,” said Nicole Ghio, senior Fossil Fuels Program manager at Friends of the Earth.

Climate campaigners have slammed the November Interior report as a “shocking capitulation to the needs of corporate polluters” and demanded details by filing public records requests about its development as well as the administration’s auction for the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred last month despite Biden’s pledge as a presidential candidate.
» Blog editor’s note: You can watch the holiday movie parody video clips by clicking on the “Read article” link below.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no expansion
Eversource natural gas pipeline proposal listening session held in Springfield
By Ashley Shook, Nick Aresco, WWLP Channel 22 News
December 14, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Advocacy groups in Springfield expressed their concerns over a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through their local streets.

Elected officials and residents continue to question why a pipeline is necessary in Springfield’s South End neighborhood, some showing their opposition Tuesday afternoon. Massachusetts’ Rep. Carlos Gonzalez held a meeting with Springfield residents to discuss concerns over the proposed Eversource pipeline project.

Many who live in the area where the pipeline would be constructed oppose the project because of the potential dangers it could pose. Eversource has proposed a roughly $33 million, 16-inch diameter gas pipeline that would be constructed underground between Longmeadow and the South End of Springfield.

“There are multiple problems that I see with the proposal. One is environmental. We are trying to get away from fossil fuels. There is a national effort, and global effort. A lot of ecosystems are being destroyed by fossil fuels,” said David Ciampi of Springfield told 22News.

“I am concerned for the potential hazard the proposal may have on the residents of Springfield. My priority should be moving to a less hazardous and greener production of energy,” said Chairman Gonzalez.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

NATURAL GAS BANS

NYC skyline
New York becomes largest US city to ban new gas hookups
It’s the biggest city yet to do so and a bellwether for the rest of the US
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 15, 2021

The Big Apple just became the biggest city yet to say goodbye to gas hookups in new construction. New York City Council passed a bill today that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels in new buildings, effectively phasing out the use of gas for cooking and heating.

Addressing building emissions is critical to New York City meeting its climate goals; they’re responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ban will apply to structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024 and to larger buildings in 2027. The measure will drastically cut down on pollution that fuels climate change: according to a recent study by clean energy think tank RMI, it’ll slash 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has about the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.

For years, the so-called natural gas industry has sold itself as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels like oil. But scientists, and a growing number of cities, are no longer buying the argument. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timespan. Methane leaks along the natural supply chain from wells to people’s homes. During a high-profile climate summit in November, the US joined over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.

Berkeley, California, became the first city in the US to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019. Since then, the gas industry has fought back by lobbying for policies that prevent local governments from implementing such bans.
» Read article               

» More about gas bans

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

methane accountingIs There Something Amiss With the Way the EPA Tracks Methane Emissions from Landfills?
Environmental groups say the agency’s methods are outdated and flawed, with considerable climate change implications. An EPA methane expert agrees.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 15, 2021

Three environmental groups are making a move to hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for accurately tracking heat-trapping gases emitted from the nation’s landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club have filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA, the first step in a legal process under the Clean Air Act. The groups claim the agency allows landfills to use methods that are more than two decades old, which are underestimating methane emissions by at least 25 percent.

The EPA under the law must review and, if necessary, revise its landfill gas emissions calculation methods every three years, and agency officials have known those emissions factors have been off since at least 2008, according to the 10-page legal notice, which was sent to Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, last week.

“When it comes to pollution, it’s very difficult to manage what you can’t measure,” said Ryan Maher, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, in a press release. “EPA needs to fix how it estimates emissions from this massive source of methane and other air pollutants, not only to help us understand the full extent of the landfill problem, but also to make sure that we’re holding polluters accountable and regulating these facilities properly.”
» Read article               

» More about the EPA

CLIMATE

climate year 21
The Year in Climate
A summer that really scared scientists.
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker Magazine
December 16, 2021

This year, a lot of the things we’ve come to expect with the climate crisis happened: there were heavy rains (New York City beat its rainfall record twice in eleven days); there was a big global conference (this one in Glasgow) with modest results; the price of renewable energy fell some more; and a record amount of solar power and wind power was produced, but not at a pace fast enough to catch up with climate change. Raging wildfires produced plumes of smoke that spread around the world; President Joe Biden tried to free up a lot of money for climate work and, so far, Senator Joe Manchin has prevented him from doing so.

But some unexpected things happened, too—such as December tornadoes and windstorms, which have devastated parts of the country, and which are increasingly linked to warming. The most unexpected event by far, though—the thing that was truly off the charts—came in June. Toward the end of the month, torrential rains across China created a lot of atmospheric moisture, which the jet stream sucked out over the Pacific. Meanwhile, the remnants of a heat wave in the American Southwest moved north. The two weather events met over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, forming a giant dome of high pressure that diverted moisture to both the north and the south. Gradually, over a period of several days, the core of the high-pressure area freed itself of clouds, allowing the sun’s rays to blast down during the days immediately after the solstice.

The result was the most remarkable heat wave in recorded history. On Sunday, June 27th, Canada broke its all-time heat record, of a hundred and thirteen degrees Fahrenheit, when the temperature reached nearly a hundred and sixteen degrees in Lytton, a community of around two hundred and fifty residents on the Fraser River, in southern British Columbia. The next day, that record was broken, again in Lytton, when the temperature hit a hundred and eighteen degrees. On Tuesday, it was smashed again, when the temperature in the town soared to a hundred and twenty-one degrees. On Wednesday, Lytton, now parched dry, burned to the ground in a wildfire; only a few buildings were left standing. Breaking a long-standing record is hard (Canada’s old high-temperature record dated to 1937); surpassing it by eight degrees is, in theory, statistically impossible. It was hotter in Canada that day than on any day ever recorded in Florida, or in Europe, or in South America. “There has never been a national heat record in a country with an extensive period of record and a multitude of observation sites that was beaten by 7°F to 8°F,” the weather historian Christopher C. Burt said.

Records of almost equally incredible magnitude came in from across the region.

Essentially, this couldn’t have happened on the Earth we used to know. James Hansen, the planet’s most important climatologist, put it this way when I talked to him last month: “We’ve been expecting extreme events. But what happened in Canada was unusually extreme.”
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

wasted wind
Mythbusting “Wind Oversupply”
By Joseph Daniel, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
November 16, 2021

Wind energy is already a common source of electricity because it is abundant, clean, reliable, and a low-cost source of electricity. Wind turbines are also flexible. Grid operators can turn down (or curtail) the output from wind farms to balance electricity supply and demand.

Grid operators curtailing wind power have given rise to the myth that wind curtailment is caused by an “oversupply” of wind. However, a recent analysis shows that wind curtailment is not caused by an oversupply of wind energy. Rather, its main causes include insufficient transmission capacity, the inflexible operation of coal-fired power plants, and a lack of battery storage.

As we continue to add more wind resources, grid operators and others must address these shortcomings in the system. Otherwise, wind curtailment will increase and ultimately hinder the transition to a cleaner, more affordable power system.

The Union of Concerned Scientists commissioned Synapse Energy Economics to investigate how the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the grid operator in the Great Plains, handles wind curtailment. SPP has the highest level of wind adoption as a percentage of total load and is consequently the grid most likely to experience “wind oversupply” events.

The results were clear: “A wind oversupply does not exist in SPP.”

Rather, during all of the hours when wind was curtailed, other higher-cost, more-polluting resources were still online. And, because of coal resources’ higher marginal cost and emissions rate, electricity customers would be better off if SPP were able to curtail coal instead of wind. Customers could have saved more than $40 million and avoided nearly 1.2 million short tons of carbon emissions per year.
» Read article              
» Read the Synapse Energy Economics report            

solar coaster
The U.S. Faces ‘Solar Coaster’ Amid Challenges And Opportunities
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 14, 2021

The U.S. solar industry is set to be torn between huge opportunities and major stumbling blocks in the coming months and years, and it will likely see a wild “solar coaster” ride in the next few years, Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday.

Supply chain setbacks and constraints could delay many projects and put gigawatts of capacity additions at risk, Michelle Davis, Principal Analyst, Solar, at WoodMac, says.

But on the other hand, if Congress passes President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the U.S. solar industry will receive a shot in the arm with the multiple clean energy incentives set in the legislation, including an extension of the investment tax credit (ITC), Davis added.

Due to the opposing bullish and bearish dynamics, near-term U.S. solar capacity is set for the largest fluctuations since 2016, when the investment tax credit almost expired, WoodMac’s analyst noted.

“It’s the solar coaster like we’ve never seen it before,” Davis wrote.

Solar installations next year would be lower than previously expected due to supply chain constraints and rising prices, Wood Mackenzie reckons.

Utility-scale solar will be hit the hardest, the energy consultancy said, lowering its 2022 utility-scale outlook by 7.5 GWdc, or by 33 percent compared to last quarter’s outlook.

On the other hand, if Congress passes the Build Back Better Act, America would see an estimated 43.5 GWdc of additional solar capacity installed over the next five years, which is a 31-percent increase compared to the WoodMac’s base-case outlook.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

roof panels
A Cape Cod efficiency compact wants to bundle solar, storage, and heat pumps — but state regulators rejected the plan
The Cape Light Compact says helping low- and moderate-income households install solar, storage, and heat pumps will compound the financial and environmental benefits, but state regulators have rejected the plan.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 15, 2021

A Cape Cod energy organization is appealing the state’s rejection of a proposal to provide a package of heat pumps, solar power, and battery storage to low-income customers.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities ruled in early November that the plan would violate state laws regarding the use of energy efficiency funding by supporting technologies that do not improve efficiency. The department also argued the plan would have uncertain financial impacts. Supporters of the plan, however, argue that the state has fundamentally misunderstood both the law and the proposal.

The Cape Light Compact, the organization behind the proposal, has filed an appeal arguing that the decision “is based upon error of law, is unsupported by substantial evidence and unwarranted based on facts found in the record.”

“We were given express legal authority to submit an energy plan that does more than the utilities and more than the state,” said Maggie Downey, administrator of the Cape Light Compact. “We believe that everything we’re doing is consistent with that legislation.”

While Massachusetts is generally considered a leader in both energy efficiency programs and solar incentives, lower-income households adopt these technologies at much lower rates than more affluent residents. A 2020 report by the state’s utilities found that residents of primarily White and higher-income areas took advantage of efficiency services at significantly higher rates than those in marginalized communities. And less than 1% of the solar projects that have received state incentives since 2018 are designated for low-income consumers.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Augwind air battery
IEC inks $8 million deal with company that uses air, water to store energy
Touted as a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to lithium batteries, Augwind’s ‘air batteries’ can power turbines when needed
By Sue Surkes, The Times of Israel
December 15, 2021

An Israeli company that has developed a unique method of storing renewable energy using air and water announced Wednesday that it has signed an $8 million agreement in principle with the Israel Electricity Corporation to build the first facility of its kind in the world, in Dimona, southern Israel.

Augwind, short for augmented wind, has developed a closed, circular system that uses water to compress air. This in turn is stored underground in long, flexible, balloon-like tanks, and when the energy is needed, the air is released, pushing out water which in turn drives a turbine that creates electricity.

The Dimona facility will provide 40-megawatt hours of storage (enough to power a small town for a day). It will be built in 2023, subject to the signing of a detailed agreement with the IEC.
» Read article               

» More about long-duration energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CR v CC
Why California can’t fill a major gap in its climate strategy
The debate over a net-zero bill highlights some of the biggest tensions plaguing climate action around the world.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 15, 2021

In the past few years, many states have passed new laws requiring that they achieve “net-zero” emissions by mid-century. Virginia, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all plan to cut emissions across their economies by 80 to 90 percent by 2050, and to offset any remaining emissions using either nature-based solutions known as carbon sinks, like trees and soils, or technology to suck carbon out of the air. Several more states, including Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota, have legally binding targets to reduce their emissions by at least 75 percent by 2050.

Many of these laws were passed in response to a landmark report released by an international group of scientists in 2018. The report found that the whole world needed to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s promise of trying to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The planet will not stop heating up until net-zero emissions is achieved.

