Tag Archives: ACP

Weekly News Check-In 1/8/21

banner 08

Welcome back.

The Trump administration derailed this week, arriving at what some observers might describe as its inevitable destination. But we still managed to keep at least some of our attention on the energy scene.

Opponents of Weymouth’s compressor station have vowed to keep up the fight, focusing on a petition drive and information campaign. That project was typical of the recent fossil fuel infrastructure build-out, where construction proceeded even prior to obtaining final permits. This sets up an awkward situation when, as in the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project is cancelled. Property was taken and damaged. Trees were felled and miles of pipe are in the ground – now what?

ExxonMobil is playing the victim card in an attempt to evade litigation in Massachusetts court, where it is being sued for fraud related to climate change. Ironically, the giant oil company claims that Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit amounts to a SLAPP, or “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation”. Anti-SLAPP legislation exists to protect against lawsuits aimed at quelling free speech, and it’s typically invoked by environmental groups seeking shelter from frivolous litigation brought against them by the fossil fuel industry attempting to quell protest.

Greening the economy inevitably involves building a lot of new green infrastructure, and that requires a whole lot of concrete. To help minimize the embodied carbon in all this new construction, planners are increasingly turning to a new tool: EC3, or the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator.

Our climate section looks back at 2020, which by all accounts was brutal on both an individual and global level. It was the hottest year on record, with the cost of climate-driven disasters doubling in the U.S. from the previous year. And a new study concludes that we’ve now locked in at least two degrees celsius of warming over the preindustrial benchmark.

On a happier note, deep geothermal is a source of clean energy made accessible by drilling techniques and knowledge of geological formations developed by the fracking industry. It is now technologically possible to drill miles down to hot rock, water, and steam in Earth’s mantle, and apply that energy directly to district heating systems.

Energy efficiency is a good news / bad news story this week. On the one hand, Boston is implementing zoning that requires new large buildings to be net-zero energy consumers. The bad news involves a proposed policy change by the International Code Council (ICC), to eliminate voting by municipal officials when a new base energy efficiency code is developed. We feel this is direct blow-back by the powerful building and development lobbies, in response to tremendous voter participation in 2019, which resulted in a roughly 10% improvement in building energy efficiency. We urge you to take just three minutes right now to use this template and object to this anti-democratic policy change (deadline Monday, 1/11 at 8PM).

If you top up your car in Cambridge, you’ll soon notice a sticker on the fuel pump reminding you that burning gasoline is bad for the planet. It also asks users to consider alternative clean transportation.

The big legislative news involves a major climate bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature and currently awaiting Governor Baker’s signature. There is massive public support for this, along with considerable uncertainty about whether or not the Governor will sign it.

The Environmental Protection Agency implemented a rule change that disregards scientific studies unless they fully disclose all underlying data. That sounds reasonable until you consider that any legitimate study involving the effects of pollution on human health necessarily requires vast amounts of personal medical data protected by privacy laws. This is simply another pro-industry, anti-science move by Trump’s EPA, and takes a page directly from the tobacco industry’s original self-defense playbook.

Meanwhile, Mark C. Christie was sworn in this week to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The fossil fuel industry largely shrugged off the Trump administrations offer to lease drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Countering that bit of good news is a disturbing forecast for an expected 12% investment bump in Canada’s oil industry during 2021.

And we wrap up our news with biomass. While the just-passed Massachusetts climate legislation appears to put the brakes on applying renewable energy credits for biomass-to-energy plants, there’s still considerable uncertainty about the fine print. Recently proposed changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard further complicate the situation. Opponents of the proposed biomass generating plant in East Springfield are actively seeking clarification.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRRACS petition drive
Compressor opponents continue their fight
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local
January 4, 2021

WEYMOUTH- The natural gas compressor station could be fully operative sometime in January, but opponents of the facility show no signs of quitting.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the group is launching a No Compressor Weymouth  petition drive for people to state their opposition to the facility to government leaders.

“More than anything, we are trying to get people to know about the situation,” she said. “It makes you a little crazy that there are some people who literally live blocks away from the place, and they don’t know what it is about.”

The compressor station is owned by Enbridge Inc. and is managed by the company’s subsidiary, Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Enbridge received a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January 2017 to construct the facility.

Opponents say the compressor station poses health and safety dangers to Weymouth, Quincy, East Braintree, Hull, and Hingham.

Gas leaks occurred at the facility during tests on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

According to state and local officials, both seepages collectively released 444,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the facility’s air and forced emergency shutdowns.

The leaks are under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor station          

 

PIPELINES

unwrap the ACP
Regulators get plan for undoing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By Sarah Rankin, Associated Press, on PBS News Hour
January 5, 2021

The developers of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline have laid out plans for how they want to go about unwinding the work that was done for the multistate natural gas project and restoring disturbed land.

