Weekly News Check-In 2/4/22

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Welcome back.

We’re opening this week with a story on retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, focusing on his decision in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt forty years ago when he was a U.S. District Court judge. In that decision, then-judge Breyer “emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.” This is widely understood to require robust environmental impact analysis during the approval stage of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and prior to construction. Think pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, refineries, etc.

Watt has been on the books for four decades and is widely and routinely cited by environmental advocates. It is the law. How then, do we find ourselves with a Federal regulator admitting that the Weymouth compressor station’s environmental permits were based on flawed and shoddy analysis and should never have been granted… but refusing to shut it down? Why are we still seeing peaking power plants permitted for construction at all, but especially in environmental justice neighborhoods? It’s clear that much of the effort, sound and fury of protests and actions boils down to a demand by ordinary people that powerful interests simply comply with the law.

Better late than never, climate considerations are showing up in court rulings much more frequently. With Congress bogged down in partisan trench warfare, numerous states have taken the lead and passed ambitious legislation requiring rapid emissions reduction. California is even phasing out its huge oil and gas extraction sector, and moving toward economic protections for displaced workers.

Justice Breyer can look back with pride on his environmental law legacy, but he might also wonder what would be different today had his Watt ruling been followed enthusiastically in the U.S. – and globally through the example of U.S. leadership. Would we even be discussing a giant carbon capture & storage scheme in the Gulf of Mexico predicated on pumping even more oil? Would Europe have allowed itself to become so dependent on Russian gas pipelines that huge shipments of liquefied natural gas are hailed as a lifeline? Would the U.S., Canada, and Norway still be massively increasing fossil fuel extraction even as they make flimsy promises for emissions reductions and the U.N. declares “code red for humanity”? Would our fossil-dependent grid be in such a creaky state that it can’t accommodate new sources of renewable power?

Looking at clean energy, offshore wind is going gangbusters but turbine size is growing so rapidly that the sector is facing a critical shortage of ships capable of handling the huge towers and blades. Another area seeing rapid advancement in technology is long-duration energy storage, and we’re highlighting Zink8’s zinc-air flow battery in Queens, NY. Closer to home, Massachusetts has updated its energy efficiency program Mass Save, in an attempt to prioritize heat pumps over gas furnaces – but advocates feel much more needs to be done to meet the state’s emissions requirements.

U.S. Postal Service runs a huge fleet of delivery trucks, and it’s in the process of ordering billions of dollars worth of new, gasoline-powered models. Wait, what?! The Biden administration is intervening to make sure these new vehicles are electric.

Meanwhile, our watchdog Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading a group of Democratic lawmakers taking a look at the high energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining. The goal is to understand crypto’s impact on the environment and whether the energy-intensive activities may be impacting utility bills for U.S. customers.

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

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER’S ENVIRONMENTAL LAW LEGACY

bureaucratic commitment
Breyer ruling set stage for NEPA climate fights
By Niina H. Farah, E&E News
February 2, 2022

A 40-year-old ruling penned by Stephen Breyer on the timing of environmental reviews has laid the groundwork for a new wave of litigation over the quality of climate analyses for energy projects and oil and gas development.

The decision, which Breyer wrote while he was a judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is among the Supreme Court justice’s lasting contributions to environmental law. Breyer, 83, announced last week that he plans to retire this summer.

In his 1983 opinion in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt, Breyer emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.

Watt is widely cited by organizations pushing for more thorough National Environmental Policy Act analyses in cases related to coal mining and oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. The bedrock environmental statute requires federal agencies to take a hard look at the impacts of major actions, such as pipeline permitting and fossil fuel leasing.

“The concept [of bureaucratic commitment] is widely known and widely cited as a reason why comprehensive NEPA evaluation at the earliest stage possible is important,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans programs litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

In Watt, then-1st Circuit Judge Breyer […] emphasized the importance of halting development while the government prepared an environmental impact statement.

“Once large bureaucracies are committed to a course of action, it is difficult to change that course — even if new, or more thorough, NEPA statements are prepared and the agency is told to ‘redecide.’”

The takeaway from Breyer’s opinion is that unless comprehensive analysis occurs at the start of a project, the government tends to favor allowing development to continue, Monsell said.

Setting aside an agency’s action at a later date won’t undo harm that’s already occurred, she said.

“While a new [environmental impact statement] might bring about a new decision, it’s much less likely,” Monsell said of Breyer’s reasoning.

She added: “It’s far easier to influence an initial choice than to change a mind that is already made up.”
» Read article         

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Mystic Generating Station
Activists urge Massachusetts to take another look at need for peaking plants
Campaigns in Boston and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peakers. Critics say the facilities are bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
February 1, 2022

Activists across Massachusetts are pressuring utilities and regulators to reconsider the need for some of the state’s most rarely used and least efficient fossil fuel power plants.

