Weekly News Check-In 11/20/20

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Welcome back.

Two pending Weymouth compressor station issues include the need for more detail in the town’s emergency evacuation plan, and the town council’s desire for legal clarification of what exactly Mayor Robert Hedlund agreed to in his recent settlement with Enbridge. It’s worth jumping from here to a story about mounting international resistance to the proposed Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Nova Scotia. Recall that we expect a significant percentage of the natural gas pushed north from the Weymouth compressor station to end up at this facility, for export to Europe.

Closer to home, Eversource is attempting to cut costs on their planned Ashland pipeline upgrade, hoping to avoid removing the existing pipe by making individual easement agreements with landowners.

News about other pipelines includes a big win for the Great Lakes, as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer cancelled Enbridge’s permit to operate Line 5, a pair of oil and natural gas pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway connecting Lakes Michigan and Huron. The decades-old pipelines have posed an incalculable risk to this critical freshwater ecosystem, and will be decommissioned in 2021. We also found a revealing study showing which banks are the biggest financiers of the beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Young climate activists are turning up the heat on President-elect Biden. Recent protests were sparked by Mr. Biden’s selection of advisers with deep knowledge of climate-related agencies, but who are also past recipients of fossil fuel money. 

The divestment movement celebrated the announcement that 47 faith institutions from 21 countries are turning away from fossil fuels. This is the largest-ever joint divestment by religious leaders in history.

Mayors from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia unveiled last week the “Marshall Plan for Middle America.” The $60 billion strategy envisions a greener, more sustainable economy, and aims to expedite the transition away from that region’s reliance on coal mining and fracking.

A couple of new climate studies address the limits of solar geoengineering, and also explain why hurricanes generated over warm oceans don’t dissipate as quickly after making landfall as they used to when water surface temperatures were cooler.

In clean energy, the American west is hatching plans for a green hydrogen future in its power sector. The scheme involves solar- and wind-powered electrolyzers, underground storage for the hydrogen they produce, and co-located power plants built to run on either natural gas or hydrogen – replacing existing coal plants. The dual-fuel power plants invite some skepticism, especially those sited in arid locations, because producing hydrogen through electrolysis requires lots of water…. A cynic might see some room for long-term commitments to natural gas.

The Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), expected to boost clean transportation, is dealing with new fuel cost projections based on pandemic-related affects to that sector. Meanwhile, planners continue to address challenges related to the buildout of EV charging infrastructure, and the usual suspects are out with another bogus report claiming electric vehicles pollute as much as conventional cars.

Anticipating that Richard Glick will soon be Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman, this article describes his top priorities under the Biden administration.

We end with a reality check for anyone lulled by Mitt Romney’s recent adult-in-the-room performances calling out Trump administration lunacies. At the same time he acknowledges Biden’s electoral win, he’s out there drumming up support for the fossil fuel industry, which he apparently wants to shield from the new president and his climate plans. And of course, we have a story about the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to bidding for drilling leases.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

school evacuation not considered
Forum urged for compressor evacuation zone plan
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
November 12, 2020

A major gas leak or explosion at the compressor station in the Fore River Basin would require an evacuation of residents within a one-mile radius of the facility, 

Weymouth District 1 Councilor Rebecca Haugh said during a Town Council meeting, Nov. 9. She said the evacuation zone would include “ a good portion of North Weymouth and Idlewell.

“We are exceptionally unique here due to the sheer volume of people who live in proximity to the site,” she said.

The evacuation zone is detailed in a 1,110-page town summary, and the area includes Wessagusset Primary School, Elden Johnson Early Childhood Center, businesses, and daycare centers.

School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Belmarsh stated an evacuation of the Johnson Early Childhood Center would be more complicated because school buses would not proceed to the building during a crisis.  

 “This school is also located on the current evacuation route for the whole area as detailed in this emergency plan making their exit even more complicated where buses will not be able to reach the school,” she stated in a letter to the council.

Belmarsh stated an evacuation plan for Johnson must consider that the school has wheelchair-bound or medically fragile students.

The School Committee reviewed the emergency response plan during a Nov. 5  meeting.

Belmarsh stated there was no mention of the schools in the evacuation plan, and committee members agreed to express their concerns in a letter to the council that will be discussed during a Nov. 19 meeting.   

Haugh said committee members indicated a need for the emergency response plan to be discussed in a virtual forum with residents to address concerns.
» Read article     

Weymouth town council seeks advice
Weymouth councilors want review of impact of compressor deal
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
November 10, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Members of town council want legal advice on whether an agreement that Mayor Robert Hedlund struck with energy giant Enbridge limits their ability to fight the newly-constructed natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

Town Council on Monday night voted to ask Attorney General Maura Healey’s office and the Office of the Inspector General for legal guidance on whether the host community agreement Hedlund signed with Enbridge legally prohibits councilors from opposing the station publicly or in court.

“The mayor made a call and it was his call to make. Whether or not we are tied by that decision, I don’t believe that we are,” At-Large Councilor Jane Hackett said.

The controversial compressor station project will help Enbridge expand its natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among neighbors and some local, state and federal officials who say it presents serious health and safety risks and has no benefit for the residents of Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, Hingham and surrounding communities.

The deal provides the town with $10 million upfront and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years. In exchange for the money, Hedlund agreed to drop any outstanding lawsuits the town has against Enbridge regarding the Atlantic Bridge project, which the compressor station is part of.
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor         

 

ASHLAND PIPELINE

Town Manager Michael Herbert
Eversource makes new pitch for Ashland pipeline replacement: easement agreements with all property owners
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
November 14, 2020

When town officials learned this summer that a Land Court judge ruled in their favor in the case of Eversource Energy’s plan to replace an old transfer line that runs through Hopkinton and Ashland, they were elated. 

At issue was whether the company was legally able to leave a decommissioned 1950s 6-inch-wide pipeline in place as it installed new 12-inch pipeline alongside it.  

The town argued — and in July, a state Land Court judge agreed — that the company could not pursue this option because an order of taking document granting Eversource rights to the easement, as well as a written agreement between previous property owners on the easement, state that only one pipeline can be in the ground at a time. 

Earlier this month, Donna Sharkey, the presiding Energy Facilities Siting Board officer on the case, reopened the case, exclusively to discuss this new development. The board, an independent state agency tasked with reviewing large-scale energy projects, has been deliberating the project behind closed doors since the summer of 2019. 

Instead of fighting the Land Court decision, Eversource is looking to come to an agreement over easement rights with more than 80 Ashland property owners (of which the town is one) in its effort to replace an old 3.7-mile transfer line. Should it get approval of the Siting Board, the company could potentially be able to continue the project without having to remove the old pipeline.
» Read article     

» More about the Ashland pipeline        

 

PIPELINES

Line 5 shut down
‘This Is a Really, Really Big Deal’: Michigan Gov. Moves to Shut Down Line 5 Pipeline to Protect Great Lakes
Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
November 13, 2020

Environmental and Indigenous activists celebrated Friday after Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took action to shut down the decades-old Enbridge Line 5 oil and natural gas pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac, narrow waterways that connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan—two of the Great Lakes.

Citing the threat to the Great Lakes as well as “persistent and incurable violations” by Enbridge, Whitmer and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger informed the Canadian fossil fuel giant that a 1953 easement allowing it to operate the pipelines is being revoked and terminated.

The move, which Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked the Ingham County Circuit Court to validate, gives Enbridge until May 2021 to stop operating the twin pipelines, “allowing for an orderly transition that protects Michigan’s energy needs over the coming months,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

The Great Lakes collectively contain about a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. As Whitmer explained Friday, “Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people.”

“Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs,” the governor said. “They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.”

“Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life,” she added. “That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water.”

MLive noted that the state attorney general’s new filing “is in addition to Nessel’s lawsuit filed in 2019 seeking the shutdown of Line 5, which remains pending in the same court.” Nessel said Friday that Whitmer and Eichinger “are making another clear statement that Line 5 poses a great risk to our state, and it must be removed from our public waterways.”

The “bombshell news,” as one Michigan reporter called it, elicited applause from environmentalists and Indigenous leaders within and beyond the state.
» Read article      

MVP money pipeline
Top US banks still propping up Mountain Valley fracked-gas pipeline boondoggle

By David Turnbull, Oil Change International
November 12, 2020

After years of delays, permit rejections, public pressure, and changing winds for energy policy with a Biden Administration in the offing, eight main street U.S. banks have substantially increased their investment in the troubled Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline project, updated analysis by Oil Change International revealed today.

Eight of the leading personal banking services in the United States continue to account for the bulk of the project’s top ten investors, and they have significantly increased their funding for the project since May of 2017. Through bonds, loans and revolving credit, these banks have more than tripled their financing from $1.25 billion to $9.5 billion, more than enough needed to cover the costs of the pipeline, including the cost of planned capacity expansion and a new proposed extension, today’s analysis finds.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project had originally been set to end construction in late 2018, but has been delayed until at least mid-2021, thanks to staunch public opposition, permit denials, and construction delays. Just this week, a federal court stayed two critical permits, stopping construction across streams and wetlands while a legal challenge is considered. Meanwhile, the cost — considered the highest per-mile of any gas pipeline in the country — continues to grow to nearly $6 billion for the original 301-mile project segment. What’s more, the project has added a new 75-mile segment — the Southgate Extension — which would cost an additional $468 million and add significant carbon impacts to the project.

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline has always been a climate disaster and a risky investment for banks at the same time. Our analysis shows that instead of listening to their customers who are demanding they get out of the fossil fuel business, these banks are doubling down on their dirty and fraught investments in a project that will either help to cook our planet if built or turn into a stranded asset if logic prevails,” said Kyle Gracey, researcher with Oil Change International and author of the updated analysis.

The key consumer banks financing the project include JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, TD, PNC, Union Bank, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and U.S. Bank.
» Read article      
» Read the analysis       

» More about pipelines            

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

twelve years
Climate activists ramp up pressure on Biden with protest outside Democratic headquarters
Climate groups plan to camp in Washington DC in protest of Biden’s hires of key staff with connections to the oil and gas industry
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
November 19, 2020

Progressive climate activists plan to occupy the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington DC today in protest of Joe Biden’s early hires of key staff with connections to the oil and gas industry.

They hope to send the president-elect the message that they helped him win and expect him to follow through with his commitments for significant and justice-focused climate action, including as he makes decisions about his cabinet, which will have a substantial role in carrying out his plan.

The groups – which include the US Climate Action Network, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, the Climate Justice Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network – will camp overnight on the sidewalks around the building, despite chilly temperatures.

They will hold a rally this afternoon with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, who co-sponsored a proposal for a Green New Deal. Other members of Congress scheduled to speak include Ilhan Omar and Ro Khanna, and recently elected Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. The participants said they will take steps to maintain distance to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The action is an early sign that environmental advocates who supported Biden and worked to oust president Donald Trump intend to keep pressure on the administration.
» Read article        

youth 4 climate
Young Climate Leaders Launch Mock COP26 To Push for Climate Ambition
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
November 19, 2020

The official 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to discuss the international response to the climate crisis has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. But young people aren’t letting that stop them from taking action.

A group of 18 student staff members and 216 volunteers from 118 countries is launching an event today called Mock COP26, a two-week, virtual conference that will conclude with a statement addressed to world leaders with suggestions for the official COP26.

“We decided we had to do something because we are in a climate emergency,” co-organizer 21-year-old Dom Jaramillo of Ecuador told BBC News. “We want to raise ambitions and show world leaders how a COP should be run. We are not the leaders of the future. We are the leaders of today.”

COP26, which was supposed to take place this November, was billed as the most important international climate crisis since the Paris agreement was reached in 2015. Each participating country was supposed to come to the table with more ambitious plans for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. However, it was pushed back a full year to November of 2021.
» Read article      
» Watch the MOCK COP launch film            

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

faith institutions divest
Dozens of Faith Institutions Announce Divestment From Fossil Fuels
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
November 17, 2020

Climate action campaigners applauded Monday after 47 faith institutions from 21 countries announced they would divest from fossil fuels, marking the largest-ever joint divestment by religious leaders in history.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, gave credit to campaigners in the fossil fuel divestment movement, who in recent years have pressured banks, universities, and other entities to cut financial ties with the fossil fuel sector in an effort to help mitigate the planetary emergency.

“While government leaders cling to the economic models of yesterday, faith leaders are looking ahead to the energy future we share,” said 350.org, noting that the G20 summit is set to begin this coming weekend under Saudi Arabia’s leadership, two months after G20 energy ministers released a statement rubber-stamping fossil fuel bailouts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“With renewables now growing at a faster pace than fossil fuels,” the group noted, “institutional investors are increasingly moving toward sustainable investments in the clean energy economy. Faith investors help lead this movement, constituting the single-largest source of divestment in the world, making up one-third of all commitments. To date, nearly 400 religious institutions have committed to divest.”

The institutions which announced their divestment include the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, Irish religious order the Sisters of Our Lady Apostles, the American Jewish World Service, and the Claretian Missionaries in Sri Lanka. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations joined the coalition.
» Read article       

» More about divestment           

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Appalachia greening
Mayors unveil $60B plan to support Midwest energy transition
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
November 16, 2020

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other mayors from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia unveiled last week the “Marshall Plan for Middle America,” a $60 billion blueprint to help the region transition away from fossil fuels toward a greener, more sustainable economy.

The nonpartisan plan from academics and policy researchers calls for federal and private funds to provide $15 billion in block grants to local governments for retrofits and conversions to make buildings more energy efficient; $15 billion in low-interest loans for clean energy production; $15 billion in tax incentives for manufacturers to develop clean energy equipment; and $15 billion in workforce development funds to help further understanding of clean energy. The plan comes as the Ohio Valley region is projected to lose 100,000 jobs in the next few years with the decline of the fossil fuel industry.

Officials involved in the plan said the affected cities have taken local action by adopting climate action plans, divesting from fossil fuels and pooling procurement of renewable energy, but federal help is needed, especially for jurisdictions in the rural and suburban parts of Appalachia that struggle economically.
» Read article       

beyond electric bugs
Ohio startup to reuse battery cells aims to spark economic growth in Appalachia
Growth of the electric vehicle market and increasing demand for battery storage are likely to propel growth.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
Photo By Robert Studzinski / Courtesy
November 16, 2020

Years ago, Roger Wilkens converted a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle to run on electricity. But eventually, the bank of lead-acid cells in the car, dubbed the Electric Blue Bugaloo, could no longer move it forward.

That problem, Wilkens said, served as inspiration for an Appalachian Ohio startup that plans to recycle lithium-ion battery cells for reuse in other applications. He expects a growing need for such recycling as more and more electric cars are on the roads. 

Wilkens is now the executive director of the Re-POWER Second Life Battery Network of the Athens Energy Institute, which aims to collect and test used lithium-ion batteries for repackaging into new battery packs. The Glouster-based project is an offshoot of the Center for the Creation of Cooperation, which he also heads and whose activities include helping consumers organize renewable energy cooperatives.

The batteries for many laptops, portable medical devices, and even electric vehicles are actually packs with anywhere from a few to hundreds of lithium-ion cells. 

“When one cell goes bad, typically the whole battery pack is discarded,” Wilkens said. But other cells in the battery pack may still be useful.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy          

 

CLIMATE

stratocumulus
Solar Geoengineering Might Not Work if We Keep Burning Fossil Fuels, Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
November 17, 2020

Now, a new study has shown that at least one popular global cooling strategy is unlikely to work if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

“I think the paper provides yet another argument for why solar geoengineering can’t be a ‘get out-of-jail-free’ card that lets us off the hook for the need to cut our CO2 emissions; we can’t just burn all the fossil fuels in the ground and solve the problem with solar geoengineering,” Cornell University senior research associate Dr. Doug MacMartin, who was not a part of the study, told The Independent.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, looked at one of the most popular solar geoengineering ideas: releasing reflective particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s light and thereby cool temperatures. The use of these particles, called aerosols, would be a way to artificially replicate the cooling that happens after volcanic eruptions.

But the solar geoengineering might not compensate for another consequence of greenhouse gas emissions — the thinning and eventual disappearance of certain clouds.
» Read article      

slow fade
In a Warming World, Hurricanes Weaken More Slowly After They Hit Land
Scientists say global warming is likely to fuel more intense storms. But earlier projections of an overall drop in the number of storms are not holding up.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
November 15, 2020

Hurricanes are not just intensifying faster and dropping more rain. Because of global warming, their destructive power persists longer after reaching land, increasing risks to communities farther inland that may be unprepared for devastating winds and flooding.

That shift was underlined last  week by an analysis of Atlantic hurricanes that made landfall between 1967 and 2018. The study, published Nov. 11 in Nature, showed that, in the second half of the study period, hurricanes weakened almost twice as slowly after hitting land. “As the world continues to warm, the destructive power of hurricanes will extend progressively farther inland,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Scientists have known for some time that, as global temperatures warm, hurricanes are intensifying, and are more likely to stall and produce rain.

But Pinaki Chakraborty, senior author of the study and a climate researcher with the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, said the new analysis found that with warming, hurricanes also take longer to decay after landfall, something researchers had not studied before. “It was thought that a warming world has had no pronounced effect on landfalling hurricanes,” Chakraborty said. “We show, not so, unfortunately.”

Tropical storms and hurricanes are the costliest climate-linked natural disasters. Since 2000, the damage from such extreme storms has added up to $831 billion, about 60 percent of the total caused by climate-related extremes tracked by a federal disaster database.
» Read article      
» Obtain the study        

» More about climate      

 

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen out west
How to Build a Green Hydrogen Economy for the US West
The Intermountain and ACES projects may be the start of a regionwide green hydrogen generation and transmission network.
Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 17, 2020

Out in Utah, a coal-fired power plant supplying electricity to Los Angeles is being outfitted with natural-gas-fired turbines that will eventually be able to run on hydrogen, created via electrolysis with wind and solar power and stored in massive underground caverns for use when that clean energy isn’t available for the grid. 

This billion-dollar-plus project could eventually expand to more renewable-powered electrolyzers, storage and generators to supply dispatchable power for the greater Western U.S. grid. It could also grow to include hydrogen pipelines to augment and replace the natural gas used for heating and industry or supply hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle fleets across the region. 

That’s the vision of the Western Green Hydrogen Initiative (WGHI), a group representing 11 Western states, two Canadian provinces and key green hydrogen industry players including Mitsubishi and utilities Dominion Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. WGHI launched Tuesday to align state and federal efforts to create “a regional green hydrogen strategy,” including “a large-scale, long-duration renewable energy storage regional reserve.”
» Read article      

UK incinerator
Net zero target impossible without waste sector overhaul, say campaigners
By Caitlin Tilley, DeSmog UK
November 17, 2020

Environmentalists are calling on the government to reassess its support for a large expansion of waste incinerators in the coming decade and bring in a law that would require the waste sector to decarbonise by 2035.

A coalition of 20 organisations, 29 MPs and councillors and 6 campaigners have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to rethink the UK’s growing reliance on “energy-from-waste” plants, which they argue is hindering the transition to a “circular economy”.

Written by Extinction Rebellion’s Zero Waste group, signatories of the letter include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Climate Coalition, as well as Labour MPs  Diane Abbott MP, John McDonnell MP and Richard Burgon MP have also signed.

Signatory Green Party Baroness Jenny Jones told DeSmog: “As restrictions have been placed on sending rubbish to landfill, our waste has been diverted into newly built incinerators, rather than creating a circular economy. The research behind this letter was a first rate demolition of the Energy from Waste industry.”

“We desperately need a moratorium on new incinerators and to work towards materials being part of a closed loop, where everything possible gets reused,” she added.

The letter claims the UK’s energy-from-waste (EfW) capacity is set to expand by 20 million tonnes by 2030, “more than doubling current capacity and locking the country into an additional 10 million tonnes of fossil-derived CO2 emissions per year, primarily from burning plastics”. This development involves a proposed new EfW plant in Edmonton, London, which has been criticised by Extinction Rebellion.

