Weekly News Check-In 12/3/21

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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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