But although California passed some of the first and strongest laws to tackle climate change in the nation, its legally mandated economy-wide emissions goals stop at 2030.

“We like to talk about how we’re leading the nation in the fight against climate change,” State Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi told Grist. “But increasingly we’re falling behind.”

This past legislative session, Muratsuchi introduced A.B. 1395, a bill that would have brought the state up to speed by enshrining in law a goal to achieve net-zero by 2045.

The story behind A.B. 1395 highlights one of the biggest areas of tension in the politics of climate change around the world right now: disagreement over the need for carbon capture and carbon removal.

That landmark 2018 report, and many studies since, have concluded that both carbon capture and carbon removal will be needed to stabilize the climate. But a large contingent of the climate and environmental movement, including researchers, justice advocates, and policy experts, reject these solutions due to concerns about locking in dependence on fossil fuels, further burdening communities with pollution, and wasting time and resources on plans that may never pay off.

As seen in California, the debate threatens to slow climate action at a time when it’s becoming increasingly urgent.
» Read article               

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

cheap and messy
Think Climate Change Is Messy? Wait Until Geoengineering
Someone’s bound to hack the atmosphere to cool the planet. So we urgently need more research on the consequences, says climate scientist Kate Ricke.
By Matt Simon, Wired
November 30, 2021

Here’s the thing about the stratosphere, the region between six and 31 miles up in the sky: If you really wanted to, you could turn it pink. Or green. Or what have you. If you sprayed some colorant up there, stratospheric winds would blow the material until it wrapped around the globe. After a year or two, it would fade, and the sky would go back to being blue. Neat little prank.

This is the idea behind a solar geoengineering technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection, only instead of a pigment, engineers would spray a sulfate that bounces some of the sun’s radiation back into space, an attempt at cooling the planet. It’s the same principle behind a supervolcano loading the stratosphere with aerosols and blocking out the sun. And it, too, would rely on those winds distributing the material evenly. “If you do it in one place, it’s going to affect the whole planet,” says climate scientist Kate Ricke, who studies the intersection of geoengineering, human behavior, and economics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Not just because you’ve cooled down and changed the global energy balance, but because the particles spread out.”

While it’s not likely that someone will colorize the atmosphere anytime soon, it’s getting increasingly likely that someone will decide it’s time for stratospheric aerosol injection. Emissions are not declining at anywhere near the rate needed to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the climate crisis is worsening.

But the science isn’t ready. This anthropogenic geoengineering might trigger unintended effects, like droughts in certain regions and massive storms in others. Plus, if engineers abruptly stopped spraying aerosols in the atmosphere, temperatures would swing back to where they started, potentially imperiling crops and species.

Still, stratospheric aerosol injection would be fairly cheap. And there’s nothing stopping countries from unilaterally deciding to spray their airspace, even though those materials would ultimately spread around the globe. “I just have a hard time seeing with the economics of it how it doesn’t happen,” says Ricke. “To me, that means that it’s really urgent to do more research.”
» Read article              
» What is solar geoengineering?     

» More about solar geoengineering

CRYPTOCURRENCY

modular mining
A ‘false solution’? How crypto mining became the oil industry’s new hope
Climate experts warn that plans to repurpose waste gas is not a solution, but more like placing a Band-Aid over a gaping wound
By Leanna First-Arai, The Guardian
December 16, 2021

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the most-popular decentralized digital currency, have a notoriously large carbon footprint (bitcoin mining alone consumes about half as much electricity in a year as all of the UK). So to leverage a cheap source of energy to run their bitcoin mining operations, Lochmiller and Cavness found themselves partnering with oil companies to repurpose a byproduct, primarily methane, that’s typically vented or burnt off in flares.

Their creation is part of a niche wave of tech startups that are now eyeing the oil and gas industry to help power the cryptocurrency boom. Lochmiller and Cavness, who started a bitcoin mining company called Crusoe Energy, see their fix as a marriage between two problems capable of “solving” one another: the wasting of gas flaring that contributes to the climate crisis, and the need for cheaper energy as crypto increases in popularity.

Climate experts, however, warn it’s a “false solution” so long as oil and gas production is allowed to continue. The world’s leading authority on climate science concludes that only a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will help avert a climate calamity; merely finding alternate uses for “waste gas” doesn’t confront the dire need to curb fossil fuel consumption. If anything, researchers warn, oil companies may feel incentivized to drill even more.

“At the end of the day, they’re still burning natural gas,” said Arvind Ravikumar, a methane researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, who deemed flare mitigation and companies proposing similar technologies a “scam”.
» Read article               

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Deepwater Horizon file photo
Revealed: Biden administration was not legally bound to auction gulf drilling rights
Justice department admits a previous ruling did not force the detonation of what environmentalists call ‘huge carbon bomb’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 13, 2021

The Biden administration admitted that a court decision did not compel it to lease vast tracts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, shortly before claiming it was legally obliged to do so when announcing the sell-off, the Guardian can reveal.

Last month, the US government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, offering up more than 80m acres of the gulf’s seabed for fossil fuel extraction.

The enormous sale, which took place just four days after crucial UN climate talks in Scotland, represented a spectacular about-turn from Joe Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling and was denounced by outraged environmental groups as a “huge carbon bomb”.

The president’s administration insisted it was obliged to hold the lease sale due to a court ruling in favor of a dozen states that sued to lift a blanket pause placed on new drilling permits by Biden.

But a memo filed by the US Department of Justice before the lease sale acknowledges that this judgement does not force the government to auction off drilling rights to the gulf.

“The administration has been misleading on this, to put it mildly. It’s very disappointing,” said Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager of Food and Water Watch. “They didn’t have to hold this sale and they didn’t have to hold it on this timeline.

“We know this will exacerbate the climate crisis, it undermines US credibility abroad and it contradicts a campaign promise by Biden. If the administration was taking the climate crisis seriously they would be fighting tooth and nail to keep every molecule of fossil fuel in the ground. They are nowhere near to doing that.”

“This is not going to help with Democratic turnout next year,” said Meyer. “There is a core constituency of young people and people who care about climate change who are upset and feeling betrayed by the Biden administration.”

Some commentators have pointed to Biden’s need to appease senator Joe Manchin, a fossil fuel– friendly centrist Democrat who is a crucial vote for the president’s Build Back Better spending bill, as a reason for the drilling.

“If it is political, that is unfortunate because the climate doesn’t really care about politics,” said [Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney at Earthjustice]. “Climate change will continue to cause problems for the whole nation if we don’t address it.”
» Read article               

Newport Beach cleanup
Texas oil company charged in massive spill off southern California coast
Prosecutors say company repeatedly failed to act on alarms that alerted workers to pipeline rupture
By The Guardian
December 16, 2021

A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries have been charged over a massive oil spill off the coast of southern California in October that fouled waters and beaches and endangered wildlife.

Prosecutors say the spill was caused in part by failing to properly act when alarms repeatedly alerted workers to a pipeline rupture.

Amplify Energy and its companies that operate several oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach were charged by a federal grand jury with a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil.

Investigators believe the pipeline was weakened when a cargo ship’s anchor snagged it in high winds in January, months before it ultimately ruptured on 1 October, spilling up to about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil in the ocean.

US prosecutors said the companies were negligent six ways, including failing to respond to eight leak detection system alarms over a 13-hour period that should have alerted them to the spill and would have minimized the damage. Instead, the pipeline was shut down after each alarm and then restarted, spewing more oil into the ocean.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

chip salad
Baker’s new biomass rules are step backward
Roll back climate, forest protections enacted in 2012
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
November 19, 2021

Mary Booth is director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which provides science and legal support so that citizen groups, environmental organizations, and policymakers can better understand energy development impacts on air quality, water quality, ecosystems, and climate.

HERE’S  A QUICK tip for greening our heat and power: if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.

That should be the guiding principle for the state’s new Commission on Clean Heat, which could finally shed some light on a sector rife with methane leaks, oil spills, and wood smoke. Skeptics may wonder if the commission is a way for Gov. Charlie Baker to slow-walk measures to curb pollution from heating systems, but a bigger concern is the administration’s ongoing and relentless promotion of dirty climate solutions, particularly biomass energy.

While many citizens may be aware of controversy around the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) making biomass power plants eligible for millions of dollars in subsidies, probably fewer know that the MA Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS) also subsidizes biomass power plants, as well as residential and commercial wood heating.

New changes to the RPS biomass rules proposed by Baker will roll back air quality, climate, and forest protections that were enacted in 2012 after a painstaking four-year process. One of the most shocking changes is the new rules will allow inefficient and polluting biomass plants in northern New England to once again qualify for millions each year in publicly funded subsidies, reversing the 2012 prohibition on such support.

As a concession to activists and scientists and an acknowledgement of how polluting wood-burning is, the new RPS rules will prevent biomass plants within five miles of environmental justice communities in Massachusetts from receiving subsidies. Meanwhile, similarly polluting power plants and residential and commercial heating units can still qualify for subsidies under the APS, with no restrictions on where they are built.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

PLASTICS BANS, ALTERNATIVES, AND INITIATIVES

reduce first
Beyond reusing and recycling: How the US could actually reduce plastic production
Whether it’s a cap on production or a market mechanism, it’s likely to meet industry opposition.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
December 13, 2021

A panel of experts last week made a simple, common-sense recommendation for dealing with the U.S.’s plastic pollution problem: Stop making so much plastic.

“Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally,” said Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and a coauthor of a high-profile report that was released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

It’s an idea that environmental activists have espoused for years. Beyond recycling and reusing the 42 million metric tons of plastic that the U.S. tosses out annually, they say, we should reduce the tide of plastic that is manufactured in the first place. Plastic production is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution that harms frontline communities, and plastic waste clogs ecosystems around the world. Making less plastic would help on all three fronts.

Now that the recommendation is coming from the influential National Academies, advocates are hopeful that federal policymakers may give it greater credence, raising a major question: What would a national strategy to phase down the unsustainable production of plastic look like?
» Read article              
» Read the report

» More about plastics bans, alternatives, and initiatives

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Weekly News Check-In 12/10/21

banner 18

Welcome back.

Less than two weeks before the year’s longest night, we’re providing the modest public service of leading this newsletter with a bit of good news to boost everyone’s spirits – a short article describing a few things that went pretty well for the planet this past year. Additionally, our own “Put Peakers in the Past” campaign to transition Berkshire County’s three peaking power plants to clean renewables and battery storage took a positive step with a well-attended and well-reported public hearing on the Pittsfield Generating power plant’s air quality permit renewal application. We thank state Senator Adam Hinds, Pittsfield’s state Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and others for their interest, attendance, constructive and informed comments, and support.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel interests keep exploring for new oil and gas deposits – a disruptive process that carries considerable environmental risk. Protesters in South Africa are attempting to prevent Shell from carrying out dangerous seismic blast testing off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast. And banks keep funding those efforts, even though the divestment movement is growing more effective. But heads up – look for more conservative-leaning states to start passing legislation based on model language provided by Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills seek to make it illegal for banks to divest from fossil fuels – calling it a form of discrimination.

While advances in technology and market forces are driving the world toward a greener economy, moving quickly and efficiently toward that future requires considerable coordination. And that demands better, easier access to massive amounts of energy data that the International Energy Agency (IEA) collects and holds.

On the climate front, scientists have recently identified nitrous oxide as one constituent released from melting permafrost in Siberia. The findings are preliminary but potentially important. Nitrous oxide is a climate super-pollutant with global warming potential about 300 times greater than carbon dioxide.

The Baker administration is picking up the pieces from two recent setbacks related to Massachusetts’ clean energy transition plan. Voters in Maine recently chose to stop a major electricity transmission project that would have brought hydro electric power from Quebec. And the regional Transportation Climate Initiative, intended to cut transportation sector emissions, just collapsed. We looked in on Damage Control.

Since we mentioned hydro power, let’s expand the view. Well-documented environmental and justice issues regarding Quebec hydro (which Massachusetts is trying to access) are also playing out in other hydro electricity projects around the world. For example, existing and planned dam projects in the tropics are directly impacting vulnerable tiger and jaguar populations, driving both cats closer to extinction.

