Weekly News Check-In 4/17/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

We kick off with a note acknowledging that the relentless drive to build pipelines hasn’t yielded to a mere pandemic. The Keystone XL is pushing south into Montana with an initial work crew of 100 – many more to come.

Our climate section leads with a remembrance from Drilled News of notorious climate change denier Fred Singer, who passed away at 95. During his long career he spun layers of falsehoods and confusion in service of the planet’s biggest polluters.

Because improving the energy efficiency of buildings is critical to achieving necessary emissions reductions, it’s notable that the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulation and Standards (BBRS) appears skeptical of building design experts – apparently favoring developers who prefer existing methods and performance levels. We offer an excellent CommonWealth Magazine article to explain the headwinds faced by the net-zero building code campaign.

The pandemic highlights a multitude of fractures in American society. Clean energy development may offer a rare opportunity to lift people up from under-served and vulnerable communities. The economic potential is huge for post-pandemic recovery. We found a hopeful vision of how benefits might be broadly shared.

Now that the Trump administration has gutted vehicle emissions requirements, clean transportation may still be saved by California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards, combined with the likelihood that a future administration will put transportation sector decarbonization back on track.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been busy under Administrator Andrew Wheeler – continuing its planetary assault while a raging pandemic diverts public attention. In a particularly elegant bit of regulatory jujitsu, the agency rewrote a mercury pollution rule by leaving current standards in place but changing “how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains.” This subtle language has significant implications for many classes of pollutants and their future environmental impact.

Our fossil fuel industry section is particularly interesting. We found the usual press coverage of its precarious financial condition – already on the edge of insolvency even before the Saudi-Russian price war and sudden economic shutdown. Now there are emerging calls for a federal government takeover. And why not? The whole industry is in crisis, and a bargain at current share prices. If it were under federal control, a climate-minded administration could manage the phase-out and transition to a carbon-free future. It’s arguably a good investment, considering the massive costs associated with alternative, business-as-usual or go-slow climate scenarios.

We close on a  related topic. The pandemic and global economic crash have dealt a serious blow to expansion plans for the liquefied natural gas market. Australia is feeling that now, with LNG exports facing an uncertain future down under.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Keystone corona style
Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
April 07, 2020

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.

As EcoWatch reported, last week Canada-based TC Energy said it would start construction despite the climate impacts of the pipeline and the concerns about transporting construction crews during the coronavirus outbreak.

The construction that began yesterday involved around 100 workers in a remote border crossing between Montana and Canada, which is home to cattle ranches and wheat fields, according to a spokesperson from TC Energy, as the AP reported. The number of people involved in the construction is supposed to grow into the thousands as construction advances.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines    

CLIMATE

ding dong FSFred Singer Has Passed. He Took Pleasure In Bullying Scientists. May He Rest.
­Why speak well of the late climate denier Fred Singer, who spent over half a century attacking credible science and scientists?
By Paul Thacker, Drilled News
April 16, 2020

A chief talent of Fred Singer, the world-famous climate denier who died on April 6 at 95, was bullying scientists whose work he could never match, and whose findings threatened the bottom lines of his corporate polluter clients.

Singer was a physicist, whose most notable scientific work involved contributions to planetary science, as well as early satellite and rocket technologies. But beginning in the 1950s, and for a half-century thereafter, Singer offered up to the media his takes on the shortcomings of other sciences and scientists, especially those studying the impacts of toxic chemicals, air pollution, and smoking on the environment or public health. Singer’s opinion pieces appeared in newspapers all across the country, and he relished providing that perfect contrarian quote to a reporter on deadline who needed to “balance” a story about environmental regulations.

Singer seemed to take special pleasure in discrediting scientists who investigated the ways that human activity threatens public health and the safety of our planet, the sort of research that informs regulations to solve problems ranging from acid rain’s toll on forests to DDT’s impacts on wildlife, as well as — of course — the effects of climate change on us all.
» Read article     

cooperate and commit
Strengthen worldwide climate commitments to improve economy, study finds
Global economy could lose out by $600tn by end of century on current emissions targets
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

Every country in the world would be economically better off if all could agree to strengthen their commitments on the climate crisis through international cooperation, new research has found.

But if countries go no further than their current CO2 pledges – which are too weak to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and would lead to dangerous levels of global heating – then they face steep economic losses.

The global economy would lose out by as much as $600tn (£476tn) by the end of the century, on current emissions targets, compared with its likely growth if countries meet the Paris goals, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.
» Read article     
» Download the study       

credibility gap
To advise on green stimulus, the IEA needs to upgrade its own climate toolbox
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International / Blog Post
April 9, 2020

Oil Change International (OCI) has tracked how the IEA has historically hindered the bold climate ambition we need by normalizing and promoting fossil fuel-friendly scenarios and investments. In this post, we delve deeper into key shortcomings the IEA needs to correct in its own modelling toolbox in order to credibly advise governments on crafting ambitious, climate-proof economic recovery plans.
» Read article     

» More about climate    

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

BBRS and Net Zero
Cracking the climate code
Battle raging over building energy standards
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 8, 2019

AN ARCANE STATE BOARD, known to few outside the world of design and construction, is the setting of a furious clash the outcome of which could influence the amount of climate-curdling emissions that pour out of chimneys, as well as the future supply of housing in Massachusetts, where affordable homes are already scarce.

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards might seem an odd venue for the drama that has unfolded there. The BBRS adopts and administers the statewide building code and the building energy code, sets of rules that are important but would bore the average reader to tears. It is the domain of professionals who think in cubic feet, seismic loads, and kilowatt hours. Now, the problems of the world are before it.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency      

CLEAN ENERGY

get it right
Advocates call for methodical approach to make sure offshore wind benefits all
Low-income populations and people of color were largely left out of Massachusetts’ biotechnology and cannabis booms.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo by Wind Denmark / Flickr / Creative Commons
April 13, 2020

With offshore wind expected to add as much as $100 billion to the economy along the East Coast over the next 30 years, activists and business leaders in Massachusetts are urging the state to take steps ensuring that low-income populations and people of color are able to share in the benefits of the burgeoning industry.

“There will be a lot of economic opportunity and jobs,” said Elizabeth Henry, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Think about what even just a fraction of that could do for communities that have been persistently left behind — it’s really exciting.”
» Read article     

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

impact on EVs
Trump’s new fuel-efficiency rule: The devil is in the details for electric cars
By Bradley Berman, Electrek
April 10, 2020

It’s well known that on March 31, the Trump administration gutted fuel-economy and greenhouse gas rules for model years 2021 to 2026. But what does it mean specifically for electric vehicles? Environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond broke down the new rule, shedding light on provisions for EVs.

Beveridge & Diamond warns that automakers who immediately start disregarding California ZEV standards “do so at their own risk.” The lawsuits are only beginning, and if the administration changes next year, it will likely invalidate the rules.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation    

EPA

change in calculations
Trump’s EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution Rule
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 17, 2020

As many Americans fight for their lives in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, the Trump administration Thursday axed the justification for a mercury pollution rule that saves more than 10,000 lives and prevents as many as 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

The new rollback leaves mercury emission standards in place for now, but changes how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains, The New York Times reported. The move provides a legal opening to challenge other pollution controls even as evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution might increase one’s chances of dying from the new coronavirus.

“This is an absolute abomination,” former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head under Obama and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) president Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This final rule will increase the risk of more kids with asthma and brain damage, and more people with cancer. Undermining these vital safeguards now also directly threatens the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even harder to breathe and putting people with respiratory illnesses at even higher risk.”
» Read article    

quicksilver play by EPA
E.P.A. Weakens Controls on Mercury
The agency is changing the way it calculates the benefits of mercury controls, a move that would effectively loosen the rules on other toxic pollutants.
By Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 16, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday weakened regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants, another step toward rolling back health protections in the middle of a pandemic.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution that environmental lawyers said would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.

By reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.

“That is the big unstated goal,” said David Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. “This is less about mercury than about potentially constraining or handcuffing future efforts by the E.P.A. to regulate air pollution.”
» Read article     

science schmience
Ignoring Scientists’ Advice, Trump’s EPA Rejects Stricter Air Quality Standard
The decision flies in the face of large-scale studies that indicated tightening the standard would save tens of thousands of lives.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
April 15, 2020

Sweeping aside a broad body of evidence that air pollution is killing as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year, the Trump administration on Tuesday rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for fine soot.

The proposal to maintain the current standard for PM 2.5—microscopic particles known as fine particulate matter—in the face of alarming new science documenting its potentially deadly health effects, is a win for the fossil fuel industry. It comes amid a frenzy of major decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say is designed to secure the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy in the face of an uncertain future.

The Trump EPA has raced to loosen or reject a slew of clean air protections, even as the nation has been brought to a virtual standstill by a highly contagious virus that can produce serious or even fatal respiratory symptoms. In the last month, the Trump EPA has weakened fuel economy standards, advanced a proposal to discount the findings of scientific studies on health in rulemaking and announced a blanket suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws.

The decision to maintain the status quo on PM 2.5 was especially striking in the context of the pandemic, and came just days after Harvard researchers released preliminary results of a study showing that U.S. counties with high PM 2.5 levels have higher coronavirus death rates.
» Read article     

fine particles - EPA
Trump administration declines to stiffen US clean air standards
EPA chief Wheeler says current soot regulations are adequate despite research that shows stricter rules could save thousands of lives
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

The Trump administration has said it will not tighten rules for soot pollution, despite research showing that doing so could save thousands of lives each year.

The fine particles, which come from the burning of coal, oil and wood, penetrate the respiratory system and are linked with heart and lung diseases, higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and cancer.

Under the current standard, which was set in 2012, polluters can emit enough soot to measure 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Strengthening the standards to 11 micrograms could save about 12,000 lives per year, according to one Harvard study of US seniors.

Other research, noted in the government’s own analysis, found that maintaining the soot standard at its current level could allow as many as 52,000 deaths a year in just 47 urban areas.
 » Read article     

evidence
‘Unbelievable’ Timing: As Coronavirus Rages, Trump Disregards Advice to Tighten Clean Air Rules
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 14, 2020

WASHINGTON — Disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates, the Trump administration declined on Tuesday to tighten a regulation on industrial soot emissions that came up for review ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew R. Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency will not impose stricter controls on the tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, a regulatory action that has been in the works for months. The scientific evidence, he said, was insufficient to merit tightening the current emissions standard.
» Read article     

» More about the EPA        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

CARES Act oil bailout
Fed’s Corporate Debt-Buying Could Mean Billion-Dollar Big Oil Bailout
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams in EcoWatch
April 16, 2020

As calls for a People’s Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country’s Big Oil companies “stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout” thanks to the Federal Reserve’s plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.

The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
» Read article     
» Read FOE analysis         

the case for public ownership
Discussion Paper: The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
April 14, 2020

The U.S. fossil fuel industry continues to seek bailouts during the COVID-19 crisis, as global oil demand craters and crude oil floods an already oversupplied market.

During this crisis, the U.S. government should assert long-term ownership and control over fossil fuel companies to safeguard long-term economic security for workers, avoid taxpayer-funded windfalls for fossil fuel executives, restore communities exploited by fossil fuel corporations, save taxpayer dollars, and ensure an eventual managed phase-out of coal, oil, and gas production.

Bailing out the oil, gas, and coal industries with no strings attached would return our economy to a precarious status quo in which the fossil fuel industry’s volatile and environmentally destructive business model worsens our economic and environmental crises. It would allow a handful of executives and wealthy shareholders to continue to extract the vast majority of profits, while taxpayers, workers, and exploited communities shoulder the burden of corporate and social risks and externalities.
» Read overview    
» Download discussion paper
» Read related press release        

late 80s bad
Big Banks Pull Financing, Prepare To Seize Assets From Collapsing Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 13, 2020

While banks seizing assets from borrowers who can’t repay loans is common for industries like real estate — especially residential real estate — it is an unusual move for the oil and gas industry. Reuters reported that the last time it happened was during the oil price crash of the late 1980s. In the most recent oil price crash, when oil dropped from prices over $100 a barrel to $40 a barrel, there was a rash of bankruptcies, but the banks did not seize assets.

One difference now is that shale oil companies have continued to increase debt — thanks to loans from the banks — to the point where most of these companies are not viable with low oil prices. As one industry observer recently noted in the New York Times, “This is late ’80s bad.”

One new angle that didn’t exist in the 1980s is a dramatic change in sentiment from parts of the investment community about the viability of the oil industry as an investment. Television investment advisor Jim Cramer of CNBC was saying oil stocks were in the “death knell phase” in January, before oil prices crashed to the current lows and the coronavirus had crushed global oil demand.

More recently, in a remarkable opinion piece for Seeking Alpha, Kirk Spano advised investors to get out of the industry now with a unique twist on why this was urgent.

“We are about to see a massive wave of shale oil bankruptcies by thieving executives who have borrowed against assets and paid themselves bonuses for years without regard to shareholder value.”

While DeSmog has commented on issues of potential industry fraud and executives paying themselves while the companies they ran lost money, it is a decided shift in sentiment when sites like SeekingAlpha are calling for investors to get out and then “sue the dirt out of the executives who have almost all broken fiduciary duties.”

Which is why banks are now considering seizing the assets of the failed oil  companies — it is a bad option for the banks but it is the best one left.
» Read article     

cuts are complicated
Oil Nations, Prodded by Trump, Reach Deal to Slash Production
The deal will reduce output by 9.7 million barrels a day. While significant, the cut falls far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 12, 2020

HOUSTON — Oil-producing nations on Sunday agreed to the largest production cut ever negotiated, in an unprecedented coordinated effort by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States to stabilize oil prices and, indirectly, global financial markets.

Saudi Arabia and Russia typically take the lead in setting global production goals. But President Trump, facing a re-election campaign, a plunging economy and American oil companies struggling with collapsing prices, took the unusual step of getting involved after the two countries entered a price war a month ago. Mr. Trump had made an agreement a key priority.

It was unclear, however, whether the cuts would be enough to bolster prices. Before the coronavirus crisis, 100 million barrels of oil each day fueled global commerce, but demand is down about 35 percent. While significant, the cuts agreed to on Sunday still fall far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
» Read article     

wink and nod
Coronavirus May Kill Our Fracking Fever Dream
America’s energy independence was an illusion created by cheap debt. All that’s left to tally is the damage.
By Bethany McLean, New York Times Opinion
April 10, 2020

Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the idea of energy independence, which in its grandest incarnation meant freedom from the world’s oil-rich trouble spots, has been a dream for Democrats and Republicans alike. It once seemed utterly unattainable — until the advent of fracking, which unleashed a torrent of oil.

In reality, the dream was always an illusion, and its collapse was already underway. That’s because oil fracking has never been financially viable. America’s energy independence was built on an industry that is the very definition of dependent — dependent on investors to keeping pouring billions upon billions in capital into money-losing companies to fund their drilling. Investors were willing to do this only as long as oil prices, which are not under America’s control, were high — and when they believed that one day, profits would materialize.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, the spigot was drying up. Now, it has been shut off.
» Read article     
Ms. McLean is the author of “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World.”

climate deception
Baltimore, Rhode Island Argue They’re Suing Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Deception
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 10, 2020

At a time when fossil fuel companies are using a public health crisis to demand financial and regulatory support, the governments of Baltimore and Rhode Island are calling out a “decades-long campaign of deception” by these companies in urging courts to advance lawsuits trying to hold polluters responsible for climate damages.