It argues for an overhaul of the waste and resource sector, to facilitate the transition towards a circular economy and the achievement of the Paris Agreement commitments.
» Read article      
» Read the letter       

» More about clean energy           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI tradeoff
Study points to greater gas price impacts from transportation pact

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service, in Berkshire Eagle
November 19, 2020

A new study of the cap-and-trade program under development by Northeast states to reduce carbon emissions from cars and trucks found that the program could be more than twice as expensive for drivers than previously estimated, with the pandemic potentially playing a major role in how effective the Transportation Climate Initiative will be.

The Center for State Policy Analysis (CSPA) at Tufts University concluded that TCI would help reduce carbon emissions across the region and generate significant revenue for participating states to invest in clean energy alternatives and public health.

The tradeoff, however, would be increases in gasoline and diesel prices from as little at 3 cents to as much as 47 cents per gallon in 2022, according to the report released Thursday. The wide range takes in account a variety of factors, including how aggressively states try to reduce emissions and the health of the economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been leading the push to establish the regional TCI program, said this week that cooperating states were taking a new look at the framework of the program in light of the pandemic and how business restrictions have impacted travel.

“I’m still very much a fan, but as I said yesterday in answer to another question, there’s a lot that’s changed about transportation generally over the course of the past eight months, and that stuff’s got to get baked into the way people model what this would mean and how it would work going forward for them,” Baker said Wednesday.

In December 2019, TCI states released their own study that estimated the cap-and-trade program would add between 5 cents and 17 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline depending on whether the coalition set a target of a 20 percent, 22 percent or 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2032.
» Read article      

total cost of electrification
Cutting the Total Cost of Electrification for EV Bus and Truck Fleets
New funding, strategies for charging, operations and risk management, are needed to hit multi-billion dollar EV fleet goals, report says.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 18, 2020

Electric trucks and buses may be approaching cost parity with their fossil-fueled counterparts, and they’re certainly cheaper to fuel over the long run — and that’s not counting their carbon and pollution emissions benefits. 

But that’s just a slice of the costs of switching bus and truck fleets from fossil fuels to batteries. Unexpected costs and bottlenecks in charging infrastructure, fleet operations and maintenance, and permitting and financing weigh on cities and states mandating electric bus fleets, or private companies with large-scale delivery truck electrification goals. 

Solving for this “total cost of electrification” equation will be a critical step in pushing EV trucks and buses from the margins to the mainstream in the coming decade, according to a report released Wednesday by Environmental Defense Fund, MJ Bradley and Vivid Economics. 

“We’re seeing the technology increasingly ready, and capital increasingly eager to invest in sustainability” via fleet electrification, Andy Darrell, EDF’s chief of global energy and finance strategy, said in an interview. “And yet the deployment, especially in the medium and heavy-duty sector, might not be moving as quickly as we’d like to achieve big climate goals.”
» Read article      
» Read the Environmental Defense Fund report     

CEI attack on EVs
Climate Deniers Are Claiming EVs Are Bad for the Environment — Again. Here’s Why They’re Wrong.
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
November 17, 2020

A new paper published Tuesday, November 17, by the conservative think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), raises environmental concerns with electric vehicles in what appears to be the latest attempt by organizations associated with fossil fuel funding to pump the brakes on the transportation sector’s transition away from petroleum and towards cleaner electricity.

In the U.S., the transportation sector is the largest contributor to planet-warming emissions. Climate and energy policy experts say electrifying vehicles is necessary to mitigate these emissions.

In fact, scientists recently warned that if the country has any hope of reaching the Paris climate targets of limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), 90 percent of all light-duty cars on the road must be electric by 2050.

But the Competitive Enterprise Institute — a longtime disseminator of disinformation on climate science and supported by petroleum funding sources including the oil giant ExxonMobil and petrochemical billionaire Koch foundations — dismisses this imperative and instead tries to portray electrified transport as environmentally problematic in a paper titled, “Would More Electric Vehicles Be Good for the Environment?”

“This is a grab bag of old and misleading claims about EVs [electric vehicles],” said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the clean transportation program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If you want to answer this question [posed by the report’s title], you have to also look at the question of what are the impacts of the current gasoline and diesel transport system, and this report just ignores that.”
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation            

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Richard Glick prioritiesGlick vows to prioritize transmission, reassess capacity markets if named FERC Chair
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
November 18, 2020

Glick has been a vocal opponent of many of the commission’s actions over the past few years, particularly rules like the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) expansion in the PJM Interconnection, which he sees as directly impeding on state resource decisions. The rule effectively raises the floor price for all state-subsidized resources bidding into the grid operator’s capacity market, a change that was roundly criticized by the renewables industry as well as some states within the market.

“I just don’t think it’s sustainable,” said Glick. Though he believes regional transmission organizations provide “significant benefits, especially in terms of integrating massive amounts of new renewable resources at a relatively cost effective basis,” he fears policies like the MOPR could continue to drive states away from organized markets. Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland have all threatened to exit the PJM capacity market because of their frustration with the MOPR rule.

“The last thing we all want to see is … RTOs be pulled apart,” he said. “But that’s what’s going to happen if we continue to block the state programs. The states are going to say ‘Why should I allow my utilities to participate?'”

For him, the solution is reassessing what the organized wholesale markets need in order to prevent further conflict between state clean energy policies and RTO operations.
» Read article       

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal MittPoliticians Try to Rally Support for Coal Despite Economics and Biden Presidential Win
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
November 12, 2020

The election results are a stark reminder of just how divided the country remains on many issues. However, in the days since the results were announced November 7, two senators from both parties are finding common ground in a familiar space: opposition to the Green New Deal and support for a dying coal industry.

Both Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) immediately took to CNN and Fox News in the days after the election was called to try and rally support for the fossil fuel industry in the wake of Joe Biden’s election as president — a success which brings with it the promise of strong climate action.

But their comments also come on the heels of yet another coal plant closure in the U.S. and as the world’s largest coal producer, Peabody Energy, warns of going bankrupt for the second time in five years.

Romney told CNN on November 8 that “I want to make sure that we conservatives keep on fighting to make sure we don’t have a Green New Deal, we don’t get rid of gas and coal.”

Meanwhile, Manchin went on Fox News on November 9 to also criticize the Green New Deal, saying, “That’s not who we are as a Democratic Party.” 

“We’re going to use fossil in its cleanest fashion,” he added. Manchin’s unwavering support for the coal industry is well documented and unsurprising as he ran a coal company prior to being elected to the Senate.

Manchin in his comments also echoed Romney’s call to not get rid of gas and coal, telling Fox News, “You have to have energy independence in this country. You can’t eliminate certain things.”

The Green New Deal does not mention coal specifically but it does call for the elimination of carbon emissions in the U.S. power sector by 2030, which would effectively require the elimination of coal. International climate scientists agree that global coal use must effectively be phased out by mid-century to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown. The move by Manchin and Romney to immediately attack the Green New Deal after the election, however, is disingenuous. President-elect Biden has been clear throughout his campaign that “The Green New Deal is not my plan.”

That said, Biden’s own climate plan is widely considered the most ambitious offered by any elected president. It also stands in dramatic contrast to the lack of any climate plan from the Trump administration.
» Read article        

call for nominations
Trump Administration, in Late Push, Moves to Sell Oil Rights in Arctic Refuge
The lease sales could occur just before Inauguration Day, leaving the administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. to try to reverse them after the fact.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
November 16, 2020

In a last-minute push to achieve its long-sought goal of allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies.

That sets up a potential sale of leases just before Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, leaving the new administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has opposed drilling in the refuge, to try to stop the them after the fact.

“The Trump administration is trying a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group in Washington. “They know that what they’ve put out there is rushed and legally dubious.”

The Federal Register on Monday posted a “call for nominations” from the Bureau of Land Management, to be officially published Tuesday, relating to lease sales in about 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. A call for nominations is essentially a request to oil companies to specify which tracts of land they would be interested in exploring and potentially drilling for oil and gas.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it welcomed the move. In a statement, the organization said that development in the refuge was “long overdue and will create good-paying jobs and provide a new revenue stream for the state — which is why a majority of Alaskans support it.”

The call for nominations will allow 30 days for comments, after which the bureau, part of the Interior Department, could issue a final notice of sales to occur as soon as 30 days later. That means the sales could be held a few days before Inauguration Day.

Normally the bureau would take time to review the comments and determine which tracts to sell before issuing the final notice of sale, a process that can take several months. In this case, however, the bureau could decide to offer all of the acreage and issue the notice immediately.

There was no immediate response to emailed requests for comment from the Interior Department or the Bureau of Land Management office in Alaska.

Any sales would then be subject to review by agencies in the Biden administration, including the bureau and the Justice Department, a process that could take a month or two. That could allow the Biden White House to refuse to issue the leases, perhaps by claiming that the scientific underpinnings of the plan to allow drilling in the refuge were flawed, as environmental groups have claimed.
» Read article        

» More about fossil fuel       

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro LNG opposed
Proposed $10B liquefied natural gas project in Guysborough County pressing forward

Project faces opposition from international group of environmentalists
By Tom Ayers, CBC News
October 2, 2020

An estimated $10-billion liquefied natural gas project proposed for Guysborough County is slowly pressing ahead, despite opposition from an international group of environmentalists.

This week, Pieridae Energy said it expects to have detailed design and costs for the Goldboro LNG plant by next spring, and it awarded a contract to Black Diamond Group of Calgary for construction of a camp that would house up to 5,000 workers who will build the Goldboro LNG plant, if it goes ahead.

That deal includes hiring Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw companies to provide catering and cleaning services at the camp.

However, also this week, a gathering of international environmental groups asked the German government to withdraw a loan guarantee backing the plant.

Ken Summers of the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition said the proposal should be scrapped because LNG plants are notoriously large polluters.

“If this project were to go ahead, Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emission targets would be gone out the window,” he said.

Nova Scotia’s emission targets have been met since they were first set a decade ago, Summers said, but an LNG plant would reverse any gains in greenhouse gas emissions.

“If this project were to come online, we would vastly increase them,” he said. 

The province’s cap-and-trade system allows large emitters to acquire emission capacity from other companies that are below their targets, but Summers said he doesn’t know how an LNG plant would fit into Nova Scotia’s plans.

“There are no offsets available for a company the size of Pieridae, as a new emitter,” he said. “It’s just not possible.
» Blog editor’s note: Goldboro LNG is expected to be a major destination for fracked gas from the controversial Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article        

» More about liquefied natural gas       

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Weekly News Check-In 11/13/20

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Welcome back.

Activists fighting the Weymouth compressor station are keeping pressure on Mayor Robert Hedlund over his recent settlement agreement with Enbridge. We’re also keeping track of pipeline developments, with major projects mired in litigation. These challenges are expected to increase with the incoming Biden administration.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project has been slowed by relentless litigation, but it has also faced fierce opposition from tree-sitters committed to halting progress by taking up long-term residence high in trees along the pipeline’s path. A remnant group has held out for over two years in steep terrain, but faces removal by court order next Monday.

The other end of the protest and action spectrum includes people who make a living creating the illusion of grass-roots support for fossil fuel projects. We found an important report on FTI Consulting, a well-connected firm financed by industry and laying astroturf far and wide.

California now has almost forty municipalities that have legislated natural gas hookup bans in new buildings. With the recent addition of San Francisco, these local laws are becoming so common that California is considering a state-wide rule. Note that Massachusetts law requires gas hookup bans to be addressed differently – through the building code. Several environmental organizations are promoting that change.

Somewhat related to that, Massachusetts natural gas utilities have embarked on a project initiated by Attorney General Maura Healey, to plan for their orderly transition to a decarbonized future. We have a description of the process, which is similar to efforts underway in California, Colorado, and New York.

Much of this week’s climate news explores the significance of President-elect Biden’s plans and approach. We offer articles describing the important immediate pro-climate steps he could take, and also some of the obstacles created by the Trump administration’s four-year frontal assault on the planet.

In clean energy, the east coast is grappling with the transmission requirements posed by the coming massive deployment of offshore wind resources. And a report from down under shows Australia the path to zero emissions without the natural gas “bridge”.

Even as the clean energy transition unfolds at an accelerating rate, the fossil fuel industry is still building out natural gas infrastructure. We highlight a new gas generating plant beginning construction in Oregon, in spite of stiff resistance. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell launched a snarky promotion on Twitter, gaslighting users by asking “What are you willing to change?” for the climate. The blowback was immediate and intense.

The US liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is staggering from self-inflicted wounds. Due to sloppy handling and lax regulations, the combined effect of fugitive methane emissions, flaring, and general inefficiency from wellhead to export terminal puts the fuel’s global warming impact on par with coal. This fuel serves export markets in Europe and Asia, and many of these buyers now require a full accounting of upstream emissions associated with any load of LNG. Contracts are being cancelled, and financing has dried up for some planned LNG export facilities.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth is not for sale
Massachusetts Locals Accuse Town Mayor Of ‘Colluding’ With Enbridge Over Controversial Natural Gas Project
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmo Blog
November 11, 2020

Residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, are raising questions about a deal made between the city and multi-billion dollar Canadian energy pipeline company Enbridge, Inc., with some calling the situation a “complete sell-off” that could jeopardize the health of the community and environment.

Protesters during a demonstration outside the town hall on November 6 accused the mayor of “colluding” with Enbridge by signing a $10 million settlement agreement dropping the town’s official opposition and legal fights against a newly constructed natural gas compressor station in town. Compressor stations, which pump large volumes of fracked gas at high pressure and are critical parts of gas pipeline infrastructure, are prone to hazards due to the extreme pressure by which the gas is processed.

The demonstration also comes after two recent accidental emergency shutdowns at the Weymouth compressor station less than three weeks apart — the facility is now under federal investigation. But despite this pending safety investigation, the Weymouth mayor struck an unexpected deal on October 30 with Enbridge, the owner of the compressor station, leaving town residents, neighboring municipalities, and even the town council without the town’s official support in their ongoing fight against the operation of the station.

In response to the mayor’s settlement agreement, the Weymouth Town Council voted unanimously this week to send a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General asking her to look into the legality of the mayor’s newly agreed contract with Enbridge that effectively censures town officials from continuing to challenge the controverisal compressor station. This apparent silencing of the town’s legislative branch without its consent is potentially in violation of the town’s charter.

The town of Weymouth and the mayor had together opposed the compressor project for the last five years.

Wendy Cullivan, a Weymouth resident who attended the Friday demonstration, said the town’s 180-degree-manuever left community members and the town council high and dry in the battle with Enbridge. “From my perspective I’ve always looked to the town of Weymouth as the leader in the fight. When they relinquished themselves from that role last week, they didn’t tell anybody. They just dropped us like a hot potato,” she explained. “The way the agreement works is it carves out our town council from being active in the fight.”
» Read article               

Weymouth protests the settlement deal
Opponents demonstrate against Weymouth compressor station deal
About 70 opponents held a demonstration outside Weymouth Town Hall on Friday.
By  Fred Hanson, The Patriot Ledger
November 8, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Opponents of the newly constructed natural gas compressor station have a message for Mayor Robert Hedlund.

They say the host agreement that the mayor has reached with Enbridge, the owner of the station, is a bad deal and doesn’t go far enough to protect the safety of the community.

“We are not going away,” said Alice Arena, the leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.

About 70 people gathered in front of Weymouth Town Hall on Friday night, carrying signs with messages of their continued opposition to the compressor station.

Some of the signs read, “A bribe by any other name would smell as bad” and “Hedlund to Weymouth: Drop Dead.” Some passing drivers honked their horns as a show of support for the demonstrators.

Arena said the group will be organizing similar events as time goes on.

The host community agreement would provide the town an upfront payment of $10 million and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years.

The upfront payment can be spent on expenses for public safety, health and environmental needs, general infrastructure improvements for North Weymouth, coastal resiliency infrastructure and information technology.

Arena said the agreement is “selling out our lives and community for a lousy $10 million.”

District 1 Town Councilor Pascale Burga told the group that the council had no involvement in the negotiations for the agreement.

The mayor did not appear at the demonstration.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

MVP restored landMountain Valley Pipeline faces another legal roadblock. What does that mean for the long-embattled project?
By Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury
November 12, 2020

On Monday the Richmond-based 4th Circuit issued a ruling that effectively bars Mountain Valley from continuing any construction related to its crossing of hundreds of streams, rivers and wetlands in Virginia and West Virginia until a broader case about the validity of its water-crossing permit is settled.

Project opponents — which include the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, among others — had argued that “irreparable harm” to the environment would result if stream-crossing work wasn’t halted before the resolution of the larger case. In August, Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of Mountain Valley developer Equitrans Midstream, told analysts on an earnings call that the company intended to try to cross “critical” streams “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”

MVP attorney George Sibley told the 4th Circuit that the developer’s haste is in recognition “that our opponents are implacable.”

“We have the authorizations,” he said Monday. “We are not going to wait to get sued and wait for those lawsuits to be resolved.”

Mountain Valley has argued that its stream-crossing permit is valid and that by delaying construction, the company is suffering severe financial harm amounting to losses of $20 million per month. Derek Teaney, an attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates representing MVP’s opponents, however, characterized those losses as “self-inflicted” because of ongoing deficiencies with agency approvals.
» Read article                

DAPL future uncertain with Biden
Future of Dakota Access pipeline uncertain as Biden presidency looms
By Laila Kearney, Reuters
November 12, 2020

The election of Democrat Joseph Biden could create more headaches for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) owners, who are already embroiled in legal battles to keep the main conduit for flowing oil out of North Dakota running.

The $3.8 billion DAPL ships about 40% of the crude oil produced from the Bakken shale region in North Dakota to refiners in the Midwest and exporters in the U.S. Gulf. Without the 557,000-barrel-per-day line, getting oil out of the area, which has about 1 million bpd of output, would be much more difficult left to smaller existing pipelines and rail.

DAPL’s controlling owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP, is fighting to keep the pipeline running after a judge threw out its permit to run the line under a South Dakota lake that is a water source for Native American tribes that want the pipeline shut.

DAPL was a controversial project that sparked massive demonstrations starting in 2016 in North Dakota by native tribes and climate activists opposed to its completion.

President Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, blocked a permit that would have allowed construction under South Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a critical water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The line was finished in 2017 after Trump, upon taking office, approved a final permit allowing construction under the lake to be completed.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

tree-sitters face removal order
Judge orders tree-sitters down after more than 2 years
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
November 12, 2020

After spending two years, two months and seven days in the trees — where they have maintained an aerial blockade of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — protesters were told Thursday that they have four more days.

A temporary injunction issued by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Robert Turk ordered the three unidentified tree-sitters and 10 of their supporters to be gone by Monday.

While Mountain Valley has a legal right to a 125-foot-wide easement on which the natural gas pipeline will be built off Yellow Finch Lane, it has been unable to cut trees out of fear that it will harm the protesters in and around them.

If the defendants do not leave the property that has been occupied since Sept. 5, 2018, by Monday, “the Sheriff’s Office shall thereupon take such measures as are necessary to remove them,” the order entered by Turk reads.

Left unsaid in the order and during a two-hour hearing that preceded it was how the protesters might be extracted from tree stands about 50 feet off the ground on a steep, wooded slope near Elliston.
» Read article                

astroturf centralHow One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil
FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that can appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
November 11, 2020

In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market.

All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people.

On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels.

An examination of FTI’s work provides an anatomy of the oil industry’s efforts to influence public opinion in the face of increasing political pressure over climate change, an issue likely to grow in prominence, given President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pledge to pursue bolder climate regulations. The campaigns often obscure the industry’s role, portraying pro-petroleum groups as grass-roots movements.

As part of its services to the industry, FTI monitored environmental activists online, and in one instance an employee created a fake Facebook persona — an imaginary, middle-aged Texas woman with a dog — to help keep tabs on protesters. Former FTI employees say they studied other online influence campaigns and compiled strategies for affecting public discourse. They helped run a campaign that sought a securities rule change, described as protecting the interests of mom-and-pop investors, that aimed to protect oil and gas companies from shareholder pressure to address climate and other concerns.
» Read article               

Rise and Resist
With Biden’s Win, Climate Activists See New Potential But Say They’ll ‘Push Where We Need to Push’
Advocacy groups are preparing for the challenges of a likely Republican Senate and planning their next moves.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
November 8, 2020

Even before Joe Biden won the presidential election on Saturday, climate activists and environmental groups began vowing to push the new president for aggressive action on climate and strategizing for a Biden administration.

“We’ve seen that Biden, in his final debate speech, committed to a transition off of fossil fuels. We’re excited to hold a Biden administration accountable to that promise,” said Emily Southard, a campaign manager with 350 Action. “We’ll push where we need to push.”

If the Senate remains in Republican hands, the chances of passing transformative climate policies are slim, worrying many advocates who say any compromise on policy will be insufficient to tackle the deepening climate crisis.

But with time running out for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, every possible action—from local green ballot initiatives to a new federal position of “climate czar” to financial regulatory reforms—is on the advocacy agenda. Already, climate advocates are celebrating a shift in momentum.

“Simply because we have a Republican Senate that isn’t representative of the majority of Americans who want action on climate change, doesn’t mean that things like a Green New Deal aren’t happening already,” Southard said, noting that green ballot initiatives passed in several cities. “The Green New Deal isn’t just a piece of legislation; it’s a vision for an economy that moves us off of fossil fuels. There’s a lot Biden can do, from stopping the Keystone Pipeline to banning fracking on public lands.”
» Read article                

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Sanfran- gas banSan Francisco’s gas ban on new buildings could prompt statewide action
The vote adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban in July 2019.
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
November 12, 2020

San Francisco this week became the latest, and perhaps the largest, U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring new residential and commercial building construction to utilize all-electric power, starting with projects that file permits next year. This ordinance will cover about 60% of the city’s current development pipeline in an effort to reduce city carbon emissions and tackle climate change, said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in the meeting.

“San Francisco has taken climate change seriously for a long time and today — on the heels of yet another catastrophic fire season, a record string of unhealthier days, extreme heat waves, and even a day when the sun didn’t come up — we San Franciscans have an opportunity to make one more incremental but important move to help save our planet,” he told his colleagues in the meeting.

The board’s unanimous vote concludes nearly a year of deliberation with the Zero Emissions Building Taskforce, Mandelman said, which brought together affordable housing and mixed-use developers, architects and engineers, labor and building trades and community advocates to craft the legislation. It complements the approval of the city’s electric preference ordinance, passed last fall to require higher energy efficiency standards from natural gas buildings, and an ordinance passed earlier this year requiring all-electric construction for new municipal projects.

The vote also adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban on natural gas infrastructure July 2019. Experts say San Francisco’s measure could hold enough weight to pressure similar legislation from cities such as Los Angeles, and could even push Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, toward statewide action.
» Read article                

» More legislative news

GAS UTILITIES

gas transition gets real
Can gas utilities survive the energy transition? Massachusetts is going to find out.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
November 4, 2020

Massachusetts may be a climate leader in the U.S., with a goal to reduce economy-wide emissions in the state to net-zero by 2050, but it will face a major obstacle along the way: More than 1.3 million of its households make it through those cold New England winters by burning natural gas. Roughly one-third of the state’s emissions come from the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking.

Now the state is responding to pressure from its attorney general, Maura Healey, to take a look at what the path to net-zero in the building sector might look like, particularly for the gas companies whose entire reason for existing could be eliminated in the process. Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) officially opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers. As the number of people using the gas system shrinks over time, the cost of maintaining reliable service for remaining ratepayers could balloon.

“It’s a really complicated set of issues as you look at what’s going to be happening on the gas side as people peel off,” said Susan Tierney, a senior advisor and energy expert at the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm. “There’s real trade-offs about affordability of supply, safety of service.”

The Massachusetts DPU joins regulators in California and New York, and now Colorado, who have all initiated similar investigations into these trade-offs and the future of natural gas in their states.

To aid in its inquiry, the DPU is requiring gas distribution companies in the state to jointly hire an independent consultant who will review two climate “roadmap” documents the state plans to release for various sectors later this year. The consultant will then analyze the feasibility of the proposed pathways in those roadmaps and offer additional ideas for how each company might comply with state law, using a uniform methodology. Ultimately the consultant must produce a single, comprehensive report of their findings for all companies. By March 2022, the companies are required to submit new proposals with “plans for helping the Commonwealth achieve its 2050 climate goals, supported by the Report,” for the DPU to review.

Tierney called this a “clever approach,” since often in utility rulemakings, each stakeholder will hire its own expert and use its own set of assumptions, leading to a data war of sorts where it’s hard to know whose numbers to go on. In this case, the DPU, utilities, ratepayers, and environmental advocates will at least have a common set of facts on which to base discussions.
» Read article                

» More about gas utilities              

CLIMATE

be the ClimatePresident
Biden Urged to Be #ClimatePresident by Taking These 10 ‘Game-Changing’ Steps in First 10 Days in Office
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams, reposted in DeSmog Blog
November 9, 2020

With Democrats anxious about the probability that President-elect Joe Biden will be forced to grapple with a Republican-led Senate after taking office in January, a coalition of more than a dozen climate action groups are calling on Biden to take every possible step he can to help solve the planetary emergency without the approval of Congress.

Even in the face of a Senate controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republican Party, Biden can and must still be a “Climate President,” say the groups, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.

The organizations originally released the Climate President plan nearly a year ago during the Democratic primary, and are now calling on Biden to take “ten steps in [his] first ten days in office” to help “form the necessary foundation for the country’s true transformation to a safer, healthier, and more equitable world for everyone.”

“If the world is to have any reasonable chance of staying below 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the next president of the United States must demonstrate national and global leadership and take immediate and decisive action to launch a rapid and just transition off of fossil fuels economy-wide,” reads the website set up by the coalition, ClimatePresident.org. “Recognizing the steps that the next president can take without any additional action from Congress is critical because these are the ‘no excuses’ actions that can be taken immediately to set the nation on a course to zero emissions.”

The organizations list 10 action items which would help the Biden White House single-handedly put the U.S. on the path to meaningfully fighting the climate crisis:
» Read article                

what Trump left us
What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage
President-elect Biden can restore many of the 100-plus environmental regulations that President Trump rolled back, but much of the damage to the climate cannot be reversed.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 9, 2020


WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will use the next four years to try to restore the environmental policies that his predecessor has methodically blown up, but the damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.

Most of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies, which erased or loosened nearly 100 rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere, can be reversed, though not immediately. Pollutants like industrial soot and chemicals can have lasting health effects, especially in minority communities where they are often concentrated. But air quality and water clarity can be restored once emissions are put back under control.

That is not true for the global climate. Greenhouse pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, so the heat-trapping gases emitted as a result of loosened regulations will remain for decades, regardless of changes in policy.

“Historically, there is always a pendulum to swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations on the environment, and, theoretically, the environment can recover,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration. “You can put rules back in place that clean up the air and water. But climate change doesn’t work like that.”

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.

At home, Mr. Biden may find it more difficult than his former boss, President Barack Obama, to use executive authority to create tough, durable climate change rules because the six-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to look unfavorably on policies that significantly expand federal agencies’ authority to regulate industry.

And abroad, the influence that the United States once had in climate talks was almost certainly damaged by Mr. Trump’s policy rollbacks and withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Those actions slowed down international efforts to reduce emissions and prompted other governments to follow the American lead in weakening emissions rules, though none have followed the United States out of the agreement.

All of that means that as Mr. Biden works to enact domestic climate change rules and rejoin the Paris accord, emissions attributable to Mr. Trump’s actions will continue, tipping the planet further into a danger zone that scientists say will be much harder to escape.
» Read article                

climate policy reversalA Biden victory positions America for a 180-degree turn on climate change
New administration will seek to shift U.S. off fossil fuels and expand public lands protections, but face serious opposition from Senate GOP.
By Juliet Eilperin, Dino Grandoni and Darryl Fears, Washington Post
November 7, 2020

Joe Biden, the projected winner of the presidency, will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards President Trump abolished and launch the boldest climate change plan of any president in history. While some of Biden’s most sweeping programs will encounter stiff resistance from Senate Republicans and conservative attorneys general, the United States is poised to make a 180-degree turn on climate change and conservation policy.

Biden’s team already has plans on how it will restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters; ratchet up federal mileage standards for cars and SUVs; block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country; provide federal incentives to develop renewable power; and mobilize other nations to make deeper cuts in their own carbon emissions.

In a victory speech Saturday night, Biden identified climate change as one of his top priorities as president, saying Americans must marshal the “forces of science” in the “battle to save our planet.”

“Joe Biden ran on climate. How great is this?” said Gina McCarthy, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during President Barack Obama’s second term and now helms the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’ll be time for the White House to finally get back to leading the charge against the central environmental crisis of our time.”

Biden has vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. That massive investment plan stands a chance only if his party wins two Senate runoff races in Georgia in January; otherwise, he would have to rely on a combination of executive actions and more-modest congressional deals to advance his agenda.

Still, a number of factors make it easier to enact more-ambitious climate policies than even four years ago. Roughly 10 percent of the globe has warmed by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature rise the world has pledged to avoid. The price of solar and wind power has dropped, the coal industry has shrunk, and Americans increasingly connect the disasters they’re experiencing in real time — including more-intense wildfires, hurricanes and droughts — with global warming. Biden has made the argument that curbing carbon will produce high-paying jobs while protecting the planet.

Biden’s advisers are well aware of the potential and pitfalls of relying on executive authority to act on climate. Obama used it to advance major climate policies in his second term, including limits on tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks and the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Trump has overturned them, along with 125 others.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski pointed to California — which has already adopted a low-carbon fuels standard and requirement that half its electricity come from carbon-free sources within five years — as a model. “You look at where California is now going, the federal government needs to get there.”

Some of the new administration’s rules could be challenged in federal court, which have a number of Trump appointees on the bench. But even some conservative activists said that Biden could enact enduring policies.
» Read article                

Iris launch
New Technology Claims to Pinpoint Even Small Methane Leaks From Space
Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way.
By Paul Tullis, New York Times
November 11, 2020

Methane, the powerful, invisible greenhouse gas, has been leaking from oil facilities since the first wells were drilled more than 150 years ago. Most of that time, it was very difficult for operators to measure any emissions accurately — and they had little motivation to, since regulations are typically weak.

Now, technology is catching up just as there is growing alarm about methane’s role driving global warming. A Canadian company, GHGSat, last month used satellites to detect what it has called the smallest methane leak seen from space and has begun selling data to emitters interested in pinpointing leaks that previously were harder to spot.

“The discovery and quantification of gas leaks from space is a game-changer in the interaction of atmospheric sciences and climate change mitigation,” said Thomas Roeckmann, professor of atmospheric physics and chemistry at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and coordinator of a project, called MEMO2, to measure methane leaks at ground level. “We will likely be able to detect smaller and thus potentially many more leaks from space in the near future.”

Soon the company may have competition. Bluefield Technologies, based in New York City, plans a group of satellites for launch in 2023 that promises an even finer resolution. And the Environmental Defense Fund hopes to launch MethaneSAT in the next couple of years, which is designed to pick up small perturbations in methane across large areas.

Until a few years ago, measuring methane from small areas such as a fracking well required ground-based sensors. They were good at determining gas concentrations at a site, but considering the millions of oil-and-gas facilities worldwide and the high cost of checking and rechecking, finding leaks could be time consuming and complicated, even with the use of airplanes and drones. In 2002, satellites from Japan and the European Space Agency began taking stock of global emissions, but the resolution was too low to identify point sources.
» Read article                

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

offshore wind transmission
A Looming Transmission Crunch for the US East Coast’s Offshore Wind Ambitions
Planning and cost-sharing disconnects could stymie states’ plans for 29 GW of offshore wind. But there are solutions, experts say.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 11, 2020

Building the transmission grid needed to grow U.S. renewable energy capacity is complicated enough on solid ground. It’s even more complicated for the nascent offshore wind industry.

But if East Coast states want to hit their goals of nearly 29 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next 15 years, they’ll need to find solutions. A key first step will be working with federal regulators and regional grid operators to find ways to share the costs of building offshore transmission, rather than going it alone.

That’s the key message from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s technical conference on offshore wind integration last month, featuring representatives from utilities and states trying to plan ahead for an unprecedented undersea high-voltage transmission system build-out.

Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts are calling for a combined 28.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035. That will cost roughly $100 billion, of which about $15 billion and $20 billion will go into offshore transmission, according to an October report from the Business Network for Offshore Wind advocacy group.

But today’s constructs for allocating transmission costs are unlikely to lead to those investments being completed in time, workshop participants warned.

“The current ‘generator-lead’ approach that states have used to date,” in which individual offshore wind projects and offtakers bear the costs of building individual transmission corridors needed to bring their power to shore, “is unsustainable,” Stuart Nachmias, CEO of the transmission unit of New York utility Con Edison, said in his opening remarks.

Instead, Nachmias promoted a “transmission-first” approach that shares costs among multiple offshore wind project investors, utilities, states and the ratepayers that will end up paying for them.
» Read article               
» Read the BNOW report         

look AU - no gasAustralia will benefit from shift to zero emissions, with no gas required
By Michael Mazengarb, RenewEconomy
November 10, 2020

New analysis published by the Climate Action Tracker initiative has detailed how Australia could take action on climate change consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, in a way that would leave it economically stronger, and with gas not needed as a transition fuel

In a new report titled Scaling up Climate Action, the Climate Action Tracker initiative found that Australia would be economically better off if governments adopted an ambitious switch to zero emissions energy sources, including an almost complete transition of the electricity system to renewable energy sources by 2030.

The report found that as many as 76,000 new jobs could be created over the next ten years within the renewable energy sector alone, through more ambitious emissions reduction policies.

“This report shows how Australia can get on a pathway to net zero emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C, increasing employment and ratcheting up its 2030 target from the currently inadequate 26-28% to a 66% emissions reduction,” CEO and senior scientist at Climate Analytics Bill Hare said.

“We show how this is feasible. But it needs real climate policy across all sectors of the economy. An important first step to achieving this is a planned and managed phase out of coal from power generation by 2030.”

The report finds that Australia’s current emissions reduction targets are not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aims of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, and both a commitment to a zero net emissions target, and a stronger 2030 interim target  are a necessary, but achievable, to bring Australia into line with the Paris Agreement.

The analysis detailed an economically and technically feasible pathway for transitioning the electricity system to renewable energy sources, that would help Australia achieve the 66 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article               
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

wind chaser protest
Oregon Allows a Controversial Fracked Gas Power Plant to Begin Construction

Having fought the plant for years, environmentalists expressed surprise that the state has greenlighted a major new greenhouse gas polluter.
By Ilana Cohen, Inside Climate News
November 5, 2020

Columbia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Columbia Gorge asked a Multnomah County court on Monday to review a “grievously” unlawful decision by the Oregon Department of Energy to allow construction of the controversial Perennial Wind Chaser Station power plant. If built, the plant would be one of the state’s largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The nonprofit environmental groups alleged that the state allowed developers to avoid required stormwater and air pollution permits and meet a Sept. 23 construction deadline by breaking the construction into “phases.” They claimed that grading the site in preparation for an access road represented “phase 1” of the plant construction in a way that was never approved by a state siting panel.

If completed, the 415-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant, near Hermiston in rural Umatilla County, 160 miles east of Portland, would provide additional power to the power grid to complement intermittent renewable sources, like wind and solar, at times of peak energy demand.

According to Columbia Riverkeeper, the plant would generate more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually, in addition to increased air pollution linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness.

Five years out from the plant’s initial approval in 2015, developers have yet to secure a buyer for the electricity the plant would produce, though they remain in dogged pursuit.

Finding a market for the plant’s output in Oregon, where hydropower and other renewable energy sources account for a majority of the state’s utility-scale net electricity generation, has probably become more difficult amidst stricter statewide energy standards and a pandemic that has depressed overall natural gas demand.

Environmentalists contend this lack of a market should be proof enough that the plant need not go forward. Still, they say, they find themselves having to use every legal device at their disposal to keep it from proceeding.
» Read article                

Shell endless greenwashShell’s climate poll on Twitter backfires spectacularly
Oil giant accused of gaslighting after asking users: ‘What are you willing to change?’
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
November 3, 2020

A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell has backfired spectacularly, with the oil company accused of gaslighting the public.

The survey, posted on Tuesday morning, asked: “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”

Though it received a modest 199 votes the tweet still went viral – but not for the reasons the company would have hoped. The US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one high-profile respondent, posting a tweet that was liked 350,000 times.

[I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet]

Greta Thunberg accused the company of “endless greenwash”, while the climate scientist Prof Katharine Hayhoe pointed out Shell’s huge contribution to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is heating the planet. Shell then hid her reply, she said.

Another climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, was more direct, and said the company was gaslighting the public by suggesting individual actions could stop the climate crisis, rather than systemic change to the fossil fuel industry. Some Twitter users saw irony in this, while others asked if the company was “out of its mind”.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG scrutinized
French government puts U.S. gas imports on ice
By Chathurika Gamage & Georges Tijbosch, Green Biz
November 12, 2020

A move by one of the largest European energy companies shows that both markets and governments are beginning to pay attention to methane emissions and factor them into business decisions. France’s Engie has halted its commitment to a long-term U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract with NextDecade Corp estimated at $7 billion.

This is being done under pressure from the French government, which holds a 23.6 percent stake in Engie. The delay was driven in large part by concerns over the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of U.S. gas production, particularly from the Permian Basin, which will feed NextDecade’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export plant in Texas. While we cannot ignore the geopolitical considerations also at play, these concerns reflect the growing consensus that all natural gas cannot be seen as equal in terms of its impact on the climate.

There has long been debate about reducing emissions within the oil and gas sector. Earlier this year, Singapore’s biggest buyer of LNG, Pavilion Energy Pte Ltd, asked all LNG sellers to quantify the GHG emissions associated with each LNG cargo produced, transported and imported into Singapore.

This latest halted contract comes on the back of the European Commission’s (EC) newly proposed EU Methane Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. The strategy prioritizes improved measurement and reporting of emissions of methane, a powerful climate pollutant, for member states and the international community. In the recent announcement, the EC called out energy imports as a major source of methane emissions, and committed to explore possible targets, incentives or standards for energy imports into the EU.

Engie’s decision demonstrates a trend toward increased scrutiny of gas deals within and beyond the EU. From the outside looking in, the United States does not seem to stand up to such scrutiny. The Trump administration’s rollback of many climate policies and EPA rulings, including those pertaining to oil and gas methane emissions reporting, monitoring and repair, are just a few of nearly 100 environmental rules being dismantled.

Continuing down this route may make it difficult for U.S. gas producers and exporters to lock in deals with overseas markets, which could have big economic consequences for the U.S. gas industry. In 2019, 38 percent of the United States’ domestically produced LNG was exported to Europe, equating to about $2.9 billion in revenue (based on the median 2019 price at export). The export volume to Europe has increased substantially over the last five years, paving the way for the approval of 15 new LNG export terminals in North America beyond the six main terminals that exist today. These new terminal projects may face delays or even cancellation of final investment decisions based on the market’s consideration of climate impact.
» Read article                

Bigfoot on the waterGas Export’s Dirty Secret: A Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal’s
By Catherine Traywick, Stephen Cunningham, Naureen Malik and Dave Merrill (Bloomberg), in gCaptain
January 23, 2020

In May, while President Donald Trump toured a new $10 billion plant designed to prepare natural gas for export, he made a vow. Such facilities would be good for the environment, he said, or they won’t get approved.

The president has greenlit 11 projects so far, bringing the U.S. total to 18. Environmentalists once touted the fuel, nicknamed “freedom gas” by the Trump administration, as a better energy alternative, but an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.

Not all the export terminals are completed and in use, but if they were, simply operating them could spew 78 million tons of CO2 into the air every year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from environmental filings. That’s comparable to the emissions of 24 coal plants, or 18 gigawatts of coal-fired power—more than Kentucky’s entire coal fleet. And those numbers don’t account for the harm caused by transporting the gas from wellheads to processing facilities and then overseas, which can be significant.

“The emissions from these projects can’t be squared with the sorts of drastic, drastic reductions we need in order to avoid catastrophic climate change,” says Nathan Matthews, a senior Sierra Club attorney.

As long as natural gas stays in the pipeline, emissions remain relatively low. But the sprawling terminals that export the fuel use ozone-depleting refrigerants to supercool it into liquid form, called LNG. They also belch toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide and burn off excess methane, a greenhouse gas more immediately destructive to the atmosphere than CO2.

Proponents of exporting natural gas, including government officials, argue that it will help wean other countries off coal, and that additional emissions here are offset by lower emissions abroad. But natural gas’s role in global warming is complicated. While the fuel has been key to reducing U.S. emissions as it displaces coal-fired power, the electricity industry’s growing dependence on it has nevertheless “offset some of the climate gains from this coal decline,” according to the Rhodium Group. With the effects of climate change already supercharging wildfires and flooding some coastal communities, the surprise that emissions from LNG terminals rival those of coal plants is not a pleasant one.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 11/6/20

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Welcome back.

The town of Weymouth dropped its fight against the Enbridge compressor station in return for a few concessions. Activists who fought the project for years were not pleased. We include a letter from Alice Arena of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), to Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund.

We also found recent updates on Eversource Pioneer Valley pipelines and the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline.

Pipeline protesters have faced an increasingly hostile legal landscape in the last few years. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it turns out that state legislators who backed these draconian laws received substantial campaign funding from the oil and gas industry.

Financing continues to flow away from the fossil energy sector. The Association of European Development Finance Institutions (EDFI) just announced that all of its financing would align with Paris Climate Agreement goals as early as 2022.

Major climate news includes the Unites States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. This was expected, and concludes a long formal process set in motion by the Trump administration a year ago. Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin that agreement “on day one”, if elected. As I write, votes are still being counted but a Biden victory appears likely.

We have news about local elections that are affecting the energy mix on the grid, as many communities vote to adopt community choice aggregation plans with substantial percentages of emissions-free energy.

Massachusetts’ new ConnectedSollutions program, which provides payments to customer-owned battery storage systems that discharge when called upon by utilities to help manage energy demand on the grid, has opened up an exciting new marker for storage sited in affordable housing units. This takes us one step closer to ending reliance on highly polluting peaker power plants.

Clean transportation is also benefiting from fresh thinking, particularly with a Massachusetts start-up that has found a way to finance electric school buses in districts where budgets can’t handle the hefty up-front price tag.

In a surprise shake-up, President Trump abruptly demoted Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Neil Chatterjee and replaced him with ultra-conservative James Danly. While we regularly criticize FERC policy on this page, we acknowledge that some recent moves made good sense and earned praise from clean energy advocates. Chatterjee was right to guide the Commission through those important steps. He understood the risk, and this obvious retribution from Trump has left him without regrets. Well done, sir.

Finally, peak oil is behind us and the fossil fuel industry is officially circling the drain. That said, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still huge and powerful, and has the capacity to thoroughly cook the planet unless its conversion or dismantling is properly managed.

We close with a new report on plastics in the environment, confirming that the U.S. leads the world in waste – discarded both at home and shipped for “recycling” abroad where it may be mishandled and find its way into oceans.

button - BEAT Newsbutton - BZWI   For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Hedlund gives up
Weymouth, Enbridge strike deal worth up to $38 million
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
October 30, 2020

WEYMOUTH —Some residents and local officials say they’re disappointed that Mayor Robert Hedlund’s administration has struck an agreement with the gas company that owns the newly constructed natural gas compressor station, a deal that will provide the town with $10 million upfront and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years.

Hedlund said his administration and representatives from Enbridge, the energy company that owns the compressor station, have reached a host community agreement that covers a range of issues, from the property tax structure for the site to addressing coastal erosion and the ongoing hazardous waste cleanup.

Hedlund said the town has been more aggressive than any other community in fighting such a project, but officials also needed to face the reality of the situation and protect the town’s interests by entering a host agreement.

“The clock has run out on us, and we have a fully permitted facility that we know is going to start up very soon,” he said.

The controversial compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which will expand the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among neighbors and some local, state and federal officials who say it presents serious health and safety risks and has no benefit for the residents of Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, Hingham and surrounding communities.

Alice Arena, leader of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the agreement will not cover the loss of security, safety, health, environment, and property value resulting from the compressor station.
» Read article          
» Read FRRACS letter to Mayor Hedlund        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station              

EVERSOURCE PIONEER VALLEY (COLUMBIA GAS)

pipeline - Eversource
Activist group urges Eversource CEO to scrap plans for regional natural gas pipeline
By Peter Goonan, MassLive
Photo by Don Treeger / The Republican
October 28, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — An activist group has urged Eversource to abandon a long-planned natural gas pipeline project in the region, saying such an expansion is “unwarranted” and counter to energy conservation efforts.

The group, the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign, addressed the letter this week to Eversource Chief Executive Officer James Judge. It was signed by 92 community organizations and 12 state and local politicians, the campaign said.

Eversource said Wednesday that it is reviewing all projects following its recent purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for $1.1 billion.

On Oct. 13, while celebrating the purchase, Eversource gas operations president William Akley said improvement projects have environmental benefits and the gas system while in place, needs to be “safe and reliable.”

The Resistance Campaign’s letter said, in part: “As Eversource embarks on its new venture in Western Massachusetts, and indeed in all three service areas, we ask that you regard this moment as an opportunity to switch from a path involving harmful gas and fossil fuel development to a business plan that embraces green energy, stopping the steamroller of climate change that is now consuming communities across the globe.”

Columbia Gas had pursued pipeline projects with Tennessee Gas Pipeline and its owner, Kinder Morgan, for a pipeline loop project in Agawam, Longmeadow and Springfield. The project is designed to improve the horsepower at an Agawam compressor station; build a 12-inch diameter, create a two-mile pipeline loop in Agawam, and provide a new 16-inch line to Springfield’s South End via a new meter station in Longmeadow, officials said.

The Resistance Campaign welcomed Eversource as the successor company, but asked for a meeting “to discuss transitioning from fossil fuels toward energy conservation project and non-combustible clean energy sources.”

“With Eversource’s participation, we are confident that we can create an energy future where wind and solar sources heat and cool our homes and businesses, while powering our grid and transportation systems,” the campaign said.

In a statement, Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty said the company will “collaborate and work with municipal and community leaders, organizations, and other stakeholders.”

“We are continuing our thorough review of all projects we assumed with our acquisition of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts,” Lamberty said. “We look forward to discussions with the community — especially around methane leaks from aging pipes, reliability and safety issues, and how we meet community expectations and needs.”

Lamberty said he has no further comment on the group’s letter.

The Resistance Campaign said that if Eversource is committed to its public plan to be carbon neutral by 2030, the planned expansion of the gas pipeline system is counter to that goal.

The coalition urged the company to begin reducing natural gas distribution services, actively pursue non-combustible clean options like geothermal district heating and electric pump technologies.

In addition, the coalition raised concerns about the safety of gas fuel, citing the Merrimack Valley explosions. Gas company officials have defended the new pipeline project as a step toward alleviating gas leaks.
» Read article           

» More about Eversource Energy

CONNECTICUT EXPANSION PIPELINE

CT expansion project map
Tennessee Gas and contractor to pay $800,000 in penalties, repairs over controversial natural gas project in Otis State Forest
By Jeanette DeForge, MassLive
November 2, 2020

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company and its contractor which installed a controversial natural gas line through Otis State Forest will pay a total of $800,000 in fines and to make repairs after damaging an ecologically-important vernal pool, failing to protect wetlands and damaging the roadway during the construction.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company and its contractor Henkels & McCoy, Inc. will make about $300,000 in penalties and payments to the Massachusetts Natural Resource Damages Trust and will spend about $500,000 to repave part of Cold Spring Road, in Sandisfield, according to the agreement between the company and its contractor Henkels & McCoy Inc. and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

The damage was done in 2017 while the company was installing a four-mile line through Otis State Forest as part of a 14-mile pipe extension that cut through New York and Connecticut. The work drew multiple protests and led to more than a dozen arrests for civil disobedience.

Under the claim, Tennessee Gas was accused of failing to maintain erosion and sediment controls causing soil and sediment to run into more than 630 square feet of wetlands. It was also accused of excavating and filling portions of a vernal pool and shutting down a required pump temporarily degrading water quality in Spectacle Pond Brook, the Attorney General’s office said in announcing the settlement.

In a second location, the companies were also accused of dumping 15,000 gallons of contaminated pipeline test water directly onto the ground adjacent to Tennessee Gas’ pipeline compressor station in Agawam, the announcement said.

“Tennessee Gas repeatedly assured the state and Sandisfield residents that water quality and wetlands would be protected during pipeline construction, but they failed to make that happen,” Healey said in writing.
» Read article           
» Read AG Healey’s statement      

» More about the CT Expansion pipeline         

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

muzzling dissentState Backers of Anti-Protest Bills Received Campaign Funding from Oil and Gas Industry, Report Finds
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blot
October 31, 2020

Politicians responsible for drafting laws criminalizing pipeline protests in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Minnesota did so after receiving significant funding from the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The major pipelines studied in the report disproportionately impact historically disenfranchised communities who, in turn find themselves potentially targeted by the protest criminalization measures, often framed as efforts to protect “critical infrastructure,” the report details.

“Under the premise of protecting infrastructure projects,” the Institute wrote, “these laws mandate harsh charges and penalties for exercising constitutional rights to freely assemble and to protest.”

The past decade has seen a glut of new pipeline construction in the U.S. More than 80,000 miles of major new pipelines, like interstate gas transmission lines and oil pipelines, have been built across the U.S., federal data shows — enough to crisscross the country from the coast to coast roughly 30 times. That’s not including over 400,000 miles of smaller gas distribution and service pipes laid across the nation during that time.

These new projects have often been dogged by controversy, both due to local opposition and because the climate crisis has spurred a needed transition away from the fossil fuels that would be carried in those pipes.

In the face of that opposition, 13 states have passed laws since 2017 designed to criminalize protests specifically related to oil and gas projects. At least three states — Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia — have pushed forward on their “critical infrastructure” protest criminalization bills since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The report from the Institute for Policy Studies focuses on critical infrastructure laws passed or introduced in Louisiana, Minnesota, and West Virginia, three states where controversies over major pipeline projects have simmered. It follows the flow of money from the backers of major pipeline projects underway in each state to local politicians.
» Read article          
» Read the IPS report

» More about protests and actions             

DIVESTMENT

clean development
Exclusive: European Development Finance group to exit fossil fuel investments by 2030
By Nina Chestney, Kate Abnett, Simon Jessop, Reuters
November 5, 2020

The Association of European Development Finance Institutions (EDFI), whose 15 government-owned members invest across emerging and frontier markets, also said it would align all new lending to the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2022.

It would also ensure that all investment portfolios achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

“As taxpayer-funded organisations, we are committed to promoting green growth, climate adaptation and resilience, nature-based solutions, access to green energy and a just transition to a low-carbon economy,” EDFI Chief Executive Søren Peter Andreasen told Reuters in a statement.

Development Finance Institutions refer to state-backed lenders such as CDC Group in Britain, Norfund in Norway and Proparco in France, which provide financing in areas like infrastructure and healthcare to help boost economic development, often in low- and middle-income countries.
» Read article           

» More about divestment              

CLIMATE

smugUS Now Officially Out of the Paris Climate Agreement
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch, in DeSmog Blog
November 4, 2020

The U.S. has officially left the Paris climate agreement.

However, the permanence of its departure hangs on the still-uncertain outcome of Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election. While President Donald Trump made the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, his rival former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to rejoin “on day one,” as NPR pointed out. Either way, the U.S. withdrawal has hurt trust in the country’s ability to follow through on climate diplomacy initiated by one administration when another takes power.

The landmark 2015 agreement was designed to limit the global warming causing the climate crisis to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and ideally to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The U.S. is currently responsible for around 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is historically the country that has contributed the most emissions to the atmosphere, NPR pointed out. Under the Paris agreement, the U.S. had pledged to reduce emissions around 25 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, but it is now only on track to reduce them by 17 percent.

This is partly due to Trump administration environmental policies like the rollback of Obama-era emissions controls on power plants and vehicles. Emissions rose during the first two years of Trump’s presidency but have declined in 2020 because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. withdrawal has also affected a global fund intended to help poorer countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis adapt to rising seas and temperatures. The U.S. had originally committed to supplying $3 billion, but the Trump administration withdrew two-thirds of that amount..

Trump first formally announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement in 2017, arguing that it would harm U.S. jobs, The New York Times reported. His administration formally began the withdrawal process Nov. 4, 2019, the earliest date possible under UN rules. That process then took a year, which is why the U.S. is officially out today. If Biden wins and rejoins the agreement on Jan. 20, the reversal would be effective 30 days later.
» Read article           

Greta illustration
Greta Thunberg Hears Your Excuses. She Is Not Impressed.
By David Marchese, New York Times
Photo illustration by Bráulio Amado
October 30, 2020

Greta Thunberg has become so firmly entrenched as an icon — perhaps the icon — of ecological activism that it’s hard to believe it has been only two years since she first went on school strike to draw attention to the climate crisis. In that short time, Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swede, has become a figure of international standing, able to meet with sympathetic world leaders and rattle the unsympathetic. Her compelling clarity about the scale of the crisis and moral indignation at the inadequate political response have been hugely influential in shifting public opinion. An estimated four million people participated in the September 2019 global climate strikes that she helped inspire. “There’s this false image that I’m an angry, depressed teenager,” says Thunberg, whose rapid rise is the subject of “I Am Greta,” a new documentary on Hulu. “But why would I be depressed when I’m trying to do my best to change things?”

What do you see as the stakes for the U.S. presidential election? Is it a make-or-break ecological choice? We can’t predict what will happen. Maybe if Trump wins that will be the spark that makes people angry enough to start protesting and really demanding things for the climate crisis. I think we can safely say that if Trump wins it would threaten many things. But I’m not saying that Joe Biden is good or his policies are close to being enough. They are not.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

voting for community choice
Local elections are changing America’s energy mix, one city at a time
Renewable energy just won in a few local elections
By Justine Calma, The Verge
November 4, 2020

Local races can go a long way toward changing how Americans get their electricity. After yesterday’s election, both the city of Columbus, Ohio, and township of East Brunswick, New Jersey, are projected to pass measures that allow their local governments, instead of utilities, to decide where residents’ power comes from.

These “community choice” programs are boosting the growth of cheap renewable energy and are already prying loose investor-owned utilities’ tight grip on energy markets in places like California. More and more of these programs are popping up in states where they’re allowed, and they’re expected to grow beyond those borders in the future.

“We’ve seen a big grassroots push for state and national action on climate. In the meantime, cities and communities have sought out creative ways to make change from the ground up where possible,” Kate Konschnik, director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, wrote to The Verge in an email. “Cities are also stepping up to demand cleaner and more locally sourced electricity, for themselves and for their residents.”

The measures that voters cast their ballots for in Columbus and East Brunswick yesterday allow local governments to decide what energy mix is available for their residents and use their collective purchasing power to bargain for cheaper rates. Utilities will still be in charge of getting that power to people but will no longer be calling the shots when it comes to deciding how much of that energy comes from renewables versus fossil fuels in places that have adopted community choice measures.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy                   

ENERGY STORAGE

battery storage in AH
Battery Storage is Coming to Affordable Housing Thanks to Efficiency Program

By Seth Mullendore, Clean Energy Group, and Christina McPike, WinnCompanies
October 19, 2020

Developing affordable housing is challenging, and incorporating energy efficiency and renewables into affordable housing development is even more challenging. Nevertheless, some affordable housing providers have continually been at the forefront of advancements in the clean energy space, improving the energy efficiency of their properties and, increasingly, incorporating solar PV and other clean energy technologies

But, to-date, few have found success in adopting energy storage to cut costs and increase energy resilience. Now, a new utility program in Massachusetts has dramatically changed the economic landscape for battery storage in the state and created a pathway to deliver the benefits of storage to affordable housing providers and residents.

In 2019, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to establish a program within its energy efficiency plan for customer-sited, behind-the-meter battery storage. The Commonwealth had already recognized peak demand reduction as a valuable new form of energy efficiency; now, with analysis and technical support from Clean Energy Group, an incentive program has been developed to support customer batteries as a demand-reducing efficiency measure. The program, called ConnectedSolutions, provides payments to customer-owned battery storage systems that discharge when called upon by utilities to help manage energy demand on the grid. This new value stream for storage is a game-changer for behind-the-meter batteries, providing a reliable source of revenue backed by contractual utility payments.

For several years, Clean Energy Group has been working with affordable housing developers in the Greater Boston area, helping them to assess the economic feasibility of solar paired with storage at their properties. Again and again, we found that, while the economic case was often promising, affordable housing properties just didn’t have the types of spiky demand profiles that make for a strong financial case to install battery storage, especially not for the large battery systems needed to deliver significant backup power during emergencies. And properties outside Eversource service territory had an even tougher time making the economics of storage work without grants or other incentives, due to lower demand charge rates.

ConnectedSolutions has changed all that. Now, the customer’s pattern of electricity use doesn’t matter, and their demand charge rate is irrelevant. Customers simply sign a contract with their utility, and receive payments based on their battery’s response to a utility signal. ConnectedSolutions allows all customers to economically install battery storage, and it guarantees that these behind-the-meter batteries are used to benefit the entire grid, generating cost savings for all ratepayers. As more customers sign up for the program, the shift from site-specific to systemwide peak demand reduction could transform thousands of residential and commercial electricity customers into a flexible, grid-responsive energy asset, providing grid-scale services currently being met—at great cost—by fossil-fueled assets, such as peaker power plants.
» Read article           

» More about energy storage        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

no money downStart-up bets on new model for putting electric school buses on the road
Highland Electric Transportation has partnered with a Massachusetts city to provide electric school buses without the upfront costs or maintenance hassles.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By David Sokol / USA Today Network
November 2, 2020

A Massachusetts company that aims to transform the electric school bus market has rolled out its first vehicle as part of the city of Beverly’s plan to convert its entire fleet to electric power.

“We’re excited that it’s finally in our hands,” said Beverly mayor Michael Cahill. “We have a good feeling about it.”

Beverly’s new bus is just the fourth electric school bus to be put into service in Massachusetts; the other three were part of a state-funded pilot program in 2016 and 2017.

Some 9,000 school buses are on the road across Massachusetts. Many cities and towns have started looking for ways to cut emissions from their school bus fleets, both to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce the exhaust fumes students are exposed to on a daily basis. In Beverly, more than 45% of the city’s emissions come from transportation, so the city’s fleet of 22 school buses is a logical place to look for carbon reductions, Cahill said.

The rollout of Beverly’s new bus is a collaboration between the city and Highland Electric Transportation, a local start-up founded in 2018 by renewable energy industry veteran Duncan McIntyre. In his previous work, McIntyre helped develop solar power purchase agreements, a model in which a company builds, owns, and operates a solar installation on a customer’s property and the property owner agrees to buy the energy generated.

As electric vehicle technology evolved, McIntyre spotted an opportunity to apply the same concept to the school bus industry.

Though prices vary, electric school buses can cost more than $300,000, roughly three times the cost of a comparable diesel vehicle. Charging infrastructure can add another 15% to 30% to the final price tag. Highland, therefore, plans to partner with school districts that are interested in using electric school buses but unable to afford these high upfront costs. The company will buy and own the buses and charging infrastructure. Customer school districts will pay a monthly fee for the use of the buses and chargers, as well as ongoing maintenance.
» Read article          

take off 2035
Airbus Hopes to Be Flying Hydrogen-Powered Jetliners With Zero Carbon Emissions by 2035
The company says it is studying three designs for commercial air travel, but a host of complex problems remain related to producing “clean” hydrogen fuel.
By Leto Sapunar, InsideClimate News
October 27, 2020

The aerospace giant Airbus hopes to put a hydrogen-powered commercial airliner in the sky that will release zero carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. But not until 2035.

While 15 years might seem like a long time for research and development given the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions under the Paris climate agreement, processing and storing “clean hydrogen” requires solving an array of complex technical challenges. Three early design concepts the company is studying would run off of hydrogen and oxygen fuel and have no carbon exhaust. But that doesn’t mean they won’t affect the climate at all.

“I will let you in on a little secret, they are not zero emission,” Amanda Simpson, vice president for research and technology for Airbus Americas, said.

Burning hydrogen produces water, which comes out of the engines as a vapor that, especially at high altitudes, acts as a greenhouse gas.

Recent studies have shown that contrails—the white streaks of condensed water that follow jets across the sky—have a significant climate impact. Still, these hydrogen-powered designs could significantly limit the total warming that airlines cause by reducing or eliminating the carbon dioxide they emit. Airlines accounted for more than 2 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2018, with the total contribution of contrails and the various pollutants from commercial aviation driving about 5 percent of warming globally.

Up to this point, industry attempts at zero carbon flight have been smaller proof-of-concept designs, like short range electric planes that don’t scale up practically for larger passenger flights.

Simpson said she thinks hydrogen power is going to be “as clean as we can get,” so the development of a plane that runs on it is an important step in decarbonizing the aerospace industry.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

totally worth it Chatterjee
‘Totally worth it’: Chatterjee speculates DER order, carbon pricing are behind Trump ousting him
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
November 6, 2020

“I knew when I moved forward with Order 2222, convening the tech conference on carbon pricing, and ultimately moved forward with a proposed policy statement, that there was the risk of blowback,” he said in an interview Friday morning. FERC announced Thursday evening that President Donald Trump had replaced him as chairman with Commissioner James Danly, a more conservative presence on the commission, though Chatterjee will remain on the commission. “I knew that, [but] went forward anyway, because I thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t know for certain that that is the reason that the action was taken … but if it was, I’m actually quite proud of it. And it would have been totally worth it.”

Some analysts saw Chatterjee’s moves in recent months as a signal that he was moving to more Democrat-focused priorities, though the former chairman, who plans to remain for the rest of his term as commissioner until June 2021, says these policies were totally consistent with his market-based approach to the energy transition.

Chatterjee maintains his actions received broad support across the political spectrum, adding that relatively few Republicans opposed recent FERC actions.
» Read article           

Mr TemporaryTrump Replaces FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee with Commissioner James Danly
Surprise switch at federal agency that’s passed market regulations opposed by states pursuing clean energy policies.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 6, 2020

President Donald Trump has replaced Neil Chatterjee, the Republican chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with James Danly, another Republican who has taken a more conservative approach to federal energy policy at an agency that’s taken fire from clean energy advocates for using its regulatory power to impose restrictions on state-subsidized clean energy.

Thursday’s surprise announcement comes as Trump is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in the electoral votes needed to win the U.S. presidential election, with several key states yet to complete their vote tallies.

A Thursday report from the Washington Examiner quoted Chatterjee as speculating whether his abrupt replacement was due to his decision to issue a policy statement in September affirming FERC’s willingness to consider proposals for the country’s interstate grid operators to integrate carbon pricing into the wholesale energy markets they manage.

“I have obviously been out there promoting a conservative market-based approach to carbon mitigation and sending signals the commission is open to considering a carbon price, and perhaps that led to this,” Chatterjee was quoted as saying.

The Trump administration has restricted federal agencies from sharing information on the global warming impacts of human-caused carbon emissions. Danly issued a partial dissent to FERC’s carbon pricing policy statement, calling it “unnecessary and unwise.”

Danly also voted against last month’s Order 2222, which orders the country’s grid operators to allow aggregated distributed energy resources such as batteries, electric vehicles and demand response to participate in their wholesale energy, capacity and ancillary services markets. His no vote was overridden by Chatterjee and Richard Glick, FERC’s sole Democratic commissioner.
» Read article          

» More about FERC                

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

peak oil in rearview
On the horizon: the end of oil and the beginnings of a low-carbon planet
With demand and share prices dropping, Europe’s fossil fuel producers recognise that peak oil is probably now behind them
By The Guardian
November 1, 2020

A year ago, only the most ardent climate optimists believed that the world’s appetite for oil might reach its peak in the next decade. Today, a growing number of voices within the fossil fuel industry believe this milestone may have already been passed. While the global gaze has been on Covid-19 as it ripped through the world’s largest economies and most vulnerable people, the virus has quietly dealt a mortal blow to oil demand too.

Energy economists claim with increasing certainty that the world may never require as much oil as it did last year. Even as economies slowly emerge from the financial fallout of the pandemic, the shift towards cleaner energy has gained pace. A sharp plunge in fossil fuel use will be followed in quick succession by a renewable energy revolution, which will occur at unprecedented pace. The tipping point for oil demand may have come and gone, and major oil companies are taking note.

Royal Dutch Shell told investors last week that the oil giant will probably never again produce as much oil as it did in the year before coronavirus hit. It is on a mission to overhaul a business steeped in more than a century of oil production and embrace clean energy alternatives. But the admission that its own oil production may have already reached its peak is less of a climate target than an acknowledgment of an inevitable and inexorable march towards a low-carbon future.
» Read article          

Billings Refinery
Exxon Flags Possible $30B Writedown After Third Straight Loss
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
October 30, 2020

ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) warned on Friday that it could write down North American natural gas assets with a carrying value of up to US$30 billion as it reported its third consecutive loss this year amid low oil demand and oil prices.

Exxon is currently re-assessing its portfolio to decide which assets with the highest potential to create value should be developed, the U.S. supermajor said in its Q3 earnings release.

“Depending on the outcome of the planning process, including in particular any significant future changes to the corporation’s current development plans for its dry gas portfolio, long-lived assets with carrying values of approximately $25 billion to $30 billion could be at risk for significant impairment,” Exxon said, flagging the possibility of major writedowns.

Unlike other major oil corporations, Exxon hasn’t yet adjusted the value of its assets during the pandemic. In fact, Exxon hasn’t been doing much of that over the past decade at all.

Even Chevron took impairment charges in Q2 due to a lower commodity price outlook and write-offs in its Venezuela operations due to the U.S. sanctions.

Exxon expects to complete the re-assessment of its portfolio this quarter, so possible writedowns could be announced early next year.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuel                 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

number oneU.S. Leads the World in Plastic Waste, New Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
November 3, 2020

The U.S. is the No. 1 generator of plastic waste in the world and as high as the No. 3 generator of ocean plastic waste.

That’s the finding of a new study published in Science Advances last Friday that sought to paint a more accurate picture of the U.S. contribution to the plastic crisis. While previous studies had suggested that Asian countries were responsible for the bulk of ocean plastics, the new study upends this assumption by taking into account the plastic that the U.S. ships abroad.

“For years, so much of the plastic we have put into the blue bin has been exported for recycling to countries that struggle to manage their own waste, let alone the vast amounts delivered from the United States,” lead author and Sea Education Association professor of oceanography Dr. Kara Lavender Law said in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. “And when you consider how much of our plastic waste isn’t actually recyclable because it is low-value, contaminated or difficult to process, it’s not surprising that a lot of it ends up polluting the environment.”

It has long been known that the U.S. produces lots and lots of plastic, but the assumption was that this plastic was being effectively managed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), for example, reports that 75.4 percent of plastic waste is landfilled, 15.3 percent is incinerated and 9.3 percent is recycled, which suggests that all U.S. plastic is accounted for. But this does not take into account illegal littering or what happens once plastic is collected for recycling, the study authors pointed out. A 2010 study ranked the U.S. 20th in terms of its overall contribution to ocean plastic pollution. But that study also did not consider the plastic that the U.S. exported to developing countries.

The new analysis concluded that the U.S. generated around 42 million metric tons of plastic in 2016. Of the U.S. plastic collected for recycling, more than half of it was shipped abroad, and 88 percent of that was to countries that struggle to adequately recycle. Further, 15 to 25 percent of it was contaminated or poor quality plastic that would be extremely difficult to recycle anyway. These figures mean that the U.S. is polluting coasts in foreign countries with as much as one million tons of plastic.
» Read article              
» Read the study             

» More about plastics in the environment                 

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Weekly News Check-In 10/30/20

banner 19

Welcome back.

Time’s up. Before our next check-in, the polls will close in the U.S. election and we will formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Vote…. No excuses. Plus be good to yourselves and each other – we’re going to be OK.

News about the Weymouth compressor station centers on emergency response plans from the town and seemingly toothless rumblings from the Attorney General’s office. The thing is built, and will begin operations pending results of investigations into two unplanned gas releases that occurred in September.

The divestment movement notched a recent win, as the Church of England’s Pension Board dumped all its ExxonMobil shares.

With a greener future within reach, we’re following lots of reporting about the social, environmental, and equity issues being addressed as planners seek to avoid some of the failings that mark the current economy.

Our climate section is full of analysis of what this political moment means for the planet’s future – including calls to begin seriously studying solar geoengineering to cool the planet in the event that things get really bad. That story is way scarier than anything else we’ve heard this Halloween….

Fortunately, a team at Stanford University believes it’s possible to achieve a fully green grid as early as 2030 using a combination of solar, wind, and batteries. But even with clean electricity on the grid, older buildings still face barriers to improving energy efficiency to the extent necessary. Mold and asbestos remediation costs are stopping many building envelope improvement projects from moving forward – indicating a need to fund these measures in lower-income neighborhoods.

The stability and reliability of the grid can be enhanced through microgrids, and a new, plug-and-play version developed by Emera Technologies is about to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida.

This week we’re using our clean transportation section to showcase reports that General Motors and Ford both knew their internal combustion engines were climate change drivers as early as the ’60s and ’70s. Instead of investing in emission-free technologies, they instead promoted climate denial while bulking up their trucks and SUVs. These firms may now be exposed to the same litigation as the oil majors are mired in.

The health risks of indoor gas use are worth thinking about as the weather turns cold and we spend more time in closed-up spaces. Climate issues of gas stoves aside, they’re a source of serious health concern when not properly vented to the outside.

The fossil fuel industry found a way to divert Covid-19 relief funds in North Dakota from cleaning up old wells to financing more fracking. While shady schemes and outright fraud are standard fare in this seciton, we also have news that the natural gas industry may be facing ‘peak gas’ much earlier than expected. And the liquefied natural gas industry is processing news that France’s government asked local power group Engie to delay the signing of a 20-year deal to buy LNG from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions.

We finish with a couple reports on plastics. A petition circulating in Kenya seeks to hold that country’s tough line on plastics imports – a position the U.S. is seeking to undermine during current trade negotiations. And we have another explainer on plastics recycling, and the myth of that little triangle.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

emergency planTown’s public safety officials offer plan for compressor station emergency
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger, in Wicked Local Weymouth
October 27, 2020

The town’s heads of public safety say they feel largely prepared to deal with any emergencies that could happen at the newly-completed natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

Emergency Management Director John Mulveyhill, Fire Chief Keith Start and Police Chief Richard Fuller went before town council’s environmental committee this week to discuss the recently-completed contingency plan for the compressor station, which is close by the MWRA sewage pumping station, Fore River Bridge, numerous industrial facilities and hundreds of homes.

The more than 1,000-page plan details what role each agency would play during a medical emergency, gas leak or catastrophic event at the compressor station. It includes evacuation information from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, regional shelter and emergency operation center plans and a statewide fire and emergency medical services mobilization plan, among other things.

Several portions of the plan regarding the emergency response by Enbridge, the energy company that owns the compressor station, are under review to decide if officials can release anything for public viewing.
» Read article                

Healey wades in
Healey wades into debate over Weymouth gas compressor station
By Statehouse News Service, on Channel 7 News, Boston
October 26, 2020

Responding to a cadre of South Shore lawmakers who had asked her to intervene and address what they described as potential regulatory and civil rights violations impacting environmental justice communities, Attorney General Maura Healey said last week that her office will keep a close eye on a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth and is open to collaborating with lawmakers to change the permitting process for future projects.

Last month, South Shore lawmakers who have long opposed the Weymouth project wrote to Healey with complaints that project operators and state agencies failed to provide sufficient notice to residents, particularly those in designated environmental justice communities, ahead of several important hearings and public comment periods.

“In response to your concerns about public notices to environmental justice communities near the project, my team asked MassDEP to closely examine past public involvement practices with the facility and encouraged the agency to explore additional options for improvements going forward, including ensuring community responsive translation,” Healey wrote in her letter last week. “Public involvement by all communities, but especially environmental justice communities, is equally important. We understand that MassDEP intends to speak again with community leaders to solicit further feedback on what additional steps the agency could include in the current public involvement plan related to cleanup at the site to address any ongoing concerns.”

Healey has previously called for Massachusetts to steer away from expanding natural gas infrastructure but has not vocally and directly opposed the compressor station that Enbridge sought and now controls in Weymouth.

In her letter, however, Healey said she is “deeply concerned about the recent emergency natural gas releases at the facility,” and that her office has been in touch with federal regulators to discuss the issue.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

 

DIVESTMENT

Exxon Scope 3
Church Of England Dumps All ExxonMobil Stock
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 8, 2020

The Church of England Pensions Board divested this week all its shares in ExxonMobil since the U.S. supermajor has failed to set targets to cut Scope 3 emissions—those generated by the products it sells—a spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg on Thursday. 

The Church of England Pensions Board, which manages more than US$3.62 billion (2.8 billion British pounds) in assets, has been one of Exxon’s shareholders that has consistently called on the oil giant to report emissions and provide a pathway to reduce emissions from its operations and the products it sells to customers.  

“Exxon failed to meet the index criteria which embeds the latest assessment by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), and as a result the board is disinvested from Exxon,” the spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg.

While European oil majors have started to report the so-called Scope 3 emissions and have committed to reduce them over the next decades, Exxon hasn’t done that, drawing criticism from its investors, including the Church Commissioners for England and BlackRock.
» Read article                

» More about divestment              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

taking actionWhat Is the Clean Energy Industry Doing to Confront Racism?
“We need to be very careful that as we grow and mature we’re not replicating the injustices that have proliferated to date throughout the energy system.”
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
October 29, 2020

In the wake of spring outpourings of grief and anger over the killings of Black Americans such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, numerous companies in the clean energy industry turned the lens inward. Companies that had never before spoken out about racism published statements condemning it, and some donated to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  

Despite the unprecedented action, inequality is not a new or unrecognized problem in the renewables industry. It remains to be seen whether these newest expressions of upset and accompanying initiatives to combat racism within and outside company ranks will continue.

So far, the clean energy industry has largely embraced a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach: If renewables companies help clean up the grid, that will naturally reduce pollution for the communities of color who experience it most acutely. But assessing the industry’s metrics holistically — such as the number of opportunities for Black employees in the industry, wealth created in underserved communities, and the availability of solar to majority-nonwhite neighborhoods — shows that that approach has fallen flat in challenging the legacy of systemic racism within clean energy.

“At its core, the idea of moving forward clean energy, whether it’s solar or wind, has been good,” said Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. But overall, Patterson said, the industry’s approach to anti-racism efforts has been lackluster, even after she’s advised companies on best practices.

“When I have those conversations and send information, there’s no action. […] In this moment, all of a sudden, there’s more of an interest,” Patterson told Greentech Media. “We’ll see whether that actually leads to things being done.”

To make a change, Patterson said, companies need to recognize the “social good” associated with anti-racism alongside the benefits to their business.

In recent weeks and months, several coalitions have put forth new plans. Now companies have to show they will actually put them into practice.
» Read article                

new thinkingGreen stimulus could create $280B in economic benefits: C40
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 28, 2020

C40 Cities formed the COVID-19 task force in late April to prioritize public health, economic equality and climate amid recovery from the pandemic. At the time, the member mayors said they would identify how cities can best create new jobs while keeping emissions and climate change at the forefront of the discussion about recovery.

With C40 having previously voiced its support for a Global Green New Deal and backing a declaration to divest from fossil fuels, the task force warned that a new way of thinking is needed as cities look to stimulate their economies and invest in infrastructure.

“If governments use stimulus funding to try to return to ‘business as usual’ before COVID, emissions will rise and run-away climate breakdown will be locked in,” the mayors wrote in a joint statement. “It is only through a green and just recovery based on the principles of a Global Green New Deal… that emissions will start to fall.”
» Read article                

looking for the exitOil And Gas Workers Continue to be Excluded From ‘Just Transition’, Report Shows
By Chris Silver, DeSmog UK
October 22, 2020

The majority of offshore workers in the North Sea would consider leaving the sector, a new report has found.

Poor job security was cited as the most pressing reason to quit the industry, after the collapse in oil prices from Covid-19 saw 43% of oil and gas workers furloughed or made redundant since March.

The report, carried out by climate groups Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace, found 81.7% of workers surveyed were open to leaving the industry, but lacked the government support to switch sectors.

One worker surveyed commented: “The way the industry is treating their workers, especially those in a situation similar to mine, is an absolute disgrace and should not be allowed to happen.”

Another added: “I know guys who have had two or three pay cuts over six months, no negotiations, nothing. If one engineering company cuts rates, all the others do too. I’ve honestly long suspected there is a cartel around this.”

More than half of the 1,383 workers surveyed – representing 4.5% of the offshore workforce – said they would be interested in working in renewables and offshore wind. 

Another respondent, ‘Steve,’ 43, contrasted the experience of decline in oil and gas with the prospect of working towards Scotland’s 2045 net-zero target.  

“It’s always boom and bust to some degree but the last five years have not been a pleasant environment to work in – that’s five years of mental toil,” he said. “To be in an industry that’s growing, versus one that’s declining, that’s really what it’s all about to me.”  

Working towards net-zero “would be an achievement in my working life and mean a lot to me,” he added.
» Read article               
» Read the survey report        

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

plan v no plan
There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It.
Our political culture isn’t ready to deal with climate change.
By Farhad Manjoo, New York Times – Opinion
October 28, 2020

If you’re a supporter of that radical extremist group Keep America Habitable for Human Beings, you might have been encouraged by the 2020 presidential race.

In 2016, climate change — the scientific fact of the earth’s encroaching uninhabitability — was mostly ignored, including in the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This year, the changing climate and what to do about it got airtime in both presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate. Climate change was also one of the top issues during the Democratic primary race. Several candidates published detailed climate plans; Joe Biden’s proposal is the most ambitious response to climate change ever proposed by a major-party nominee for president.

And yet I keep getting discouraged by how far there is to go. Voters, the candidates and especially the political media have not given it enough attention this year, considering the stakes at hand. Worse, when politicians do address climate change, the discussion in mainstream media is often uninformed, following a script favorable to oil companies.

These problems were on stark display in the ridiculous dust-up over Biden’s statement during the debate last week that the United States needs to transition away from oil. When asked about climate change, Biden told a series of truths. He noted, correctly, that it’s an “existential threat to humanity,” that “we don’t have much time” to address it, that doing so could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that it would involve eliminating our reliance on the cause of the problem, fossil fuels.

Trump’s answer was a series of absurdities. He said that he loves the environment, but that plans to address climate change would cost a lot of money and many jobs, would require buildings with very small windows and that wind power creates “fumes” and kills a lot of birds. (In fact, cats, buildings and cars are far bigger threats to birds.)

I’m not sure how anyone could come away from that debate thinking that Biden is the one who made a rhetorical flub. “The takeaway isn’t what Biden said, it’s what Trump said,” Kendra Pierre-Louis, a former reporter for The New York Times who is now a reporter on the podcast “How to Save a Planet,” told me. “Trump effectively said he doesn’t have a climate plan, and we are facing an existential crisis.”

Yet it was Biden, not Trump, who got in political hot water for his answer. After the debate, Trump’s campaign, with an assist from talking heads on cable news and the internet, began suggesting that Biden’s comments would hurt his chances in oil- and gas-producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania. Biden later walked back his comment, explaining that a transition away from oil would take very long time.

What a disaster. Why can’t we abide an honest discussion about climate change?
» Read article               

simply grotesque‘Grotesquely Fitting’ Say Climate Campaigners as Trump Mulls Pro-Fracking Executive Order Ahead of Election
Polling data doesn’t support the idea that the issue is politically popular overall, and critics say the order would be “just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
October 28, 2020

Climate campaigners and journalists called out President Donald Trump after the Wall Street Journal revealed late Tuesday—just a week before Election Day—that he is considering a last-minute executive order to promote fracking as an apparent ploy to win over undecided voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.

Trump is weighing an order “mandating an economic analysis” of hydraulic fracturing, as the oil and gas extraction process is also called, according to the Journal. Unnamed officials told the newspaper that the work would be spearheaded by the U.S. Energy and Interior departments with input from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Treasury Department.

The measure “would ask government agencies to perform an analysis of fracking’s impact on the economy and trade and the consequences if the oil-and-gas extraction technique was banned,” the Journal reported. “It also would order those agencies to evaluate what more they can do to expand its use, possibly through land management or support of developing technology.”

Food & Water Action policy director Mitch Jones responded in a statement Wednesday declaring that “this order is just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue. There is no doubt that fracking poisons our air and water, and that drilling is driving us towards climate crisis. There is something grotesquely fitting that an administration that has sacrificed climate action for the sake of the fossil fuel industry thinks fracking is a winner.”

“The truth is that the fracking industry is in collapse. Fracking has never been the economic engine that its backers have claimed it to be, and any attempts to resuscitate it are only delaying the inevitable,” Jones continued. “Debt-ridden drilling companies have laid off thousands of workers while CEOs make off with millions in profits.”
» Read article                

the last worst ideaAs Climate Disasters Pile Up, a Radical Proposal Gains Traction
The idea of modifying Earth’s atmosphere to cool the planet, once seen as too risky to seriously consider, is attracting new money and attention.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 28, 2020

As the effects of climate change become more devastating, prominent research institutions and government agencies are focusing new money and attention on an idea once dismissed as science fiction: Artificially cooling the planet, in the hopes of buying humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

That strategy, called solar climate intervention or solar geoengineering, entails reflecting more of the sun’s energy back into space — abruptly reducing global temperatures in a way that mimics the effects of ash clouds spewed by volcanic eruptions. The idea has been derided as a dangerous and illusory fix, one that would encourage people to keep burning fossil fuels while exposing the planet to unexpected and potentially menacing side effects.

But as global warming continues, producing more destructive hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other disasters, some researchers and policy experts say that concerns about geoengineering should be outweighed by the imperative to better understand it, in case the consequences of climate change become so dire that the world can’t wait for better solutions.

“We’re facing an existential threat, and we need to look at all the options,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School and editor of a book on the technology and its legal implications. “I liken geoengineering to chemotherapy for the planet: If all else is failing, you try it.”
» Read article                

Trumping NOAAAs Election Nears, Trump Makes a Final Push Against Climate Science
The administration is imposing new limits on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would undercut action against global warming.
By Christopher Flavelle and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
October 27, 2020

The Trump administration has recently removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s premier scientific agency, installed new political staff who have questioned accepted facts about climate change and imposed stricter controls on communications at the agency.

The moves threaten to stifle a major source of objective United States government information about climate change that underpins federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions and offer an indication of the direction the agency will take if President Trump wins re-election.

An early sign of the shift came last month, when Erik Noble, a former White House policy adviser who had just been appointed NOAA’s chief of staff, removed Craig McLean, the agency’s acting chief scientist.

Mr. McLean had sent some of the new political appointees a message that asked them to acknowledge the agency’s scientific integrity policy, which prohibits manipulating research or presenting ideologically driven findings.
» Read article                

protect what you love
New East Boston Murals Intertwine Beauty And Environmental Concerns
By Cristela Guerra, WBUR
October 27, 2020


In East Boston, a series of seven new large-scale murals emphasize the natural world and the need to preserve the environment at all costs.

Artist Silvia Lopez Chavez has created a visual guardian near the entrance of Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina. Her mural depicts a massive figure of a woman with ocean waters rising to her nose. Still, she looks composed, serene almost, a woman of mixed ancestry meant to represent the diverse community that lives in East Boston.

The figure’s head is crowned by a clipper ship, a type of vessel that used to be built in East Boston. The ships carried cargo, but also enslaved people, across the oceans. The vessel nods to this nation’s history of colonization, a solemn acknowledgment of how some people arrived on these shores.

“[The woman] represents the past, present, and future,” Lopez Chavez said. “I wanted her to be able to connect to the histories of this place, to connect to that native and indigenous heritage, the history of immigration and all the different peoples and groups that have come through here.”

Presented by Linda Cabot, and in a collaboration with HarborArts and the international nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, the initiative is known as Sea Walls Boston and combines activism with art. A seventh piece exploring warming oceans by Colombian-American artist Felipe Ortiz is underway.

“It’s not front of mind for a lot of us, but the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming body of water in the United States, which is causing many of the cold water marine species in the US to migrate to colder waters,” project director Matthew Pollock said. “The same issues that are destroying coral reefs and causing biodiversity to disappear all over the world also affect us right here at home. This mural represents how our oceans are all connected.”
» Read article               

election crossroadsClimate at a crossroads as Trump and Biden point in different directions
The two US presidential contenders offer starkly different approaches as the world tries to avoid catastrophic global heating
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
October 26, 2020

Among the myriad reasons world leaders will closely watch the outcome of a fraught US presidential election, the climate crisis looms perhaps largest of all.

The international effort to constrain dangerous global heating will hinge, in large part, on which of the dichotomous approaches of Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails.

On 4 November, the day after the election, the US will exit the Paris climate agreement, a global pact that has wobbled but not collapsed from nearly four years of disparagement and disengagement under Trump.

Biden has vowed to immediately rejoin the Paris deal. The potential of a second Trump term, however, is foreboding for those whose anxiety has only escalated during the hottest summer ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, with huge wildfires scorching California and swaths of central South America, and extraordinary temperatures baking the Arctic.

“It’s a decision of great consequence, to both the US and the world,” said Laurence Tubiana, a French diplomat and key architect of the Paris accords. “The rest of the world is moving to a low-carbon future, but we need to collectively start moving even faster, and the US still has a significant global role to play in marshaling this effort.”
» Read article               

EU punts 2030 target
EU environment ministers strike deal on climate law, leave out 2030 target
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
October 23, 2020

European Union environment ministers struck a deal on Friday to make the bloc’s 2050 net zero emissions target legally binding, but left a decision on a 2030 emissions-cutting target for leaders to discuss in December.

The landmark climate change law will form the basis for Europe’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions, which will reshape all sectors, from transport to heavy industry, and require hundreds of billions of euros in annual investments.

It will fix in law the EU target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and define the rules for reviewing progress towards climate targets.

Ministers struck a deal on these parts of the law at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday. None of the 27 member countries rejected the bill, although Bulgaria abstained.

A decision on the most politically sensitive part of the bill – a new 2030 emissions-cutting target – was left for EU leaders to agree, unanimously, at a December meeting.

The law will give Brussels “the legal possibility to act when those who make promises don’t deliver on the promises,” said EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans at Friday’s meeting. It was held in person, despite much of the continent restricting gatherings to curb surging coronavirus infections.
» Read article                

 nap time is over          Worms Frozen for 42,000 Years in Siberian Permafrost Wriggle to Life
By Mindy Weisberger, LiveScience
July 27, 2018

Did you ever wake up from a long nap feeling a little disoriented, not quite knowing where you were? Now, imagine getting a wake-up call after being “asleep” for 42,000 years.

In Siberia, melting permafrost is releasing nematodes — microscopic worms that live in soil — that have been suspended in a deep freeze since the Pleistocene. Despite being frozen for tens of thousands of years, two species of these worms were successfully revived, scientists recently reported in a new study.

Their findings, published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Doklady Biological Sciences, represent the first evidence of multicellular organisms returning to life after a long-term slumber in Arctic permafrost, the researchers wrote. [Weird Wildlife: The Real Animals of Antarctica]

Though nematodes are tiny — typically measuring about 1 millimeter in length — they are known to possess impressive abilities. Some are found living 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) below Earth’s surface, deeper than any other multicellular animal. Certain worms that live on an island in the Indian Ocean can develop one of five different mouths, depending on what type of food is available. Others are adapted to thrive inside slug intestines and travel on slimy highways of slug poop.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

super power SWB
Super power: Here’s how to get to 100pct wind, solar and storage by 2030
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
October 28, 2020

A team led by renowned Stanford University futurist Tony Seba says most of the world can transition to 100 per cent wind, solar and storage electricity grids within the coming decade, in what they describe as the fastest, deepest and most profound disruptions ever seen in the energy industry.

The RethinkX team led by Seba, one of the few analysts to correctly forecast the plunging cost of solar over the last decade, predicts that the disruption caused by solar, wind and lithium-ion battery storage, or SWB, will be similar to the digital disruption of information technology.

“What happened in the world of bits is now poised to happen in the world of electrons,” they write.

“Just as computers and the Internet slashed the marginal cost of information and opened the door to hundreds of new business models that collectively have had a transformative impact upon the global economy, so too will SWB slash the marginal cost of electricity and create a plethora of opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The key to this disruption, they say, is the near-zero marginal cost of wind and solar, and the falling costs of those technologies and of storage. They say there will inevitably be more wind and solar produced than needed, but that’s OK because this excess production, which they dub “super power”, can be used for long-term storage, electrification of housing and industrial processes and, of course, transport.

“Our analysis shows that 100% clean electricity from the combination of solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) is both physically possible and economically affordable across the entire continental United States as well as the overwhelming majority of other populated regions of the world by 2030.

“Adoption of SWB is growing exponentially worldwide and disruption is now inevitable because by 2030 they will offer the cheapest electricity option for most regions. Coal, gas, and nuclear power assets will become stranded during the 2020s, and no new investment in these technologies is rational from this point forward.”
» Read article                

Koch at DOEThe Koch Operatives Behind the Trump Energy Department’s Renewables Research Censorship
By Ben Jervey, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Two Trump Energy Department appointees with deep ties to Koch Industries and the Koch donor network have been burying reams of agency research that looks favorably on renewable energy, according to an in-depth investigation by Grist and InvestigateWest. Published October 26, the investigation reveals how the appointed high-ranking officials mandated political review of research, watered down reports, and slow-walked or shelved scientific findings and studies when they favored renewable deployment over continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Documents obtained by InvestigateWest reveal clear political interference in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), much of it coordinated by Dan Simmons, the office’s Assistant Secretary, and Alex Fitzsimmons, the former Chief of Staff to Simmons. While the article notes the lobbying histories of DOE’s top brass, Simmons and Fitzsimmons also have recent ties to the Koch network.

“In all, the department has blocked reports for more than 40 clean energy studies,” Fairley reported. “The department has replaced them with mere presentations, buried them in scientific journals that are not accessible to the public, or left them paralyzed within the agency, according to emails and documents obtained by InvestigateWest, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at the Department of Energy, or DOE, and its national labs.”

“There are dozens of reports languishing right now that can’t be published,” Stephen Capanna, a former director of strategic analysis for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, told Grist. “This is a systemic issue.”
» Read article                

almost no birds
Danish research shows “almost no birds” die in collisions with wind turbines
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
October 23, 2020

The results of a multi-year scientific study in Denmark has concluded that birds are quite good at avoiding wind turbine blades, putting a serious dent in a common argument raised by anti-wind and -renewable activists.

The new study, carried out by three relevant consultancies for Swedish power company Vattenfall, investigated the area around 11 turbines every three days for three periods of just over a month in both the first and third years after the erection of the 67.2MW Klim Wind Farm in northern Jutland, Denmark (pictured above).

The research was carried out between August 2016 and May 2017 in the first year of operation, and August 2018 and May 2019 in the third year of operation. In an effort to determine an annual collision rate for the pink-footed geese and cranes, 11 selected turbines were inspected during autumn, winter, and spring.

The Klim Wind Farm is a valuable scientific opportunity, located in the immediate vicinity of the international Natura 2000 bird protection area Vejlerne, where each day, thousands of birds leave their roosting areas in Vejlerne to fly out to nearby fields to find food. Unsurprisingly, given its location, many of these birds fly past the Klim Wind Farm.

According to the study – the results of which will be published in DOF BirdLife Denmark’s scientific journal together with a ‘peer review’ for professional consolidation – in the first year of investigation, a total of 17 dead birds were found under the 11 selected wind turbines. In the third year, 22 dead birds or their remains were found.

Importantly, the discovered dead birds or remains were not always those of the pink-footed geese, and no dead cranes were found which had crashed into the turbines.

According to the final analysis, the researchers determined that the evasive response for both the pink-footed geese and the cranes over the two study years worked out to be 99.9% – based on a population of 20,000-30,000 geese and several hundred cranes.

Sponsored by Vattenfall, which naturally has a vested interest in the outcome of the report’s findings, the study was carried out partly to prove that the Klim Wind Farm complied with its environmental permit – which stipulates that collisions must not exceed 75% of the current sustainable mortality rates for populations of pink-footed geese and crane.

However, importantly, the findings stand for themselves, as do the credits of the three independent authors who carried out the investigation.
» Read article               

VPP video
The next generation of power plants will be virtual
Your next home or electric vehicle could be part of a virtual power plant
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 20, 2020

Increasing numbers of homes outfitted with solar panels and batteries have the potential to help power entire regions with renewable energy. Working together, homes with solar setups are turning neighborhoods into virtual power plants that can feed power back to the grid and prevent blackouts.

These interconnected solar power systems are popping up across the globe — from apartment complexes in California and Utah, to public housing in South Australia. In the future, virtual power plants might even be made up of fleets of electric vehicles. It’s the next generation of solar power technology
» Watch video                

» More about clean energy           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

barriers to efficiency
Mold, asbestos may put Connecticut weatherization goal out of reach
State leaders are looking for funding sources for remediation work that needs to happen before many energy efficiency upgrades can be completed.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By National Institutes of Health
October 29, 2020

Lorenzo Wyatt owns a Connecticut energy-efficiency contracting business focused almost exclusively on low-income residents — about 80% of his customers are eligible for no-cost energy savings services through the state’s residential efficiency programs.

But nearly a third of those customers are not able to weatherize their houses or apartments, and lose out on energy savings. That’s because mold, asbestos, and other health hazards discovered in their homes must be cleaned up before contractors can safely seal the space, an undertaking that easily runs into the thousands of dollars.

Those costs are not covered by the state’s efficiency programs. And very few of Wyatt’s customers can afford to pay themselves. 

“Typically, 30% of the income-eligible customers will have these barriers,” said Wyatt, whose company, Home Comfort Practice, is based in Stratford. “Very few will go through with remediation. That’s been the issue.”

It’s a difficult problem that has hampered the state’s residential energy efficiency programs for years and prevents the most money-strapped households from obtaining services that could significantly reduce their energy bills. 

Eversource and United Illuminating, which administer the efficiency programs, say about 10-14% of their market-rate customers have a health and safety barrier in their homes; that percentage rises to 25-30% among low-income households. 

The barriers make it nearly impossible for the utilities to reach the weatherization target set by legislation: weatherize 80% of Connecticut residences by 2030.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

MICROGRIDS

blockenergy
Emera Technologies Unveils Plug-and-Play Neighborhood Microgrid Geared for Utilities
By Ethan Howland, Microgrid Knowledge
October 26, 2020

Emera Technologies has developed a residential, plug-and-play microgrid system called BlockEnergy that is designed to be owned and operated by utilities – a sector in search of a way to offer microgrids that works within its business structure.

Set to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida, the system aligns with major trends in the utility sector, according to Scott Balfour, president and CEO of Emera, a $32 billion utility company based in Halifax, Nova Scotia and parent of Emera Technologies.

“It provides local, decentralized energy that can interoperate with the grid with never before possible levels of reliability and system safety,” Balfour said. “It contributes to decarbonization, enabling more efficient adoption of much higher levels of rooftop solar generation.

The system, designed for new subdivisions, has four main components, including a Block box that sits outside a home, according to Rob Bennett, Emera Technologies CEO. 

A nanogrid connected to rooftop solar, the box contains control electronics, an energy storage battery and an inverter that converts the microgrid’s direct current power to alternating current for use inside the home, Bennett said.

The box connects to a cable network system — A DC bus — that loops through the neighborhood, connecting all the boxes on the system, Bennett explained. The resources are shared across the network. The loops can handle as many as 50 homes.

The network is connected to a central energy park that includes batteries, controls and a backup, natural gas-fired generator that can provide power during outages or when the solar panels aren’t generating enough power to serve the system, Bennett said.

The network also connects with the wider grid and can provide grid-wide benefits such as frequency support, power export and power import when a utility wants to store energy, according to Bennett.
» Read article                

» More about microgrids            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

GM and Ford knew
Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago
By Maxine Joselow, E&E News
October 26, 2020

Scientists at two of America’s biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a monthslong investigation by E&E News has found.

The discoveries by General Motors and Ford Motor Co. preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling U.S. efforts to make vehicles cleaner.

Researchers at both automakers found strong evidence in the 1960s and ’70s that human activity was warming the Earth. A primary culprit was the burning of fossil fuels, which released large quantities of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide that could trigger melting of polar ice sheets and other dire consequences.

A GM scientist presented her findings to at least three high-level executives at the company, including a former chairman and CEO. It’s unclear whether similar warnings reached the top brass at Ford.

But in the following decades, both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.

It wasn’t until 1996 that GM produced its first commercial electric vehicle, called the EV1. Ford released a compact electric pickup truck in 1998.

More than 50 years after the automakers learned about climate change, the transportation sector is the leading source of planet-warming pollution in the United States. Cars and trucks account for the bulk of those emissions.
» Read article                

hummer
Detroit Knew: GM and Ford Were Aware of Climate Risks Decades Ago Too, Investigation Reveals
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Groundbreaking reporting this week by E&E News revealed that, similar to major oil companies like Exxon, American automakers Ford and General Motors (GM) engaged in early cutting-edge climate science research and that the companies were aware as early as the 1960s of potential climate risks that stem from burning the fossil fuels that power their vehicles. The investigation, published Monday, October 26, also describes how the auto giants largely dismissed those risks and actively lobbied to block action and fund climate science denial campaigns.

“Just as with the oil industry, the auto industry was really focused on potential regulatory threats from pollution to its business long ago,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit law firm which helped uncover historical documents on Ford scientists’ climate research, told DeSmog. 

“That the auto industry would be aware of the emerging science that was relevant to how its products operate is not surprising,” Muffett added. Yet despite this early knowledge, he explained, the industry “embarked on a multi-decade course of action designed to sow uncertainty about climate science and to block climate action.”

What could be relevant in potential climate litigation, which the oil industry is already facing, is not only what the automakers knew and when, but what they did in response. Rather than publicly acknowledging the climate consequences of fossil fuel consumption from automobiles and shifting to alternatives like electric vehicles, Ford and General Motors continued business as usual, while stoking uncertainty about climate science through their private donations.    

“Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming,” E&E reporter Maxine Joselow wrote in the investigation.
» Read article                

» More about clean transportation             

 

HEALTH RISKS – INDOOR GAS USE

scary stove
Gas Stoves Are the Scariest Thing in the Kitchen
By Dharna Noor, Gizmodo
October 29, 2020

As a Climate Person, I strongly believe we urgently need to electrify everything and ditch natural gas completely. The problem is, I love my gas stove. I find the heat from an electric stove’s coils basically impossible to control—last time I used one, I burned a beautiful pan sauce to a brown crisp.

Though gas stoves are comparatively easy to cook with, they’re actually incredibly dangerous. One recent report found that gas stoves spew out levels of air pollution inside that would be illegal under outdoor regulations.

“It’s really a cocktail of emissions that they put out,” Brady Seals, senior associate of building electrification at the Rocky Mountain Institute who co-authored the study, said. “There’s the emissions from the gas itself, the main ones of which are nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. And then there’s the particulate matter, or the small pollution particles, that come from the stove flames and from the food that’s getting cooked.”

Each of these toxins can enter the human body when we inhale, causing respiratory issues, especially for those who have chronic breathing conditions like asthma. The teeniest bits of particulate matter are so small that they can also pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and even the brain where they have been linked to anxiety and problems with attention and memory.

All that pollution can be mitigated by ventilation hoods, but people don’t tend to use their hoods enough. That’s partially because some of the toxins stoves produce aren’t detectable to the naked eye or nose.

It’s clear that gas stoves simply can’t stick around, as great as they are for cooking compared to electric stoves. Luckily, though, those aren’t the only two options.

“The best alternative is induction stoves,” Aldana Cohen said. “Many of the world’s best chefs use them. They are way better for people’s health. They perform far better than conventional electric stoves.”

Unlike traditional electric stoves, which have coils that get heated by electricity, induction burners run on electromagnetism, making them more energy efficient. Since they only heat magnetic surfaces like iron pans, they’re also safer.
» Read article               

» More about indoor gas use risks          

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Covid relief funds fracked
The $16 Million Was Supposed to Clean Up Old Oil Wells; Instead, It’s Going to Frack New Ones
North Dakota, where Covid-19 rates are surging, is redirecting the federal relief money, turning it into grants that will go directly to oil companies.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
October 28, 2020

North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator had a problem. With winter bearing down, his department had yet to spend $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas well sites across the state, and the arrival of cold weather would halt the work. 

If the money wasn’t spent by the end of the year, the state would lose it. So Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, proposed a different use for the funds: paying oil companies to hydraulically fracture new wells.

The proposal landed in front of state lawmakers on Wednesday during a budget meeting that many members attended remotely, calling in from easy chairs and living rooms because of the state’s surging coronavirus caseload. Despite pleas from some lawmakers that the money would be better spent helping nursing homes safely allow family visits or amplifying contact tracing, the committee approved Helms’ request.
» Read article                

gas peaking early
Peak Gas Is Coming to the U.S. Sooner Than Anyone Expected
By Naureen Malik, Brian Eckhouse, Dave Merrill and Jeremy C.F. Lin, Bloomberg
October 22, 2020

One of the largest utilities in the U.S. put $8 billion into a bet that natural gas would dominate American electricity much like coal had before. “We really consider this to be a growth play,” Tom Fanning, chief executive officer of Southern Co., said in an interview just five years ago, as his company set on its landmark acquisition: natural-gas distributor AGL Resources Inc.

Gas looked to be on the verge of generational dominance at the time. The American fracking boom had made the fuel superabundant and cheap, hastening coal’s rapid decline, while energy from wind and solar had higher costs and lower reliability. A giant utility like Southern would naturally see gas pipelines and storage as the key to a durable and lucrative future, meeting demand that would continue to grow.

Now those expansive time horizons are in deep doubt. In fact, there are flashing signs that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak gas, with demand topping out decades ahead of schedule. “The era of robust growth in the U.S. natural gas market is likely coming to a close,” says Devin McDermott, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “It doesn’t mean the market falls apart. It doesn’t mean gas demand falls off of a cliff. It means that we need less new supply going forward.”

Natural gas only fulfilled its destiny as the nation’s top power source in 2016, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the creation of a gas-based economy. Renewables could take over as the No. 1 power source on the grid as soon as 2028, according to projections by McDermott and Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Byrd.

The American gas peak will mark a critical juncture—and it may have already been reached. McDermott expects overall U.S. gas demand growth in the U.S. slow to between 1% and 2% per year through 2030 as use by power generators shrinks by 2% to 3%. Overall demand could flatline or fall slightly if the Democrats win in November, a dramatic shift after years of record growth. “It’s a gradual trend, but it does add up over time,” he says.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel     

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Engie hold upFrance Delays U.S. LNG Deal On Environmental Concerns
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
October 23, 2020

France’s government has asked local power group Engie, in which it holds more than 20 percent, to delay the signing of a 20-year deal worth US$7-billion to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions, Politico reported, quoting sources with knowledge of the issue.

Engie was preparing to sign the multi-billion offtake deal with NextDecade Corporation, which is developing the Rio Grande LNG project in Texas. Rio Grande LNG, whose final investment decision is expected in 2021, is supposed to use the abundant shale gas supply from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale.

But the French government has asked Engie to hold off on signing the deal because France is concerned that the shale gas producers in Texas emit too much methane at a time when the European Union (EU) and its major economies, including France, are looking to develop and import clean energy.
» Read article                

» More about LNG           

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

plastics petitionCampaigners Tell Kenyan Government ‘Don’t Backslide on Plastics’ in US Trade Deal
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
October 27, 2020

Campaigners are calling on the Kenyan government to protect the country from an influx of plastic pollution as a consequence of a new free trade agreement with the US.

An online petition, organised by Greenpeace, calls on officials to reject terms in any new agreement that would make it easier for the US to export its plastic to Kenya.  The “Do Not Backslide on Plastics” campaign already has over 21,000 signatures.

It was launched after revelations by Greenpeace’s investigative journalism unit Unearthed that showed the American Chemistry Council (ACC) lobby group was pushing the US Trade Representative to include terms that would contradict Kenya’s recent efforts to curb its plastic consumption.

In public letters to the US Trade Representative and US International Trade Commission, the Council writes: “Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying US-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement.”

The ACC is backed by fossil fuel companies including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and BP and major agri-chemical companies including Bayer, BASF, FMC and Corteva.

Greenpeace is asking Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade, Industrialisation and Enterprise Development, Betty Maina, “to commit to Africa’s Plastic-free vision” as the country negotiates with the US.

Rwanda pioneered a ban on single use plastic bags in 2008, followed by Kenya in 2017 and Tanzania in 2019. This year Kenya marked World Environment Day by introducing a ban on single use plastic in all beaches, forests and conservation areas.

Fredrick Njehu, Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace Africa, says most of those who signed the petition are Kenyans, many of them young and alarmed at the prospect of their country being turned into a gateway for the export of plastics to the rest of Africa.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment              

 

PLASTICS RECYCLING

RIC mythThe Plastic Myth and the Misunderstood Triangle
By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie, EcoWatch
October 23, 2020

The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.

But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.

These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, were creating “unrealistic expectations” about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.

Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a resin identifier code or RIC) means something is recyclable.

But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles “are not recycle codes.” In fact, they weren’t created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.

In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – depending on the recycling facility.
» Read article                

» More about plastics recycling         

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Weekly News Check-In 10/23/20

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Welcome back.

We lead off this week with the story of young climate activists taking a page from the abolitionist playbook, when anti-slavery actions included waking politicians up in the middle of the night in hopes of also waking them up to the important issue at hand. Grab a nice big pan and a stout wooden spoon and set your alarm – there’s plenty of work to be done!

The Dakota Access Pipeline seems to run through dueling realities. In one, it just received a permit to double its flow. In a second, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed another injunction in Federal District Court to have it shut down altogether, citing the grave threat it poses to the Tribe’s critical water supply. The strangeness of that situation creates a good segue into the topic of virtual pipelines, especially now that the Trump administration is approving new rules for hauling liquefied natural gas by rail. If oil-carrying trains are bombs, then LNG trains are nukes. 

A new study in the journal Science concludes that the planet could retool its economies to fully comply with the Paris Climate Agreement target of 1.5 degree C of warming by spending just 10% of what Covid-19 has cost the global economy. That moves the concept of greening the economy from being a good idea, to also seeming like quite a bargain. And the climate keeps sending signals that we’re running out of time to make this transition, even as far too many political leaders remain in denial about the crisis.

In our good news section, we look at the clean energy impact of virtual power plants, tidal power, and floating offshore wind turbines. For a real lift, check out the work of BlocPower, a group bringing zero emissions energy efficiency retrofits to mid-sized buildings. Our featured article is an NPR report, and includes a link to the audio content – worth hearing simply to soak up some of CEO Donnel Baird’s immense optimism.

Green Mountain Power’s pilot distributed energy storage program – subsidizing a network of thousands of Tesla Powerwall batteries in people’s homes – has been a huge success. Declared a decisive win for both homeowners and the utility, the program will continue to expand. There’s also encouraging news in clean transportation, as the twelve states participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) are hearing from environmental justice advocates demanding less polluting and more accessible public transportation as priority concerns.

What we call the regional energy chess game currently includes a move by New England governors to assert more control over their grid operator ISO-NE. This is prompted by dissatisfaction with the pace of renewable energy integration and rate structures that continue to promote fossil fuel.

Our coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency (coal ash ponds) and fossil fuel industry (Texas, in general) both highlight regulatory agencies failing to function in the public interest.

A proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Gibbstown Logistics Center on the Delaware River is raising concern for its unconventional and risky siting and supply chain plans – including bringing LNG by rail from sources in the Marcellus shale play. See virtual pipelines, above.

The Boston Globe ran an excellent article on the proposed biomass incinerator in Springfield. It’s a must-read and represents an issue well worth contacting state legislators about.

We close with the good news that New York’s plastic bag ban, after weathering industry-supported lawsuits and a brief pandemic-related freakout, is now in effect.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

wake up
‘We don’t have any choice’: the young climate activists naming and shaming US politicians
As the election nears, young Americans are calling on US politicians to take action on climate, police brutality and immigration
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
October 16, 2020

It was a Saturday night in September when 160 or so middle and high school students logged on to a Zoom call about how to confront American politicians using tactics inspired by young civil rights activists fighting for the abolition of slavery.

The teenagers were online with the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide youth-led climate justice collective, to learn about organizing Wide Awake actions – noisy night-time protests – to force lawmakers accused of ignoring the climate emergency and racial injustice to listen to their demands.

It’s a civil disobedience tactic devised by the Wide Awakes – a radical youth abolitionist organization who confronted anti-abolitionists at night by banging pots and pans outside their homes in the run-up to the civil war.

Now, in the run-up to one of the most momentous elections in modern history, a new generation of young Americans who say they are tired of asking nicely and being ignored, are naming and shaming US politicians in an effort to get their concerns about the planet, police brutality, inequalities and immigration heard.

The first one targeted the Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell after details emerged about the police killing of Breonna Taylor. In the days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sunrise activists woke up key Republican senators including McConnell and Lindsey Graham, demanding that they delay the vote on Trump’s supreme court nominee until a new president is sworn in.

“Even though we can’t vote, we can show up on the streets and wake up politicians. It’s our future on the line not theirs,” said 17-year-old Abby DiNardo, a senior from Delaware county. The high school senior recently coordinated a Wide Awake action outside the home of the Republican senator Pat Toomey, a former Wall Street banker who has repeatedly voted against climate action measures.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions            

 

PIPELINES

new DAPL injunction
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Files Request to Stop Dakota Access Pipeline
By Native News Online
October 22, 2020

A request for injunction was filed in Federal District Court of the District of Columbia last week by Earthjustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as an effort to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline.

The brief was filed to have U.S. District Judge James Boasberg clarify his ruling from July 6 that ordered Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, to shut down the flow of oil on Aug. 6. That ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

“The Tribes are irreparably harmed by the ongoing operation of the pipeline, through the exposure to catastrophic risk, through the ongoing trauma of the government’s refusal to comply with the law, and through undermining the Tribes’ sovereign governmental role to protect their members and respond to potential disasters,” attorneys Jan Hasselman and Nicole Ducheneaux wrote in a Friday filing.
» Read article          
» Read the brief          

double DAPL
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Clears Hurdle To Doubling Capacity
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 16, 2020

Illinois approved this week the plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline to double its capacity from 570,000 bpd to 1.1 million bpd, thus becoming the last state along the pipeline’s route to give its consent to the expansion.

Dakota Access, which has seen a lot of controversy since its inception and initial start-up in 2017, now has the approval of all four states through which it passes—North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois—to expand its capacity.

While the approval of the Illinois Commerce Commission is seen as a win for the oil industry, the pipeline’s operator Energy Transfer, and the North Dakota oil producers, environmentalists see the expansion of the pipeline – whose operation they still oppose – as unnecessary with the decreased oil demand in the coronavirus pandemic.

“This vital project will bring an additional half a million barrels a day of domestic energy from North Dakota that will be used to fuel our farms, communities and lives in Illinois and across the Midwest. It’s critical we continue to support and expand our nation’s pipeline infrastructure like DAPL to help family budgets and keep our economy moving – especially in this time of recovery from COVID-19,” Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) Midwest Director Chris Ventura said in a statement, welcoming the decision.

“It’s wildly inappropriate to be talking about expansion when the real conversation is about shutting it down,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney for EarthJustice who represents the Standing Rock Tribe against DAPL in the federal lawsuit, told Grand Forks Herald.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines                  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Cleveland LNG disaster
What You Should Know About Liquefied Natural Gas and Rail Cars
Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars. The Trump administration is attempting to change that.
By EarthJustice
August 18, 2020

The explosion risk of transporting volatile liquefied natural gas in vulnerable tank cars through major population centers is off the charts.

Yet the Trump administration is finalizing a rule that would allow trains to travel the country filled with an unprecedented amount of explosive liquefied natural gas. The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Association of State Fire Marshals have objected to the proposed rule.

Earthjustice has filed a legal challenge to stop these “bomb trains.”

Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars.

Liquefied natural gas can only be transported by ships, truck, and — with special approval by the Federal Railroad Administration — by rail in approved United Nations portable tanks.

UN portable tanks are relatively small tanks that can be mounted on top of semi-truck trailer beds or on railcars.

By contrast, tanker rail cars can hold roughly three times the volume of the UN portable tanks.

Here’s what you should know:
» Read article           

» More about virtual pipelines          

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Covid happenedTackling climate change seemed expensive. Then COVID happened.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 20, 2020

Climate deniers and opponents of aggressive climate action have long argued that governments can’t afford comprehensive measures to confront the climate crisis. The Green New Deal, for example, has been ridiculed as a “crazy, expensive mess” by the Republican Policy Committee.

But then COVID-19 challenged preconceived notions about the limits of government spending. Since August, world governments have pledged more than $12 trillion in stimulus spending to dig their way out of the coronavirus-caused economic downturn — a truly mind-boggling amount of cash that represents three times the public money spent after the Great Recession. How does that compare with the money that would be needed to fight climate change?

That’s the question behind a new paper published last week in the journal Science. According to the analysis, the money countries have put on the table to address COVID-19 far outstrips the low-carbon investments that scientists say are needed in the next five years to avoid climate catastrophe — by about an order of magnitude.

If just 12 percent of currently pledged COVID-19 stimulus funding were spent every year through 2024 on low-carbon energy investments and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the researchers said, that would be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate target. At present, countries’ voluntary commitments put the world on track to warm 3.2 degrees C (5.8 degrees F) or more by the end of the century.

Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change and the environment at Imperial College London and one of the study’s authors, said the findings illustrated a “win-win” opportunity for governments to not only address the acute impacts of the pandemic and its associated economic crisis, but to also put their economies on a more sustainable, prosperous, and resilient long-term trajectory.

“This crisis is not the only crisis looming over people’s heads,” Rogelj said, referring to the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the journal Science paper        

» More about greening the economy             

 

CLIMATE

driving while dismissive
Polling Shows Growing Climate Concern Among Americans. But Outsized Influence of Deniers Remains a Roadblock
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 22, 2020

More Americans than ever before — 54 percent, recent polling data shows — are alarmed or concerned about climate change, which scientists warn is a planetary emergency unfolding in the form of searing heat, prolonged drought, massive wildfires, monstrous storms, and other extremes.

These kinds of disasters are becoming increasingly costly and impossible to ignore. Yet even as the American public becomes progressively more worried about the climate crisis, a shrinking but vocal slice of the country continues to dismiss these concerns, impeding efforts to address the monumental global challenge.

“Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which leads the “Six Americas” research, said in an email describing the updated polling numbers.

Despite this growing awareness of the climate problem among the public, Americans who fall into the Dismissive category continue to have outsized influence in the public discourse, especially on the political right.

“However, because conservative media organizations prominently feature Dismissive politicians, pundits, and industry officials, most Americans overestimate the prevalence of Dismissive beliefs among other Americans,” Leiserowitz explained by email.

The “Dismissive” viewpoint is not only overrepresented in conservative media, but it has infiltrated the highest levels of the federal government, particularly under the Trump administration and among many Republican lawmakers. It has become part of the conservative orthodoxy to question human influence on the climate and downplay the seriousness of the threat.
» Read article           

melting permafrost
New Climate Warnings in Old Permafrost: ‘It’s a Little Scary Because it’s Happening Under Our Feet.’
A new study shows a few degrees of warming can trigger abrupt thaws of vast frozen lands, releasing huge stores of greenhouse gases and collapsing landscapes.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
October 16, 2020

A dive deep into 27,000 years worth of muck piled up on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean has spurred researchers to renew warnings about a potential surge of greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost.

By tracking chemical and organic fingerprints in long-buried layers of sediments remaining from previously frozen ground, the scientists showed that ancient phases of rapid warming in the Arctic, such as occurred near the end of the last ice age, released carbon on a massive scale. Vast frozen landscapes collapsed, turned to mud and flowed into the sea, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere along the way.

The study, published today in Science Advances, shows that only a few degrees of warming in the Arctic is enough “to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing,” suggesting a “sensitive trigger” for greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost. The results also support climate models that have shown “large injections of CO2 into the atmosphere” when glaciers, and the frozen lands beneath them, melted.
» Read article          
» Read the study               

not a scientist
Amy Coney Barrett’s Remarks on Climate Change Raise Alarm That a Climate Denier Is About to Join the Supreme Court
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 14, 2020

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, October 13, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett trotted out a tired and dismissive refrain from climate deniers, saying, “I’m certainly not a scientist” when Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) asked specifically about her views on climate change.

After Barrett said she doesn’t have “firm views” on the subject, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed her on those views during the hearing Wednesday, where she continued to dodge the question. “I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge,” Barrett said, adding, “I haven’t studied scientific data. I’m not really in a position to offer any informed opinion on what I think causes global warming.”

Her use of the “not a scientist” line, and her subsequent doubling down on the idea, drew swift criticism from activists, journalists, politicians, and other professionals engaged with the issue of climate change.

Whether Barrett is truly a climate science denier herself remains unclear, though the president nominating her has left no doubt about his own stance on climate change. Despite President Trump’s history of calling climate change a hoax and brushing aside the extensive scientific expertise of federal agencies on the subject, Barrett claimed she was unaware of the President’s views when Sen. Blumenthal asked point-blank whether she agreed with Trump.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen the president’s expression of his views on climate change,” she said.
» Read article           

» More about climate        

 

CLEAN ENERGY

VPP explainedSo, What Exactly Are Virtual Power Plants?
GTM helps explain a growing grid resource that can mimic power plants without dominating the landscape.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 22, 2020

We live in an increasingly virtual world. You can hold virtual meetings with virtual friends using virtual reality systems hosted on virtual servers. And in energy circles, one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years is the virtual power plant, or VPP.  

The term first started to be bandied about in the 1990s. But VPPs have really taken off in the last 10 years, not just as a concept but as something that a growing number of energy companies are creating, using and commercializing. Here’s the real deal on this virtual energy phenomenon.

According to Germany’s Next Kraftwerke, one of the pioneers of modern VPPs, it’s “a network of decentralized, medium-scale power generating units such as wind farms, solar parks and combined heat and power units, as well as flexible power consumers and storage systems.”

In practice, a VPP can be made up of multiple units of a single type of asset, such as a battery or a device in a demand response program, or a heterogeneous mix of assets.

These units “are dispatched through the central control room of the virtual power plant but nonetheless remain independent in their operation and ownership,” adds Next Kraftwerke.

In other words, a VPP is to a traditional power plant what a bunch of Internet-connected desktop computers is to a mainframe computer. Both can do complex computing tasks, but one makes use of the distributed IT infrastructure that’s already out there. 

A key feature of VPPs is that they can aggregate flexible capacity to address peaks in electricity demand. In this respect, they can emulate or replace natural gas-fired peakers and help address distribution network bottlenecks—but usually without the same capital outlay.
» Read article          

NY tidal power
New York City Is About to Get an Injection of Tidal Power. Is This Time Different?
A tidal energy startup plans to install a small generator in New York’s East River over the coming weeks.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 20, 2020

New York City may be weeks away from seeing tidal power injected onto its local grid.

Verdant Power, a 20-year-old tidal energy startup, plans to install a half-scale generator in the East River tidal strait this autumn, adding a small but novel source of generation for a city hungry for renewable energy but with limited means to generate it locally. The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) installation will feature three underwater 35-kilowatt turbines on a single triangular base called a TriFrame.

The RITE project may have bigger implications than the Big Apple’s renewables goals. 

If the RITE generator is successful, Verdant hopes to get its technology certified by the European Marine Energy Centre, the world’s leading tidal testing facility. Subject to certification, the startup then plans to deploy two full-size arrays, equipped with 10-meter-diameter blades instead of the current 5-meter models, off the coast of Wales, U.K., by sometime in 2023, in what it hopes will be the first step in the development of a 30-megawatt tidal farm.

Back in New York, meanwhile, Verdant hopes the RITE project could form the basis for a half-scale tidal demonstration center in the East River. For nearly a decade, the New York-based startup has held a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to install up to a megawatt of tidal power in New York City, enough for thirty of its 35 kW turbines mounted on ten TriFrames.

Still, the path toward bigger tidal arrays, and even more demonstration projects, looks challenging.
» Read article           

floating offshore wind explained
So, What Exactly Is Floating Offshore Wind?
Floating wind turbines atop the ocean could be the next big renewables market. GTM helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 19, 2020

Onshore wind turbines can be found everywhere from the tropics to the Arctic. Three decades ago, developers started putting them on fixed foundations out at sea, sparking the rise of the offshore wind market, which built 6.1 gigawatts of new capacity in 2019.

More recently, the wind industry embarked on an even more ambitious endeavor: putting turbines on floating platforms in the water, rather than fixed foundations. Now on the verge of commercial maturity, floating wind has the potential to become one of the most important new renewable energy markets.

So, what is floating offshore wind?

It’s pretty much as it sounds. Instead of putting a wind turbine on a fixed foundation in the sea, you attach it to a structure that floats in the water. The structure is tethered to the seabed to stop it from drifting off into a beach or shipping lane.

Today’s floating wind designs envision using standard offshore turbines, export cables and balance of plant. The key difference between floating and fixed-foundation offshore wind is that the latter is limited to water depths of up to around 165 feet.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy          

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Donnel Baird
Fighting Climate Change, One Building At A Time
By Dan Charles, NPR
October 18, 2020

When Donnel Baird was in his twenties, he had twin passions, and he didn’t want to choose between them. “I vowed that I was going to try to combine my passion for Black civil rights with trying to do something about climate change,” he says.

He’s doing it now, with a company that he founded called BlocPower. He’s attacking one of the seemingly intractable sources of America’s greenhouse emissions: old residential buildings. And he’s focusing on neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of money to invest.

Baird wants to show me how it’s done. So we meet in New York City, in front of a classic Brooklyn brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood. “It’s still largely African American, West Indian,” Baird says of the building’s residents.

The building is four stories tall, with two apartments on each floor. It’s a cooperative that’s legally designated as affordable housing. BlocPower looked at this building and saw a business opportunity.

“We thought that they were wasting a lot of money paying for natural gas, which whey were using for heating; also to heat their hot water,” he says.

Baird’s company went to the people who live here, the coop owners, with a proposal. BlocPower offered to manage the building’s heating and cooling. The company would install new equipment, and put solar panels on the roof. “Solar panels aren’t just for rich people, or for White people. They’re for everybody,” Baird says.

The best part: The residents wouldn’t have to pay anything up-front. In fact, BlocPower promised that their bills would go down. And they’d be helping the planet, with lower greenhouse emissions.

Shaughn Dolcy, who lives in this building, was sold. “It’s the only way to go,” he says. “There’s no other way.” He says most of his neighbors liked it, too. “I would say 90 percent” of them, he says. “You maybe had, like, one particular family, they weren’t really interested in getting anything progressive or new. They were on-board at the end of the day, though.”

So BlocPower went to work. The company tore out the gas-burning boiler in the basement and installed a set of efficient electric-powered heat pumps instead. Heat pumps capture heat and move it from one space to another, in either direction: during winter they heat a home, and in summer they cool it. BlocPower put up the solar panels, elevated high enough that people still can gather for parties underneath them.

“The result is, they save tens of thousands of dollars a year on their energy costs,” Baird says. Yet they’re still paying enough that BlocPower can earn back its investment. The new equipment saves that much money.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency         

 

ENERGY STORAGE

performance confirmedFrom Pilot to Permanent: Green Mountain Power’s Home Battery Network Is Here to Stay
The Vermont utility now controls several thousand Tesla Powerwall batteries sited in customers’ homes. The results have been promising.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
October 16, 2020

Utility pilot projects aren’t famous for being standout financial successes. Usually, the goal is to verify a technology in the field before attempting broader deployment. Sometimes nothing follows the pilot.

Vermont utility Green Mountain Power not only verified the efficacy of residential batteries for meeting grid needs, but it also saved its customers millions of dollars with them. Now, that program has been ratified by the state’s Public Utility Commission as a permanent residential storage tariff, which means battery installations — and utility savings — will continue to rise.

At a time when forward-thinking companies are excited to erect networks of distributed batteries at some point in the next few years, Green Mountain Power represents something of an anomaly. It already has not several hundred, but 2,567 utility-controlled Powerwall batteries sitting in customer homes, adding up to around 13 megawatts.

“These things are functioning exactly as or better than we hoped,” said Josh Castonguay, GMP vice president and chief innovation officer. “You’ve got an asset that’s improving reliability for the customer, paying for itself and providing a financial benefit for all of our customers.”
» Read article           

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI and social justiceJustice advocates keep pressure on transportation emission pact planners
Transportation and Climate Initiative organizers recently held a webinar to discuss concerns around equity and environmental justice.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By barnimages / Flickr / Creative Commons
October 15, 2020

As organizers of a regional transportation emissions pact discuss how to make sure the initiative benefits everyone, environmental justice activists say they need to involve more people of color in the process.

“Anywhere I go, the conversation around [the Transportation and Climate Initiative] is dominated by white people,” said Joshua Malloy, a community organizer with Pittsburgh for Public Transit. “There has to be a way to make this more accessible that I’ve not seen.”

Founded in 2010, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, is a collaboration of 12 states and the District of Columbia working to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources. Nearly two years ago, nine of the states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — along with Washington, D.C., announced plans to create a market-based system to reduce these emissions.

Since the beginning of the process, environmental justice activists have pushed for the needs of low-income, immigrant, and other marginalized communities to be a central focus of the program. Air pollution is often higher in low-income communities and in areas with high populations of people of color. Industrial developments are also more likely to be located in these neighborhoods than in wealthier areas that have the resources to mount organized opposition. 

Organizers of the initiative have also expressed support for the goal of equity, and late last month held a webinar to share the progress they have made toward designing a system that will benefit all communities and underscore why such efforts are needed.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation               

 

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

NESCOE calls for change
New England states call for changes to wholesale markets, transmission planning and grid governance
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
October 19, 2020

[New England States Committee on Electricity] NESCOE’s call for reform of the ISO-NE market is the latest example of how some states are pushing back on federally-regulated markets they say ignore renewable energy and decarbonization goals.

The region’s wholesale markets “fail to sufficiently value the legally-required clean energy investments made by the ratepayers they serve,” according to the NESCOE vision statement.

Some states say their preferred resource mix and renewables goals are being undermined in regional markets overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They say the commission’s rulings have negated the impact of their support for green energy in favor of keeping fossil fuel generators competitive.
» Read article           

NE power play
N.E. governors seek bigger say in power policies

Seek greater role in oversight of grid operator
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
October 16, 2020

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and four other New England governors made a push on Friday for a much bigger say in the way the region’s electricity markets are regulated and governed, although the vision statement they issued steered clear of the top recommendation put forth by the region’s power grid operator – a carbon tax.

The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont are concerned that the long-term electricity contracts their states are negotiating with offshore wind operators and the province of Quebec are not being absorbed into the existing wholesale markets for electricity. As a result, the vision statement says, the direct purchases of electricity by states and the production of electricity through wholesale markets are working at cross-purposes and may result in ratepayers paying for the production of power they don’t need.

The vision statement reflects a growing recognition that much larger amounts of electricity will need to be produced to decarbonize the transportation and other sectors of the economy. The vision statement calls for a reimagining of the region’s wholesale electricity markets; the development of a grid that relies less on big power plants and more on local wind, solar, and battery projects; and a new governance structure for the regional grid operator.

One area the mission statement does not explore is the recommendation by the grid operator, ISO New England, that the best way to make wholesale electricity markets work effectively is to impose a carbon tax that would nudge the market in the direction of cleaner forms of energy.
» Read article          
» Read the vision statement          

Eversource strategy chief sees role for green hydrogen, geothermal in Northeast
By Tom DiChristopher, S&P Global
October 16, 2020

Decarbonizing New England’s natural gas grid will require a portfolio of solutions that likely includes green hydrogen and geothermal energy rather than systemwide electrification, according to Roger Kranenburg, vice president for energy strategy and policy at Eversource Energy.

Kranenburg sees electrification of heating playing some role in achieving Massachusetts’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. However, Kranenburg sees Eversource evolving into a “regional energy company” that delivers a range of low-carbon energy to end users, and the right solution might not always be electrification.

“We feel that if you push folks too much artificially towards electrifying heat, you will actually get a lot of backlash and it can undo what we all agree is the end objective, which is to decarbonize the economy,” Kranenburg said during an Oct. 15 webinar hosted by the U.S. Association for Energy Economics’ National Capital Area Chapter. “Instead of thinking of it as systemwide, let’s look at what the customer characteristic and needs are. … Let’s look at it that way, and you’ll come up with a portfolio solution to provide that service.”

With the exception of California, the Boston area has emerged as the most active beachhead in the movement to adopt ordinances that require electric heating in new construction. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the region’s first gas ban in July, but lawmakers in several communities have resolved to pursue building electrification.
» Read article          
» Read report from National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues
Report by M. W. Melaina, O. Antonia, and M. Penev, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), March, 2013

» More about regional energy                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

coal ash ponds
EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
October 16, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water.

Research has found even plastic-lined coal ash ponds are likely to leak, but those risks are even higher when a clay barrier is the only layer used to hold the arsenic-laced sludge.

Environmental groups have already pledged to sue over the Friday rule, which will allow unlined pits to continue operating, so long as companies can demonstrate using groundwater monitoring data that the pond is unlikely to leak.

“These focused common-sense changes allow owners and operators the opportunity to submit a substantial factual and technical demonstration that there is no reasonable probability of groundwater contamination. This will allow coal ash management to be determined based on site-specific conditions,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release.  

There are more than 400 coal ash ponds in the U.S. 

An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities.
» Read article           

EPA coal ash pone rule
EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer
By TRAVIS LOLLER, AP
October 16, 2020

The Trump administration will let some leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash storage ponds stay in operation for years more and some unlined ponds stay open indefinitely under a rule change announced Friday.

The move by the Environmental Protection Agency is the administration’s latest rollback of environmental and public health regulations governing operators of coal-fired power plants, which are taking hits financially as cheaper natural gas, solar and wind power make dirtier-burning coal plants less competitive.

Friday’s move weakens an Obama-era rule in which the EPA regulated the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash for the first time, including closing coal-ash dumping ponds that were unstable or contaminating groundwater.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for power and contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous heavy metals. U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tonnes) annually of ash and other waste.

Data released by utilities in March 2018, after the Obama administration required groundwater monitoring around coal ash storage sites, showed widespread evidence of contamination at coal plants from Virginia to Alaska.

For decades, utilities largely disposed of coal ash by sluicing it into huge open pits. In 2008, the six-story-tall dike on a massive coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Swan Pond community. It remains the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and prompted the 2015 regulations that were intended to increase oversight of the industry.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Texas regulators failingTexas Regulators Failing to Act on Pollution Complaints in Permian Oilfields, New Report Finds
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
October 21, 2020

Over the past five years, environmental advocates with the nonprofit Earthworks have made trips to 298 oil and gas wells, compressor stations, and processing plants across the Permian Basin in Texas, an oil patch which last year hit record-high methane pollution levels for the U.S. During those trips, Earthworks found and documented emissions from the oil industry’s equipment, and on 141 separate occasions, they reported what they found to the state’s environmental regulators.

However, in response to those 141 complaints, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) took action to reduce pollution — by, for example, issuing a violation to the company responsible — just 17 times, according to a new report published today by Earthworks, which describes a pattern in which Texas regulators failed to address oilfield pollution problems, allowing leaks to continue in some cases for months.

TCEQ took “other” regulatory action, which the report said might be contacting the company operating the site or sending out an inspector, in response to 60 complaints, but in many cases Earthworks said TCEQ’s response came weeks or months after the report was filed.

In 22 cases, TCEQ closed the complaint but took no action at all, the report says. And 42 of the nonprofit’s pollution complaints remain open.

“It’s not surprising to Texans that state law favors the oil and gas industry,” said Sharon Wilson, an Earthworks thermographer and Texas coordinator who filed the complaints described by the report. “What should be a surprise is that Texas regulators charged with protecting the public often can’t be bothered to enforce what laws do exist.”
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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Gibbstown LNG
Controversy Mounts Over Proposed LNG Export Facility on the Delaware River
By Yale Environment 360
October 22, 2020

A plan to build a major liquefied natural gas export facility in southern New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is being met with increasing scrutiny and opposition from environmentalists and nearby communities. The $450 million project would send liquified natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region to ports in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Europe.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), an interstate agency that regulates river development, originally approved the project — an expansion of the Gibbstown Logistics Center — in June 2019, but the decision was appealed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, delaying the project. In September, the DRBC voted to delay the final permitting. A final decision on the facility, which has also received permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is expected by year’s end.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the project’s supply chain and location are unusual. Most export facilities are located near deepwater ports, and fuel is loaded directly from an LNG plant onto vessels. But the proposed Gibbstown expansion requires dredging the Delaware River to make it deeper and building a second dock. The natural gas will also be transported hundreds of miles on trains and trucks to the facility from the Marcellus Shale region. According to a permit application, New Fortress Energy, one of the developers of the project, said it expects the facility will receive natural gas from several 100-car trains or up to 700 tractor trailers every day.

“We look at every part of the supply chain that this project entails, and we consider every single step of it to be dangerous and untested,” Delaware Riverkeeper Network Deputy Director Tracy Carluccio told FreightWaves, an industry news site.

More than a dozen environmental groups have joined the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club in opposing the Gibbstown export facility.

In addition to fighting the approval of the Gibbstown export facility, environmental groups have also filed a lawsuit against a new rule approved by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allowing for the transit of liquefied natural gas by rail.
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BIOMASS

Springfield biomass plant resistance
In the nation’s asthma capital, plans to burn wood for energy spark fury
By David Abel, Boston Globe
October 20, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — For more than a decade, Amy Buchanan has lived in a small house in an industrial section of the state’s third-largest city, where a pall of pungent air hangs over the neighborhood and heavy trucks spew diesel fumes on their way to a nearby paving company.

Like many of her neighbors in what last year ranked as the nation’s asthma capital, Buchanan has the respiratory disease, while her husband and sister suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now, they worry their neighborhood could soon become home to the state’s largest commercial biomass power plant, one expected to burn nearly a ton of wood an hour and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

Plans to build a 42-megawatt incinerator have been in the works for more than a decade. In an interview with The Boston Globe last year, Victor Gatto Jr., Palmer’s founder, said the company had already broken ground on the project, which he estimated would cost about $150 million.

“The plant will be built,” he said.

Despite local protests and opposition from nearly all city councilors, the plant’s prospects were given a boost when the Baker administration last year proposed to alter rules that designate woody biomass as a form of renewable energy. The draft rules would make developers eligible for valuable financial incentives, potentially saving Palmer millions of dollars a year.

The revised rules, which are still being vetted by state regulators, are supported by the logging industry that seeks to promote woody biomass, a fuel derived from wood chips and pellets made from tree trunks, branches, sawdust, and other plant matter.

Environmental advocates oppose the rule changes, saying they would increase carbon emissions, create more pollution in the form of soot, and lead to greater deforestation. Trees and plants grow by absorbing carbon dioxide; when they’re burned, they release the heat-trapping gas back into the atmosphere.

Opponents note that a state-commissioned study in 2010 by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found that biomass — which accounts for about 1.5 percent of the state’s carbon emissions — “generally emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels per unit of energy produced.” The study also found that large biomass plants are likely to produce greater emissions than coal and natural gas plants, even after they’ve been in operation for decades.

The administration’s push to promote biomass was criticized by Attorney General Maura Healey, who called financial incentives to burn wood for energy a “step backward” in addressing climate change.

In comments submitted to the state, she said the draft rules “raise significant concerns about the potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions . . . and may undermine the commonwealth’s nation-leading efforts to address climate change.”

In Springfield, opponents’ concerns about the biomass plant go beyond greenhouse gases. The soot from burning wood, in addition to asthma, has been linked to heart and other lung diseases.
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PLASTICS BANS

NY ban starts nowNew York Will Finally Enforce Its Plastic Bag Ban
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
October 19, 2020

 

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

“New York’s bag ban has already improved New York’s health by cutting down on plastic pollution,” Environmental Advocates NY deputy director Kate Kurera told NBC4 New York. “We look forward to the State beginning enforcement and stores complying with this important law.”

The new law prohibits most stores from giving out thin plastic shopping bags. They can dispense paper bags, for which counties have the option of charging a five cent fee. Any business caught handing out the banned plastic bags will face a fine, according to NY1.

The law offers exceptions for takeout orders and bags used to wrap meat or prepared food, according to NBC4 New York. Families who use food stamps will also not have to pay the fee for paper bags.
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