Electric vehicle road trips are about to get easier, now that a group of utilities have formed the National Electric Highway Coalition with the mission to greatly expand the number of fast charging station along major routes throughout the US.

Back at home, that stuff you just received from an online order spent time in a huge warehouse on its way to your door. Warehouses are booming, and now we see a growing urgency to transition them away from natural gas heat. Also in this section, we hear from Chef Jon Kung about why he prefers his induction stovetop over gas.

Wrapping up, we get some perspective on the carbon capture and storage boondoggle and the ambitious (wasteful, crazy?) scheme to lay thousands of miles of high-pressure, hazardous liquid CO2 pipelines across the upper mid-West at taxpayer expense. All while the fossil fuel industry is blaming recent market volatility on the transition to renewable energy.

And because we started with good news, we’ll end with a bit more: British Columbia’s only liquefied natural gas project is in trouble, and things aren’t looking good for its planned expansion or for other Canadian (or US?) LNG export terminals.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

GOOD NEWS

monarchs
5 Good Things That Happened for the Planet in 2021
By Linnea Harris, EcoWatch
December 9, 2021

It wasn’t all bad. Here’s some of the good news from this year.

  • Environmental Rights Amendment Passes in New York
  • Monarch Populations Are Bouncing Back
  • Protections Restored to Three Public Lands
  • The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Grows
  • More People Are Going Plant-Based

» Read article                     

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

DEP do your job
Politicians and activists frustrated with DEP rules that allow business as usual for local ‘peaker’ plant
By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle
December 7, 2021

PITTSFIELD — Public testimony from residents and environmentalists during a Tuesday night virtual hearing equally reprimanded the operators of a local ”peaker plant” and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for what they considered out of touch and overly lax emissions regulations.

“It appears the DEP regulations have not been designed to protect the environment by making sure that these higher polluting facilities be the first to close or transition to clean energy,” Jane Winn, the founding executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said.

At issue is the air operating permit for Pittsfield Generating Company’s power plant on Merrill Road. These permits, which are issued by the state’s DEP, are reviewed every five years to ensure that the facility is still meeting all state and federal rules around record keeping, facility monitoring and emission limits.

For more than a year, activists from groups like BEAT have waged a public information campaign to educate the public about the health risks that follow “peaker” plants and potential green energy alternatives.

When activists joined with local politicians and residents Tuesday night, they asked the DEP to do two things: deny the permit to the facility or issue a provisional permit that would require the facility switch from natural gas and oil to solar power and battery storage.

The hearing continued for almost an hour despite persistent Zoom bombings that blasted pornographic sounds and racist slurs into the hearing.

Much of the comments during the hearing centered on the space current emission limits give power plants to continue “business as usual” despite Gov. Charlie Baker signing a roadmap for the state to achieve net zero emission by 2050 into law in March. The law would have the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

“This is the moment when we need to be acting as robustly as possible in redirecting our use of peaker plants and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to reduce our emission and standing up for environmental justice communities,” Hinds said.

“It starts right here, one permit at a time, one plant at a time, one community at a time,” he added.

Farley-Bouvier joined Hinds and Mark in asking the department to let them know what the department needed to incorporate the state’s new direction into permitting processes for facilities like Pittsfield Generating.

“If your response is ‘But the regulations say that we have to do it this way,’ then please let Representative Mark and Senator Hinds and I know what has to be changed in the regulations,” Farley-Bouvier said. “It would be our job to change the regulations to line up with the 2050 roadmap.”
» Read article             
» Watch recorded public hearing (Zoom bombs edited out…)                           

look ahead PittsfieldLook Ahead, Pittsfield: What you should know about the local ‘peaker’ plant permit on the line this week
By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, The Berkshire Eagle
December 5, 2021

PITTSFIELD — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing Tuesday over a local power plant’s request for the renewal of its operating permit. The hearing is pretty typical stuff for the plant, Pittsfield Generating Company, which has its permit reviewed every five years. But this year, local environmental activists hope this hearing is anything but rote for the plant.

For months, a coalition of environmental activists led by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has pushed for the closure of the plant or for a redesign that would swap the plant’s use of fossil fuels for clean energy alternatives. That push has gained support from both the Pittsfield Board of Health and local state representatives.

What is a peaker plant? As far as peaker plants go, the Pittsfield Generating plant is pretty typical. The plant is 31 years old and runs on fracked natural gas and oil — a design that’s normal for peaker plants across the state. But that design is the plant’s biggest sticking point with environmentalists.

Last year, the plant produced 3.2 tons of nitrogen oxides and 19,152 tons of carbon dioxide — down 55 percent from the 7.3 tons of nitrogen oxides and 42,321 tons of carbon dioxide the plant produced in 2019 according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this year, The Eagle’s Danny Jin covered the bevy of potential public health impacts that can come from living in the shadow of these peaker plants. The pollution put out by peaker plants can increase the risk of developing asthma, impair lung function and lower heart health.

What do the opponents want? BEAT has put out a series of talking points to prepare their members for the public comment section of the hearing on Tuesday. In the document, BEAT argues that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection should implement a regulation system to enforce its emissions limits, and that such a system should have been created back in 2016 when emission limits were set.

The main request from the group is to deny the permit for the plant. The group believes that the most environmentally conscious solution is to replace the plant with a battery system powered by clean energy, like solar power. If the DEP decides to grant the permit, BEAT is asking that “it should only be provisional for 1 year on the agreement that [Pittsfield Generating] come up with a transition plan” to a greener energy system within two years.
» Read article                     

» More about peaker plants               

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

snoek
‘We Won’t Stop Fighting,’ Vow South African Activists After Judge OKs Shell Seismic Blasting at Sea
“We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
December 6, 2021

South African activists on Monday vowed to keep fighting after a court ruling allowing fossil fuel giant Shell to proceed with massive underwater explosions off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast, a move environmentalists say would cause “irreparable harm” to marine life.

“We won’t stop fighting,” tweeted Greenpeace Africa following Sunday’s nationwide protests. “Shell must immediately stop oil and gas exploration off S.A.’s Wild Coast.”

Demonstrators from more than 30 organizations—including 350.org, Clean Seas, Extinction Rebellion, The Green Connection, Greenpeace Africa, Oceans Not Oil, and Sea The Bigger Picture—turned out for over 70 protests nationwide, according to The Cape Argus.

At Surfers Corner at Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town, activists carried a giant marionette of a snoek, a snake mackerel found in area waters, and held placards with slogans including “Stop killing our coast” and “To hell with Shell.”

“The purpose of this protest is to send a message to Shell bosses and shareholders to stop the company from carrying out the seismic survey on the Wild Coast,” the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) said in a statement.

In seismic surveys, barrages of powerful sonic pulses are blasted into the ocean floor with airguns; the reflected sound waves are then analyzed to map the seabed for potential oil and gas reserves. The blasts reach more than 250 decibels and kill, injure, and terrorize marine life.

Reinford Sinegugu Zukulu, director of the advocacy group Sustaining the Wild Coast, told the court that the blasting would occur every 10 seconds for five months, would be “louder than a jet plane taking off,” and would be heard underwater for more than 60 miles.

Elaine Mills, a representative of Greenpeace volunteers in Cape Town, told The Cape Argus that the potential destruction “is beyond belief. Really, it’s unimaginable.”

“The harm that [the blasting] can do to marine life is permanent hearing loss, organ rupture as dolphins and whales breach too fast to escape the auditory onslaught, and beach strandings,” she added.
» Read article                     

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

pledges schmedges
Banks Continue To Fund Fossil Fuels Despite Climate Pledges
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 6, 2021

Despite investor and societal pressure, banks worldwide continue to lend money and underwrite bonds issued by oil, gas, and coal companies, with bond deals in fossil fuels arranged by banks at nearly $250 billion in 2021, Bloomberg data showed on Monday.

JP Morgan financed the largest volume of loans and bonds combined so far this year, followed by Wells Fargo, Citi, RBC, and Mitsubishi UFJ, data as of December 3 compiled by Bloomberg showed.

Wells Fargo has been the biggest lender to the fossil fuel industry this year, with most of its exposure to the sector going to loans for companies.

While environment-conscious investors push for Wall Street banks—and all banks globally as a matter of fact—to shun fossil fuels, major banks say that by continuing to finance oil and gas, they help the sector invest in low-carbon energy solutions that would help decarbonize the global energy system.

“It is really important that our clients take steps to innovate and decarbonize, but we also need to bring capital to the table for the commercialization of those solutions,” Marisa Buchanan, Global Head of Sustainability at JPMorgan Chase & Co, told Bloomberg.

In May this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ said that banks should finance low-carbon climate-resilient projects, not big fossil fuel infrastructure that is not even cost-effective anymore.
» Read article                     

» More about divestment              

 

LEGISLATION

alarming ALEC model
‘Alarming’: ALEC’s New Model Bill Would Penalize Banks for Divesting From Fossil Fuels
One critic called the proposal, which describes green investment policies as a form of “energy discrimination,” a “desperate attempt by fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists to maintain their profits.”
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
December 8, 2021

Progressives are sounding the alarm about a recently launched right-wing campaign that seeks to preempt green investment policies throughout the United States by portraying the financial sector’s potential turn toward clean energy as discriminatory—and introducing legislation that would punish banks and asset managers for divesting from fossil fuels.

The Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which consistently pumps out reactionary bills mostly for state-level Republicans, held its States and Nation Policy Summit last week in San Diego.

In an email obtained and first reported by Alex Kotch of the Center for Media and Democracy, Jason Isaac, director of the Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote that “this morning at the ALEC Committee meetings you’ll have the opportunity to push back against woke financial institutions that are colluding against American energy producers.”

The “model policy” in question is the so-called “Energy Discrimination Elimination Act.” In his email, Isaac claimed that “major banks and investment firms are colluding to deny lending and investment in fossil fuel companies, using their market power to force companies to make ‘green’ investments. This model bill proposes a strategy in which states use their collective economic purchasing power to counter the rise of politically motivated and discriminatory investing practices.”

ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force voted unanimously to champion the proposal, a version of which Texas’ far-right Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in June.
» Read article                     

» More about legislation                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

IEA paywall
Energy watchdog urged to give free access to government data
Open letter calls on IEA to help researchers by removing paywalls from global energy datasets
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 10, 2021

The International Energy Agency is facing calls to make the national energy data it collects from governments publicly available.

This would aid independent research, which in turn could help to accelerate the global transition to low-carbon energy.

More than 30 international academics have written to the global energy watchdog to call for it to drop its paywalls for national energy datasets, which are collected using public funds, to avoid making climate action “more costly and less effective”.

The IEA publishes a number of influential reports on global energy systems, based in large part on the national energy data provided by the governments that it counts among its members. However, much of the data that underpins these reports is inaccessible to independent researchers.

The academics said that putting datasets behind paywalls makes it more difficult for independent energy system analysts, and the interested public, to investigate and better understand the path to net zero.

Instead, the “high-quality data” required to create effective and low-cost pathways to net zero societies should be available under suitable open licences, according to the academics.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy               

 

CLIMATE

permafrost NOx
New Study Shows Siberian Permafrost Releasing Climate Super-Pollutant Nitrous Oxide
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
December 8, 2021

A permafrost region in East Siberia has emerged as a previously unknown source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that carries nearly 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year span, a team of researchers from the University of Eastern Finland reported yesterday in the journal Nature Communications.

While annual nitrous oxides releases due to human activity have increased 30% by 1980, and alarmed scientists have been paying attention, nitrous emissions from permafrost would be a largely new twist in the effort to get greenhouse gases and the resulting climate emergency under control.

“The nitrous oxide emissions from thawing permafrost represent a poorly known, but potentially globally significant positive feedback to climate change,” the university writes in a release. “Overall, the consequences of nitrogen release from permafrost for Arctic ecosystems have been insufficiently studied and remain poorly understood.”

What’s known is that “rapid Arctic warming and associated permafrost thaw are threatening the large carbon and nitrogen reservoirs of northern permafrost soils, accumulated under cold conditions where the decomposition rate of soil organic matter (SOM) is low,” concludes the science team led by post-doctoral researcher Maija Marushchak. As the permafrost thaws, those pools are decomposing.

While “the fate of soil nitrogen liberated upon permafrost thaw is poorly studied and more complex” than carbon release, the scientists add, “there is evidence that part of liberated nitrogen may be emitted to the atmosphere as nitrogenous gases.”
» Read article                     

» More about climate                    

 

CLEAN ENERGY

heavy machinery
Two crucial pillars of the state’s plan to cut carbon emissions have crumbled. Where does it go from here?
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 7, 2021

A year ago, the Baker administration released a detailed road map to effectively eliminate the state’s carbon emissions by the middle of the century.

Now, just weeks after a United Nations summit in Scotland underscored the need for urgent action to address climate change, crucial pillars of those plans have collapsed.

The ambitious cap-and-invest pact known as the Transportation Climate Initiative, or TCI, promised to cut transportation emissions — the region’s largest source of greenhouse gases — by at least 25 percent over the next decade.

A separate initiative, the New England Clean Energy Connect project, sought to build a $1 billion transmission line in Maine to deliver large amounts of hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts, which would help to significantly reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

But, in what some have compared to a “one-two punch,” Maine voters rejected the transmission line, and a few weeks later, the pact to reduce transportation emissions was abandoned.

Without those projects, the Baker administration lacks a clear path to meeting its obligations under the state’s new climate law, which requires officials to cut emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050.

“This work to hit climate goals is not for the faint of heart,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, in an interview. “It was always going to be difficult to get there. We’re talking about rebuilding an entire economy, and infrastructure and society, around clean energy.”
» Read article                     

KT explains
Kathleen Theoharides, Mass. secretary of energy and environmental affairs, sizes up state’s climate goals
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 7, 2021

After attending last month’s climate summit in Glasgow, Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, returned home to find that crucial pillars of the Baker administration’s plan to address climate change had collapsed. Maine voters rejected plans to build a vital transmission line through their state to bring large amounts of hydropower to New England. A few weeks later, Governor Charlie Baker announced he was withdrawing his support for a pact with other East Coast states to reduce transportation emissions. In an interview with Globe environmental reporter David Abel, Theoharides discussed how the administration plans to respond. The interview has been edited and condensed.
» Read interview                     

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

warehouse nation
As warehouses take off, they need to kick natural gas
Warehouses have become the king of commercial real estate
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 3, 2021

Warehouses are increasingly dominating the commercial building landscape in the US, which could have ramifications for efforts to tackle climate change. According to data recently released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), warehouses and storage units have become the most common commercial buildings in the country — outpacing offices. That has the potential to cause greenhouse gas emissions to climb or tumble, and it largely hinges on whether warehouses can ditch natural gas.

Compared to office buildings, warehouses that store everything from food to clothes tend to rely more heavily on gas heating systems because upfront costs of those systems are cheap, and they’re easy to install, an expert tells The Verge. Even though warehouses typically use less energy than offices, there’s a risk that their reliance on gas could increase the share of emissions coming from commercial buildings, which are already responsible for 16 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution. For the Biden administration to reach its goal of halving America’s planet-heating carbon pollution compared to 2005 levels by 2030, it’ll have to work to clean up warehouse operations.

“If the building sector itself has moved, that means our strategy has to be adapted,” says Bing Liu, building subsector leader at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “If you look at space heating energy use, because [warehouses use] less efficient technologies, it’s actually concerning.”
» Read article                     

Jon Kung
A TikTok food star on why gas stoves are overrated
As the natural gas industry tries to defend its turf, chefs are touting the benefits of induction cooking.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
December 9, 2021

The American stovetop is increasingly a battleground in a war over the fate of the 70 million buildings powered by natural gas.

On one side of the stove wars is the natural gas utility industry, which has tried to thwart cities considering phasing out gas in buildings. One of its PR strategies has been to hire influencers to tout what they love about cooking with gas to generate public opposition to city efforts.

On the other side are climate and public health advocates who point to years of mounting scientific evidence on what combusting methane in a kitchen does to one’s health. Even the relatively small amount of gas burned by the stove has an outsized effect on indoor health because it releases nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, two pollutants known to increase risks of respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Dozens of cities in California have passed stronger building codes that encourage new construction to be powered by electricity instead of natural gas pipelines. New York City and Eugene, Oregon, may be the next cities to adopt these ordinances.

As more cities move to electricity, what will replace gas stoves? Instead of the electric coiled stoves Americans have learned to hate, there is a newer technology that many chefs prefer: induction.
» Blog editor’s note: watch the short video embedded in this article, where Jon Kung explains and demonstrates induction cooking.
» Read article                     

» More about energy efficiency          

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

charging network
Power companies commit to building nationwide EV charging network

They announced a new coalition today
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 7, 2021

Over 50 utilities across the US have come together to speed up the build-out of electric vehicle charging stations along the nation’s highways. The new National Electric Highway Coalition was announced today by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association of investor-owned power companies.

Together, the companies aim to “fill charging infrastructure gaps along major travel corridors,” according to a fact sheet. Each utility that’s a member of the coalition must commit “in good faith” to create an EV fast charging network across its service territory “using any approach they see fit” by the end of 2023. The US will need more than 100,000 fast charging ports for the 22 million electric vehicles expected to traverse American roadways by 2030, according to the EEI.

For now, the roughly 1.8 million electric vehicles registered in the US can juice up at just 46,000 public charging stations in the country. Just around 5,600 of those, according to the Department of Energy, are DC fast charging stations that can get an EV battery to 80 percent charged in under an under hour. Easier access to faster charging stations, in particular, could help drive greater EV adoption among wary customers.
» Read article                    
» Read the National Electric Highway Coalition fact sheet           

» More about clean transportation               

 

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

jaguar
Tigers, jaguars under threat from tropical hydropower projects: Study
By Carolyn Cowan, Mongabay
December 9, 2021

The flooding of land for hydroelectric dams has affected more than one-fifth of the world’s tigers (Panthera tigris) and one in two hundred jaguars (Panthera onca), according to the findings of a new study published Dec. 9 in the journal Communications Biology.

Seen by some as a low-carbon solution to global energy needs, large-scale hydropower projects are increasingly prevalent in the tropics, where untapped power potential overlaps with biodiverse landscapes. In recent years, scientists and Indigenous rights groups have criticized many such schemes for failing to fully consider impacts on biodiversity, freshwater connectivity and local communities.

The results of the new study highlight “just how significant the environmental impacts of hydropower can be,” Luke Gibson, a tropical biologist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, and a co-author of the new study, told Mongabay in an email.

Gibson and his colleague, Ana Filipa Palmeirim, used published data on the population density and global distribution of tigers and jaguars to calculate the area of habitat lost and the number of individuals affected by existing and planned hydropower reservoirs.

They found that 13,750 square kilometers (5,300 square miles) of tiger habitat and 25,397 km2 (9,800 mi2) of jaguar habitat have been flooded to create hydroelectric reservoirs. A total of 729 tigers, or 20% of the global population, have been displaced by dams, whereas 915 jaguars, or 0.5% of the global population, have been affected.

“There is simply no science which shows what happens to tigers or jaguars when their habitats are flooded by hydropower reservoirs,” Gibson said. Displaced cats might attempt to survive in suboptimal, unoccupied habitat, or they might move into good quality but occupied habitat where they are likely to experience aggressive territorial encounters. In either scenario, according to Gibson, the chances of survival are very low.

The findings are bad news for the struggling big cats. Both species are suffering population declines due to habitat loss, poaching, shifting prey patterns and the effects of climate change.
» Read article                    
» Read the study                 

» More about siting impacts           

 

CARBON CAPTURE & STORAGE

CCS 101
The Future of Fossil Fuels Hinges on Two Huge Midwestern Pipeline Fights
CCS is the fossil-fuel industry’s last-gasp attempt to prevent the U.S. and the world from abandoning fossil energy in favor of cheaper, cleaner solar power.
By Peter Montague, Common Dreams | Opinion
December 9, 2021

The future of the fossil fuel industry depends on an expensive Rube Goldberg technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS), intended to capture billions of tons of hazardous waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from smokestacks and bury it deep underground where optimistic experts say it will remain forever. Pessimistic experts say it won’t work. 

The goal is to continue burning fossil fuels for the next 50 years but keep the resulting CO2 out of the atmosphere where it heats the planet, intensifying storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, crop failures, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels. CCS is the fossil-fuel industry’s last-gasp attempt to prevent the U.S. and the world from abandoning fossil energy in favor of cheaper, cleaner solar power.

Back in 2005, a handful of industrialized nations (the so-called G8) agreed to develop CCS technology and since then the U.S. government has worked hard to make it happen but with little success so far.  

Adding carbon-capture filters onto a smokestack is expensive and the CCS filters themselves use about 20 percent of a power plant’s energy output—thereby producing more pollution per unit of electricity, including smog-producing nitrogen, sulfur, and fine particles (PM2.5).  This pollution falls disproportionately on communities of color or low income, so CCS is an environmental justice abuse. And every dollar spent on CCS is a dollar that cannot be spent on renewable energy.

There is no market for billions of tons of hazardous waste CO2.  Cue Uncle Sam.  The federal government has spent more than $9 billion taxpayer dollars since 2010 to help coal and oil companies get CCS off the ground.

To burnish the green credentials of CCS, two major projects are getting underway now in the Midwest, to capture CO2 from dozens of refineries that turn corn into ethanol alcohol, which gets mixed into gasoline. 

The climate credentials of the corn-ethanol industry are shaky. In 2008, a Princeton University research group calculated that a gallon of corn-ethanol releases more CO2 than a gallon of gasoline because forests and grasslands are plowed to plant corn, releasing CO2 from soil. Since then, other studies have tried to refute those Princeton results by claiming land-use changes from corn-ethanol must be ignored because they are too hard to measure.  It’s a crucial issue that remains contested. 

Now a tremendous fight is brewing in the Midwest as two major CO2 pipeline projects seek permission to install over 3000 miles of pipe to carry a total of 27 million tons of liquid hazardous waste CO2 per year across privately-owned farmland, with many land owners saying “No.”  There’s already talk of court battles to stop both projects.
» Read article                     

» More about CCS                  

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

not actually the reason
Oil companies blame clean energy transition for market volatility
Representatives at industry gathering in Houston launch attack on the speed of transition to clean energy
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 7, 2021

Leaders of the world’s biggest oil companies have used an industry gathering in Houston to launch an attack on the speed of transition to clean energy, claiming a badly managed process could lead to “insecurity, rampant inflation and social unrest”.

Executives from oil companies including Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, and US oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron publicly described the shift towards clean energy alternatives as “deeply flawed”. They called for fossil fuels to remain part of the energy mix for years to come despite global efforts for an urgent response to the climate crisis.

Saudi Aramco’s chief executive, Amin Nasser, told delegates at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston, Texas, that adapting to cleaner fuels “overnight” could trigger uncontrolled economic inflation.

“I understand that publicly admitting that oil and gas will play an essential and significant role during the transition and beyond will be hard for some,” he said. “But admitting this reality will be far easier than dealing with energy insecurity, rampant inflation and social unrest as the prices become intolerably high, and seeing net zero commitments by countries start to unravel.

“The world is facing an ever more chaotic energy transition centred on highly unrealistic scenarios and assumptions about the future of energy.”

Anders Opedal, the boss of Equinor, Norway’s state oil company, said: “The volatility in commodity prices and the impact on business and people illustrates the risks we face in an imbalanced transition.”

Global oil and gas prices have surged in recent months since the original Covid-19 lockdown, which stifled economies around the world in 2020. Energy experts and economists have argued that the global energy market surge – which has triggered blackouts, higher bills and the shutdown of factories in some countries – should encourage policymakers to accelerate the move away from volatile fossil fuels.
» Read article                 

stop Cambo
Shell U-turn on Cambo could mean end for big North Sea oil projects
Industry sources say Siccar Point will struggle to find new partner to take on Shell’s 30% stake in oilfield
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 3, 2021

Shell’s decision to back out of plans to develop the Cambo oilfield could sound the “death knell” for new large-scale North Sea projects, industry figures say, as the UK’s tougher climate agenda prompts oil companies to retreat from the ageing oil basin.