In a filing with federal regulators made public Tuesday, the pipeline company proposed an approximately two-year timeline for efforts across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, where progress on the project ranged from uninitiated to essentially complete.

The plan outlines where the company wants to clean up felled trees and where it plans to leave them behind, and it proposes abandoning the approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) of pipe that was installed in place.

“We spent the last several months working really closely with landowners and agencies to develop the most responsible approach for closing out the project,” said Aaron Ruby, an employee of lead developer Dominion Energy who has served as a spokesman for the joint project with Duke Energy. “And ultimately our primary goal is to complete the project as efficiently as possible, and with minimal environmental disturbance.”

Ruby also confirmed for the first time that the company does not intend to voluntarily release the easement agreements it secured on landowners’ properties.

In most cases, the legal agreements were obtained through negotiations with landowners, who were paid and who the company has previously said will keep their compensation. But in other cases, in which sometimes vociferously opposed landowners fought the project, the easements were obtained through eminent domain proceedings.
» Read article             

Enbridge utility contractors
Ojibwe bands ask appeals court to stop Enbridge Line 3 construction
The Red Lake and White Earth bands filed suit, the second such filing in a week by pipeline opponents.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
December 30, 2020

Two Ojibwe bands have petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to suspend state regulators’ approval of Enbridge’s new Line 3 and stop construction of the controversial pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The petition filed late Tuesday by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is the second such filing in the past week by pipeline opponents to shut down construction on the $2.6 billion pipeline. Enbridge earlier this month started work on the replacement for the aging and corroding current Line 3 earlier this month.

In a separate filing Wednesday, Friends of the Headwaters also asked the state appellate court to halt the pipeline, citing “irreparable” environmental harm.

The two bands — plus the Sierra Club and the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth — last week sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asking for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of Line 3.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state’s primary pipeline regulator, approved Line 3 in February after nearly six years of review.

Several groups, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, challenged that decision before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing among other things that the PUC didn’t properly evaluate Enbridge’s long-term oil demand forecast.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Mobil in Saugus
Exxon Doubles Its Defense, Urges Mass. State Court to Toss Mass. Attorney General’s Climate Fraud Case with Two Motions to Dismiss

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
January 3, 2021

ExxonMobil is pushing back, and trying to play the victim card, in response to a climate change accountability lawsuit filed in October 2019 by the Massachusetts attorney general alleging investor and consumer fraud over the oil major’s statements and advertising pertaining to its fossil fuel products and their impacts on the climate system.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil on October 24, 2019 for allegedly misleading investors and consumers on climate risks of Exxon’s business and products – including systemic risks to the economy – in violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection statute. The complaint includes allegations of failing to disclose climate-related risks to Exxon’s business to investors, deceptive marketing of certain Exxon products as environmentally friendly to consumers, and ongoing misleading or greenwashed advertising of the company to obscure Exxon’s harmful environmental and climate impact. It is just one of almost two dozen lawsuits targeting Exxon and similar petroleum giants for deceptive behavior on the climate consequences of their products to protect their business interests.

The oil major is not only pushing back with a standard motion to dismiss, but is complaining that its protected speech or “petitioning rights” are unlawfully targeted by the lawsuit. In other words, Exxon is playing the victim card and demanding the court dismiss the lawsuit under an anti-SLAPP action. SLAPP refers to “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation” and anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect against lawsuits quelling free speech.

Exxon filed a special motion to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute on July 30, 2020. In its motion, Exxon argues that the Mass. AG lawsuit amounts to “lawfare,” and is an attempt to squash political opponents who do not share the Commonwealth’s views on climate change.      

“Those, like ExxonMobil, who decline to parrot the Attorney General’s call for an immediate transition to renewable energy are not simply diverse viewpoints in a public debate with state, federal, and global policy implications, but targets who must be silenced through ‘lawfare,’” Exxon attorneys write.  

Exxon also alleges that the Attorney General “conspired” with private interests like environmental activists and attorneys to bring this litigation, and that the real objective is to impose the AG’s preferred “views” and policies on climate. In essence, Exxon argues that the AG’s allegations concern policy disagreements, not deceptive or fraudulent conduct. According to Exxon, the “Attorney General brought this suit to advance its preferred climate policies by silencing perceived political opponents.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

global cement productionCutting Concrete’s Carbon Footprint
New approaches could reduce the carbon-intensity of cement production and lessen concrete’s broader environmental impact.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
January 5, 2021

After years of slow headway, building design and industry professionals say sharp reductions in the climate impact of concrete are possible now. That is significant because cement, the critical glue that holds concrete together, is so carbon-intensive that if it were a country, it would rank fourth in the world as a climate polluter. 

The Global Cement and Concrete Association this year committed to zero emissions concrete by 2050. No single solution has surfaced to reach this goal. But an expanding set of data tools and departures from tradition are starting to add up. 

Take LinkedIn’s new headquarters in Mountain View, California, which eliminated 4.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been embedded in the new building, much of it by cutting back on cement. Jenny Mitchell, the company’s senior manager of design and build, works under the gun — parent company Microsoft has committed to removing all its historic carbon from the atmosphere. 

Mitchell believes concrete will actually get to net zero. “I think it is a tall task, but I think we can,” she told 200 people at the virtual Global Concrete Summit this month.

To help get there, Mitchell’s team uses a tool that’s swiftly gaining traction called EC3, for Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator. EC3 launched last year under the auspices of the Carbon Leadership Forum in Seattle.

The free calculator compares the embodied carbon of similar products. Rock aggregate that travels by barge could have a much smaller carbon footprint than aggregate that travels by truck, for example, even if it comes from farther away.

The EC3 software works by comparing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that are fed into it by suppliers. Picture a nutrition label, but instead of calories and carbohydrates, it lists carbon quantities. 

“The number of EPDs for concrete is exploding,” rising from 800 to 23,000 over the past year or so, said Don Davies, president of Magnusson Klemencic Associates, a structural and civil engineering firm in Seattle. “Embodied carbon is starting to be a differentiator as to [which firm] gets the work.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

hot 2020
2020 Ties 2016 as Earth’s Hottest Year on Record, Even Without El Niño to Supercharge It
Annual reports from European and Japanese climate agencies show that last year was yet another marked by extraordinary global heat.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
January 8, 2021

European climate scientists have tallied up millions of temperature readings from last year to conclude that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record for the planet.

It’s the first time the global temperature has peaked without El Niño, a cyclical Pacific Ocean warm phase that typically spikes the average annual global temperature to new highs, said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, who was lead author on its annual report for 2020.

That report shows the Earth’s surface temperature at 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1850 to 1890 pre-industrial average, and 1.8 degrees warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average that serves as a baseline against which annual temperature variations are measured.

In the past, the climate-warming effect of El Niño phases really stood out in the long-term record, Vamberg said. The 1998 “super” El Niño caused the largest annual increase in global temperatures recorded up to that time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

“If you look at the 1998 El Niño, it was really a spike, but now, we’re kind of well above that, simply due to the trend,” Vamberg said.
» Read article             

Silverado Fire
U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change
The $95 billion in damage came in a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires recorded in California.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
January 7, 2021

Hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters across the United States caused $95 billion in damage last year, according to new data, almost double the amount in 2019 and the third-highest losses since 2010.

The new figures, reported Thursday morning by Munich Re, a company that provides insurance to other insurance companies, are the latest signal of the growing cost of climate change. They reflect a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires ever recorded in California.

Those losses occurred during a year that was one of the warmest on record, a trend that makes extreme rainfall, wildfires, droughts and other environmental catastrophes more frequent and intense.

“Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” Ernst Rauch, the chief climate scientist at Munich Re, said in an interview. He said continued building in high-risk areas had also contributed to the growing losses.

The new numbers come as the insurance industry struggles to adjust to the effects of climate change. In California, officials have tried a series of rule changes designed to stop insurers from pulling out of fire-prone areas, leaving homeowners with few options for insurance.

Homeowners and governments around the United States need to do a better job of making buildings and communities more resilient to natural disasters, said Donald L. Griffin, a vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents insurance companies.

“We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way,” Mr. Griffin said in an interview. “We’ve got to place an emphasis on preventing and reducing loss.”
» Read article             

locked-in warming
More Than Two Degrees of Climate Warming Is Already Locked In, New Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 6, 2021

Existing greenhouse gases will eventually push the climate into more than two degrees of warming, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday.

That number puts the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels out of reach, says Andrew Dessler, study coauthor and Texas A&M University climate scientist. Still, he warned against “climate doomers,” The Associated Press reported.

“While I would not categorize this as good news, it is not game over for the climate,” Dessler said in a video explaining the paper.

So what exactly does the study say?

Dessler worked with colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) and Nanjing University in China to analyze what is called “committed warming,” or the amount of warming that would occur if atmospheric greenhouse gases were paused at their current concentrations.

Previous estimates had put committed warming at around 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Dessler said in the video. But those estimates were based on faulty assumptions about Earth’s climate system, the paper authors argued.

“Typically, committed warming is estimated assuming that changes in the future will pretty much follow changes in the past,” Mark Zelinka, coauthor and LLNL atmospheric scientist, said in a press release. “But we now know that this is a bad assumption.”

Specifically, the researchers pointed to the regions of the planet that have not yet warmed, such as the Southern Ocean. The temperatures of these regions cause clouds to form that reflect sunlight and further cool the planet. But eventually those regions will warm too, dispersing the clouds and further raising temperatures.

“After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates,” lead author Chen Zhou of Nanjing University said in the press release.

The researchers estimated that a likely total of 2.3 degrees Celsius of warming is now locked in, about a full degree above the previous estimate.

The good news is that this warming could take centuries to occur, provided the world acts now to reduce emissions.

“If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we currently are, then we will blow through the 1.5 and two degree Celsius limits possibly within a few decades,” Dessler said in the video. “This means that our work is consistent with the conclusion that we need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.”

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who was not involved with the research, called the study fascinating on Twitter.

“I don’t think this paper fundamentally changes our understanding of committed warming, and pattern effects are still an area of active research. But it should make us a bit cautious about being too confident in predictions of zero warming after emissions reach net-zero,” he concluded.
» Read article            
» Watch video explaining the research       
» Read article predicting less locked-in warming after net-zero achieved        

» More about climate                  

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Svartsengi geothermalCan Geothermal Power Play a Key Role in the Energy Transition?
Aided by advances in deep-drilling technology for fracking, engineers are developing new methods of tapping into the earth’s limitless underground supplies of heat and steam. But the costs of accessing deep geothermal energy are high, and initial government support will be crucial.
By Jim Robbins, Yale Environment 360
December 22, 2020

A river of hot water flows some 3,000 feet beneath Boise, Idaho. And since 1983 the city has been using that water to directly heat homes, businesses, and institutions, including the four floors of city hall — all told, about a third of the downtown. It’s the largest geothermal heating system in the country.

Boise didn’t need to drill to access the resource. The 177-degree Fahrenheit water rises to the surface in a geological fault in the foothills outside of town.

It’s a renewable energy dream. Heating the 6 million square feet in the geothermally warmed buildings costs about $1,000 a month for the electricity to pump it. (The total annual cost for depreciation, maintenance, personnel, and repair of the city’s district heating system is about $750,000.)

“We’re heating 92 of the biggest buildings in the city of Boise,” said Jon Gunnarson, the city’s geothermal coordinator. “The buildings strip heat, collect it, and run it to an injection well. We use it once and reinject it and use it again.”

The Boise district system is how geothermal energy is most often thought of — natural hot water is pumped into radiators or used to generate electricity. It is considered a local phenomenon — few places are sitting on an underground river of steaming hot water — and so geothermal has not been viewed as a major feature on the alternative energy landscape.

But a number of experts around the world say that notion is wrong. Thanks especially to the deep-drilling techniques and knowledge about underground formations developed by the oil and gas industry during the fracking boom, a type of geothermal energy called deep geothermal can access hot temperatures in the earth’s mantle as far down as two to three miles. At various depths up to this level, much of the planet contains extremely hot water or there is hot rock into which water can be injected and heated, a technology known as enhanced geothermal systems. In either case, the hot water is pumped out and used to directly heat buildings or to generate electricity with steam or hot water.

“Wherever we are on the surface of the planet, and certainly the continental U.S., if we drill deep enough we can get to high enough temperatures that would work like the Boise system,” said Jefferson Tester, a professor of sustainable energy systems at Cornell University and a leading expert on geothermal energy. “It’s not a question of whether it’s there — it is and it’s significant. It’s a question of getting it out of the ground economically.”
» Read article

MA State House
US solar sector welcomes tax clarity in Massachusetts climate bill
By Edith Hancock, PV Tech
January 5, 2021

A new bill that would require the state of Massachusetts to run on 40% renewable energy by 2030 has been lauded by the US solar industry for making key changes to net metering and tax incentive policies.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts have put forward a new bill that would require the state to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Called An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, it outlines a number of key policies that would accelerate the transition to renewable energy and offer tax breaks for utilities and entities that adopt small solar systems over the coming decade. If passed by Governor Charlie Baker, the conference committee bill could raise the standard requirement for utilities’ renewable energy portfolios in the state by 3% each year between 2025 and 2029.

The bill would also relax the state’s net metering thresholds for solar PV energy, allowing large businesses to sell wholesale rooftop solar power at retail rates. It also included a provision clarifying how taxes are assessed by towns and municipalities on wind, solar and energy storage systems, providing tax breaks for households and small businesses that install behind-the-meter solar systems.

In addition, it provides incentives for entities enrolled in the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) programme to serve lower income areas. