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?
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