Sources said Shell’s project partner, the private equity-backed Siccar Point, would struggle to find another partner to take on Shell’s 30% stake in the new oilfield, which has provoked outrage among green campaigners.

Shell’s retreat has cast doubt over the future of a project that could yield hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, and sources say it raises fresh doubts over the North Sea’s future large-scale oil projects too.

“This is a turning point,” said one industry source, who asked not to be named. “Companies will be thinking: if Shell can’t do it, can we? I just don’t see any truly large-scale projects being sanctioned in the North Sea any more. There will still be small developments around existing fields. But this is a death knell for major new projects in the UK.”

The Guardian understands that Shell scrapped the Cambo project after the government made clear it would need to meet certain “climate concessions” to win its approval. The company said publicly that the “economic case for investment” was not strong.

Shell’s withdrawal comes weeks after the company was left disappointed by a UK regulator’s “unexpected” decision to decline its application to develop a separate North Sea project at the Jackdaw field.

“It’s a bit embarrassing for Shell so soon after announcing it would relocate its headquarters to London from the Netherlands,” the source added.
» Read article                     

» More about fossil fuels               

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

financial albatross
LNG Canada On Track to Become ‘Financial Albatross’, Analysts Warn
By The Energy Mix
November 25, 2021

British Columbia’s only confirmed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal may be on its way to becoming a “financial albatross”, according to a new analysis released Wednesday, even as a developer continues to tout a second LNG project in Howe Sound, just north of Vancouver.

The LNG Canada megaproject was approved with lavish provincial subsidies in 2018, producing a massive emissions gap in the province’s climate plan. Now under construction, it’s the intended terminus for the Coastal GasLink pipeline that has become a trigger for militarized raids on unceded Indigenous land and a railway blockade in the weeks leading up to COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.

Now, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says the first phase of LNG Canada “could be the last liquefied natural gas project built in British Columbia” given changing market conditions, project delays, rising costs, and policy shifts.

“Over the last three years, market shifts and policy changes have tested LNG Canada’s long-term economic viability,” said lead author Omar Mawji, IEEFA’s energy finance Canada analyst. “This project could become a financial albatross for its sponsor investors, and it stands as a warning to other natural gas producers” involved with natural gas fracking projects in the Montney Basin in northeastern B.C.

That isn’t a good look for Phase 2 of the LNG Canada venture, or for other LNG projects that B.C. Premier John Horgan and his Liberal Party predecessor, Christy Clark, have been desperately promoting for years.

“If the project sponsors assessed the energy landscape today instead of 2018, they would likely have been far more cautious in deciding whether to move forward with Phase 1,” Mawji said in an IEEFA release. “The conditions do not bode well for other LNG projects in Canada.”
» Read article                     

» More about LNG                   

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Weekly News Check-In 12/3/21

banner 17

Welcome back.

We’re remembering the great climate, environment, and social justice advocate, Dr. Marty Nathan who passed away on Monday at age 70. She devoted so much of herself to so many people, through a life well lived. She’ll be sorely missed.

There’s been a lot of news in the past two weeks, so I’ll bundle the stories as they relate to broad themes. Protesters hit the streets in Peabody, MA to draw attention to the contradictions between a planned peaking power plant and the state’s emissions reduction requirements. As fossil boosters charge ahead with construction plans, gas utilities in the mid-Atlantic region are cancelling similar projects. Meanwhile, two more liquefied natural gas export terminals were either cancelled (Jordan Cove) or moved closer to cancellation (Gibbstown). All of the above is related to the increasingly unfavorable investment environment for natural gas infrastructure relative to clean renewable energy and storage.

That same economic calculus is rapidly taking the shine off a fossil industry favorite: carbon capture and sequestration.

Oil and gas pipelines are increasingly difficult to justify – that includes new construction as well as continuing to operate existing assets. Especially when those old pipelines need an infusion of new cash for upgrades. Fossil interests are getting creative with their attempts to keep these lines open. That includes false claims that shutting down pipelines amounts to environmental injustice, and suggestions that implementing climate solutions will tank the economy. But a well-funded and coordinated effort to erode the concept of Native sovereignty is downright underhanded and creepy. Protests at Standing Rock held up construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (and many others since), so industry is acknowledging the potency and moral clarity of Indigenous peoples’ protests and actions by bringing court actions that could strip away Tribes’ ability to protect their own lands.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to dig and drill its way to the finish – extracting and burning every hydrocarbon molecule it can lay hands on – opposing forces continue to gather in strength and numbers. The divestment movement now has clear support from mainstream economic players, who agree that any investment in fossils grows riskier by the day. And legislation supporting citizen rights to a healthful environment, as New York recently passed, makes new fossil pipelines and power plants nearly impossible to imagine.

So we have our eyes on the many opportunities and challenges presented by the greening economy. These include strong demand for clean energy at every scale, often constrained by material supply. The need for massive improvements in energy efficiency along with the challenge of equitable delivery of programs, incentives, and services. Transforming the transportation sector; the red hot race for affordable long-duration energy storage; and the considerable issues around where to locate all this new, clean-energy infrastructure.

Hovering over all that growth and opportunity is the question of where a lot of critical resources are going to come from. Deep-seabed mining represents a potential source of badly-needed copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese. But scientists are concerned that seabed destruction, debris in the water column, and noise all risk vast environmental and ecosystem harm. We continue to list deep-seabed mining as a VBA (Very Bad Idea). Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Other VBAs include burning woody biomass for energy, and producing lots and lots of plastics. We’ll keep you up to date on all of it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

MARTY NATHAN

Marty Nathan garden
Community recalls impact, contributions of environmental, social justice activist Dr. Marty Nathan
By BRIAN STEELE , Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 30, 2021

NORTHAMPTON — Tributes are pouring in to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Marty Nathan, a retired physician and trailblazing social justice activist who died Monday at the age of 70.

Nathan’s daughter Leah Nathan said her mother died after a recurrence of lung cancer combined with congestive heart failure. She leaves behind her husband, three children and two grandchildren.

Martha “Marty” Nathan was a co-founder of Climate Action Now, the founder of the environmental activism group 2degrees Northampton and a board member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She wrote a monthly column for the Gazette on the topic of climate change.

In June, the Gazette and the United Way of Hampshire County honored Nathan with the Frances Crowe Award, named for the legendary Northampton peace and anti-nuclear activist who died in 2019 at the age of 100. Nathan considered Crowe a friend and ally for 25 years, saying the pair “were inhabiting the same ideological and political territory.”

Leah Nathan said her mother “invested everything she had” in causes that mattered to “the people and planet she loved.”

In Nathan’s memory, loved ones should “get involved and just do something to make the change you want to see in the world,” and donate to worthy organizations.

“She was uncompromising in her beliefs, her commitment to justice, her love for her family, and doing the work that real change requires of us,” Leah Nathan said. “She was both complex and crystal clear, and the physical loss of her energy feels impossible to bear.”

Nathan’s advocacy began in the 1960s, when she protested against the Vietnam War, and it never abated. Just six weeks ago, she and three other local activists were arrested in Washington, D.C., for standing in front of the White House fence as part of a climate protest. After they were released without fines or charges, each donated money to the Indigenous Environmental Network, which organized the protest.

Russ Vernon-Jones, an organizer with Climate Action Now, was also arrested that day; he said Nathan was “an inspiration to me. She was such a model of determination and commitment and justice.”

“If she had never done this kind of activism, it would still be a huge loss,” he said, considering what a “warm, caring, generous, compassionate human being she was.”
» Read article               

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

SD no peakers
Amid the push for a cleaner future, a proposed power plant threatens to escalate the war over the region’s power grid
By David Abel, Boston Globe
November 23, 2021

PEABODY — It would cost $85 million to build, spew thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere for years to come, and perpetuate the reliance on fossil fuels in a dozen communities across Massachusetts, all while a new state law takes effect requiring drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Without state intervention, construction to build the 55 megawatt “peaker” — a power plant designed to operate during peak demand for electricity — could start in the next few weeks, making it the latest skirmish in an escalating war over the future of the region’s power grid.

Proponents of the controversial project say it’s needed to promote the grid’s reliability and to control potentially costly fluctuations in energy prices, even though its fuel — oil and gas — has become more expensive than wind, solar, and other renewable energy. Over the long term, they say, it should provide significant savings to ratepayers in Peabody and the other communities that have agreed to finance it.

Opponents say it would hinder the state’s ability to comply with the sweeping new climate law, which requires Massachusetts to reduce its carbon emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050. They add that its 90-foot smokestack would also spread harmful particulate matter in surrounding vulnerable, lower-income communities, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Opponents of the project say it’s ludicrous for the state to sanction a new fossil fuel plant, noting that construction would start less than a year after Governor Charlie Baker signed the state’s landmark climate law and just a few weeks after world leaders gathered for a global climate summit in Glasgow and vowed to reduce their emissions sharply in the coming years.

Any new source of emissions, especially one that seeks to continue the use of fossil fuels for decades to come, is detrimental to the cause of eliminating emissions as soon as possible, they contend. Moreover, the hefty cost would be better spent on energy projects that would produce emissions-free power or on plants that use batteries to store that power for peak demand, they say.

This month, concerned residents held a rally in front of Peabody District Court, where they carried signs with messages such as: “Non-Renewable Energy is Peak Stupidity” and “Stop Polluting.”
» Read article               

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

pro bono
This Land Episode 5. Pro Bono

By Rebecca Nagel, Crooked Media
September 13, 2021

The fight against the Indian Child Welfare Act is much bigger than a few custody cases, or even the entire adoption industry. We follow the money, and our investigation leads us to a powerful group of corporate lawyers and one of the biggest law firms in the country.

[Blog editor’s note: This podcast discusses, among others, the case Brackeen v. Haaland, a case of concern that may soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, with potential to undermine native sovereignty and expose Indigenous lands to further exploitation by the oil and gas industry.]

From transcript: Matthew McGill, the lawyer representing the Brackeens in that big federal lawsuit, has used the same arguments in casino cases that he’s now using in ICWA cases, specifically that state’s rights argument we talked about earlier in the season. He’s used it to stop a tribal casino from opening in Arizona, and Gibson Dunn, where Matthew McGill works, represents two of the top three casino and gaming companies in the world. Gibson Dunn also specializes in the other industry that comes up against tribes a lot: oil. You’ve probably heard about the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline because the resistance camp at Standing Rock made national headlines. Gibson Dunn represented the pipeline company. What happened at Standing Rock worried the oil industry. One study estimated indigenous resistance cost the Dakota Access Pipeline $7.5 billion. It also inspired movements against other pipelines. Industry leaders, including lobbying groups that represent Gibson Dunn clients, have talked openly about why these indigenous-led protests need to be stopped. Seven months after the resistance camp in North Dakota was shut down, Gibson Dunn filed the Brackeen’s case in federal court.
» Listen to podcast (35 min.)                                   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Marathon refiinery - Detroit
Right-Wing Group Uses ‘B.S.’ Environmental Justice Argument in Effort to Keep an Oil Pipeline Alive
A D.C.-based think tank with ties to fossil fuel money claims that shutting down the aging Line 5 pipeline would hurt Black communities in Michigan. Community activists say otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2021

A right-wing group that has a history of receiving funding from conservative foundations and ExxonMobil is trying to frame the state of Michigan’s attempts to shut down the aging Line 5 oil pipeline as an assault on the Black community.

That industry-backed spin has not gone down well with Michigan activists. “I think that’s B.S. I think it’s phoney baloney,” Theresa Landrum, a community activist in Detroit, told DeSmog. “The Black community is not benefiting. We have been suffering all along.”

Polluting industries are often located near Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, impacting the health of communities suffering from long standing problems of disenfranchisement and disinvestment. At the same time, these communities are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, hit hard by extreme heat, floods, and the breakdown of critical infrastructure. And Michigan is no exception, from Flint’s lead pipe crisis, to the urban neighborhoods of Detroit where people breathe toxic air on a daily basis.

Accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels addresses multiple problems at once by cutting carbon emissions while also reducing environmental and public health threats.

But the Washington D.C.-based Project 21 is trying to paint the continued-operation of a major oil pipeline as a crucial lifeline to the Black community in Michigan. In a November press release, the group warns against interrupting the flow of “life-sustaining fossil fuels.”
» Read article                    

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

financial time bomb
‘$22-Trillion Time Bomb’ Ahead Unless Banks Drop High-Carbon Investments, Moody’s Warns
By The Energy Mix
November 28, 2021

Financial institutions are facing a US$22-trillion time bomb due to their investments in carbon-intensive industries, Bloomberg News reports, citing a study last week by Moody’s Investment Services.

“Unless these firms make a swift shift to climate-friendly financing, they risk reporting losses,” Bloomberg writes. And “it’s not just the moral imperative—that fossil fuel use is destroying the atmosphere and life on Earth with it. It’s that their financial health requires leaving such companies behind.”

The $22-trillion calculation is based on the 20% of financial institutions’ investments that Moody sees as risky, the news agency explains. The total includes $13.8 trillion for banks, $6.6 trillion for asset managers, and $1.8 trillion for insurance companies.

Moody’s is urging institutions to shift their business models “toward lending and investing in new and developing green infrastructure projects, while supporting corporates in carbon-intensive sectors that are pivoting to low-carbon business models.”

Bloomberg connects the Moody’s report with an assessment just two days earlier, in which the European Central Bank said most of the 112 institutions it oversees have no concrete plans to shift their business strategies to take the climate emergency into account. Only about half of the institutions are “contemplating setting exclusion targets for some segments of the market,” ECB executive board member Frank Elderson wrote in a November 22 blog post, and “only a handful of them mention actively planning to steer their portfolios on a Paris-compatible trajectory.”
» Read article                    

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

right to breathe
New York’s Right to ‘a Healthful Environment’ Could Be Bad News for Fossil Fuel Interests
Coupled with the state’s landmark climate law, the provision is a “blinking red light” for new gas pipelines and other oil and gas projects.
By Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News
November 23, 2021

When New York regulators denied a key permit to the controversial Williams Pipeline in early 2020, in part because it conflicted with the state’s climate law, environmental policy experts called it a potential turning point.

No longer could developers pitch major fossil fuel projects in the state without expecting serious regulatory scrutiny or legal challenges, climate campaigners said, touting the decision as a victory for the state’s clean energy aspirations.

That forecast was reinforced in October. State regulators denied permits for two proposed natural gas power plants, again citing the landmark climate law, which requires New York to transition its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Then, on election day, New York voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that granted all residents the right “to clean air and water and a healthful environment.” That amendment, which passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote, could strengthen lawsuits against polluters and further discourage developers from proposing fossil fuel projects in the state in the future, some energy experts have said.

The state’s climate law, paired with the new constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment, could set the stage for citizens to sue the government or other entities more easily for things like polluting a river or hindering the state’s legally binding clean energy targets, said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Not only does the combustion of fossil fuels drive global warming but it emits harmful chemicals and particles into the air that have been proven to contribute to significant health risks and premature death. One recent study found that the soot commonly released by the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for more than 50,000 premature deaths in the United States every year.

“It certainly sends the message that (new) large, fossil fuel facilities are going to have major problems” in New York, Gerrard said. “I wouldn’t call those decisions a death knell, but they’re certainly a blinking red light.”
» Read article                    

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Robert BlakeMeet the unstoppable entrepreneur bringing solar, EVs and jobs to his Native community and beyond
Solar Bear owner Robert Blake on his booming business, extensive nonprofit work and the $6.6M DOE grant he just landed.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Canary Media
November 29, 2021

Robert Blake is a solar entrepreneur, a social impact innovator and Native activist — and his work weaves all three strands together.

Blake is the founder of Solar Bear, a full-service solar installation company, and Native Sun Community Power Development, a Native-led nonprofit that promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and a just energy transition through education, demonstration and workforce training. Both organizations have a mission of advancing economic opportunity and environmental justice through renewable energy.

Blake is also building an EV charging network and a solar farm to power it in the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. He hopes his work can be a model for other tribal nations to follow in pursuing energy independence and powering the clean energy transition.

We caught up with Blake to discuss his work and his motivations. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
» Blog editor’s note: Click on the link below and read the conversation with Mr. Blake – he’s inspiring, positive, practical, and visionary.
» Read article                    

cobalt mine near Kolwezi
How the U.S. Lost Ground to China in the Contest for Clean Energy
Americans failed to safeguard decades of diplomatic and financial investments in Congo, where the world’s largest supply of cobalt is controlled by Chinese companies backed by Beijing.
By Eric Lipton and Dionne Searcey, New York Times
Photographs by Ashley Gilbertson
November 21, 2021

WASHINGTON — Tom Perriello saw it coming but could do nothing to stop it. André Kapanga too. Despite urgent emails, phone calls and personal pleas, they watched helplessly as a company backed by the Chinese government took ownership from the Americans of one of the world’s largest cobalt mines.

It was 2016, and a deal had been struck by the Arizona-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan to sell the site, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which now figures prominently in China’s grip on the global cobalt supply. The metal has been among several essential raw materials needed for the production of electric car batteries — and is now critical to retiring the combustion engine and weaning the world off climate-changing fossil fuels.

Mr. Perriello, a top U.S. diplomat in Africa at the time, sounded alarms in the State Department. Mr. Kapanga, then the mine’s Congolese general manager, all but begged the American ambassador in Congo to intercede.

“This is a mistake,” Mr. Kapanga recalled warning him, suggesting the Americans were squandering generations of relationship building in Congo, the source of more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt.

Presidents starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower had sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including transport planes and other military equipment, to the mineral-rich nation. Richard Nixon intervened, as did the State Department under Hillary Clinton, to sustain the relationship. And Freeport-McMoRan had invested billions of its own — before it sold the mine to a Chinese company.

Not only did the Chinese purchase of the mine, known as Tenke Fungurume, go through uninterrupted during the final months of the Obama administration, but four years later, during the twilight of the Trump presidency, so did the purchase of an even more impressive cobalt reserve that Freeport-McMoRan put on the market. The buyer was the same company, China Molybdenum.

China’s pursuit of Congo’s cobalt wealth is part of a disciplined playbook that has given it an enormous head start over the United States in the race to dominate the electrification of the auto industry, long a key driver of the global economy.
» Read article                      

» More about greening the economy                 

CLIMATE

right-wing arguments
Climate change deniers are over attacking the science. Now they attack the solutions.
A new study charts the evolution of right-wing arguments.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 18, 2021

Believe it or not, it’s nearly 2022 and some people still think we shouldn’t do anything about the climate crisis. Even though most Americans understand that carbon emissions are overheating the planet and want to take action to stop it, attacks on clean energy and policies to limit carbon emissions are on the rise.

In a study out this week in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, researchers found that outright denying the science is going out of fashion. Today, only about 10 percent of arguments from conservative think tanks in North America challenge the scientific consensus around global warming or question models and data. (For the record, 99.9 percent of scientists agree that human activity is heating up the planet.) Instead, the most common arguments are that scientists and climate advocates simply can’t be trusted, and that proposed solutions won’t work.

That came as a surprise to the researchers. Scientists get called “alarmists,” despite a history of underestimating the effects of an overheating planet. Politicians and the media are portrayed as biased, while environmentalists are painted as part of a “hysterical” climate “cult.”

“It kind of dismayed me, because I spent my career debunking the first three categories — ‘it’s not real, it’s not us, it’s not bad’ — and those were the lowest categories of misinformation,” said John Cook, a co-author of the study and a research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University in Australia. “Instead, what they were doing was trying to undermine trust in climate science and attack the actual climate movement. And there’s not much research into how to counter that or understand it.”
» Read article                      
» Read the study

Earthshine
“Earthshine” from the Moon shows our planet is dimming, intensifying global warming
By Zack Savitsky, Mongabay
November 18, 2021

For 20 years, researchers stared at the dark side of the moon to measure its faint but visible “earthshine,” a glow created by sunlight reflecting off Earth and onto the lunar surface. Their new analysis, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, revealed that this ghostly light has darkened slightly, confirming satellite measurements that our planet is getting dimmer.

As the planet reflects less light, the incoming heat gets absorbed by the seas and skies. This lingering warmth probably intensifies the rate of global warming, scientists believe.

Typically, about 30 percent of the light streaming from the sun gets redirected by Earth back to space, mostly from bright white clouds. But that percentage can vary over time. In 1998, a team from the Big Bear Solar Observatory in southern California set out to track Earth’s reflectivity, or albedo, by monitoring earthshine during the days each month the telescope could see the moon’s dark side.

“It is just so naturally appealing,” said lead author Philip Goode, a physicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which operates the observatory. “We’re using the moon as a mirror for the Earth.” The study ran for a full solar cycle—about 20 years—to account for variations in the sun’s activity.

Three years after Goode started Project Earthshine, NASA also began to measure Earth’s albedo with a string of satellites called Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, or CERES. Data from both projects has matched up neatly. Since the year 2000, the planet has reflected less energy back into space: about one-half a watt per square meter. That’s similar to the dimming effect from turning off one lightbulb on a panel of 200.

When these experiments began two decades ago, many scientists expected that water in warmer seas would evaporate more quickly and create thicker clouds—thus reflecting more sunlight back into space. But the satellite and earthshine results show just the opposite: “Somehow, the warm ocean burned a hole in the clouds and let in more sunlight,” Goode told Mongabay.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar glare
Renewables see record growth in 2021, but supply chain problems loom
High commodity and shipping prices could jeopardize future wind and solar farms
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 1, 2021

2021 is on course to break a global record for renewable energy growth, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest Renewables Market Report. That’s despite skyrocketing commodity prices, which could bog down the transition to clean energy in the future.

With 290 GW in additional capacity expected to be commissioned by the end of the year, 2021 will smash the record for renewable electricity growth that was just set last year. This year’s additions even outpace a forecast that the International Energy Agency (IEA) made in the spring.

“Exceptionally high growth” would be the “new normal” for renewable sources of electricity, the IEA said at the time. Solar energy, in particular, was on track to take the crown as the “new king of electricity,” the IEA said in its October 2020 World Energy Outlook report.

Still, there are some dark clouds in the IEA’s new forecast for renewables. Soaring prices for commodities, shipping, and energy all threaten the previously rosy outlook for renewable energy. The cost of polysilicon used to make solar panels has more than quadrupled since the start of 2020, according to the IEA. Investment costs for utility-scale onshore wind and solar farms have risen 25 percent compared to 2019. That could delay the completion of new renewable energy projects that have already been contracted.

More than half of the new utility-scale solar projects already planned for 2022 could face delays or cancellation because of larger price tags for materials and shipping, according to a separate analysis by Rystad Energy.

If commodity prices stay high over the next year, it could erase three to five years of gains solar and wind have made, respectively, when it comes to affordability. A dramatic price drop for photovoltaic modules over the past few decades has fueled solar’s success. Costs fell from $30 per watt in 1980 to $0.20 per watt for solar energy in 2020. By last year, solar was already the cheapest source of electricity in most parts of the world.
» Read article                     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

blowing cellulose
Massachusetts’ new efficiency plan puts a priority on underserved communities

The state’s latest three-year energy efficiency plan would include new provisions to increase outreach and expand program eligibility for lower-income households and residents of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
November 29, 2021

Massachusetts’ new three-year energy efficiency plan would substantially increase efforts to lower energy costs and improve health and comfort for lower-income households and residents of color.

The $668 million plan awaiting approval from the state Department of Public Utilities lays out strategies the state’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency program intends to implement from 2022 to 2024. They include provisions to increase outreach and expand eligibility in underserved communities — and pay utilities for providing more services in these neighborhoods.

“They’re saying, ‘Let’s figure out how to make sure that everyone paying into the program is able to access and benefit from the program,’” said Eugenia Gibbons, Massachusetts director of climate policy for Health Care Without Harm. “The plan is a good step forward.”