Over a dozen of these climate liability lawsuits are currently pending, brought by cities, counties, one state, and one trade association seeking payments to help cover climate change-related costs. The lawsuits target major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, alleging they deliberately deceived the public and policymakers on the dangers of fossil fuels.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels        

LNG

LNG hits pause down under
Australia’s booming LNG industry stalls after fall in oil prices amid coronavirus
More than $80bn of investment decisions are delayed due to a collapsed oil price and a geopolitical price war
By Adam Morton, The Guardian
April 12, 2020

The extraordinary growth in Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, the main cause of recent rises in national greenhouse gas emissions, has stalled indefinitely, with decisions on more than $80bn of investments delayed due to a collapsed oil price sunk by coronavirus and a geopolitical price war.

The price of Brent crude oil is less than half what it was in early January, having fallen again on Friday despite the Opec oil cartel and its allies reaching a supply deal to stop Saudi Arabia and Russia flooding the world with more oil than it can use. The Asian spot price for LNG, which is linked to the oil benchmark, is down about two-thirds in six months.

The unprecedented crash had already prompted oil and gas giants to defer investment decisions on projects including Woodside’s massive Burrup Hub expansion off the Western Australian coast and Santos’ $7bn Barossa project 300km north of Darwin. A decision on the first parts of the Burrup Hub expansion, including a $17bn development of the Scarborough gas field, has been pushed to 2021.
» Read article     

» More about LNG         

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Weekly News Check-In 4/10/20

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

Pipeline protesters in a growing number of states have experienced aggressive moves to criminalize nonviolent direct actions against infrastructure projects. This week, we bring news of a potential doubling down on that disconcerting trend, under the guise of COVID-19 response. Meanwhile, a study by Synapse Energy Economics determined that the planned Transco pipeline carrying fracked natural gas across New Jersey to New York City is unnecessary and unjustified – a now-familiar assessment of gas pipeline projects and a prime motivation for all those protests.

In divestment news, Boulder County in Colorado has become the first in the nation to warn its insurance carrier to drop its fossil fuel investments or lose the Boulder account. This fits with the Insure Our Future campaign, which seeks to apply broad pressure on the insurance industry to divest from fossil fuels.

Our climate section includes coverage of a new study in the journal Nature warning that our planet is dangerously close to major ecosystem collapse from global warming. And while many greenhouse gas emissions have been temporarily reduced by the current economic shock, methane emissions in the Permian Basin appear to be growing at an alarming rate – in part due to relaxed regulatory oversight during the coronavirus crisis.

We found good news on clean energy. Two articles explain how state governments are working singly and together to strategize their transition to 100% renewables. On a smaller scale, we show how residential solar installers are learning how to sell a product online that has long relied on face-to-face interaction. And we end this section with an article that considers how wind power and wildlife can coexist through careful siting.

On the electric power beat, we found a report describing how publicly-traded utilities are grappling with their climate-related risk exposure, and finding that it’s no longer an issue they can ignore.

The fossil fuel industry isn’t letting the pandemic crisis go to waste – unleashing armies of lobbyists to beg a receptive federal government for aid and relief. We found a bright spot in these otherwise dismal reports – turns out that decommissioned coal plants are great sites for clean energy like battery storage, with robust grid-connection infrastructure already in place.

Finally, in the broad intersection where fracking meets the plastics industry, we offer a cautionary report for those in the Ohio River Valley working to develop a new petrochemical hub much like the gulf coast has hosted for decades. That history includes a long and alarming list of fires, explosions, cancers, and violations of environmental regulations.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

critical infrastructure designation
How Fossil Fuel Might Use the COVID-19 Pandemic to Criminalize Pipeline Protests
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
April 2, 2020

Last week we mentioned the pandemic wish list the American Petroleum Institute sent to President Trump as Congress negotiated the $2 trillion emergency stimulus bill.

The first item on that list, critical infrastructure designations for the entire fossil fuel supply chain, may sound like standard Washington bureaucratese. The wording is significant, though, because it could set up oil and gas companies to tap into a $17 billion pot of COVID-19 relief money targeted at industries deemed essential to national security.

But that’s just the beginning. If the Trump administration grants API, and the industry it represents, this favored designation, it may speed up the criminalization of protest against fossil fuel projects, a trend that’s been underway since long before the coronavirus pandemic.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

OTHER PIPELINES

Raritan Bay
No need for natural gas pipeline across Raritan Bay, environmental report says
By Bob Makin, Bridgewater Courier News
April 9, 2020

A natural gas pipeline proposed across Raritan Bay is an oversized, costly answer to a New York problem that does not exist, a report by Synapse Energy Economics, a Massachusetts-based research group, says.

Newark-based Eastern Environmental Law Center recently released the report that says Oklahoma-based natural gas supplier Williams’ proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement of its Transco pipeline is not needed.

The project would transport fracked natural gas through New Jersey from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to energy markets in New York City. The report rebuts National Grid’s Long-Term Capacity Report submitted to New York State.

“National Grid has not shown that it faces a supply and demand gap,” the report says. “In fact, National Grid is expected to have a substantial surplus of supply capacity by 2034/35.”
» Read article      

pipeline construction slows
Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Some Pipeline Projects Push Forward While Others Falter Nationwide
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 3, 2020

Nationwide, pipeline companies had already trimmed $1.9 billion from their 2020 budgets, according to a March 23 Houston Chronicle report. “Noble Midstream Partners, Rattler Midstream, Targa Resources, EnLink Midstream, Oneok, and Pembina Pipeline made the budget cuts over the past two weeks — representing an overall 30 percent cut in planned capital expenditures for new pipeline and storage projects in 2020,” according to a research note from energy investment firm Simmons Energy, the Chronicle reported. “Canadian pipeline operator Pembina made the largest cut of the six companies, slashing nearly $700 million, or 43 percent, from its nearly $1.6 billion budget.
» Read article      

» More about other pipelines        

DIVESTMENT

Boulder CO ultimatum
Boulder County Wants Insurance Companies To Ditch Their Fossil Fuel Investments
By Grace Hood, Colorado Public Radio
February 14, 2020

Boulder County Commissioners have made the decision to start to move away from insurance companies that invest in oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels — becoming the first county in the U.S. to do so.

“We can’t be investing in things that are detrimental to our constituents, our community, our planet,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones.

Right now, local governments spend millions on insurance like worker’s compensation. Those companies, in turn, invest those dollars into portfolios that can include fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change. The country’s 40 largest insurers hold combined investments of over $450 billion in the coal, oil, gas and electric utility sectors, according to an analysis by Ceres.

The proclamation by Boulder County fits into a campaign by environmental groups called Insure Our Future, which asks insurance companies to divest from fossil [fuels].
» Read article
» Read Ceres analysis

» More about divestment        

CLIMATE

collapse
Unchecked Global Warming Could Collapse Whole Ecosystems, Maybe Within 10 Years
A new study shows that as rising heat drives some key species extinct, it will affect other species, as well, in a domino effect.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
April 8, 2020

Global warming is about to tear big holes into Earth’s delicate web of life, pushing temperatures beyond the tolerance of thousands of animals at the same time. As some key species go extinct, entire ecosystems like coral reefs and forests will crumble, and some will collapse abruptly, starting as soon as this decade, a new study in the journal Nature warns.

Many scientists see recent climate-related mass die-offs, including the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and widespread seabird and marine mammal mortality in the Northeastern Pacific linked to a marine heat wave, as warning signs of impending biodiversity collapse, said lead author Alex Pigot, a biodiversity researcher at University College, London. The new study shows that nowhere on Earth will escape the impacts.
» Read article     
» Read the study          

great bleach-out
Great Barrier Reef Is Bleaching Again. It’s Getting More Widespread.
New data shows example after example of overheating and damage along the 1,500-mile natural wonder.
By Damien Cave, New York Times
April 6, 2020

New aerial data from Professor Hughes and other scientists released on Monday shows example after example of overheating and damage along the reef, a 1,500-mile natural wonder. The survey amounts to an updated X-ray for a dying patient, with the markers of illness being the telltale white of coral that has lost its color, visible from the air and in the water.

The mass bleaching indicates that corals are under intense stress from the waters around them, which have been growing increasingly hotter.
» Read article      

Permian emissions rising uncontested
In Texas, Pandemic-driven Deregulation Is Actually Increasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled Podcast Extra
April 3, 2020

Flares are not lit. And so it becomes a vent pipe that vents uncontested hydrocarbons into the atmosphere in huge quantities. The tanks and the tanks are venting. It’s just methane and volatile organic compounds blasting from everywhere.

Texas does have regulations that are supposed to prevent a lot of this, not entirely prevent it, because the system, the oil and gas design is it is designed to vent intentionally. So at this point, they cannot completely stop all of the methane and VRC emissions because they have to have pressure releases. So but we do have regulations in place to lessen that. And unlit flares are not legal. But the problem with regulations is they are words on paper. And in Texas, they’re not enforced. And especially in the Permian Basin, the oversight seems especially lax.
» Access podcast and transcript               

a question of trust
EPA rebukes COVID-19 compliance flexibility backlash; FERC gives regulated entities leeway
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
April 3, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushed back on Thursday against federal lawmaker complaints that the compliance flexibility it granted power plants and other regulated entities last week gave those facilities license to pollute.

Under the EPA’s modified regulations, power plant operators would need to prove that any compliance violations were tied to COVID-19 related disruptions. Over 22 environmental groups sent a petition to the EPA Wednesday calling for the agency to “at a minimum” promptly inform the public of any pollution compliance violations, including a facility’s failure to report or monitor air or water quality inspections.
» Read article      

fixing concrete
Concrete Solutions That Lower Both Emissions and Air Pollution Air Quality and Climate Change Intertwine in Unexpected Ways. A Concrete Example.
By Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News
March 23, 2020

Concrete production contributes 8 percent of global greenhouse gases, and demand continues to rise as populations and incomes grow. Yet some commonly discussed strategies to reduce the sector’s global GHG emissions could, under some scenarios, increase local air pollution and related health damages, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

For the study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists quantified the costs of climate change impacts and of death and illness from air pollution. They found that concrete production causes about $335 billion per year in damages, a large fraction of the industry value.

The scientists also compared several GHG-reduction strategies to determine which are most likely to lower both global emissions and local air pollution related to concrete production. They found that a variety of available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage costs by 44 percent.
» Read article     
» Read the report

» More about climate   

CLEAN ENERGY

ORES launched
New York becomes first state to establish renewables siting office in an effort to speed up deployment
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2020

In an effort to speed the development of large-scale clean energy resources, New York lawmakers authorized the creation of an Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) and took steps to accelerate transmission investment to move carbon-free electricity to load centers.

The new siting rules will ensure renewables projects larger than 25 MW can receive approval within a year. Under the current process, siting for these projects takes two to three years, experts say.

The new office was approved last week as part of New York’s 2020-2021 state budget and will be housed within the Department of State. The budget provides funding for up to 25 full-time ORES employees and officials say further resources will be assessed based on need.
» Read article      

8min solar on track
Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing
The renewable-energy business is expected to keep growing, though more slowly, in contrast to fossil fuel companies, which have been hammered by low oil and gas prices.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
April 7, 2020

A few years ago, the kind of double-digit drop in oil and gas prices the world is experiencing now because of the coronavirus pandemic might have increased the use of fossil fuels and hurt renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms.

That is not happening.

In fact, renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010, according to one forecast published last week. And while work on some solar and wind projects has been delayed by the outbreak, industry executives and analysts expect the renewable business to continue growing in 2020 and next year even as oil, gas and coal companies struggle financially or seek bankruptcy protection.
» Read article      

kitchen moves online
Coronavirus is Forcing Home Solar Companies to Sell Virtually. Maybe That’s a Good Thing.
Kitchen table sales are out. Zoom meetings and “social canvassing’ on Facebook are in. Residential solar adjusts to life in a pandemic.
By Julian Spector, Green Tech Media
April 06, 2020

“The kitchen table sale is an integral part of the solar sales process,” said Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of online solar marketplace EnergySage. “Companies really want to get to the kitchen table.”

The loss of that crucial tool foreshadows a tough time for residential solar companies, compounded by broader economic disruption. Some companies are coping by slashing spending; others have chosen layoffs.

A contingent of entrepreneurial, tech-savvy companies is trying a different route: asking how to sell as best they can without in-person meetings. They’ve glimpsed a small shimmer of hope amid the chaos: technology makes it relatively cheap and easy to shift operations online; it’s still possible to close deals this way; and that a digital-centric strategy could be better for business in the long run than the historical dependence on face-to-face sales.
» Read article      

clean energy group launches
100% clean energy group launches, with eyes on coronavirus
By David Iaconangelo, Energywire; Photo: Gerry Machen/Creative Commons
April 3, 2020

State officials representing over a quarter of the country’s power sales announced a new coalition this week centered on 100% carbon-free targets.

The 100% Clean Energy Collaborative, as it’s known, is the first group of state officials to “focus on the specific question of what states need to do to implement” the goals, said Warren Leon, executive director of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), which is acting as a facilitator. CESA’s members are made up largely of state agencies, including the California Energy Commission, which proposed the idea of the collaborative.

One topic for immediate attention, said Leon, will be how states can maintain progress toward targets in spite of the novel coronavirus, which has stressed state budgets, led to layoffs, and canceled or postponed legislative and regulatory sessions.
» Read article      

birds and wind
Analysis: Is It Possible to Have Wind Power While Keeping Birds Safe?
By Gustave Axelson, All About Birds – Cornell
March 31, 2020

“We need to be mindful that generating energy in any manner will impact birds directly or indirectly. Bird mortality from wind turbines may be more obvious than from other sources, but the habitat loss, water contamination, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions from other energy sources, especially coal, are far more detrimental to birds and other species, including humans,” says Amanda Rodewald, codirector of the Cornell Lab’s Center for Avian Population Studies. “Fortunately, the conservation community has a real opportunity to reduce negative impacts from wind energy by working with industry to properly site turbines and avoid important bird areas.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy       

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

fossils add investment risk
BlackRock, Morgan Stanley to utilities: Tackle climate-related risks or lose market value
Analyst research shows utilities that address climate-related physical and transition risks earn higher valuations from investors.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
April 6, 2020

Financial market data shows utilities that address risks associated with the changing climate see significant benefits, and utilities that do not lose market value.

Analyses from BlackRock, Morgan Stanley and others reflect what the world is learning in the COVID-19 fight: Aggressive action proactively addressing systemic risk produces better outcomes than pretending there is little risk. For utilities, the data shows that addressing climate-related risks with system hardening and emissions reductions attracts investors and shifts stock valuations, while relying on business as usual discourages investors and increases stock price volatility.

Many analysts say utilities that have set climate risk-related goals also remain dangerously invested in fossil assets. Studies show market valuations increase when utilities strengthen their physical systems and begin transitioning to renewables.
» Read article      

» More about electric utilities      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Mister Lost Cause
Trump Admin Bypasses Congress, Offers Backup Storage to Boost Troubled Oil Industry
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 9, 2020

After Congress declined to allocate $3 billion of the recent economic stimulus package to fill the government’s emergency stockpile of oil, the Trump administration has taken its own steps to provide short-term relief to the U.S. petroleum sector.