Campaigns in the Boston suburbs and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peaking power plants. The facilities — often simply called “peakers” — are intended to run only at times when demand for electricity is at its highest.

Utilities and grid managers say peakers are necessary to ensure reliability, especially as more intermittent wind and solar generation is added to the system. Critics, though, say they’re bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.

“They are low-hanging fruit,” said Logan Malik, clean energy director for the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “They aren’t in use a whole lot of time, and at the same time, technology is available as we speak, today, to replace these dirty plants with clean, renewable alternatives.”

Massachusetts is home to 23 such plants, according to nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. Roughly two-thirds of them burn oil; the remaining plants run on natural gas. More than 90% of the plants are more than 30 years old, and thus more likely to run inefficiently and have higher greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Some are so old they are not required to comply with the standards of the 1970 federal Clean Air Act.

Furthermore, they are often located in areas with concentrations of low-income households and residents of color, likely posing additional health risks to populations that are already more vulnerable. When peakers run, it can also raise costs for consumers, as they are generally the most expensive plants to operate.

“There’s just really almost no need for these plants,” said Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. “Right now, the ratepayers are paying a hell of a lot of money to keep these plants on standby.”

Environmental advocates also argue that allowing new peaker plants to move forward and renewing permits for existing ones runs counter to the spirit of the state’s new environmental justice laws. The law, adopted last March, makes environmental justice a central principle of the state’s climate action. Among the provisions is a requirement for new projects that might cause air pollution to undergo an assessment of their cumulative environmental impact if they are located near environmental justice communities.

Though the law covers new projects, advocates would like to see the state use its discretion to apply the same standards to plants already built or approved before the new measures were passed.

“We are arguing that, given the new environmental justice parameters in Massachusetts law, it requires an additional further look,” said Mireille Bejjani, energy justice director with Community Action Works, a group fighting a proposed plant in the Boston suburb of Peabody. “We need to understand what this is going to do to the environment and the community.”
» Read article         

South Hadley ELD
Advocacy group brings Peabody gas plant issue to South Hadley health board
By DUSTY CHRISTENSEN, Daily Hampshire Gazette
January 29, 2022

SOUTH HADLEY — A physician-led organization fighting climate change has urged the South Hadley Board of Health to consider asking the state to further scrutinize the construction of a fossil fuel plant north of Boston — a project the town’s electric company has signed a 30-year contract to draw energy from.

On Tuesday, South Hadley’s Board of Health weighed a request from the organization Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, which called on the board to join health boards in Peabody and Holden in writing to Gov. Charlie Baker to ask for an environmental impact report and health impact assessment of the gas-burning plant that is set to be built in Peabody.

The construction of the “peaker” plant, which is designed to run during times of peak demand during the year, drew protests last month in front of Peabody District Court, where demonstrators held signs calling the investment in non-renewable energy “peak stupidity.” In November, protesters in Holyoke, whose electric company is also invested in the project, held a rally in front of the region’s wholesale power operator, ISO New England, joining organizers in Peabody in calling the operator to move the electrical grid away from fossil fuels.

The matter was an issue of intense debate last year between one elected member of the South Hadley Electric Light Department board, Peter McAvoy, and his fellow commissioners. McAvoy frequently raised his voice during meetings in opposition to SHELD’s use of energy from two nuclear reactors and its participation in the Peabody project, harshly rebuking the rest of the board.
» Read article

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Rep Stephen LynchLynch urges feds to close Weymouth compressor station
By Chris Lisinski and Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, in The Patriot Ledger
February 3, 2022

Citing emergency shutdowns and recent admissions from federal regulators, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch is trying to revive efforts to close a natural gas compressor  station in Weymouth.

Lynch on Wednesday called on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to “immediately terminate operation” of the station, citing environmental and public health concerns that opponents of the project have expressed for years and  pointing to recent shutdowns of the station and new acknowledgements from federal energy infrastructure officials.

“Regrettably, recent emergency events at the Weymouth Compressor Station have more than validated the health and safety concerns that South Shore residents, community safety groups, nonprofit organizations, and local, state and federal officials have expressed for nearly seven years,” Lynch wrote in a letter to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown. “Between 2020 and 2021, the Weymouth Compressor Station experienced four unplanned emergency shutdowns and multiple blowdown events necessitating the release of natural gas into the atmosphere – all amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month declined to revoke the certificate it issued to energy giant Enbridge, although Chairman Richard Glick said the office previously “erred” in siting the facility near environmental justice communities and “inadequately assessed” its likely impacts on the densely populated area.
» Read article         

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

offshore rig fireBiden Urged Not to Fight Court Ruling Against Massive Oil and Gas Lease Sale
The administration “should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters,” more than 70 climate groups write in a new letter.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
February 1, 2022

As the fossil fuel industry clamors for an appeal, the Biden administration on Tuesday faced pressure from environmentalists to adhere to a judge’s decision blocking a massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill.