For more than a decade, Massachusetts’ energy efficiency programs have been hailed as some of the most progressive and effective in the country. The centerpiece of the state’s efforts is Mass Save, a collaborative of electric and gas utilities that provides no-cost energy audits, rebates on efficient appliances, discounts on weatherization, and other energy efficiency services, funded by a small fee on consumers’ utility bills.

Mass Save’s programming is guided by three-year energy efficiency plans, a system put in place by the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
» Read article                      

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Hydrostor Ontario plant
Inside Clean Energy: Here’s How Compressed Air Can Provide Long-Duration Energy Storage
A Canadian company wants to use compressed air to store energy in California.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 2, 2021

A grid that runs mostly on wind and solar, part of the future that clean energy advocates are working toward, will need lots of long-duration energy storage to get through the dark of night and cloudy or windless days.

Hydrostor, a Canadian company, has filed applications in the last week with California regulators to build two plants to meet some of that need using “compressed air energy storage.” The plants would pump compressed air into underground caverns and later release the air to turn a turbine and produce electricity.

The stored energy would be able to generate hundreds of megawatts of electric power for up to eight hours at a time, with no fossil fuels and no greenhouse gas emissions. Long-duration storage includes systems that can discharge electricity for eight hours or more, as opposed to lithium-ion battery storage, which typically runs for up to four hours.

This project and technology have potentially huge implications for the push to develop long-duration energy storage. But the key word is “potentially,” because there are many companies and technologies vying for a foothold in this rapidly growing part of the energy economy, and the results so far have been little more than research findings and hype.

“Their technology is not overly complicated,” said Mike Gravely, a manager of energy systems research for the California Energy Commission, speaking in general about CAES. “Compressed air is a very simple concept.”

The main challenge, as with so many clean energy technologies, is to get the costs low enough to justify building many of the plants.

Hydrostor, founded in 2010 and based in Toronto, has completed two small plants in the Toronto area, including a 1.75-megawatt storage plant that can run for about six hours at a time.
» Read article                      

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Calpine Fore River Energy
Board rejects permit for lithium battery storage
By Ed Baker, The Patriot Ledger
November 23, 2021

Calpine Fore River Energy’s request for a special permit to construct a lithium-ion battery renewable energy storage system at its facility on Bridge Street was rejected by the Board of Zoning Appeals, Nov. 17.

Board member Jonathan Moriarty said the location for a lithium-ion renewable energy storage system, “was not appropriate” because of its proximity to residences.

“The neighborhood is in an area that has the potential to be impacted by a fire or if an explosion occurred,” he said after a public hearing.

Calpine plant engineer Charles Parnell said a risk assessment by Lummis Consulting Services determined a lithium storage system would not pose serious public safety risks.

“We are now at another energy crossroad, where steps need to be taken to reduce carbon emissions by establishing renewable energy and storage,” he said during the hearing.

Parnell said the use of lithium batteries is growing as more communities seek renewable energy sources.

“In Massachusetts, three or four fossil fuel power plants shut down last year,” he said.

Several residents and town officials voiced concerns about noise pollution and hazards posed by a potential fire or explosion at the site.

Blueberry Street resident Alice Arena said many people are not opposed to the idea of a lithium-ion battery storage system.

“We are looking at its placement,” said Arena, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader.

Arena said iron flow batteries would be safer to use than lithium-ion batteries.

“They are cheaper and store more energy,” she said. “They last longer.”
» Read article                      

irreconcilable conflict
Irreconcilable conflict? Lessons from the Central Maine Power transmission corridor debacle
By Rebecca Schultz, Utility Dive | Opinion
November 30, 2021

On Nov. 2, nearly 60% of Maine voters supported a referendum to halt construction on the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile high-voltage transmission corridor through the state. Since then, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection suspended the project’s permit pending developments in NECEC’s legal challenges to the referendum and the decision by the Maine Superior Court last August that deemed a critical public lands lease illegal.

The growing possibility that the NECEC will be terminated has raised concerns by some that there is an irreconcilable conflict between environmental conservation and the infrastructure build-out needed to transition to a low-carbon grid.

But this is not the lesson we should take from the Central Maine Power (CMP) corridor debacle. The lesson is that we need to build public support for well-designed projects through strategic, long-term transmission and distribution planning.

The project, being developed by CMP and Hydro-Quebec, would deliver existing hydroelectricity from Canada to Massachusetts to help meet that state’s renewable energy requirements, while fragmenting the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America with 53 miles of new construction.

The fight over the project has been fierce, with large energy companies and environmental advocates on both sides, and a record $91 million spent on the ballot measure campaign.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is among those environmental groups that are both deeply committed to fighting climate change and stand in opposition to this project.

NRCM would enthusiastically back transmission projects were they well-sited and shown to deliver significant new climate benefits. For example, NRCM supports an effort to build a transmission line to connect new renewable projects in Northern Maine to the New England grid. This is a project that Maine lawmakers unanimously voted to support, the climate benefits of which are indisputable. But the climate benefits of the CMP corridor project are highly speculative, and it is certainly not designed to yield all the climate benefits that it might.
» Rebecca Schultz is senior advocate for climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
» Read article                      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI crossroads
With regional transportation pact stalled, what’s next for Massachusetts’ climate strategy?

Massachusetts, a chief proponent and logistical leader throughout the development of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, expected the multistate agreement to be a major part of its plan to reduce emissions. Support soon crumbled — so what now?
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 2, 2021

In the wake of Massachusetts’ decision to withdraw from a regional plan to curb transportation emissions, environmental and transit advocates see a chance to create policies and programs that could be even more equitable and effective at fighting climate change.

“Now there’s a real opportunity to really invest in infrastructure, invest in public transit, and enforce emissions reductions,” said Maria Belen Power, associate executive director of environmental justice organization GreenRoots.

The expected influx of federal infrastructure funds and bills already pending in the state legislature, advocates said, could help Massachusetts make significant advances in its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in a manner that benefits populations traditionally marginalized in conversations about environmental progress.

As Massachusetts pursues its ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, controlling transportation emissions — currently about 40% of the statewide total — is going to be essential. The regional transportation plan was expected to be a major part of the strategy.
» Read article                      

EV charging graphic
‘A long way to go’: How ConEd, Xcel and 4 other utilities are helping cities meet big EV goals
From New York City to Los Angeles, cities and utilities face cost, land and grid challenges in their efforts to electrify transportation systems.
By Robert Walton , Emma Penrod , Jason Plautz , and Scott Van Voorhis, Utility Dive
November 30, 2021

Electric vehicles (EVs) could finish 2021 as 5% of new car sales in the U.S., according to market observers, and are expected to make up a growing share in the years to come. Driven by city and state electrification goals, and now supported by federal infrastructure dollars, the years ahead will be a critical time for utilities working to drive beneficial electrification.

To get an idea of the challenges American cities will face with the rising numbers of EVs, Utility Dive is taking an in-depth look at how electric utilities in six cities are helping boost electric transportation adoption, through charging infrastructure and helping to support vehicle uptake.

Experts say EV adoption is poised to surge in the United States, potentially fueled by federal purchase credits now being debated on Capitol Hill. The proposal included in the Build Back Better legislation would knock up to $12,500  off the sticker price of a new electric car or truck, depending on where and how it is produced. Used EV buyers could get up to $4,000 back.

If lawmakers pass those credits, “you’ll see an immediate leap forward in demand for EVs,” Joel Levin, executive director of Plug in America, said.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new passenger vehicle sales in the United States to be EVs by 2030. That’s achievable, transportation experts say, but will require development of new supply chains, along with public charging infrastructure to support an equitable transition.

Are cities ready for the transition? Not yet, say experts. But some are heading that way, while others will face difficulties.
» Read article                      

» More about clean transportation

DEEP-SEABED MINING

close quarters
If marine noise pollution is bad, deep-sea mining could add to the cacophony
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
November 24, 2021

While evidence is mounting that anthropogenic noise adversely affects ocean life, regulatory measures aimed at curtailing noise pollution are generally lacking. This is certainly true in the context of deep-sea mining, a controversial activity that, if allowed to proceed, would entail corporations extracting metals like copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese from the seabed — and creating a lot of noise in the process.

Cyrill Martin, an ocean policy expert at the Swiss NGO OceanCare, said that noise pollution is currently a “wallflower issue” in the larger matter of deep-sea mining, and that more research urgently needs to be done to fill in knowledge gaps. Until more is known, he said, deep-sea mining needs to be approached with a “precautionary principle.”

“The main data we have from deep-sea mining activities stems from laboratory conditions,” Martin told Mongabay in a video interview. “So there’s a lot of data missing. Nevertheless, we do have some data that we can extrapolate from related industries.”

In a new report, “Deep-Sea Mining: A noisy affair,” released on Nov. 22 by OceanCare, Martin and colleagues draw on past studies, expert interviews and stakeholder surveys to provide an overview of the different types of noise pollution that deep-sea mining would produce — and the potential impacts of this noise. Toward the surface, noise would come from boat propellers and onboard machinery, as well as sonar and seismic airguns used to help explore the seafloor for minerals. The midwater column would be filled with the sounds of riser systems moving sediment from the seafloor to the surface, as well as the motors of robots used to monitor these activities. On the seabed itself, acoustic monitoring tools would generate additional sound. Some kinds of seabed mining would also involve drilling, dredging and scraping along the seafloor. Many of these sounds would create noise as well as vibrations that could affect marine life, according to the report.

The report suggests that deep-sea mining activities could impact species present from the surface to the seabed, with deep-sea species being particularly vulnerable since they use natural sound to perform functions like detect food, and are not accustomed to anthropogenic noise at a close range. Many deep-sea species are also sessile, which means they wouldn’t be able to evade the noise created by deep-sea mining activities, the report says. Even migratory species like whales, dolphins and turtles could be impacted, even while briefly passing through a mining area to feed or breed, according to the report.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about deep-seabed mining

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

SaskPower CCS
Cheap Wind and Solar Should Prompt ‘Rethink’ on Role of CCS, Paper Argues
Oil and gas companies should be asking themselves whether they are investing in “the right kind of CCS”, its lead author said.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
November 19, 2021

The falling cost of wind and solar power significantly reduces the need for carbon capture and storage technology to tackle climate change, a new paper has argued.

CCS, which removes emissions from the atmosphere and stores them underground, has long been presented as critical to restricting global heating to 1.5C by the end of the century.

But a paper published today by Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute finds that rapidly-falling costs in wind and solar energy could “erode” the value of CCS by up to 96 percent.

The authors suggest that targeted, rather than blanket, deployment of CCS is the best strategy for achieving the Paris Agreement goals.

Neil Grant, a PhD candidate at Imperial College who led the research, said the past decade had “seriously changed the game for CCS”.

“While CCS deployment has stagnated, renewables have surged and their costs have plummeted – and so the picture today is very different to what it was in 2010,” he told DeSmog. “Cheap, abundant renewable energy reduces the value of CCS in all areas.”

“Now that renewable electricity is so cheap, this should cause us to seriously rethink the role of CCS.”

The authors used Integrated Assessment Modelling (IAM) to explore 1.75C and 2C warming scenarios, restricting the biomass potential in the pathways to “try and limit unsustainable biomass consumption”.

They found that the rate of electrification accelerated faster in the absence of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), with a faster phase-out of unabated fossil fuels in the power sector.

“Wind and solar play a central role in electrifying end-use sectors and accelerating the phaseout of fossil fuels in the power sector if BECCS is unavailable, with deployment accelerating to provide the necessary clean electricity supply,” the authors note.

The technology has long been touted as an effective means of reducing emissions globally. A special report on CCS by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 notes that applying CCS to bioenergy could deliver “negative emissions”, while also highlighting uncertainties around cost and feasibility of the technology.

The Imperial College paper found that the biggest losers to cheap renewables were CCS applied to fossil fuels – used to generate electricity, make hydrogen and to burn in heavy industry such as blast furnaces for steel production.