The Department of Energy announced last week it would be making arrangements to immediately store 30 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a backup reserve created in the 1970s as a buffer against oil supply disruptions. Now, instead of supply shortages, oil markets are facing what consulting firm Rystad Energy is calling “one of the biggest oil supply gluts the world has ever seen.”

The oversupply problem is only partially a result of current market imbalance and actually has been building long before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns that crashed demand. But the Trump administration is nevertheless using the COVID-19 crisis as a main reason for aiding an ailing petroleum sector, and it is turning to the SPR as a critical tool for helping U.S. oil companies.
» Read article      

ConocoPhillips arctic drill plans
In Alaska’s North, Covid-19 Has Not Stopped the Trump Administration’s Quest to Drill for Oil
The president’s plans for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may fall flat. But a massive ConocoPhillips project is moving full speed ahead.
By Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News
April 8, 2020

Along the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the long-fought over stretch of wilderness that President Donald Trump has been working hard to open to drilling—a successful lease sale is looking less and less likely before the end of the year.

But west of the refuge, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the Interior Department is moving ahead with ConocoPhillips’ Willow project. The project is a massive development expected to produce approximately 590 million barrels of oil over its 30-year life, and it could include a central processing facility, up to 250 wells, an airstrip, pipelines and a gravel mine.
» Read article      

oil sands vulnerable
Alberta’s $5.3 Billion Backing of Keystone XL Signals Vulnerability of Canadian Oil
The province’ announcement comes after the private sector has shown little appetite for a pipeline project critical to the country’s tar sands industry.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
Apr 6, 2020

Alberta’s recent announcement that it was investing more than $1 billion to build the Keystone XL pipeline gave a boost to a project that has faced more than a decade of delays and uncertainty.

Investment in Canada’s oil sands, a viscous mix of sand and bitumen that lies beneath a vast swath of northern Alberta, has fallen five years in a row. Some analysts and advocates say the challenge is about more than just pipelines. The oil sands, also known as tar sands, are among the world’s more expensive and carbon-polluting sources of oil because they require lots of energy to exploit. New projects require large investments that pay off over decades.

This makes the tar sands one of the more vulnerable sectors of the global oil industry as governments begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

Texas oil warThe Oil War in the Permian May Not Have Any Winners
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 3, 2020

At the same time a price war is raging in the global oil markets, a regional price war is playing out in the shale fields of Texas. The Texas oil war is between the major oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron and the many independent shale oil producers.

In an unusual move this week, the CEOs of the shale oil companies Pioneer and Parsley sent a letter to the Texas Railroad Commission, asking the state oil and gas regulator to take an active role in limiting Texas oil production — a move Commissioner Ryan Sitton recently has endorsed.

This request to limit oil production looks like another sign of desperation setting in for independent shale producers, who are feeling squeezed by corporations like Exxon and Chevron reportedly trying to thwart efforts to help the smaller companies.

The Wall Street Journal reported that both of these oil majors oppose any sort of production limits. Their strategy appears to be: Ride out the low prices, watch smaller companies go bankrupt, and then buy up the assets at a big discount.
» Read article      

covid-19 oil lobby
Under Cover of Pandemic, Fossil Fuel Interests Unleash Lobbying Frenzy
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2020

Thousands of Americans are dying, millions have filed for unemployment, and frontline health care workers are risking their lives as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the U.S. In the midst of this crisis, the fossil fuel industry, particularly the oil and gas sector, has been actively seeking both financial relief and deregulation or dismantling of environmental protection measures.

In the U.S., the top oil and gas producer in the world, this activity has been particularly pronounced. While the oil and gas sector is struggling amid plummeting prices and demand, the struggle is due to factors far beyond the pandemic, and mostly of the industry’s own making.

Many shale companies had amassed large debts that allowed them to rapidly spend and expand production, for example. And the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil’s stock hit a 10-year low in late January, and a 15-year low by March 5, before the pandemic reached a crisis point in the U.S.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have looked to use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to shore up the petroleum producers. In mid-March, the President announced his intention to buy up crude oil to fill the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Democrats and climate advocates slammed as a reckless bailout of Big Oil.
» Read article      

Oregon develops biogas
Under new law, Oregon utilities hope to prove potential of renewable natural gas
The state’s largest gas utility plans to invest $30 million a year in a bid to replace 5% of fossil gas by 2024.
By Lee van der Voo, Energy News Network; Photo: ZehnKatzen / Wikimedia Commons
April 2, 2020

A new law in Oregon is expected to spur more than $30 million in investments in renewable natural gas annually, nudging the state’s market away from fossil fuels toward biogas — a trend experts say will curtail emissions and stifle demand for fracked gas.

The effort stems from policy changes made by Oregon lawmakers last fall that upend restrictions that effectively forced utilities to buy the cheapest natural gas around — the kind sourced from fossil fuels.

Following rulemaking currently underway, utilities will be allowed to reinvest 5% of revenue in the upfront equipment costs of biogas production, chiefly cleaning equipment and new pipe to connect biogas to existing infrastructure. Natural gas utilities can recoup the cost of those investments from ratepayers. Oregon’s largest, NW Natural Gas, plans to invest $30 million annually in a bid to replace 5% of fossil gas with renewable natural gas by 2024. Its executives believe the long-term contracts they aim to ink with suppliers will lure the financing that tips the market.
» Read article      

repurposing coal
Coal-fired power plants finding new uses as data centers, clean energy hubs
Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
March 23, 2020

As coal-fired power plants become uneconomic and are shut down for good, a new sort of recycling industry is taking shape: the repurposing of those plants.

Utilities across the country are finding ways to redevelop abandoned fossil-fueled sites. In January, Beloit College in Wisconsin began operating a student union and recreation center in a structure where Alliant Energy formerly burned coal to produce power.

On the southern coast of Massachusetts, a former 1,600-megawatt coal plant is being demolished to make way for a logistical port and support center for wind turbines expected to be erected about 35 miles off shore.

And in Independence, Missouri, the city utility recently received two proposals for recycling its Blue Valley Power Plant. The 98-megawatt plant burned coal for about 60 years, until switching to natural gas a few years ago. It is projected to cease its intermittent operations this summer.

One respondent to the city’s request for proposals wants to install 50 MW of battery storage. The other envisions manufacturing biofuel at the site.
» Read article      

» More about the fossil fuel industry        

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

Mont Belvieu fireworks
For the Ohio River Valley, an Ethane Storage Facility in Texas Is Either a Model or a Cautionary Tale
The massive petrochemical complex in Mont Belvieu outside Houston has a long history of environmental violations, leaks, fires and explosions.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
April 10, 2020

[If] Mont Belvieu—a massive chemical distribution center for what has been a booming Gulf Coast plastics and petrochemical industry—has been a model for those promoting an Appalachian petrochemical renaissance, it also serves as a cautionary tale to those who would rather the Appalachian region reject a boom-or-bust fossil fuel future.

An examination of the chemical plants, pipelines and other gas handling equipment that sit atop the massive stores of natural gas liquids at Mont Belvieu reveals a history of fires, explosions, leaks, excess emissions, fines for air and water pollution violations, and an oversized carbon footprint.
» Read article     

» More about the plastics / fracking connection  

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Weekly News Check-In 4/3/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

Greetings from another week of lockdown and social distancing, as we continue to take steps to keep ourselves and especially others safe during the coronavirus pandemic. We take inspiration, instruction, and comfort from Daniel Matarazzo’s inspired work of public service. You’ll find important news below, but definitely start here.

Developments in climate news include a one-year delay in the next United Nations-sponsored climate conference, COP26, due to coronavirus concerns. An interesting consequence of this schedule change is that it will give participants time to react to U.S. election results.

The Trump administration finalized its rollback of automobile emissions regulations – setting back one of the most important climate change mitigation efforts underway in the United States. The move was anticipated, and immediately challenged in court. This capped a busy couple of weeks in the annals of environmental assault, which also saw the EPA suspend enforcement of important air and water pollution laws during the pandemic.

We wrap up the climate section on a positive note, with an insightful Rolling Stone profile of Greta Thunberg.

Although clean transportation was bruised by Trump’s regulatory rollback, the climate case for electric vehicles was bolstered by yet another important study. It’s now certain that EVs are the lowest emitters in nearly every part of the world, regardless of what energy mix powers the electric grid that charges them. This decisively invalidates longstanding efforts by fossil fuel interests to dismiss electric vehicles as ineffective in lowering overall transportation sector emissions.

The fossil fuel industry is experiencing an existential disruption due to falling demand and cratering oil prices. Already on shaky financial ground, the industry is lobbying hard for government bailout money, while different players across and within sectors are turning on each other – each protecting its own interests as some maneuver to profit from the demise of others. This is where capitalism’s vaunted “creative destruction” morphs into “Lord of the Flies”.

We conclude with another story about the plastics / fracking connection. A huge new plastics plant in Gramercy, Louisiana is poised to spew massive amounts of greenhouse gas while adding to the pollution load on that already-burdened community.

— The NFGiM Team

CLIMATE

Glasgow COP26 delayed
Coronavirus Delays Key Global Climate Talks
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
April 1, 2020

This year’s United Nations-sponsored climate talks, widely regarded as the most important climate meeting of the past four years, were postponed on Wednesday because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The session, known as the Conference of Parties, had been scheduled to take place in Glasgow for a week and a half in mid-November. It was postponed to 2021, the world body’s climate agency and the host government, Britain, confirmed late Wednesday.
» Read article      

COP’s Postponement Until 2021 Gives World Leaders Time to Respond to U.S. Election
The annual United Nations climate meeting in Glasgow had been scheduled for six days after the presidential contest in early November.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
April 1, 2020

resident Donald Trump announced shortly after taking office that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, but under the agreement, the earliest possible withdrawal date is Nov. 4, four years after the agreement took effect in the United States—and a day after the upcoming presidential election.

The meeting in Glasgow had been scheduled for six days after the election. That would have given leaders little time to respond to either another Trump administration—and the full withdrawal of the United States from the pact—or a new, incoming Democratic administration, which, under the agreement’s rules, could restore and revamp U.S. commitments as soon as February 2021.

“With this scenario at least you have clarity on who the president is well before the meeting,” Meyer said. “And in a Trump scenario, they would have more than six days to think through the implications of four more years of Trump and figure out their response. It provides a little more breathing space.”
» Read article      

cough it up Wheeler
Court Rules EPA Can’t Keep Secret Key Model Used in Clean Car Rule Rollback
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

A federal appeals court ruled April 1 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had no basis to withhold one key part of a computer model used by the agency to develop its less stringent greenhouse gas emission standards for new vehicles. The ruling came just one day after EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a final rule rolling back clean car standards set under the Obama administration.

The new Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, which requires vehicle fuel economy improvements of 1.5 percent annually rather than 5 percent, is expected to increase air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and consumer fuel spending.

Several environmental and public interest groups — ardent critics of the laxer standards — submitted formal comments to EPA last year noting that the agency disregarded its own modeling for the rulemaking and refused to publicly disclose information related to that modeling. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also brought a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against EPA to compel the agency to release the full components of a modeling program called the Optimization Model for Reducing Emissions of Greenhouse Gases from Automobiles (OMEGA). The computerized program forecasts how automakers could comply with certain greenhouse gas emission standards.
» Read article      

big orange and the blowTrump Admin Weakens Clean Car Standards Despite Its Analyses Showing Rule Favors Big Oil Over Health, Climate
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2020

The Trump administration today announced the final rule that rolls back Obama-era clean vehicle standards, a move that, according to the government’s own analyses, is expected to benefit the oil industry and harm consumers, public health, and the climate.

Experts also warn it will result in litigation and global market inconsistency to the detriment of automakers.

The Trump administration standards require average fuel economy of only about 40 miles per gallon in 2025, with annual increases of 1.5 percent starting in 2021, as opposed to the 5 percent annual increase under the Obama standards. The laxer standards under the SAFE rule are expected to result in over a billion metric tons more climate pollution through 2040.

The move was condemned by former and some current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees.

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have for the past decade jointly set the greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards. The joint national program, first announced by Obama in 2009, came on the heels of the auto industry bailout and was welcomed by automakers.

The national program also aligned with stricter clean vehicle standards sought by California, which has authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt its own vehicle emissions standards.

Now automakers, though they had initially lobbied the Trump administration for weaker standards, could face more uncertainty especially given California’s legal challenge to the federal government’s revocation of its Clean Air Act authority. Several automakers including Ford, Honda, BMW of North America, and Volkswagen Group of America agreed last year to adhere to California’s more stringent vehicle standards, while a coalition of other automakers backed the Trump administration in the lawsuit, thus dividing the auto industry.
» Read article      

rolling with Trump
Trump to roll back Obama-era clean car rules in huge blow to climate fight

Announcement will allow vehicles to emit 1bn more tons of CO2; Experts say move will lead to more life-threatening air pollution
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
March 31, 2020

The Trump administration is rolling back the US government’s strongest attempt to combat the climate crisis, weakening rules which compel auto companies to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. Critics say the move will lead to more life-threatening air pollution and force Americans to spend more on gasoline.

The changes to Obama-era regulations will allow vehicles to emit about a billion more tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide – equivalent to roughly a fifth of annual US emissions.

The rollback is one of dozens Trump officials have ushered to completion, seeking to bolster the fossil fuel industry amid intense opposition from Democratic-led states and pushback from world leaders.
» Read article      

emitters get free ride
Trump administration allows companies to break pollution laws during coronavirus pandemic
Extraordinary move signals to US companies that they will not face any sanctions for polluting the air or water
By Oliver Milman and Emily Holden, The Guardian
March 27, 2020

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suspended its enforcement of environmental laws during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, signaling to companies they will not face any sanction for polluting the air or water of Americans.

In an extraordinary move that has stunned former EPA officials, the Trump administration said it will not expect compliance with the routine monitoring and reporting of pollution and won’t pursue penalties for breaking these rules.

Polluters will be able to ignore environmental laws as long as they can claim in some way these violations were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the event of an imminent threat to public health, the EPA will defer to the states and “consider the circumstances” over whether it should intervene.

There is no end date set for this dropping of enforcement.
» Read article      

now or never
How one Swedish teenager armed with a homemade sign ignited a crusade and became the leader of a movement

By Stephen Rodrick, Rolling Stone   
March 26, 2020

Greta’s rise was the activist version of a perfect storm. Her ascension from bullied Swedish student to global climate icon has been driven by both a loss and a regaining of hope. It is not a coincidence that her ascent happened immediately in the aftermath of the election of Trump. It’s impossible to see a Greta-like phenomena emerging during the Obama-driven run up to the Paris climate talks, when it actually looked like nations of the world were getting their shit together to deal with global warming. It became obvious after Trump and the Paris implosion that 30 years of rhetoric and meetings had created very little except more talk.
» Read article      

» More about climate          

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

buzz aroundYet Another Study Confirms: Electric Cars Reduce Climate Pollution
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 27, 2020

Electric cars are better for the climate than gas-powered vehicles in nearly every part of the world. That’s the clear, unequivocal finding of the first study that conducted a global examination of the current and future greenhouse gas emissions of electric vehicles (EVs) and gas-powered cars. This study directly refutes myths perpetuated by climate science deniers and EV antagonists, who claim that EVs are really not all that green.