“We urge you to comply with the court’s ruling and not appeal the court’s decision,” more than 70 climate groups wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The [Department of the Interior] should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters in appellate court given the impacts on our climate, clear violations of federal environmental standards, and public commitments made by President Biden to end the practice.”

“We also strongly urge the Department of the Interior to create a new five-year offshore lease program with no proposed offshore lease sales when the current program expires in June 2022,” the groups added.

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration failed to sufficiently account for the emissions impact of the proposed oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest such sell-off in the nation’s history. The judge blocked the sale and instructed the Biden administration to conduct a fresh environmental review.

John Beard, CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network and member of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday that the judge got it “exactly right: every politician, judge, and decisionmaker in the country must consider the devastating damage that fossil fuel pollution does to our communities, our health, and our climate before they rubber-stamp a new pipeline, oil and gas lease, refinery, or chemical facility.”
» Read article         
» Read the letter

Mar del Plata
Protests Erupt in Argentina Over Plan for Offshore Oil Drilling
The Argentine government has subsidized oil and gas drilling for years, and is now shifting its sights offshore. But opposition is growing.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 1, 2022

On January 4, thousands of people took to the streets of Mar del Plata, a coastal city roughly 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were there to protest the plans by Norwegian oil company Equinor to begin offshore oil exploration later this year.

They held signs that read “the sea is ours!” and “an ocean free of oil,” and they chanted, shouted, and sang. The protests were focused in Mar del Plata, a beach town closest to the offshore blocks, but spread to other cities in the province and around the country.

The protesters oppose offshore drilling because of the risks of an oil spill, which could wreck tourism and interfere with fishing, two important parts of the coastal economy. They also fear that the seismic tests that accompany oil exploration would pose a mortal threat to southern right whales and could harm abundant marine life.

More broadly, protesters are frustrated that Argentine officials continuously promote oil, gas, and mining projects as economic godsends, while ignoring the impacts to communities where they are located.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Nord Stream 2 politics
How Climate and the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Undergirds the Ukraine-Russia Standoff
Russia’s $11 billion natural gas conduit to Germany is a by-product of Donald Trump’s pro-Putin foreign policy—and a real headache for President Biden.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
January 30, 2022

As tensions simmer on the Ukraine-Russia border, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has become an emblem of the energy and climate issues underlying the conflict—even though it has yet to deliver a molecule of natural gas.

Last week, the U.S. State Department vowed that Gazprom’s $11 billion conduit beneath the Baltic Sea to Germany would never open if Russia invades Ukraine. Much of eastern Europe, the environmental movement and even the U.S. oil industry opposed Nord Stream 2 as a tie designed to solidify Russia’s energy hold on Europe, but Russian President Vladimir Putin took advantage of leeway offered by President Donald Trump to push construction through.

Trump’s tacit acquiescence on Nord Stream 2 (often while voicing protest) was one of his only moves counter to the interests of Texas oil and gas producers, who coveted the Europe gas market themselves. But it was right in line with two other Trump impulses: to reject climate policy and to yield to Putin.

Now, the Biden administration is left with the consequences. And although it is attempting to use Nord Stream 2 as a threat, the pipeline also has served as a weapon for Putin—a wedge to divide Germany, and separate Europe’s largest economy from other members of the NATO coalition while he threatens Ukraine.

[In] the short term, at least, Europe remains dependent on natural gas. And Biden’s team  has been scrambling to secure gas and crude oil supplies from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, so European allies will be less vulnerable to threats from Russia. It’s not the Biden administration’s first effort at diplomacy to ramp up fossil fuel production short-term, despite criticism from progressives that it is counter to his vision for a net-zero carbon future. Others argue that there’s no conflict between Biden’s immediate geopolitical goals and his long-term climate agenda.

“Gas, the green transition and energy security are not either-or issues,” said Richard Morningstar, who served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under President Barack Obama, and also was a special U.S. envoy on Eurasian energy. “Gas can continue to be important in a responsible way, in the short- to mid-term, but it’s important to double down as quickly as possible on the green transition,” said Morningstar, who is founding chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. “The quicker the green transition, the less dependence on fossil fuels. And by definition, the less dependence on Russian gas.”
» Read article         

Lake Albert
New Fossil Fuel Project Would Turn Uganda Into Oil-Producing Country
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
February 2, 2022

A new project from French fossil fuel company TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) would turn Uganda into an oil-producing country for the first time.

Total announced Tuesday that the companies would spend more than $10 billion to develop oil fields in Uganda and build a pipeline network both within the landlocked country and through Tanzania, which has a coastline.