Grant and co-authors argue that CCS should not be abandoned altogether, but that priority areas for CCS deployment should be to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and for capturing CO2 in industry, rather than that applied to fossil fuels.
» Read article                      
» Obtain the paper

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

terminated projects
IEEFA U.S.: Gas-fired power plant cancellations and delays signal investor anxiety, changing economics
Financial concerns are likely to affect other PJM gas projects still in the planning phase
By Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA.org
November 18, 2021

A recent decision to cancel the 1,000-megawatt Beech Hollow combined gas plant in Pennsylvania is the latest warning for investors considering funding new gas-fired power plants in the PJM Interconnection (PJM) region. According to a briefing note by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the reason is clear: The economics have changed, prompting three project cancellations this year and calling into question the future of 14 others.

“Low gas prices and high-capacity payments that helped drive a near-doubling of installed combined cycle gas capacity in the last decade have gone away,” said Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA energy analyst and the briefing note’s lead author.

Investors are facing myriad challenges, including:

  • Significant uncertainty about future capacity prices, particularly in light of the sharp drop in the region’s latest power auction.
  • A decade-long downward trend in power prices.
  • Flat regional demand growth.
  • Major projected increases in battery storage and renewable energy generation, including thousands of megawatts from offshore wind capacity.
  • Financial market concerns about climate change and the likelihood of required fossil fuel plant closures by 2050.

IEEFA has identified 17 projects that remain undeveloped, three of which have officially been cancelled this year. More are likely to follow.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Fort McMurray tar sandsCanada’s Tar Sands: Destruction So Vast and Deep It Challenges the Existence of Land and People
Oil companies have replaced Indigenous people’s traditional lands with mines that cover an area bigger than New York City, stripping away boreal forest and wetlands and rerouting waterways.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
November 21, 2021

Oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil and the Canadian giant Suncor have transformed Alberta’s tar sands—also called oil sands—into one of the world’s largest industrial developments. They have built sprawling waste ponds that leach heavy metals into groundwater, and processing plants that spew nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the air, sending a sour stench for miles.

The sands pump out more than 3 million barrels of oil per day, helping make Canada the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and the top exporter of crude to the United States. Their economic benefits are significant: Oil is the nation’s top export, and the mining and energy sector as a whole accounts for nearly a quarter of Alberta’s provincial economy. But the companies’ energy-hungry extraction has also made the oil and gas sector Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And despite the extreme environmental costs, and the growing need for countries to shift away from fossil fuels, the mines continue to expand, digging up nearly 500 Olympic swimming pools-worth of earth every day.

COP26, the global climate conference in Glasgow earlier this month, highlighted the persistent gap between what countries say they will do to cut emissions and what is actually needed to avoid dangerous warming.

Scientists say oil production must begin falling immediately. Canada’s tar sands are among the most climate-polluting sources of oil, and so are an obvious place to begin winding down. The largest oil sands companies have pledged to reduce their emissions, saying they will rely largely on government-subsidized carbon capture projects.

Yet oil companies and the government expect output will climb well into the 2030s. Even a new proposal by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cap emissions in the oil sector does not include any plan to lower production.
» Read article                      

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Energy Progress
Gibbstown Ends, Not with a Bang but with a Whimper?
By Kimberly Ong, NRDC | Expert Blog
November 30, 2021

The future of the Gibbstown liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is looking bleaker by the day. The project hit two obstacles in the past 4 weeks, and advocates, including NRDC, are wondering whether the construction of this planet-warming, water-polluting, community-endangering fossil fuel project may be dying a slow death.

If built, the Gibbstown LNG terminal would move hazardous liquefied fracked gas from an LNG terminal in Wyalusing Township, Pennsylvania, by truck and rail over 200 miles to an LNG terminal in Gibbstown, New Jersey. The gas would then be sent down the Delaware River on massive shipping vessels for sale overseas.

LNG is primarily composed of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon. As U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has noted, cutting methane emissions is “the single fastest strategy that we have to keep a safer, 1.5-degree Centigrade future within reach.” If LNG exports increase as projected, the LNG industry by itself will generate enough greenhouse gas emissions to extinguish all progress we’ve made to lower emissions during the past decade.

LNG is also extraordinarily dangerous to transport by truck and rail. LNG is highly flammable and explosive—consequently, transporting LNG can expose fence-line communities to uncontrollable fires and devastating explosions.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation provided New Fortress Energy and its subsidiaries with both the rule and a special permit. But under new leadership, the Department of Transportation has taken a different position on this deadly activity.  Earlier this month, it proposed suspending the Trump-era LNG-by-rail rule, citing uncertainties related to its safe transportation and its potential to accelerate the climate crisis.

And according to Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Fortress Energy has not applied to renew its special permit, which is set to expire today, November 30.  Without either an LNG-by rail-rule or a special permit, there’s no clear way for New Fortress Energy to ship the LNG by rail.

Without the possibility of shipping LNG by rail, Gibbstown would have to ship all of its LNG by truck—requiring more than 8,000 truck trips per day, running through communities throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So without a way to ship LNG by rail to the facility, is the Gibbstown LNG terminal dead?

Ask the Department of Transportation to stop not just this project, but any future projects like this one from going forward by restoring its ban on the transportation of LNG by rail.
» Read article                      

Jordan Cove LNG cancelled
Jordan Cove project dies. What it means for FERC, gas
By Niina H. Farah, Miranda Willson, Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
December 2, 2021

The developer of an Oregon liquefied natural gas export terminal told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the first time yesterday it would not move forward with the embattled project, putting to rest years of uncertainty for landowners.

Citing challenges in obtaining necessary permits from state agencies as the reason for abandoning the Jordan Cove project, Pembina Pipeline Corp. asked FERC to cancel authorizations for the LNG terminal and associated Pacific Connector pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from Canada to the proposed facility in Coos Bay, Ore.

“Among other considerations, Applicants remain concerned regarding their ability to obtain the necessary state permits in the immediate future in addition to other external obstacles,” Pembina said in its brief to FERC.

The announcement adds to a debate about the role of natural gas at a time of high prices and as industry groups are pressuring the Biden administration to clarify exactly how LNG exports fit into its broader climate agenda. It also may influence FERC’s ongoing review of how it approves gas projects.

Pembina’s move is a win for landowners who have been steadfastly opposing the project for years, said David Bookbinder, chief counsel for the Niskanen Center and attorney for some of the landowners affected by the pipeline. The Niskanen Center and others submitted a brief of their own yesterday, urging FERC to grant Pembina’s request to ax the certificate.

“I can say the landowners are utterly delighted that this chapter of their 15-year nightmare is over and hopefully that will truly be the end of Pembina’s hopes to build this project,” he said.

The company had put the export project on an indefinite hold in April after failing to get key state and federal approvals.
» Read article                      

» More about LNG                

BIOMASS

doubling Drax
Drax is expected to profit from UK energy crisis until 2023
Company’s shares hit seven-year high after revealing plans to invest £3bn despite questions over biomass
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 1, 2021

The owner of the Drax power station is expected to profit from Britain’s energy crisis until 2023 and will plough billions into doubling its production of wood pellets for burning by 2030 despite mounting opposition from environmentalists.

The FTSE 250 energy company’s shares hit seven-year highs on Wednesday after it told investors it aimed to invest £3bn by 2030. Part of that investment would be directed towards doubling production and sales of biomass pellets, which Drax uses at its North Yorkshire power plant as an alternative to burning coal.

Its claims that electricity produced in this way is “carbon neutral” is disputed, with green groups saying burning biomass produces emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.

Drax will fund the expansion plans using its own cash as it prepares to profit from record high energy market prices in its long-term contracts over the next two years.

Drax will also be able to hike up the price of the electricity it generates for long-term contracts for 2022 and 2023. In addition, the company will continue to benefit from subsidies worth hundreds of millions of pounds to generate biomass electricity through the government’s renewable energy scheme.

Questions about the method have also been raised within financial circles. The financial services firm Jefferies told its clients in October that bioenergy was “unlikely to make a positive contribution” towards tackling the climate crisis and was “not carbon neutral, in almost all instances”.
» Read article                      

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

floating debris
A Commonsense Proposal to Deal With Plastics Pollution: Stop Making So Much Plastic
A report from leading scientists found that the U.S. is the world’s leading generator of plastic waste, at 287 pounds per capita. It’s clogging the oceans, and poisoning plankton and whales.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 1, 2021

The United States leads the world in the generation of plastic waste and needs a comprehensive strategy by the end of next year to curb its devastating impacts on ocean health, marine wildlife and communities, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes.

A committee of academic experts who wrote the report at the request of Congress described an environmental crisis that will only get worse as plastic production, nearly all from fossil fuels, continues to soar.

In fact, the first of the study’s main recommendations is to stop making so much plastic—especially plastic materials that are not reusable or practically recyclable. It suggested a national cap on virgin plastic production among other strategies, all of which the report concluded will be needed to control pollution from plastics and all of the related health and environmental issues.

“The fundamental problem here is that plastics are accumulating in the natural environment, including the ocean,” Margaret Spring, chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, who chaired the report committee, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

She called plastics “pervasive and persistent environmental contaminants,” creating a problem that is “going to continue unless we change—we have to change. And that’s just the truth.”

The report, made public Wednesday, is historically significant, said Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and president of Beyond Plastic, an environmental group.

“It is an outstanding report that every member of Congress should read and act on,” Enck said. “It’s timely. It’s transformative and it’s based on science. It will be quoted for years to come.”

A leading industry lobby group for the plastics industry, the American Chemistry Council, agreed in a statement that a national plastics strategy is necessary.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

X-Press Pearl
Nurdles: the worst toxic waste you’ve probably never heard of
Billions of these tiny plastic pellets are floating in the ocean, causing as much damage as oil spills, yet they are still not classified as hazardous
Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
November 29, 2021

When the X-Press Pearl container ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean in May, Sri Lanka was terrified that the vessel’s 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil would spill into the ocean, causing an environmental disaster for the country’s pristine coral reefs and fishing industry.

Classified by the UN as Sri Lanka’s “worst maritime disaster”, the biggest impact was not caused by the heavy fuel oil. Nor was it the hazardous chemicals on board, which included nitric acid, caustic soda and methanol. The most “significant” harm, according to the UN, came from the spillage of 87 containers full of lentil-sized plastic pellets: nurdles.

Since the disaster, nurdles have been washing up in their billions along hundreds of miles of the country’s coastline, and are expected to make landfall across Indian Ocean coastlines from Indonesia and Malaysia to Somalia. In some places they are up to 2 metres deep. They have been found in the bodies of dead dolphins and the mouths of fish. About 1,680 tonnes of nurdles were released into the ocean. It is the largest plastic spill in history, according to the UN report.

Nurdles, the colloquial term for “pre-production plastic pellets”, are the little-known building block for all our plastic products. The tiny beads can be made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and other plastics. Released into the environment from plastic plants or when shipped around the world as raw material to factories, they will sink or float, depending on the density of the pellets and if they are in freshwater or saltwater.

They are often mistaken for food by seabirds, fish and other wildlife. In the environment, they fragment into nanoparticles whose hazards are more complex. They are the second-largest source of micropollutants in the ocean, by weight, after tyre dust. An astounding 230,000 tonnes of nurdles end up in oceans every year.

“The pellets themselves are a mixture of chemicals – they are fossil fuels,” says Tom Gammage, at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international campaign group. “But they act as toxic sponges. A lot of toxic chemicals – which in the case of Sri Lanka are already in the water – are hydrophobic [repel water], so they gather on the surface of microplastics.

“Pollutants can be a million times more concentrated on the surface of pellets than in the water,” he says. “And we know from lab studies that when a fish eats a pellet, some of those pollutants come loose.”

Yet nurdles, unlike substances such as kerosene, diesel and petrol, are not deemed hazardous under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) dangerous goods code for safe handling and storage. This is despite the threat to the environment from plastic pellets being known about for three decades, as detailed in a 1993 report from the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency on how the plastics industry could reduce spillages.

Now environmentalists are joining forces with the Sri Lankan government in an attempt to turn the X-Press Pearl disaster into a catalyst for change.
» Read article                      
» Read the UN report
» Read the 1993 EPA report

» More about plastics in the environment

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