The team of European researchers behind the new study build on recent similar findings by the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Each of these studies have taken a worldwide look at the life cycle emissions from EVs that are charged by a variety of forms of electricity generation, from the cleanest to the dirtiest of grids. The new study again dispels the myth that electric cars are more polluting than gas-powered cars because they are charged by coal-fired electricity.

Additionally, the researchers reveal that electric heat pumps are also less carbon-intensive than fossil fuel-based heating. The study, published March 23 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Sustainability, supports the understanding that electrification of road transport and home heating helps lower climate pollution.
» Read article      
» Read the study     

electric is cleaner
Electric cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles, study confirms
Finding will come as boost to governments seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 23, 2020

Electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits.

The finding is a boost to governments, including the UK, seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions, which will require a massive expansion of the electric car fleet. A similar benefit was found for electric heat pumps.

In the UK, transport is now the biggest contributor to the climate crisis and domestic heating has been stubbornly stuck on natural gas for much of the country.

Across the world, passenger road vehicles and household heating generate about a quarter of all emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. That makes electric vehicles essential to reducing overall emissions, but how clean an electric vehicle is also depends on how the electricity is generated, the efficiency of the supply and the efficiency of the vehicle.

That has made some individuals and governments question whether these technologies are worth expanding. The study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, produced a decisive yes.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oily infighting
Industry Infighting as Oil and Gas Seek Government Help

By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

While the U.S. government is looking for ways to prop up unprofitable drilling, the industry is not a monolith. The collapse of the oil markets appears to be leading to infighting from various factions within the fossil fuel industry. For example, the oil majors are content to let smaller shale oil drillers fail, as DeSmog has reported, which would allow them to snatch up the shattered pieces on the cheap.

But the idea of tariffs on imported crude or a more comprehensive ban on imports is creating another fissure in the industry. Refiners, many of which import from abroad, are dead set against the idea. Refiners “aren’t seeking bailout relief from the government or financial stimulus, but they do need to avoid having additional hurdles thrown their way,” Susan Grissom, Chief Industry Analyst for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), said in a post on the group’s website. AFPM is a lobby group for refineries and petrochemical producers.

AFPM’s wish list includes “keeping the energy market free and open by avoiding embargoes or tariffs that would drive up consumer costs,” Grissom said. A growing number of refineries are shutting down as oil consumption collapses.

But it isn’t just refiners that oppose the tariffs. The shale gas industry is also against restricting imported oil. The Marcellus Shale Gas Coalition, a trade association, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on March 25, opposing tariffs.

“We have watched with some concern recent advocacy … to impose tariffs on imports of crude petroleum,” the letter said. “Frankly, such remedies do little to address the condition of natural gas producers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in our region.”

The letter added that tariffs “may even do harm to natural gas producers” because it could “stimulate crude oil production which in turn would cause the production of additional incidental or ‘free’ gas to be produced out of those crude-oil plays.”
» Read article      

candle in the wind
Oil Companies on Tumbling Prices: ‘Disastrous, Devastating’
The use of gasoline and other fuels is dropping as Saudi Arabia and Russia increase production, sending oil prices to their lowest level in a generation.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 31, 2020

Global oil benchmark prices hover around $20 a barrel — levels not seen in a generation — and regional prices in West Texas and North Dakota have fallen even further, to around $10 a barrel. That is about a quarter of the price that shale operators typically need to cover the costs of pulling oil out of the ground. If these prices persist, a big wave of bankruptcies is inevitable by the end of the year, experts say.

The share prices of large companies like Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Chevron have nearly halved in recent months, while the stocks of smaller firms with less healthy balance sheets have fallen even more.
» Read article      

not funny anymoreFracking Once Lifted Pennsylvania. Now It Could Be a Drag.
Natural-gas companies operating in the state were looking shaky before the coronavirus hit. Local economies are now at risk.
By Peter Eavis, New York Times
March 31, 2020

CARMICHAELS, Pa. — The last time the global economy was in free fall, an economic savior showed up in southwestern Pennsylvania. Energy companies, which had discovered a way to get at the state’s vast natural-gas reserves, invested billions of dollars in the region, cushioning the blow of the Great Recession.

“There were just so many jobs,” Debbie Gideon, a retired community banker, recalls. “It was crazy.”

But 12 years later, as the region braces for the coronavirus recession, natural-gas companies are much more likely to weigh on the local economy than to rescue it.
» Read article

refineries shutting down
Oil Refineries Face Shutdowns as Demand Collapses
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 30, 2020

A growing number of refineries around the world are either curtailing operations or shutting down entirely as the oil market collapses.

Oil prices have fallen precipitously to their lowest levels in nearly two decades. Typically, falling oil prices are a good thing for refiners because they buy crude oil on the cheap and process it into gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel, selling those products at higher prices. The end consumer also tends to consume more when fuel is less expensive. As a result, the profit margin for refiners tends to widen when crude oil becomes oversupplied.

But the world is in the midst of dual supply and demand shock — too much drilling has produced a substantial surplus, and the global coronavirus pandemic has led to a historic drop in consumption. Oil demand could fall by as much as 20 percent, according to the International Energy Agency, by far the largest decline in consumption ever recorded.
» Read article      

open license for polluters
Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry
The American Petroleum Institute sought the EPA’s help for companies hurt by COVID-19. One former EPA official called the suspension “an open license to pollute.”
By By Marianne Lavelle, Phil McKenna, David Hasemyer, Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
March 27, 2020

The Trump administration’s unprecedented decision to suspend enforcement of U.S. environmental laws amid the COVID-19 crisis throws a lifeline to the oil industry as it copes with the greatest threat to its business in a generation.

The decision, announced late Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency, comes after a detailed call for help from the industry’s largest trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, five days earlier.

The EPA went further than meeting the oil industry’s request—announcing a blanket policy suspending enforcement and civil penalties for any regulated entity that can show COVID-19 was the cause of a failure to comply with the law. But it is clear that a primary beneficiary will be the oil industry, which sought suspension of its obligations under consent decrees over past air and water pollution violations at its refineries, deferral of requirements on handling of fracking wastewater and a pause in reporting its greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
» Read article      

shale wreckage
Exxon May Crush Bailout Hopes for Suffering Fracking Companies
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 27, 2020

Presumably, Exxon and other companies who can outlast this crisis will gladly pick up the “ghosts and zombies.” This would seem like ruthless behavior from Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute, who constantly tout the jobs created by the oil industry. Wiping out those smaller companies will result in huge job losses in an industry already threatened by increasing automation.

However, in another rare moment of honesty from an oil company CEO years earlier, former ExxonMobil head Lee Raymond made clear why helping Americans wasn’t a concern of his when he was running the international oil major.

According to Steve Coll’s book Private Empire, when Raymond was asked if Exxon would build more refineries in the U.S. to help America, he replied, “I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”

Raymond is now on the board of JPMorgan Chase, the bank, which according to The Washington Post, is one of the biggest lenders to the fossil fuel industry. That’s probably not good news for shale firms either. Raymond’s successor was Rex Tillerson who left Exxon to head the Trump State Department for a period.

The shale industry, on the other hand, is only a decade old and simply does not have the political power of Exxon and its apparent surrogate, the American Petroleum Institute. Exxon may be likely to get its bailouts while making sure that smaller, less stable shale companies fail.
» Read article      

Breaking: Rights of Nature Law Forces Pennsylvania to Revoke Industry Permit
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection enforces local Grant Township law in revoking permit for dangerous frack waste injection well
By CELDF, Press Release
March 25, 2020

GRANT TOWNSHIP, INDIANA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: In an extraordinary reversal, last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoked a permit for a frack waste injection well in Grant Township. DEP officials cited Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter banning injection wells as grounds for their reversal.

Injection wells are toxic sewers for the fracking industry that cause earthquakes, receive radioactive waste, and threaten drinking water and ecosystems.

Township residents popularly adopted a Home Rule Charter (local constitution) in 2015 that contains a “Community Bill of Rights.” The Charter bans injection wells as a violation of the rights of those living in the township and recognizes rights of nature. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the Charter.
» Read article      
» Read the decision

» More about the fossil fuel industry  

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

stop killing us Formosa
In the most polluted part of America, residents now battle the US’s biggest plastic plant
Plastics factory will not only contribute to pollution in Louisiana town of Gramercy, but will also be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions
Oliver Laughland and Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 1, 2020

Named the Sunshine Project, the sprawling plastics facility owned by the Taiwanese plastics giant Formosa, has become a focal point in the fight against industrial pollution in the region. St James parish neighbours St John the Baptist parish, home to the most toxic air in America and the subject of a year-long Guardian series, Cancer Town.

The Sunshine Project will not only be a major contributor to local toxic pollution, but will also be a significant source of greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions. LDEQ has permitted Formosa to release an astonishing 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, the equivalent of three and a half coal fired power stations.

This boom in plastic production is fueled by cheap oil and gas released by fracking. The industry is planning 157 new or expanded plants and more drilling over the next five years, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project. These projects will release up to 227m tons of additional greenhouse gases by the end of 2025 – a 30% rise from the industry’s footprint in 2018.
 » Read article      

» More about the plastics / fracking connection     

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Weekly News Check-In 3/27/20

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing most protests and actions online. Globally, environmental groups are getting creative with social media to maintain community connections and momentum.

One of this week’s biggest news stories features the Dakota Access Pipeline. Federal Judge James E. Boasberg threw out the project’s environmental permits, finding that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct an adequate environmental review. He will next consider whether flow through the pipeline must stop while proper studies are conducted over the next several years. This is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, who courageously resisted the pipeline’s construction and have continued the fight in court.

The fossil fuel divestment movement is actively targeting investment banks that are the industry’s lifeblood. We offer a recent Guardian article that calls out the biggest players.

Climate science is expected to suffer from the effects of this pandemic, as many projects have scaled back, or suffered interruptions as scientists take necessary precautions. Also on the climate front, we found another interesting article about how lingering stores of banned CFC chemicals are still affecting Earth’s ozone layer and driving climate change.

We expect the pandemic to create serious near-term challenges in the deployment of clean energy. For happier stories, check out the clean transportation and energy storage sections.

News on the fossil fuel industry includes articles about the current global oil & gas glut, which have dramatically depressed prices. The US fracking industry was already in terrible financial condition. Since fracking and plastics are directly connected, this evolving business climate has resulted in significant downgrading of plans to make Appalachia the future U.S. center for petrochemical production.

Finally, plastics bans are under assault, as boosters for single-use bags argue that reusable bags can be a source of contagion, placing grocery workers and others at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

take it online
Coronavirus Halts Street Protests, but Climate Activists Have a Plan
By Shola Lawal, New York Times
March 19, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has prompted climate activists to abandon public demonstrations, one of their most powerful tools for raising public awareness, and shift to online protests.

This week, for example, organizers of the Fridays for Future protests are advising people to stay off the streets and post photos and messages on social media in a wave of digital strikes.

“We are people who listen to the scientists and it would be hypocritical of us to not treat this as a crisis,” said Saoi O’Connor, a 17-year-old Fridays for Future organizer from Cork, Ireland.

Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish activist who inspired the Friday youth protest group, last week stayed at home and tweeted a photo of herself and her two dogs, with a message calling on protesters to “take it online.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions     

OTHER PIPELINES

honor the treaties
Dakota access pipeline: court strikes down permits in victory for Standing Rock Sioux
Army corps of engineers ordered to conduct full environmental review, which could take years
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
March 25, 2020

The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.

The US army corps of engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled that existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.
» Read article
» Read court’s decision

water is life
Federal Judge Tosses Dakota Access Pipeline Permits, Orders Full Environmental Review
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2020

Today, a federal judge tossed out federal permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), built to carry over half a million barrels of Bakken crude oil a day from North Dakota, and ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline project.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg indicated that he would next consider whether to shut down the current flows of oil through DAPL while the environmental review is in process, ordering both sides to submit briefs on the question.

Representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, plaintiffs in the lawsuit, welcomed today’s ruling.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

The Dakota Access pipeline has been in service for nearly three years, following battles over the pipeline’s environmental impacts that raged for years.
» Read article       

Standing Rock court victory
‘Huge Victory’ for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as Federal Court Rules DAPL Permits Violated Law
“This is what the tribe has been fighting for many months. Their fearless organizing continues to change the game.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
March 25, 2020

A federal judge handed down a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota on Wednesday, ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The USACE must complete a full environmental impact study of the pipeline, including full consideration of concerns presented by the Standing Rock Tribe, the judge ruled. The tribe has asked the court to ultimately shut the pipeline down.

The court chastised the USACE for moving ahead with affirming the permits in 2016 and allowing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing the Missouri River after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, without considering the expert analysis put forward by the tribe.
» Read article          

Pennsylvania’s orders to stem coronavirus outbreak pause several gas pipeline projects
By Maya Weber & Jason Lindquist, SP Global
March 25, 2020

Washington — Pennsylvania’s social-distancing orders prompted a temporary halt to construction of several natural gas pipeline projects in the state, but some developers were working to secure waivers to allow more work to continue.

The state, with its large shale deposits, also is home to a number of ongoing midstream projects meant to move gas to market.

After Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf late last week ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close, Energy Transfer was halting new construction on the Mariner East 2 project, but has since gained permission for limited activity, such as maintaining the right-of-way and work sites, and securing, stabilizing, and moving equipment.
» Read article       

» More about other pipelines         

DIVESTMENT

fossil money sources
Study: global banks ‘failing miserably’ on climate crisis by funneling trillions into fossil fuels
Analysis of 35 leading investment banks shows financing of more than $2.66tn for fossil fuel industries since the Paris agreement
By Patrick Greenfield and Kalyeena Makortoff, The Guardian
March 18, 2020

The world’s largest investment banks have funnelled more than £2.2tn ($2.66tn) into fossil fuels since the Paris agreement, new figures show, prompting warnings they are failing to respond to the climate crisis.

The US bank JP Morgan Chase, whose economists warned that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity last month, has been the largest financier of fossil fuels in the four years since the agreement, providing over £220bn of financial services to extract oil, gas and coal.

Fracking has been the focus of intense business activity by investment banks since the Paris agreement, with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America leading £241.53bn of financing, much of it linked to the Permian basin in Texas.

Johan Frijns, director of BankTrack, an NGO which monitors the activities of major financial institutions, said it was time for banks to commit to phasing out financing for all new fossil fuel projects.

“In the last year, banks have been queueing up to proclaim support for the goals of the Paris agreement. Both the Principles for Responsible Banking and the new Equator Principles, each signed by over a hundred banks, acknowledges the global climate goals. Yet the data in Banking on Climate Change 2020 show these laudable pledges making little difference, and bank financing for the fossil fuel industry continuing to lead us to the climate abyss,” he said.
» Read article       

» More about divestment       

CLIMATE

climate science disruptions
Coronavirus Already Hindering Climate Science, But the Worst Disruptions Are Likely Yet to Come
Early fallout includes canceled science missions and potential gaps in long-running climate records, while research budgets could take a hit in the long run.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
March 27, 2020

Along with temporarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions and forcing climate activists to rethink how to sustain a movement built on street protests, the global response to the coronavirus pandemic is also disrupting climate science.

Many research missions and conferences scheduled for the next few months have been canceled, while the work of scientists already in the field has been complicated by travel restrictions, quarantines and other efforts to protect field researchers and remote indigenous populations from the pandemic.
» Read article       

banked CFCs
Long Phased-Out Refrigeration and Insulation Chemicals Still Widely in Use and Warming the Climate
New study concludes that “banked” CFCs have greenhouse gas impacts equal to all registered U.S. cars and slow the shrinking of the ozone hole.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
March 17, 2020

Starting decades ago, international governments phased out a class of chemical refrigerants that harmed the ozone layer and fueled global warming. Now, a new study indicates that the remaining volume of these chemicals, and the emissions they continue to release into the atmosphere, is far larger than previously thought.

The findings point to a lost opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a par with the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the United States, but also highlight a low-cost pathway to curb future warming, researchers say.

The study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, looks at “banked” volumes of three leading chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals whose production is banned but remain in use today in older refrigeration and cooling systems and in foam insulation. CFCs were phased out of production in developed countries by 1996, and in developing countries by 2010, under the Montreal Protocol because of the leading role they played in creating the so-called “ozone hole” in the atmosphere.
» Read article
» Read study

» More about climate          

CLEAN ENERGY

coronavirus disrupts offshore wind
Inside Clean Energy: At a Critical Moment, the Coronavirus Threatens to Bring Offshore Wind to a Halt
The wind farms, in development off several East Coast states, are an essential part of how those states plan to meet emissions reduction targets.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
March 26, 2020

This was going to be the year that offshore wind energy made a giant leap in the United States. Then the coronavirus arrived.

An offshore wind trade group said its main concern is the health of its workers, but the group  also worries that the virus will slow or stop work throughout the chain of suppliers and other service providers.

This could be said for just about any industry, but offshore wind is different in that it is in a formative stage, with almost no projects up and running, and more than a dozen in various phases of development along the East Coast. As a result, the industry faces challenges much greater than simply pausing work in an established supply chain.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

virus NOx out
Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus
By Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, New York Times
March 22, 2020

In cities across the United States, traffic on roads and highways has fallen dramatically over the past week as the coronavirus outbreak forces people to stay at home and everyday life grinds to a halt.

Pollution has dropped too.

A satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks shows huge declines in pollution over major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
» Read article       

electrified big rigs
Big Rigs Begin to Trade Diesel for Electric Motors
Tractor-trailer fleets will take time to electrify, and start-ups and established truck makers are racing to get their models on the road.
By Susan Carpenter, New York Times
March 19, 2020

Two years ago, the [Freightliner] eCascadia was nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation — a virtual rendering to expedite a diesel stalwart into a zero-emissions future for goods movement. Now it’s one of several competing models, from start-ups as well as established truck makers, that are gearing up for production next year with real-world testing. Orders have poured in, from companies eager to shave operating costs and curb emissions, for trucks that won’t see roads for months or even years.

Volvo Trucks North America announced this year that it would test 23 of its VNR battery-electric heavy-duty trucks in and out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Washington-based truck maker Kenworth is already there, operating the beginnings of Project Portal, a 10-truck fleet of semis powered with hydrogen fuel cells. And Daimler Trucks North America is making deliveries in 20 of its preproduction eCascadias with two partner companies, Penske Truck Leasing and NFI.

“We want them quicker than the manufacturers can produce them,” said NFI’s president, Ike Brown. NFI, a freight hauler based in New Jersey, has been operating 10 eCascadias between the port complex, the country’s busiest, and its warehouse in Chino, 50 miles inland.

Mr. Brown’s company makes regional deliveries using a fleet of 4,500 mostly diesel trucks. With a defined daily route of about 250 miles, and trucks that return to the same place every night to recharge, electric trucks “just make sense,” Mr. Brown said.
» Read article       

Tesla catches fire in Europe
Tesla’s Success in Europe Catches Industry Off Guard
The Model 3 outsold some of the most popular luxury models in recent months. BMW, Mercedes and Audi risk missing the transition to electric cars.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 4, 2020

FRANKFURT — Until recently European auto executives regarded Tesla with something like bemusement. The electric car upstart from California was burning cash, struggling with production problems, and hedge funds were betting it would fail.

The car executives are not laughing anymore. Almost overnight, the Tesla Model 3 has become one of the best-selling cars in Europe. In December, only the Volkswagen Golf and Renault Clio sold more, according to data compiled by JATO Dynamics, a market research firm.

Tesla’s surge, assuming it proves sustainable, raises questions about whether traditional carmakers like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz are in danger of missing a striking shift in automotive technology. Despite plenty of warning, they are only beginning to introduce competing electric vehicles.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation       

ENERGY STORAGE

lead-acid makeover
Lead batteries make innovation push to better compete for energy storage projects
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
March 19, 2020

Lead-acid batteries are already a multi-billion-dollar industry and are widely-used in automotive and industrial applications. But for the power sector, they are a small player relative to lithium-ion batteries, which make up over 90% of the global grid battery storage market. One reason for their fast growth is cost — lithium-ion batteries have an estimated project cost of $469 per kWh, compared to $549 per kWh for lead-acid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2019 Energy Storage Technology and Cost Characterization Report.

But at $260 per kWh, lead batteries themselves already have lower capital costs than lithium-ion, which is at $271 per kWh, the DOE report found. If further research can get lead batteries to hit the goal of an average of 5,000 cycles over their lives by 2022, then the technology could be able to reach the DOE’s target of operational costs of 3 cents per cycle per kWh, Raiford said, a milestone that no battery chemistry has consistently reached.
» Read article      
» Read report

» More about energy storage        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

sloshy
A Gusher of Oil and Fewer Places to Put It
A chaotic mismatch between the supply and demand for oil is saturating the world’s ability to store it all.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 26, 2020

The world is awash in crude oil, and is slowly running out of places to put it.

Massive, round storage tanks in places like Trieste, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates are filling up. Vast caves in Louisiana and Texas that hold the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve are being topped up. Over 80 huge tankers, each holding up to 80 million gallons, are anchored off Texas, Scotland and elsewhere, with no particular place to go.

The world doesn’t need all this oil. The coronavirus pandemic has strangled the world’s economies, silenced factories and grounded airlines, cutting the need for fuel. But Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, is locked in a price war with rival Russia and is determined to keep raising production.
» Read article       

Unthinkable becomes thinkable as US shale industry ponders production cuts
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International – Blog Post
March 23, 2020

The unthinkable could soon be thinkable. For years, emboldened by a brazenly pro-Big Oil President, the US shale industry has drilled and fracked, oblivious to the climate crisis, local communities, or whether they’re even generating value.

But as the global public health emergency worsens – Covid-19 – it appears to be reshaping energy policy in a way that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago. As travel and commercial activity slowed, oil demand has plummeted, and so has the oil price. The ensuing price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has created the perfect storm for the already fragile US oil industry.
» Read article       

Project Tundra
North Dakota’s Carbon Capture Project Tundra Another “Expensive Greenwashing” Attempt to Bail Out Coal Power
By Laura Peterson, DeSmog Blog
March 21, 2020

Carbon capture technology has generated a lot of controversy–but little private investment–due to its lack of profitability and efficiency. So why is a proposal to retrofit an aging coal-powered plant in North Dakota with smokestack scrubbers receiving millions of federal taxpayer dollars?

Ask Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who has directed more than $30 million in Department of Energy funding to Project Tundra.

The project would install a carbon capture system at the Milton R. Young Station, a two-unit plant that has run on lignite coal from the nearby Center Mine since it began operating in 1970. The captured carbon would then be piped to the Bakken region for injection into oil wells in a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery.
» Read article      

drilling for C-19
American Oil Drillers Were Hanging On by a Thread. Then Came the Virus.
Energy companies were major issuers of junk bonds to finance expansion. But now they are in trouble as capital has dried up and oil prices have cratered.
By Matt Phillips and Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 20, 2020

Wall Street supercharged America’s energy boom of the past decade by making it easy for oil companies to finance growth with cheap, borrowed money. Now, that partnership is in tatters as the coronavirus pandemic has driven the fastest collapse of oil prices in more than a generation.

The energy sector has buckled in recent weeks as the global demand for oil suddenly shriveled and oil prices plunged, setting off a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Oil prices are now one-third their most recent high, trading as low as $24 a barrel, and could fall further.

The crisis has been a body blow to the American oil and gas industry. Already heavily indebted, many companies are now struggling to make interest payments on the debt they carry and are finding it challenging to raise new financing, which has gotten more expensive as traditional buyers of debt have vanished and risks to the oil industry have grown.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels       

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

Belmont Cty Nevermind
Market Headwinds Buffet Appalachia’s Future as a Center for Petrochemicals
A proposed $5.7 billion ethane plant in Belmont County, Ohio, was seen as a likely casualty even before coronavirus cratered oil prices and collapsed the economy.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
March 21, 2020

And in a new study, analysts at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a nonprofit think tank that works toward a sustainable energy economy, have found that the plant faces a damaging, cumulative set of risks, all raising doubts about whether it will ever be financed.

The plant’s fate is seen by both the IEEFA and IHS Markit as a harbinger of trouble for the broader vision of Appalachia as a major petrochemical hub.  A string of significant setbacks and delays now seem more important amid the coronavirus pandemic, a crashing economy, cratering oil prices, slowing demand for plastics and what could be the final months of a fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration.

Activists who have been fighting fracking and the planned petrochemical boom say they hope the industry’s mounting woes, which are sure to be worsened by a coronavirus-related economic stall, will lead to a long enough pause for leaders to decide whether the nation’s former steel belt should continue to embrace another heavily polluting and fossil-fuel dependent industry.
» Read article      
» Read IEEFA study    

» More about the plastics / fracking connection   

PLASTICS BANS

bag the ban
In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans

By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 26, 2020

They are “petri dishes for bacteria and carriers of harmful pathogens,” read one warning from a plastics industry group. They are “virus-laden.”

The group’s target? The reusable shopping bags that countless of Americans increasingly use instead of disposable plastic bags.

The plastic bag industry, battered by a wave of bans nationwide, is using the coronavirus crisis to try to block laws prohibiting single-use plastic. “We simply don’t want millions of Americans bringing germ-filled reusable bags into retail establishments putting the public and workers at risk,” an industry campaign that goes by the name Bag the Ban warned on Tuesday, quoting a Boston Herald column outlining some of the group’s talking points.

The Plastics Industry Association is also lobbying to quash plastic bag bans. Last week, it sent a letter to the United States Department of Health and Human Services requesting that the department publicly declare that banning single-use plastics during a pandemic is a health threat.
» Read article       

» More about plastics bans and alternatives      

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Weekly News Check-In 3/20/20

WNCI-7

Welcome back.

Construction at the Weymouth compressor station site doesn’t accommodate the social distancing required to address our COVID-19 health crisis, and opponents of the project are requesting a temporary halt to activities there. More Massachusetts news: Columbia Gas will be purchased by Eversourse. We found a thought-provoking editorial suggesting that ownership should pass to the public instead.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), continues to dig in as an increasingly partisan approval mill for fossil fuel projects. Three of the four commissioners are now Republican,  a clear break with past tradition of balanced representation.

Our climate section leads with an MIT study showing that significant amounts of ozone-depleting CFCs are leaking from old refrigeration equipment and insulating foam previously considered too inconsequential to remove and remediate. We now know that CFC leakage from these sources delays recovery of the ozone layer, and is a source of powerful greenhouse gases.

We found some differing opinions among experts regarding how the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the deployment of clean energy like wind and solar. That is currently a more powerful dynamic in the U.S. than the familiar tug-of-war between the pro-fossil Trump administration vs the combination of progressive state and municipal governments and advances in green technology. Take a look at our offerings in clean transportation and energy storage to see what’s happening along those old familiar story lines.

The fossil fuel industry lost a significant court battle when a federal district court decided in favor of Massachusetts, agreeing that the state has jurisdiction to sue Exxon in Suffolk County Superior Court, where the giant corporation stands accused of “hiding its early knowledge of climate change from the public and misleading investors about the future financial impact of global warming.” This is one of a string of similar cases, all agreeing that states have jurisdiction in these lawsuits.

We close with an article on plastics recycling, because a plastics-to-fuel plant is being proposed in Rhode Island. A feasibility study is considering using the pyrolysis process (gassification at high heat) to remove plastic from the waste stream by converting it to usable fuel. The benefits are presented by a representative from the American Chemistry Council, with arguments against this process being clearly articulated by Kevin Budris, a lawyer from Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Rhode Island who heads up the Zero Waste Project.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

call for halt
Residents call for halt to compressor station construction
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
March 19, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Residents opposed to a natural gas compressor station being built on the banks of the Fore River want construction stopped amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought much of the country to a halt.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to suspend construction of the Weymouth compressor station, to help slow the spread of the virus.

“This isn’t just about the compressor station, it’s about protecting the community and workers from an ongoing public health crisis,” the group said. “The construction site does not have access to proper sanitation stations, like soap and water, and workers can’t consistently work 6 feet apart.”
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

COLUMBIA GAS

Should the public buy Columbia Gas?
Right now, Eversource is proposing to buy the utility for $1.1b
By Craig Altemose, CommonWealth Magazine – Opinion
March 15, 2020

Public utilities are entities entrusted to provide critical public services to the public. That trust means that they are supposed to receive heightened regulation by the government while being given the gift of a government-sanctioned monopoly (i.e. if you live in their territory, they are your exclusive provider). This arrangement is meant to serve the public good, and yet in just the past two years, our public utilities failed us in virtually every way imaginable.

We have recently experienced massive lapses in safety, long-term disruptions of service, the lock-out and denial of healthcare benefits to trained workers, and continued refusal to embrace critical values of public health and climate stability in the governance of our utilities. Indeed, these utilities have used ratepayer dollars to fund exorbitant executive packages (Eversource CEO Tom May makes close to $10 million a year to head a company whose customers broadly had the choice of either buying from his company or sitting in the cold and dark in the homes) and lobby against the public interest.

So this sale is coming at a time ripe for consideration of the idea of public ownership of our public gas and electric utilities.
» Read article     

» More about Columbia Gas

FERC / LNG / OTHER PIPELINES

fossil boosting FERC
Bad news about FERC & Jordan Cove
By Drew Hudson, 198 Methods
March 20, 2020

As we feared, and warned only yesterday, in the midst of the global pandemic the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conditionally approved the Jordan Cove fracked gas export terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline today.

The approval is conditioned on Pembina, the Canadian fossil fuel corporation behind the project, qualifying for critical permits from the state of Oregon, three of which have already been denied or withdrawn. But it’s still an incredibly disappointing decision from a rogue, rubber stamp agency.

It was only last Thursday that Senate Republicans rammed through a vote on James Danly to be a new commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Danly is the first totally partisan nominee – traditionally one Democrat and one Republican are nominated together. While a handful of Senators commented on the unusual decision to stack a supposedly bi-partisan commission with three Republicans and one Democrat.
» Read article

Senate Confirms Third Republican to FERC, Breaking With Precedent
James Danly’s confirmation breaks bipartisan norms at the federal energy regulator that’s already under fire for aiding fossil fuels in key decisions.
By Jeff St. John, Green Tech Media
March 12, 2020

The U.S. Senate confirmed James Danly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday, stacking a third Republican against the lone Democrat on the board of a federal agency that has increasingly been seen as using its authority over interstate energy markets to privilege fossil fuels over renewables.

Danly, who will fill the seat left vacant by the death of Chairman Kevin McIntyre, graduated from law school in 2013 and worked as a corporate energy lawyer before he was named general counsel at FERC in 2017. His lack of experience in the industries he will now regulate has drawn sharp criticism from Senate Democrats, and his nomination last year was initially rejected by the Senate in January, before being sent back by the Trump administration last month.
» Read article

» More about FERC / LNG / Other Pipelines    

CLIMATE

CFC banks
Emissions of several ozone-depleting chemicals are larger than expected
Recovering and safely destroying the sources of these chemicals could speed ozone recovery and reduce climate change.
By Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office
March 17, 2020

In 2016, scientists at MIT and elsewhere observed the first signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer. This environmental milestone was the result of decades of concerted effort by nearly every country in the world, which collectively signed on to the Montreal Protocol. These countries pledged to protect the ozone layer by phasing out production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, which are also potent greenhouse gases.

While the ozone layer is on a recovery path, scientists have found unexpectedly high emissions of CFC-11 and CFC-12, raising the possibility of production of the banned chemicals that could be in violation of the landmark global treaty. Emissions of CFC-11 even showed an uptick around 2013, which has been traced mainly to a source in eastern China. New data suggest that China has now tamped down on illegal production of the chemical, but emissions of CFC-11 and 12 emission are still larger than expected.

Now MIT researchers have found that much of the current emission of these gases likely stems from large CFC “banks” — old equipment such as building insulation foam, refrigerators and cooling systems, and foam insulation, that was manufactured before the global phaseout of CFCs and is still leaking the gases into the atmosphere. Based on earlier analyses, scientists concluded that CFC banks would be too small to contribute very much to ozone depletion, and so policymakers allowed the banks to remain.

It turns out there are oversized banks of both CFC-11 and CFC-12. The banks slowly leak these chemicals at concentrations that, if left unchecked, would delay the recovery of the ozone hole by six years and add the equivalent of 9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — an amount that is similar to the current European Union pledge under the UN Paris Agreement to reduce climate change.
» Read article

Czech resistance
EU Green Deal Should Be Canceled Because of Coronavirus, Czech PM Says
Will COVID-19 be a reason to accelerate or slow Europe’s energy transition? The battle lines are already being drawn.
By John Parnell, Green Tech Media
March 17, 2020

The Czech Republic’s prime minister, Andrej Babiš, has said the European Union should abandon its Green Deal and focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus in an early sign of policy battles ahead.

Announced in December, Europe’s Green New Deal seeks to invest €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) on the road to making the EU economy net-zero carbon by 2050. This would include a huge offshore wind build-out, accelerated electrification of heat and transport, the development of large-scale carbon capture projects and hydrogen storage and infrastructure.

But from the start, the plan came under heavy scrutiny from the coal-heavy Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and the COVID-19 crisis appears to have opened a new avenue for attack.

“Europe should forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead,” Babiš told reporters on Monday.
» Read article

Exxon watching the hen house
Exxon Now Wants to Write the Rules for Regulating Methane Emissions
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 16, 2020

ExxonMobil is a company capable of contradictions. It has been lobbying against government efforts to address climate change while running ads touting its own efforts to do so.

And while the oil giant has been responsible for massive methane releases, Exxon has now proposed a new regulatory framework for cutting emissions of this powerful greenhouse gas that it hopes regulators and industry will adopt. As Exxon put it, the goal is to achieve “cost-effective and reasonable methane-emission regulations.”

“It is not target-based, it is not volume-based,” Exxon’s Norton said. “Again, it’s starting a conversation, saying these are things that you can look at.”

Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University whose work focuses on methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, drew attention to areas of Exxon’s framework he thought were lacking. For starters, he pointed out that the proposed framework does not mention emissions from “imperfect well casings and from abandoned wells,” which Howarth says “can be significant.” He also noted that the proposal does not describe “a methodology for characterizing any of these emissions;  there are techniques for doing so, but there is not much demonstrated use of these techniques by industry.”

Finally — and this is the real danger with any sort of industry self-regulation — Howarth said there must be some type of independent oversight to assess actual emissions instead of relying on the industry to self-report. XTO’s well blowout in Ohio is an excellent example of why this third-party verification is critical. Without oversight, the “system is ripe for abuse,” according to Howarth.
» Read article

Greta Not
Heartland Launches Website of Contrarian Climate Science Amid Struggles With Funding and Controversy
Dogged by layoffs, a problematic spokesperson and an investigation by European journalists, the climate skeptics’ institute returns to its old tactics.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
March 13, 2020

The conservative Heartland Institute, which made its name undercutting mainstream climate science, has launched a new effort to try to influence public discussion and political debate about global warming.

The move comes as the organization is reportedly struggling financially and has fallen into renewed controversy over its work in Europe promoting climate denial there. Last week it laid off staff just weeks after it announced the hiring of a teenage German climate skeptic to counter the global popularity of environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

The new website, called Climate at a Glance, includes brief explanations of key climate science and policy issues, many of which are either misleading or inaccurate.

In February, European journalists published an investigation about Heartland’s efforts to sow its climate denial in Europe. The journalists went undercover, posing as public relations consultants working for clients in the energy and auto industries. The report detailed Heartland’s methods for channeling donations through a third party, and “how disinformation is professionally scattered around society.”
» Read article       
» Read Published Investigation (English)

» More about climate           

CLEAN ENERGY

COVID-19 threatens renewables
For Wind and Solar Sectors, Biggest Coronavirus Risk May Be a Damaged Economy
It seemed that nothing could slow the global renewable-energy juggernaut. Nothing, that is, until COVID-19.
By Karl-Erik Stromsta, Green Tech Media
March 15, 2020

It seemed that nothing could slow the global renewable-energy juggernaut. Nothing, that is, until COVID-19.

From the solar factory floors of China’s Jiangsu province to wind farm country in West Texas, the clean-energy industries are struggling to gauge the potential damage that lies ahead — and it’s not a pretty picture.

Late last week, Bloomberg New Energy Finance lowered its 2020 global solar demand forecast to a range of 108 to 143 gigawatts — a drop of 9 percent at the low end compared to the market researcher’s prior estimate. That could mean the first down year for global solar installations since the 1980s.

Jenny Chase, BNEF’s head of solar, said the issue of equipment supply seems to be sorting itself out as China’s factories rumble back into production.

“We think there will be a recession,” Chase said on Friday, and the implications could spell trouble for solar manufacturers. “In general, this is a sector of companies that are heavily indebted and making slim margins.”

In the U.S., the world’s second-largest renewables market after China, the biggest immediate threat from COVID-19 is to the wind industry, which was otherwise on track for a record year of installations.

2020 is critical because it’s the last year for developers to complete projects that qualified for the full production tax credit (PTC), the industry’s main subsidy. As a result, the industry was already expected to be pushed beyond its limits this year. Wood Mackenzie previously warned of many U.S. wind projects “at risk” of missing the 2020 deadline, threatening their underlying economics.
» Read article 

Could the Oil Price Collapse Drive More Investment Into Renewables?
Oil companies have long argued that renewables projects offer lower returns. “That argument no longer holds at $35 per barrel.”
By John Parnell Green Tech Media
March 13, 2020

Low oil prices will test the resolve of the majors’ energy transition plans, but analysts expect the companies’ long-term commitments to decarbonization and renewable energy to remain intact.

A dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia has sent a flood of cheap oil and gas into global markets just as the COVID-19 pandemic is stifling demand.

This market dislocation comes at a time when European oil majors including Shell, Total, Repsol and BP are embarking seriously down a path toward emission reductions and the diversification of their businesses into renewables, e-mobility and other energy services.

Oil companies have been notoriously slow in pivoting their businesses toward cleaner energy sources. Will the current market storm change that? Might it even accelerate the transition?
» Read article

interconnection queue
Wind, solar and storage take up 95% of ISO-New England interconnection queue, marking ‘dramatic shift’
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
March 9, 2020

About 95% of nearly 21 GW of energy resources currently proposed for the New England region are grid-scale wind, solar and battery projects, according to the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE).

The number “reflects a dramatic shift” in the grid operator’s interconnnection queue, ISO-NE president and CEO Gordon van Welie said in a press call on Friday. Five years ago, the majority of projects sought by developers were natural gas resources, he said.
» Read article

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

three states boost EVsFlorida, Utah, Washington approve bills to boost EVs, including $50M Rocky Mountain Power charging plan
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
March 16, 2020

State lawmakers took significant steps last week to bolster adoption of emissions-free transportation, in moves that could result in millions of dollars in charging infrastructure investment and more electric vehicles on the road.

Emissions benefits would be “maximized” if PacifiCorp reduces its reliance on coal-fired power plants and adds more renewable energy, “so those electric vehicles could be charged on a clean electricity grid,” Aaron Kressig, Western Resource Advocates’ transportation electrification manager, said in a statement.

PacifiCorp last year announced a plan to add nearly 7,000 MW of renewable generation and storage capacity by 2025 and shut down 20 of its 24 coal-fired units by 2038.
» Read article

EV tax credit threat
Oil Industry Front Group Launches Latest Attack on Electric Vehicle Tax Credit in Senate Energy Bill
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 13, 202
0

As this week the U.S. Senate tries to advance stalled bipartisan energy legislation, the American Energy Alliance (AEA) last week announced its latest initiative opposing any tax credit extension for electric vehicles (EV) in that bill.

Through a series of digital ads, the group, which receives a substantial share of its donations from an oil refinery trade group, is calling on Senate Republicans to squash a proposed amendment expanding the number of vehicles eligible for the credit.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation      

ENERGY STORAGE

module-level micro-storage
Yotta Energy is putting batteries under solar modules — in the same spirit as microinverters and optimizers
Yotta has a potential solution for solar-plus-storage in the urban environment. Will the micro-storage startup become the next SolarEdge or Enphase? Or the next JLM energy? And whatever happened to SolPad?
By Eric Wesoff, PV Magazine
February 18, 2020

Ten years ago, the idea of putting a microinverter or optimizer behind a rooftop solar panel was a bit of a reliability stretch. Today, module-level panel electronics warrants its own acronym and enjoys an 80% percent market share in the U.S. residential solar market.

Yotta Energy believes batteries are headed in the same direction — to module-level micro-storage — and is deploying a 52-pound, 1 kW-hr lithium iron-phosphate battery on the same solar module racking gear that holds the ballast.
» Read article       

» More about energy storage    

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Exxon Loses Jurisdiction Fight in Massachusetts Climate Suit
By Erik Larson, Bloomberg Green
March 17, 2020

Exxon Mobil Corp. suffered a setback in a climate change case when a federal judge ruled that a consumer protection lawsuit filed by Massachusetts should go back to state court.

U.S. District Judge William G. Young in Boston on Tuesday ordered the litigation back to Suffolk County Superior Court, where Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued in October. The state accused the energy giant of hiding its early knowledge of climate change from the public and misleading investors about the future financial impact of global warming.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels   

PLASTICS RECYCLING

gasification graphic
Is turning waste plastic into fuel the answer to our waste management and energy woes? Probably not…
By Steve Ahlquist, Uprise RI
March 13, 2020

The first meeting of the “Special Legislative Commission to Study the Merits and Feasibility of a Pyrolysis or Gasification Facility in the State of Rhode Island” took place at the Rhode Island State House on Wednesday.

Presenting at the first meeting was Craig Cookson, Senior Director Recycling and Recovery at the American Chemistry Council and Kevin Budris, a lawyer from Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Rhode Island who heads up the Zero Waste Project.

Cookson’s presentation painted a very rosy picture of pyrolysis and gasification, Budris called into question or debunked nearly all of Cookson’s arguments.

Cookson argued that waste plastic, which is overwhelming our landfills, can best be dealt with by using pyrolysis to convert these plastics into liquid fuels, which can then be burned to power motor vehicles or satisfy other energy needs. Budris disagreed, saying that, “the best way to move away from waste plastics isn’t to find new, creative things to do with them once they become waste, it’s to just move away from them.”

Budris took issue with Cookson’s assertion that plastics are part of a “circular economy.”

“What we’re talking about here is producing fuels from plastics through gasification,” said Budris, countering Cookson. “Producing fuels from plastic is not a circular economy. That’s linear. You have plastic that moves through its life, it’s turned into fuel, and that fuel is burned. That is a one way street.
» Read article

» More about plastics recycling   

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Weekly News Check-In 3/13/20

WNCI-6

Welcome back.

A lot of this week’s news relates to the widening effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With public health a top priority, Weymouth Compressor Station opponents have begun to postpone some planned gatherings. You’ll see the virus take a lead role in articles throughout this post.

Opponents of the Granite Bridge Pipeline stood up and were counted at Exeter’s town meeting. Meanwhile, Greenpeace activists who blocked access to Houston’s oil port last September avoided felony charges for that unconventional act of protest.

We found some interesting examples of pending state and federal legislation. Even a quick scan of these articles offers insight about the support and opposition surrounding efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our climate section underscores the urgency for action, including a recent report by the World Meteorological Organization that warns we’re falling far behind the emissions reduction schedule required to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Clean transportation may benefit from General Motors’ recommitment to electric vehicles. The EV press is warily hopeful that the company is serious this time, since some of its past efforts have fallen short of the hype.

The fossil fuel industry is battered by low prices and falling demand at a time when fracking finances are already on shaky ground. At the same time, climate-related lawsuits multiply, advance, and demand a reckoning. Even so, the industry continues to wield incredible influence and remains a formidable barrier to meaningful action on climate change.

And last week, Rolling Stone published a big article calling out the plastics and fossil fuel industries for flooding the planet with forever-pollutants while working overtime to avoid shouldering the cleanup costs – passing those off to consumers and the environment. “More than half the plastic now on Earth has been created since 2002″….

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

gatherings discouraged
Coronavirus cancelations hit South Shore as residents, employers prepare
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger, in Wicked Local Weymouth
March 10, 2020

Weymouth resident Andrea Honore planned to host a political meet-and-greet with candidate Brianna Wu and several dozen others at her house on March 25, but said she decided to postpone the event on Monday after seeing that the countries forcing quarantines and limiting gatherings are having some success controlling the disease.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

NH Primary Source: Exeter voters oppose Granite Bridge pipeline
By John DiStaso, WMUR News
March 12,  2020

TOWN MEETING VOTE. Exeter voters on Tuesday turned thumbs down on the proposed Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline project, which is currently under review by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

The project calls for a $414 million, 27-mile, 16-inch pipeline and a liquified national gas storage tank in Epping. If approved by the PUC, the project would then be subject to review by the state Site Evaluation Committee. Consultants hired by the PUC opposed approval of the project last fall.

The plan calls for the pipeline to be located on state property along Route 101 from Exeter to Manchester, passing through Brentwood, Epping, Raymond, Candia and Auburn.

Although the communities affected have no veto power, Exeter residents voted by a 1,605-897 margin, approving a warrant article that asks town officials to express opposition to the project.
» Read article

» More about the Granite Bridge Pipeline

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

hanging tough
Greenpeace Activists Avoid Felony Charges Following a Protest Near Houston’s Oil Port
Prosecutors in Harris County downgraded charges against a group of protesters to misdemeanors before a grand jury indictment Wednesday.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
March 6, 2020

Texas prosecutors downgraded charges filed against a group of Greenpeace activists on Wednesday, deferring a potential courtroom debate over a controversial new law the state passed last year.