Accessing the oil would mean building a 1,443-kilometer (approximately 897 mile) heated pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean, according to 350.org. The so-called East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) would be the largest heated crude-oil pipeline in the world and is vehemently opposed by climate activists.

“The future of East Africa relies on building sustainable, diversified and inclusive economies – not by letting huge multinational corporations like Total extract resources and keep the profit,” 350Africa.org regional director Landry Ninteretse said in a statement reported by 350.org. “The impacts of building the East Africa Oil Pipeline will be devastating for our communities, for wildlife and for the planet.”

In particular, activists are concerned about the pipeline’s potential impact on water resources for millions of people in Tanzania and Uganda, vulnerable ecosystems and the climate crisis. Uganda’s oil reserves amount to 6.5 billion barrels, 1.4 billion of which are actually recoverable, government scientists estimate, according to AllAfrica.

However, despite Tuesday’s announcement, activists argue that the funding for the pipeline is not secure, according to 350.org. Activists are putting pressure on banks not to finance the project, and several major players have agreed. Campaigners say the project is at least $2.5 billion short on necessary funds.

“The people benefitting from this aren’t local communities, they are rich European banks and oil companies like Total,” 350.org France campaigner Isabelle l’Héritier said in a statement reported by 350.org. “Over 260 organisations are urgently trying to convince banks around the world to rule out supporting this disastrous project. Eleven banks, including three French banks, have already pulled out.”

While Total has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, according to its website, the new project shows it is still investing in new fossil fuel extraction.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

fully electric
2021 was a landmark year for energy efficiency legislation in US states
Now comes the hard part.
By Adam Mahoney, Grist
February 3, 2022

Last year was rocky – to say the least. But as the coronavirus pandemic maintained its grasp on American society, the U.S. managed to continue charging on its path of energy efficiency, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE.

The nonprofit research organization’s annual Energy Efficiency Scorecard Progress Report found that in 2021 at least a dozen states passed new clean energy legislation or adopted new energy-saving standards. Notably, the new legislation included incentives for everything from fuel switching and electrification to, encouraging clean heating systems and even strengthening building codes.

Seven states – Massachusetts, Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington – passed new energy laws that named electrification as a “growing priority.” At least five states, including the District of Columbia, passed laws requiring energy and water use reductions for appliances. California and New York set goals for all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission by 2035.

Many states have also put laws on the books to ensure “equitable benefits” from their electrification push, the ACEEE found. These measures, primarily focused on transit, include the creation of transit-oriented affordable housing projects and the electrification of public transit fleets. In New York, the state’s ramped up efficiency and building electrification programs have a goal of 40 percent of the benefits reaching “disadvantaged communities.”

While putting these codes and laws on paper are wins, the report argues, implementation is still a huge mountain to climb. States are “adopting promising new laws that can reduce harmful pollution and create thousands of clean energy jobs, but they need to vigilantly implement them,” Berg said. Fighting for electrification, the ACEEE asserts, will help reverse the country’s racial and economic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the ACEEE report

» More about legislation      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Signal Hill
Calif. weighs help for oil workers in green future
By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News
January 31, 2022

California officials are brainstorming how to help oil industry workers as the state moves to phase out fossil fuels and replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric cars.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and legislators are talking to unions representing industry workers, and a new state Assembly document outlines potential solutions. But it’s a complex quandary, raising questions about whether to guarantee workers their current salaries and benefits as their jobs disappear.

“One of the major hurdles in transitioning existing fossil fuels activities to clean energy ones has been the potentially negative economic consequences to workers and communities,” according to a document from the Assembly Office of Policy and Research obtained by E&E News. “As the state implements its ambitious climate goals, there is an opportunity to assist workers impacted by the transition to a green economy.”

Nearly 112,000 people work in 14 fossil fuel and ancillary industries in California as of 2018, according to a report last year from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The total includes oil and gas extraction operations, and support activities, and sectors such as fossil-fuel-based power generation.

What California decides to do about oil industry workers has the potential to ripple beyond the nation’s most populous state, said Catherine Houston, legislative, political and rapid response coordinator with United Steelworkers District 12.That union represents many oil industry workers.

“California typically takes the lead in a lot of these types of things, and we become an example for other states across the nation,” Houston said. “So whatever we do can potentially serve as a federal model.”
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

climate review
Judges Increasingly Demand Climate Analysis in Drilling Decisions
A federal judge this week required the government take climate change into account before approving offshore oil drilling leases. That’s becoming more common.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 28, 2022

WASHINGTON — A judge’s decision this week to invalidate the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, on grounds that the government had failed to take climate change into consideration, shows that regulatory decisions that disregard global warming are increasingly vulnerable to legal challenges, analysts said Friday.

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Thursday that the Biden administration had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it conducted an auction of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department failed to fully analyze the climate effects of the burning of the oil and gas that would be developed from the leases, the judge said.

The ruling is one of a handful over the past year in which a court has required the government to conduct a more robust study of climate change effects before approving fossil fuel development. Analysts said that, cumulatively, the decisions would ensure that future administrations are no longer able to disregard or downplay global warming.

“This would not have been true 10 years ago for climate analysis,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University. He said it is “a big win” that courts are forcing government agencies to include “a very robust and holistic analysis of climate” as part of the decision-making when it comes to whether or not to drill on public lands and waters.

Emissions from fossil fuel extraction on public lands and in federal waters account for about 25 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

ship shortage
Offshore wind’s ship problem is growing
The US is in even deeper water
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 3, 2022

The short supply of ships capable of deploying giant wind turbines at sea is becoming an even bigger problem as offshore wind ambitions grow. By 2024, demand for wind turbine installation vessels will likely outpace supply, according to a recent analysis by Norwegian firm Rystad Energy. That’s even sooner than a prediction the firm made back in 2020 when it said that the global fleet wouldn’t be enough to meet demand after 2025.

Massive, specialized vessels are required to carry wind turbine components out to sea and install them. With just over 30 of these vessels navigating the world’s seas in 2020, according to Rystad, offshore wind projects already have to vie for time with a limited number of ships. A growth spurt in turbine technology will exacerbate the problem even further.

Taller turbines can reach stronger winds, while longer blades can harness more power. New turbines are the size of skyscrapers, dwarfing previous designs. Between 2010 and today, the amount of wind power turbine can harness, on average, has more than doubled from 3 MW to 6.5 MW. By the end of the decade, more than half of turbines installed globally are projected to be even larger than 8 MW.

That’s quickly making more ships — even those just built this decade — obsolete. Only four of the turbine installation ships in operation are capable of carrying behemoth next-generation turbines, according to Rystad’s 2020 analysis.
» Read article         
» Read Rystad’s 2020 analysis

Gordon van Welie
Grid operator should stop crying wolf

It’s time to step up on climate or get out of the way
By Bradley M. Campbell, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 3, 2022
Bradley Campbell is president of Conservation Law Foundation.

NEW ENGLAND’S fossil fuel interests and electric grid operator are at it again. Every winter, they issue dire warnings that our region’s power grid won’t be able to handle the stress of another season of extreme weather.

As this week’s CommonWealth story highlights, 2022 is no different. It’s time to call out ISO-New England (our electric grid operator) and fossil fuel companies for this naked attempt to prop up oil and gas at the expense of renewables and state climate policy.

Last week it was the owners of fossil power plants predicting doom. Back in December, it was a coalition of oil and gas dealers who sent a letter to governors of every New England state with their own SOS. Both use the same false narrative predicting the kind of extreme weather that shut down Texas’ electricity and gas systems last February could hit our region this year. The oil dealers took aim at state programs to promote electric heat pumps for home and business heating, demanding they must be “ceased immediately.”

Their solution? Firing up more climate-polluting heating oil and gas of course.

The oil dealers aimed their ire at heat pump programs because transitioning to electric heat is at the center of state strategies to cut climate-damaging emissions. Heating our homes and buildings with electric heat pumps poses a threat, as it means moving away from gas and oil in favor of clean energy sources. The owners of dirty power want to limit clean energy and extend the life of their power plants.

Both pleas have the circularity of a Texas two-step: to avoid risks posed by severe weather, we must burn more fossil fuels. But that severe weather is driven in large part by climate change – which is caused by burning those very fossil fuels.

The misleading messages of fear peddled by oil and gas companies would not be newsworthy or catch the attention of our politicians if not for one critical factor. They echo the anti-clean energy rhetoric of a supposedly credible source: ISO-New England.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

DPU falls short
With new Mass Save three-year plan, Massachusetts sharpens its best climate-fighting tool
The new 343-page order dramatically expands incentives to decarbonize homes. Yet some fear its fine print could undermine its broad strokes.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 1, 2022

In a move hailed as a sea change in the state’s climate fight, Massachusetts regulators approved a plan that would dramatically expand incentives for homeowners to invest in electric heat pumps as the state races to shift people off fossil fuels.

On Monday, the Department of Public Utilities approved a major rewriting of the state plan that provides energy efficiency incentives to consumers. Unlike previous versions of the Mass Save plan, the new one centers on curbing global warming by encouraging people to switch from oil or gas to electric heat or renewable sources, and also includes provisions to help make the transition more affordable to people in disadvantaged communities.

Among the $4 billion in new incentives is hundreds of millions of dollars for electric heat pumps, which, for the first time, will be available to gas customers looking to move off of fossil fuels.

The incentives are seen as critical to building momentum for the state’s quest to wean 1 million homes from fossil fuels by 2030, a massive undertaking that had languished because of high costs, anemic incentives, and, in some cases, active discouragement of homeowners looking to electrify their homes. In 2020, the state had converted just 461 homes.

Along with praise for the advances made in the plan came some harsh criticism. A number of climate advocates said it did not go far enough, especially with so little time to meet 2030 goals. Some blamed the DPU for walking back green energy measures, including restoring fossil fuel incentives that even the utilities that run Mass Save had recommended be ended.

“It seems like the DPU has minimized what could have been a transformative plan,” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and a member of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which oversees the Mass Save program.
» Read article         
» Related: What the new Mass Save rewrite means for you    

Syrian coffee
Making gas unnatural
By Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe | Opinion
January 29, 2022

Don’t let that slippery word “natural” fool you.

Natural gas is very bad news. It’s lousy for human health, disastrous for the environment, and a massive money pit, sucking away billions we could be spending on trying to head off the worst impacts of climate change.

A study out of Stanford University last week found that gas cooking stoves leak methane not only when they’re in use, but even when they’re turned off: The projected emissions each year from the nation’s 40 million gas cooktops are as harmful to the environment as emissions from 500,000 gasoline-powered cars. Numerous studies have shown that kids living in homes with gas stoves — which emit dangerous gases, including nitrogen oxides — are much more likely to develop asthma.

Gas does damage not just in the homes where it’s used for cooking and heating, but all the way along the supply chain. It is polluting to harvest, associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and poor birth outcomes. It is risky to store and transport, as we saw with the disastrous Merrimack Valley explosions of three years ago. Methane, of which it is largely comprised, is far more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. After transportation emissions, gas is this state’s second-biggest polluter.

We have to kick our habit on this stuff if we’re ever going to attain the ambitious, and absolutely vital, climate goals we’ve set for ourselves in Massachusetts. But so far, despite plenty of good intentions, we’re doing an abysmal job of it.

Instead of transitioning away from gas, utilities are spending billions to rebuild leaking pipelines across the Commonwealth. Obviously, leaks that send tons of methane into the air are dangerous, and we need to plug them, but the state has made it more lucrative for gas companies to replace those lines, greatly extending their life and the life of this damaging energy option, rather than repair them. A report last fall by the advocacy group Gas Leaks Allies found that the cost of replacing those pipelines is headed into Big Dig territory, at $20 billion, and that ratepayers will be on the hook for it. Worse, the system is springing new leaks as quickly as gas companies are plugging the old ones, so they’re essentially treading water says Dorie Seavey, who authored the study.

Meanwhile, legislation mandates that the state be at net zero emissions — that we be essentially done with fossil fuels — by 2050. That means switching to heat pumps, geothermal systems, and electric heat that relies on renewable energy sources. We’ve gotten a slow start so far: An analysis by my colleague Sabrina Shankman found that, though the state has set a target of converting 100,000 households each year from fossil fuels to electricity for heating and cooling, a measly 461 homes converted to heat pumps in 2020. That’s partly because the gas companies, for whom this whole movement away from fossil fuels is a monumental threat, have been discouraging these changeovers.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Zinc8 in Queens
New York demonstration project to showcase potential of Zinc8’s long-duration zinc-air battery
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
January 26, 2022

Canadian energy storage company Zinc8 Energy Solutions last week announced plans to deploy a 100kW/1.5MWh battery storage system at an apartment building in Queens, New York, to demonstrate the potential of its long-duration zinc-air storage technology.

Zinc8 specializes in a flow battery technology that relies on regenerating zinc particles to store and dispatch energy. The technology has fewer supply chain concerns than lithium-ion batteries, the company said, and is also scalable at a lower cost than other long-duration technologies.

The Queens project — developed in partnership with New York-based combined heat and power developer Digital Energy Corp and real estate company Fresh Meadows Community Apartments — will see Zinc8 deploy a battery capable of at least eight hours of storage at the 32-building housing development. The battery will draw power from on-site solar and the combined heat and power system and deploy it in order to minimize drawing power from the grid at peak times during the day.

Zinc8 President and CEO Ron MacDonald said the Queens project, backed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is more “validation” of the value of long-duration storage. Zinc8 has several other demonstration projects in New York, but this behind-the-meter project, MacDonald said, will show that the zinc-air system can work for buildings without the safety concerns that accompany lithium-ion batteries.

“You could safely deploy us in the basement of a downtown high rise or a school or a library,” Macdonald said.

The proprietary flow battery technology uses power from the grid or a renewable source to generate zinc particles, releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Those flow to an electrolyte for storage and are then returned and recombined with oxygen to deliver power. The company says it can deploy at about $250/kWh for eight hours of storage, which drops to about $100/kWh for 30 hours. The system is also scalable without sacrificing power, unlike some other long-duration batteries, MacDonald said.
» Read article         

» More about long-duration energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

West Reading tangle
Overwhelmed by Solar Projects, the Nation’s Largest Grid Operator Seeks a Two-Year Pause on Approvals
“It’s a kink in the system,” says one developer trying to bring solar jobs to coal country. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
February 2, 2022

The nation’s largest electric grid operator, PJM Interconnection, is so clogged with requests from energy developers seeking connections to its  regional transmission network in the eastern United States that it is proposing a two-year pause on reviewing more than 1,200 energy projects, most of them solar power.

New projects may have to wait even longer.

The situation can be explained in part by the rapid increase in the economic competitiveness of solar power as state energy policies and corporate sustainability plans drive a booming renewable energy industry. But the logjam threatens to put some solar developers in a financial bind and is raising questions about the feasibility of the Biden administration’s goal of having a carbon-free electricity grid in just 13 years.

“It’s a kink in the system,” said Adam Edelen, a former Kentucky state auditor who runs a company working to bring solar projects and jobs to ailing coal communities in Appalachia, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. “Anyone paying attention would acknowledge that this has a tremendous impact on climate policy and energy policy in the United States.”

The backlog at PJM is a major concern for renewable energy companies and clean energy advocates, even though grid operators are a part of the energy economy that is largely unknown to the public.

“There is broad national consensus, in the leadership from the public and the private sector, that we need to hasten the adoption of renewable energy,” Edelen said. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS next gen
Biden officials push to hold up $11.3 billion USPS truck contract, citing climate damage
The Environmental Protection Agency warns Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to halt his plan to replace the aging delivery fleet with thousands of gas-powered vehicles.
By Anna Phillips and Jacob Bogage, Washington Post
February 2, 2022

The Biden administration launched a last-minute push Wednesday to derail the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to spend billions of dollars on a new fleet of gasoline-powered delivery trucks, citing the damage the polluting vehicles could inflict on the climate and Americans’ health.

The dispute over the Postal Service’s plans to spend up to $11.3 billion on as many as 165,000 new delivery trucks over the next decade has major implications for President Biden’s goal of converting all federal cars and trucks to clean power. Postal Service vehicles make up a third of the government’s fleet, and the EPA warned the agency last fall that its environmental analysis of the contract rested on flawed assumptions and missing data.

The EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality sent letters to the Postal Service on Wednesday that urge it to reconsider plans to buy mostly gas-powered vehicles and conduct a new, more thorough technical analysis. The EPA also asked the Postal Service to hold a public hearing on its fleet modernization plans, a request the agency had rejected when California regulators made it Jan. 28.

“The Postal Service’s proposal as currently crafted represents a crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” wrote Vicki Arroyo, the EPA’s associate administrator for policy.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Liz on the case
Is Crypto Mining Driving Up Power Costs For U.S. Consumers?
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 28, 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, demand that six major cryptocurrency mining companies detail their high energy usage, the possible impact on the environment, and the role in driving up power bills for U.S. consumers.

Riot Blockchain, Marathon Digital Holdings, Stronghold Digital Mining, Bitdeer, Bitfury Group, and Bit Digital were sent letters by the lawmakers, who were concerned about “their extraordinarily high energy usage,” Senator Warren said on Thursday.

In the letters, the lawmakers want written answers from the six crypto mining companies by February 10, 2022, on the amount of energy each of their facilities consume, projected energy use for the next five years, plans to address the climate impact of their increasing operations, and details of their purchasing agreements with electricity providers.

“Bitcoin mining’s power consumption has more than tripled from 2019 to 2021, rivaling the energy consumption of Washington state, and of entire countries like Denmark, Chile, and Argentina,” the statement from the lawmakers says.

“The extraordinarily high energy usage and carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining could undermine our hard work to tackle the climate crisis – not to mention the harmful impacts cryptomining has on local environments and electricity prices. We need more information on the operations of these cryptomining companies to understand the full scope of the consequences for our environment and local communities,” Senator Warren said.

Crypto mining globally has drawn a lot of attention in recent months, including from regulators, amid the current energy crisis in Europe and rising energy costs for consumers, including in the United States.
» Read article         

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Gulf CCS
CCS in the Gulf: Climate solution or green washing?
By Heather Richards and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
January 31, 2022

The Gulf of Mexico may be the largest potential sink for storing carbon dioxide emissions in the world — but getting the greenhouse gas under the seafloor would take a massive effort and cost.

Enter Exxon Mobil Corp.

The oil supermajor, along with other companies, is eyeing the Gulf as a prime spot to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, considering the region’s massive potential capacity, its existing oil and gas infrastructure, and its proximity to industrial facilities where the greenhouse gas could be captured, piped and stored underneath the seafloor.

“ExxonMobil believes the greatest opportunity for CO2 storage in the United States is in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Todd Spitler, a spokesperson for Exxon’s Low Carbon Solutions business, in an email.

But momentum for carbon capture in the Gulf hit a potential roadblock last week when a federal judge invalidated the Biden administration’s November oil and gas lease sale over faulty climate reviews, consequently striking a bundle of Exxon leases that observers say were primed for the company’s first Gulf carbon storage efforts.

Exxon declined to comment on the impact of the court case, but the ruling is not expected to quell a rush of industry interest in Gulf carbon storage. However, critics are making accusations of green washing and warning of potential environmental risks, like carbon dioxide leaking into the ocean. The dynamic raises the question: How likely is CCS in the Gulf?

Proponents say very.

Political leaders on Capitol Hill have responded to the industry push by tweaking federal laws to make carbon sequestration in federal waters permissible and taking steps this year to regulate where CO2 can be stored offshore, and how to do it safely.

But carbon storage has its critics, and Exxon’s interest in the Gulf is refueling allegations of green washing.

“CCS is the plan of the oil industry to keep business as usual, while claiming some kind of net-zero alignment or climate action,” said Steven Feit, an attorney with the climate and energy program at the Center for International Environmental Law, which uses law to “protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.”
» Read article         

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

talk is cheap
Record Fossil Extraction from Canada, U.S., Norway Despite Fervent Climate Pledges
By The Energy Mix
February 2, 2022


The United States, Norway, and Canada are set to produce more oil this year than ever before, despite solemn pronouncements at last year’s COP 26 climate summit on the urgent need for climate action, Oil Change International asserts in a new analysis.

All three countries “like to see themselves as climate leaders,” Oil Change writes, recalling American president Joe Biden’s commitment to “doing our part,” Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s call to “do more, and faster,” and Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Støre’s urging to “jointly step up our commitments,” in their respective COP 26 speeches.

But those avowals were meant for last year, Oil Change says. “This is a new year, and instead of new commitments to double down on climate action, what do we see?”

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts, U.S. oil production in 2023 will surpass Donald Trump’s 2019 record for domestic crude production, courtesy of a drilling permit approval rate that surpasses that of Biden’s fossil-championing predecessor. The U.S. “has more oil and gas extraction expansion planned in the next decade than any other country,” Oil Change says.

These national-level fossil expansions come despite the International Energy Agency’s conclusion last May that any new investment in oil and gas will leave efforts to contain global heating below 1.5°C dead in the water. Then in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a landmark report urging leaders to halt oil and gas drilling or face heat waves, droughts, flooding, and other weather catastrophes. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity,” but Oil Change says that message seems to have gone over the heads of some.
» Read article

fracking rig Colorado
Living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development linked with increased risk of early death
By Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
January 27, 2022

Boston, MA – Elderly people living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD)—which involves extraction methods including directional (non-vertical) drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—are at higher risk of early death compared with elderly individuals who don’t live near such operations, according to a large new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The results suggest that airborne contaminants emitted by UOGD and transported downwind are contributing to increased mortality, the researchers wrote.

The study was published on January 27, 2022 in Nature Energy.

“Although UOGD is a major industrial activity in the U.S., very little is known about its public health impacts. Our study is the first to link mortality to UOGD-related air pollutant exposures,” said Petros Koutrakis, professor of environmental sciences and senior author of the study. Added co-author Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science, “There is an urgent need to understand the causal link between living near or downwind of UOGD and adverse health effects.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Prelude FLNG
Ukraine dispute opens door for Goldboro LNG exports from N.S.
By Kevin Dougherty, iPolitics
January 27, 2022

The dispute between Russia and the West over Ukraine could revive a shelved liquefied natural gas project in Nova Scotia.

Natural Resources Canada confirmed that on Wednesday officials from Canada and Germany met virtually to discuss the project.

These “natural energy allies,” according to Natural Resources Canada, discussed “building a low-emissions energy future with a view to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Stakeholders from both countries were also in attendance, including representatives of Calgary’s Pieridae Energy Ltd., who presented their revised Goldboro concept to potential German partners.

James Millar, Pieridae’s director of external relations, said in an email that the Alberta company now is looking at a less-costly floating liquefication plant “much smaller project than the original, land-based Goldboro LNG.”

Pieridae announced last June it was putting Goldboro on hold, citing “pandemic-led disruptions” which have “made the current version of the project impractical.”

The floating platform would be moored off Goldboro, north east of Halifax, N.S., where Pieridae owns the land. Natural gas piped in from Alberta would be liquefied aboard the vessel, then loaded on LNG tankers for export.

Royal Dutch Shell pioneered the floating LNG concept with its mammoth 600,000-tonne Prelude FLNG vessel, now in the Indian Ocean, off the north coast of Australia.
» Read article        

» More about LNG

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