More than two dozen protesters were arrested in September after several had dangled themselves off a bridge over the Houston Ship Channel, a vital conduit in one of the nation’s busiest oil ports.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office had originally charged the protesters with felonies under the new law, which imposes harsh penalties on anyone who disrupts energy infrastructure. But prosecutors changed the charges to misdemeanors on the same day that a grand jury indicted 23 of the protesters on those misdemeanors.
» Read article

» More about protests and direct action

LEGISLATION

misguided energy bill
Delayed Senate Energy Bill Promotes LNG Exports, ‘Clean Coal’ and Geoengineering
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
March 11, 2020

The huge bipartisan energy bill currently stalled in the Senate would fast-track exports of fracked gas, offer over a billion dollars in subsidies to “clean coal” efforts and make available hundreds of millions in tax dollars for a geoengineering pilot project.

Called the the American Energy Innovation Act, the 600-page bill is a compilation of 50 bills previously introduced by members of Congress.

The legislation has thus far received bipartisan support because it contains subsidies for renewable energy sources including wind, solar, and geothermal. It also creates federal financial incentives for creating energy-efficient buildings and boosts funding for energy storage. For that, it has garnered lobbying support from the likes of the American Council on Renewable Energy, the Nature Conservancy, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The act has garnered widespread fossil fuel industry approval from organizations such as the American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, industry front group the Consumer Energy Alliance, the petrochemical trade association the American Chemistry Council, the National Mining Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a slew of others.

Outside of the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage clauses, the energy bill contains provisions aiming to ease the way for exports of so-called “small scale” LNG export terminals, which rely on slightly smaller tankers and keep the LNG in liquid form instead of re-gasifying it.

The Senate bill also offers over $367.8 million in federal funding through 2024 to test out a geoengineering pilot project for a technique called direct air capture, which involves vacuuming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Geoengineering is a proposal to use various technologies with goals of either removing greenhouse gases already emitted or reversing global warming.
» Read article

Act on Climate 2020
Act on Climate bill faces resistance in [RI] House Environment Committee
By Steve Ahlquist, Uprise RI
March 8, 2020

Public testimony was heard by the House Environmental Committee on the Act on Climate 2020 bill, H7399. Dozens of people came out to testify for the short, simple bill that would strengthen Rhode Island’s commitment to fighting climate change through the establishment of a statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction mandate. The bill would require Rhode Island to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent by 2050 and would bring Rhode Island into line with the mandatory, enforceable greenhouse gas emission reductions already in place in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut.
» Read article       
» Read Act on Climate 2020 bill H7399

Clean Economy Act VAVirginia Mandates 100% Clean Power by 2045
The Clean Economy Act will drive utility Dominion to procure gigawatts of solar, offshore wind and energy storage.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
March 6, 2020

Virginia has become the latest state to pass a law that sets it on a path to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, as well as setting targets for massive investments in energy efficiency, energy storage, and in-state solar and wind power.

The Clean Economy Act passed Virginia’s House of Delegates by a 51-45 vote on Thursday and the state Senate by a 22-17 vote on Friday, clearing the way for the bill to be signed by Governor Ralph Northam, who issued an executive order calling for it last year.

The primary feature of the law, SB 851, is its call for Dominion Virginia (the state’s dominant utility) and the smaller Appalachian Power Co. to supply 30 percent of their power from renewables by 2030, and to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045 for Dominion and by 2050 for Appalachian.
» Read article 

fracking ban support
Over 570 Groups Endorse Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez’s Fracking Ban Act as ‘Essential and Urgent Climate Action’
“The path to a Green New Deal starts with bold action to restrict the supply of fossil fuels, and that is precisely why a ban on fracking is an absolute necessity.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 20, 2020


More than 570 national, regional, and local groups signed on to a letter Thursday endorsing the first-ever national legislation that would immediately prohibit federal permits for new fracking or related infrastructure and fully ban the practice in the United States beginning in 2025.

“At a time when study after study reveals the urgent need to rapidly move away from fossil fuels and onto 100% renewable energy, we write to express our strong support for the Fracking Ban Act,” declares the letter (pdf), organized by the national advocacy group Food & Water Action. “As we witness increasingly extreme impacts of the climate crisis, the federal government must act to stop the expansion of fossil fuels.”

The Fracking Ban Act (S. 3247/H. 5857) was introduced in the upper chamber last month by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a top 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and in the lower chamber last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a supporter of Sanders’ presidential campaign and the main House sponsor of the Green New Deal.
» Read article       
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/20/over-570-groups-endorse-sanders-and-ocasio-cortezs-fracking-ban-act-essential-and
» Read letter
» Read The Fracking Ban Act (
S. 2347 / H. 5857)

» Read more about climate legislation

CLIMATE

you got to move
Trump Administration Presses Cities to Evict Homeowners From Flood Zones

By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
March 11, 2020

WASHINGTON — The federal government is giving local officials nationwide a painful choice: Agree to use eminent domain to force people out of flood-prone homes, or forfeit a shot at federal money they need to combat climate change.

That choice, part of an effort by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect people from disasters, is facing officials from the Florida Keys to the New Jersey coast, including Miami, Charleston, S.C., and Selma, Ala. Local governments seeking federal money to help people leave flood zones must first commit to push out people who refuse to move.

In one city in the heartland, the letters have already started going out.
» Read article

Unisphere chiller
‘Time is fast running out’: World Meteorological Organization warns climate efforts are falling short
“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
By Denise Chow, NBC News
March 10, 2020

The world is significantly falling short when it comes to efforts to curb climate change, according to a new report released Tuesday by the World Meteorological Organization.

The intergovernmental organization’s assessment evaluated a range of so-called global climate indicators in 2019, including land temperatures, ocean temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, sea-level rise and melting ice. The report finds that most of these indicators are increasing, which means the planet is veering way off track in trying to control the pace of global warming.
» Read article       
» Read report        

Hawaii dives in
‘Fossil Fuel Companies Knew’: Honolulu Files Lawsuit Over Climate Impacts
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 9, 2020

Hawaii has officially joined the fight to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the climate crisis. On Monday the City of Honolulu filed a lawsuit against 10 oil and gas companies, seeking monetary damages to help pay for costs associated with climate impacts like sea level rise and flooding.

The lawsuit, filed in Hawaii state court, is based on claims of nuisance, failure to warn, and trespass and alleges that the climate impacts facing the city stem from the oil companies’ decades-long campaign to mislead policymakers and the public on the dangers of fossil fuels.

“For decades and decades the fossil fuel companies knew that the products they were selling would have tremendous damaging economic impacts for local governments, cities, and counties that our taxpayers are going to be forced to bear,” Honolulu’s chief resilience officer Josh Stanbro said at a press briefing outside the courthouse on Monday. “Instead of disclosing that information, they covered up the information, they promoted science that wasn’t sound, and in the process have sowed confusion with the public, with regulators, and with local governments.”

“This case is very similar to Big Tobacco lying about their products, as well as the pharmaceutical companies pushing an opioid epidemic,” added Council Budget Chair Joey Manahan.
» Read article

state rights asserted
Maryland Climate Ruling a Setback for Oil and Gas Industry
The decision thwarts the fossil fuel industry’s argument that the city’s lawsuit belongs in federal court, and may influence similar cases around the country.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
March 6, 2020

A lawsuit for damages related to climate change brought by the city of Baltimore can be heard in Maryland state courts, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday. The decision is a setback for the fossil fuel industry, which had argued that the case should be heard in federal court, where rulings in previous climate cases have favored the industry.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit of Appeals dismissed the industry’s argument that the lawsuit was more appropriate for federal court because the damage claims should be weighed against federal laws and regulations that permitted the industry to extract oil and gas, the primary cause of the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming.
» Read article

» Read more about climate      

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Ultium platform
Inside Clean Energy: General Motors Wants to Go Big on EVs
The auto giant’s Bolt and Volt models never sold well, but now the company is touting a battery that has more range than Tesla’s.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
March 12, 2020

General Motors had a splashy event last week to announce a rededication to electric vehicles.

A lot was said, but what got my attention was one number: $100 per kilowatt-hour.

That’s the battery cost at which the price of an EV will be at about parity with the cost of a gasoline vehicle, according to analysts. And that’s the number GM said it soon will meet and then beat with a new Ultium battery system it is developing through a partnership with LG Chem.

Another important number: GM said its new battery system will be capable of going up to 400 miles on a single charge, which is slightly more than the current industry leader Tesla’s range of about 390 miles.
» Read article       
» Reality check on the Tesla-beater claim

flight clinic
Coronavirus Could Slow Efforts to Cut Airlines’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions
By Brad Plumer and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 6, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is pushing the world’s airlines toward financial crisis — and that is starting to complicate efforts to tame airlines’ greenhouse gas emissions, which had been growing rapidly in recent years.

Even though, in the short term, airlines have seen a sharp decline in air travel, and therefore emissions, demand is widely expected to bounce back eventually as the world resumes its embrace of flying. But in the meantime, the airline industry, an increasingly important contributor of planet-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is citing the financial pain caused by the heath scare as reason to weaken longer-term efforts to fight global warming.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation       

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Senate hearing on climate threat to econ
In Senate Hearing, Economic Experts Warn Climate Crisis Could Spur Financial Crash Like 2008
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 12, 2020

Could the climate crisis precipitate a financial crash akin to or even greater than the one in 2008? With markets currently in turmoil due to the coronavirus pandemic, experts testified Thursday that there is high risk for an even larger economic crisis absent urgent climate policy.

A panel of economic experts brought this message to a handful of senators on Capitol Hill during a March 12 hearing convened by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. This hearing on the economic risks of climate change delivered a clear warning that continued inaction on climate will result in enormous economic and societal consequences.

In his closing remarks, Sen. Whitehouse called out the fossil fuel industry and its allies for continued obstruction of climate policy.

“At the moment, what I want to share with the panel and with the world, is that while some of the worst behavior of the fossil fuel industry has been moderated or obscured through deniable intermediaries, and while in my opinion evil institutions like the Heartland Institute appear to be suffering a collapse which could not be more helpful, nevertheless the prevailing political weight of the fossil fuel industry on this body, both directly and through its vast array of intermediary front groups, remains completely opposed to any serious climate legislation,” Whitehouse said.
» Read article

Permian flare Exxon
The Future of Exxon and the Permian’s Flaring Crisis

By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 11, 2020

On March 5, there was a sense of drama and tension unlike in years past as ExxonMobil’s top executives gathered for their annual Investor Day presentation, a highly anticipated event where the oil major lays out its plans for the next few years in an effort to woo investors.

Long a darling of Wall Street, that day the oil major’s share price had fallen to a 15-year low. Battered by a volatile oil market and increasing scrutiny over the climate crisis, investors wanted answers on how Exxon planned on dealing with the shifting landscape.

“ExxonMobil is committed to being part of the solution,” CEO Darren Woods said. “We’re investing in new energy supplies to improve global living standards, working on technologies that are needed to reduce emissions and supporting sensible policies, such as those putting a price on carbon or regulations to reduce emissions of methane.”

Beneath that rhetoric is a bitter reality: Exxon flares more gas than any other company in the Permian Basin, America’s most prolific oil field, emitting massive volumes of greenhouse gases as well as toxic pollution that fouls the air in West Texas. The oil giant’s long history of funding climate science denial has given way to a craftier position of pledging support for climate goals while leaving an aggressive drilling and growth strategy mostly unchanged.
» Read article 

BP what it takes
The Loopholes Lurking in BP’s New Climate Aims

By Emily Bugden and Kelly Trout, Oil Change International, Blog Post
March 11, 2020

What would a meaningful climate commitment from BP look like?

Figure 2 below gives a sense of what a serious commitment to the Paris goals would look like for BP. It shows Rystad Energy’s projection of BP’s production to 2050, based on the company’s existing plans, against the rate of decline for oil and gas use under the most precautionary illustrative 1.5ºC energy pathway included in the IPCC special report (P1, which excludes BECCS).

If BP is serious about aligning with the full ambition of the Paris Agreement, the company’s investment in new exploration and expansion would need to stop today. More than that, it would need to decide which already-developed projects it will shut down early.
» Read article

Mr Misstep
Stock Market Turmoil Undermines Claimed Energy Dominance Benefits of US Shale Drilling
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 9, 2020

Oil prices collapsed today amid falling energy demand and the global response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide reached over 113,000. On Friday, talks disintegrated inside the so-called OPEC+ alliance, which includes Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as non-OPEC members like Russia.

This breakdown kicked off a global oil price war that left Wall Street reeling on Monday, threatening the already troubled U.S. shale oil and gas industry and challenging the resilience of the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” theory that argues domestic shale oil production benefits national security and insulates the U.S. against the actions of other countries. Instead, relying on a shaky shale industry may have left the U.S. economy more vulnerable during times of crisis.

The price tag on a barrel of oil plunged over the weekend and continued its steep fall on Monday. Goldman Sachs Group warned that oil prices could fall as low as $20 a barrel. Meanwhile, the minimum price it would take for a new shale well to recoup its costs in Texas’ Permian basin is $48 a barrel, Goldman projects. In contrast, Saudi Arabia’s production costs are said to be $2.80 a barrel.
» Read article

what it means
Saudi Oil Price Cut Is a Market Shock With Wide Tremors
Oil producers in the United States and other nations brace for lower revenue, reduced investment and job losses as a global glut is compounded.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 9, 2020

HOUSTON — The sudden upheaval in the oil markets may claim victims around the world, from energy companies and their workers to governments whose budgets are pegged to the price of crude.

The fallout may take months to assess. But the impact on the American economy is bound to be considerable, especially in Texas and other states where oil drives much of the job market.

With the coronavirus outbreak slowing trade, transportation and other energy-intensive economic activities, demand is likely to remain weak. Even if Russia and Saudi Arabia resolve their differences — which led the Saudis to slash prices after Russia refused to join in production cuts — a global oil glut could keep prices low for years.
» Read article

boss move
How a Saudi-Russian Standoff Sent Oil Markets Into a Frenzy
Moscow refused to accept production cuts to offset the effect of the coronavirus outbreak. Now Saudi Arabia is trying an alternative: inflicting pain.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 9, 2020

For the last three years, two factors have been hugely influential in the oil markets. The first has been the surge of shale oil production in the United States, which has turned the country from a large oil importer to an increasingly important exporter. The second is the alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which recently have cooperated in trimming production to try to counter shale’s impact.

Now that cooperation between two of the world’s three largest oil producers — the third is the United States — appears to be at an end. Saudi Arabia, as the dominant member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, last week proposed production cuts to offset the collapse in demand from the spreading coronavirus outbreak. Russia, which is not an OPEC member, refused to go along. And the impasse has turned into open hostilities.
» Read article

dog day Dow
As Dow falls by 2,000 points, White House calls on Wall Street executives
Wall Street executives are to meet with President Trump on Wednesday to discuss the response to the outbreak.
By Lucy Bayly, NBC News
March 9, 2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by more than 2,000 points Monday afternoon, part of a global market rout caused by collapsing oil prices and fears that the coronavirus epidemic would stymie the global economy.

Traders had anticipated a bloodbath on Monday, after oil prices cratered overnight by 30 percent and European exchanges saw their worst day since June 23, 2016, when Britain voted to leave the European Union.
» Read article

cheap and crude
Oil Prices, Stocks Plunge After Saudi Arabia Stuns World With Massive Discounts
By Avie Schneider, Camila Domonoske, NPR Morning Edition
March 8, 2020

Oil prices and stock indexes were in freefall Sunday after Saudi Arabia announced a stunning discount in oil prices — of $6 to $8 per barrel — to its customers in Asia, the United States and Europe.

Benchmark Brent crude oil futures dove 30% — the steepest drop since the Gulf War in 1991 — in early trading Sunday night before recovering slightly to a drop of 24%. The benchmark Brent crude oil price fell below $34 per barrel.

The oil price shocks reverberated throughout financial markets. Dow futures dropped more than 1,000 points, S&P 500 futures hit their limits after tumbling 5%, and the key 10-year Treasury note yield fell below 0.5%, a record low.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest producer, this weekend said it will actually boost oil production instead of cutting it to stem falling prices, in a dramatic reversal in policy.
» Read article

expensive and underperforming
‘Expensive and underperforming’: energy audit finds gas power running well below capacity
Report challenges justification for [Australia] government underwriting of up to five new gas-fired generators
By Adam Morton, the Guardian
March 7, 2020

Australia’s existing gas power plants are running well below capacity, challenging the justification for a Morrison government program that may support up to five new gas-fired generators, according to a new report.

Energy analyst Hugh Saddler, from Australian National University’s Crawford school of public policy, found the combined-cycle gas plants in the national grid – those expected to be available near constantly, sometimes described as “baseload” – ran at just 30% capacity across the past 18 months.

The Australia Institute, the thinktank that publishes Saddler’s monthly energy audit which includes the gas analysis, said it suggested the government’s commitment to underwrite new gas generators made little sense, and if it wanted to increase supply it should find ways to get the current fleet to operate at greater capacity.
» Read article

» More about the fossil fuel industry

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION


planet plastic
Planet Plastic

How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades
By Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone
March 3, 2020

More than half the plastic now on Earth has been created since 2002, and plastic pollution is on pace to double by 2030. At its root, the global plastics crisis is a product of our addiction to fossil fuels. The private profit and public harm of the oil industry is well understood: Oil is refined and distributed to consumers, who benefit from gasoline’s short, useful lifespan in a combustion engine, leaving behind atmospheric pollution for generations. But this same pattern — and this same tragedy of the commons — is playing out with another gift of the oil-and-gas giants, whose drilling draws up the petroleum precursors for plastics. These are refined in industrial complexes and manufactured into bottles, bags, containers, textiles, and toys for consumers who benefit from their transient use — before throwing them away.

“Plastics are just a way of making things out of fossil fuels,” says Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network. BAN is devoted to enforcement of the Basel Convention, an international treaty that blocks the developed world from dumping hazardous wastes on the developing world, and was recently expanded, effective next year, to include plastics. For Americans who religiously sort their recycling, it’s upsetting to hear about plastic being lumped in with toxic waste. But the poisonous parallel is apt. When it comes to plastic, recycling is a misnomer. “They really sold people on the idea that plastics can be recycled because there’s a fraction of them that are,” says Puckett. “It’s fraudulent. When you drill down into plastics recycling, you realize it’s a myth.”
» Read article

» More about the plastics / fracking connection  

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Weekly News Check-In 3/6/20

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

Pipeline litigation is before the US Supreme Court. The case concerns whether the US Forest Service has authority to allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail – but the implications are much broader.

We offer two more articles on plans for the troubled Columbia Gas to sell its Massachusetts business to Eversource.

In climate news, we found a report on the expanding practice of cloud seeding to increase snowfall in mountains where snow pack serves both the ski industry and also provides a critical water source for downslope communities. Also, a recently discovered peat bog in central Africa could release massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere if oil development is allowed to proceed.

The US Energy Information Agency released information on the growth of renewable energy. Wind and solar are coming on strong, but there’s a long way to go. A niche market for high temperature industrial processes and some transportation applications could provide an opportunity for renewable hydrogen – where the energy to split hydrogen atoms from water molecules comes from wind or solar sources. Today’s conventional hydrogen is far from “green”, and is derived from natural gas.

The regional Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) is being undermined by David Schnare and the Koch-tied think tank Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute. We found an excellent bit of investigative reporting on this extensive disinformation campaign.

The fossil fuel industry is having a hard time explaining why investors keep losing their shirts in fracking plays. With new investors increasingly hard to come by, calls for financial fraud investigations grow louder. Meanwhile, the new coronavirus is hammering away at global energy demand – unsettling oil markets.

New York’s statewide plastic bag ban is now in effect, knocking a 23 billion bag per year hole in that market.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Gorsuch opines
Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch warns of unintended consequences in Atlantic Coast Pipeline case
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
February 25, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from two consolidated cases on Monday, regarding a lower court’s decision to reject the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to issue a key permit for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

One extreme-case scenario, Justice Neil Gorsuch warned, is that if the lower court’s decision is upheld, more pipelines could inadvertently be “invited” along the Pacific Crest Trail, along the West Coast. The environmental advocates responding in the Supreme Court case and several environmental groups dispute the legal and actionable feasibility of this argument.
» Read article        

» More about gas pipelines  

COLUMBIA GAS

eversource expanding
Eversource to buy Columbia Gas following plea agreement
By Danielle Eaton, the Reminder
March 4, 2020

GREATER SPRINGFIELD –  Nearly two years after the tragic gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts (CMA) admitted fault for the tragedy, will pay millions of dollars in fines and sell their Massachusetts business.

The explosions, which took place on Sept. 13, 2018, killed one person, injured 22 and damaged 131 homes and commercial buildings, according to a press release from U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling’s office. The plea agreement and its terms were announced on Feb. 26.

The agreement, according to Lelling’s office, requires the company to pay a $53 million fine, which is “the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the Pipeline Safety Act.” The fee “represents twice the amount of profits CMA earned between 2015 and 2018 from a pipeline infrastructure program called the Gas System Enhancement Plan (GSEP).”
» Read article       

Columbia gas to Eversource - questions
Eversource purchase of Columbia Gas: Councilor Jesse Lederman calls for hearing in Springfield
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
March 03, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — City Councilor Jesse Lederman has asked state regulators to host here in Springfield at least one of the hearings on the pending purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts by Eversource Energy.

Eversource, a company made up of the former Western Massachusetts Electric Co., announced last week its plan to buy Columbia Gas’ Massachusetts operations now owned by NiSource for $1.1 billion.

Lederman said more clarity is needed on the future of the proposed “Greater Springfield Reliability Project,” a proposal Columbia Gas has been pursuing to construct new infrastructure off the Tennessee Gas Pipeline in Longmeadow and route it into Springfield.

“Will Eversource continue this proposed expansion once they acquire Columbia Gas?” Lederman wrote. “If so, will they follow the same timeline?”
» Read article        

» More about Columbia Gas

CLIMATE

cloud seeding
Helping the Snow Gods: Cloud Seeding Grows as Weapon Against Global Warming
New research supports seeding efforts to bolster water supplies in drying regions, but some scientists question its effectiveness in addressing climate change.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
March 4, 2020

Winter bonfires paying homage to snow gods have long been a tradition in cold weather regions around the world.

But in the last 70 years or so, communities in the western United States have gone beyond rituals and added a technological twist. Across hundreds of mountaintops, from the Sierra Nevada to the Sawtooths, Wasatch and Colorado Front Range, cloud seeding experts are now often burning small amounts of silver iodide with the aim of bolstering dwindling water supplies.

The vaporized metal particles are ideal kernels for new ice crystals. When moist, super-cooled air rises over mountain ranges under predictable winds, it sets up perfect conditions for the crystalline alchemy that creates snow, the white gold craved by ski resorts, ranchers and farmers and even distant cities that need mountain water to survive.

The scramble for water has intensified as global warming has battered much of the West during the last 20 years with heat waves, droughts and wildfires. With projections for declining snowpack and river flows, cloud seeding is becoming a regional climate adaptation measure costing several million dollars each year. In other regions, including parts of the central United States, seeding has also been used to try and enhance summer rains and to reduce the risk of severe hail storms.
» Read article        

Interior denialist
How a Trump Insider Embeds Climate Denial in Scientific Research
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 2, 2020

An official at the Interior Department embarked on a campaign that has inserted misleading language about climate change — including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial — into the agency’s scientific reports, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The misleading language appears in at least nine reports, including environmental studies and impact statements on major watersheds in the American West that could be used to justify allocating increasingly scarce water to farmers at the expense of wildlife conservation and fisheries.

The effort was led by Indur M. Goklany, a longtime Interior Department employee who, in 2017 near the start of the Trump administration, was promoted to the office of the deputy secretary with responsibility for reviewing the agency’s climate policies. The Interior Department’s scientific work is the basis for critical decisions about water and mineral rights affecting millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of acres of land.
» Read article        

Congo bog play
Plan to drain Congo peat bog for oil could release vast amount of carbon
Drilling in one of the greatest carbon sinks on the planet could release greenhouse gases equivalent to Japan’s annual emissions, experts warn
By Phoebe Weston, The Guardian
February 28, 2020

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/28/ridiculous-plan-to-drain-congo-peat-bog-could-release-vast-amount-of-carbon-aoe
The world’s largest tropical peatlands could be destroyed if plans go ahead to drill for oil under the Congo basin, according to an investigation that suggests draining the area would release the same amount of carbon dioxide as Japan emits annually.

Preserving the Congo’s Cuvette Centrale peatlands, which are the size of England and store 30bn tonnes of carbon, is “absolutely essential” if there is any hope of meeting Paris climate agreement goals, scientists warn.

However, this jungle is now the latest frontier for oil exploration, according to an investigation by Global Witness and the European Investigative Collaborations network that questions claims by developers that the oil deposit could contain 359m barrels of oil.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

clean energy snapshot
Inside Clean Energy: An Energy Snapshot in 5 Charts
New data from the Energy Information Administration show coal tanking, solar surging, wind growing fast and electricity usage remaining stable.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
March 5, 2020

The electricity sector is responsible for more than one-fourth of all of U.S. carbon emissions, ranking just behind transportation as the leading emissions source.

For the country to stave off the most harmful effects of climate change, the sector would need to get its emissions to zero, or close to it, as soon as possible, and the transportation sector would have to make a shift to using electricity, rather than gasoline, as a default fuel.
» Read article        

green hydrogen
Green hydrogen gets real as utility business models and delivery solutions emerge

The fuel may be the only way to meet power system needs in zero emissions scenarios and the market signals to produce and use it are finally clear.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
March 2, 2020

Here are three things power sector policymakers are reaching agreement on: The mid-century goal is a zero emissions economy; wind and solar alone cannot do that; and green hydrogen may be a solution.

Green hydrogen is produced by a renewables-powered electrolyzer that splits water (H2O) to make hydrogen (H2) gas. The process makes renewable hydrogen (RH2) gas more expensive than the wind or solar used to create it, but it can generate zero emissions electricity in turbines or fuel cells, be stored in higher densities and lighter weights than batteries to meet long duration storage needs, and be used in high-heat industrial processes.

At a renewables penetration of “about 60%,” RH2, or comparable long duration storage, “will be necessary” for grid reliability, University of California, Irvine, Chief Scientist of Renewable Fuels and Energy Storage Jeffrey G. Reed told Utility Dive. Alternatives like overbuilding wind and solar or batteries would be much more expensive, he said.
» Read article        

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

David Schnare
Longtime Climate Science Foe David Schnare Uses “Scare Tactics” to Bash Transportation Climate Initiative for Koch-Tied Think Tank
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 3, 2020

Opponents of a regional proposal to curb transportation sector emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are using a number of deceptive tactics to attack and criticize the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Groups tied to the oil industry have pointed to misleading studies, deployed questionable public opinion polling and circulated an open letter in opposition.

In Virginia, a conservative think tank is now touting a biased analysis, dismissed by critics as misleading “scare tactics,” authored by anti-environmental attorney David Schnare, that questions Virginia’s legal authority to participate in the regional program.

Schnare is currently the Director of the Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute, and both he and TJI are part of a larger network linked with fossil fuel interests that work against climate and environmental protection policies.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy is a member of the State Policy Network, a Koch-backed web of right-wing think tanks promoting climate science denial and other policy positions that benefit corporate donors.

Schnare is a former EPA scientist and attorney and initially was a member of President Trump’s EPA transition team. He is affiliated with climate denial groups like the Heartland Institute, and was a speaker at the 2017 Heartland Institute “America First Energy Conference,” where he discussed how to challenge the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding that serves as the basis for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation  

FOSSIL FUELS

fraudsters in frackland
Is the U.S. Fracking Boom Based on Fraud?
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 5, 2020

As more and more players in the fracking industry run out of options and file for bankruptcy, investors are beginning to ask questions about why all the money is gone.

“This is an industry that has always been filled with promoters and stock scams and swindlers and people have made billions when investors have lost their shirts.”
» Read article        

Coronavirus oil cuts
OPEC Proposes a Large Cut in Oil Output
The cartel wants to take 1.5 million barrels a day off the market as the coronavirus outbreak curbs demand. But the assent of Russia and others is needed.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 5, 2020

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries proposed Thursday that oil output be curbed by 1.5 million barrels a day, or 1.5 percent of world oil supplies, to deal with the effects of the spreading coronavirus outbreak on demand.

The proposed cuts are more than most analysts expected but seem unlikely to change the gloomy sentiment in the oil market. After the announcement, prices for Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell about 0.8 percent to $50.71 a barrel.
» Read article        

BP change-up
BP’s Net-Zero Pledge: A Sign of a Growing Divide Between European and U.S. Oil Companies? Or Another Marketing Ploy?
Analysts say European companies are under greater social and governmental pressure to address climate change and reduce emissions. Environmentalists are skeptical.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 29, 2020

In the last month, BP said it had “set a new ambition” to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, and the company withdrew from three oil industry trade groups that have a history of opposing action to fight climate change.

The announcements are the latest signs that a gap may be opening between European and U.S. oil giants over climate change, with the European companies—like the governments of their home countries—committing to much steeper emissions reductions than their American counterparts.

But it is far from clear whether the European companies will take action that matches their commitments.

Environmental advocates say they are skeptical, while energy analysts say the extent of the transformation by BP and others will depend on how well this strategy works in terms of profits and investor response.

“We don’t have time, given the urgency of the climate crisis, to give companies that have a history of spreading disinformation and seeking to block action, the benefit of the doubt,” said Kathy Mulvey, director of the corporate accountability campaign for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
» Read article        

» More about fossil fuels    

PLASTICS BANS

NY bag ban begins
New York: plastic bag ban takes effect to address ‘environmental blights’
Businesses will no longer be allowed to provide or sell plastic bags in third state after California and Oregon to enforce ban
By Miranda Bryant, The Guardian
March 1, 2020

Every year, New York state gets through a staggering 23bn plastic bags – the vast majority of which end up in landfill or polluting streets, green spaces and waterways.

But it is hoped the single-use carriers will become a relic, now a long-awaited state-wide ban on single use plastic bags has come into force.

The new law means most businesses will no longer be allowed to provide or sell plastic bags. However, it will not completely outlaw plastic bags. Notable exceptions include takeaway and delivery food, prescription drugs, rubbish bags, uncooked meat and fish and some non-film plastic “reusable” bags.
» Read article        

» More about plastics bans

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
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» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!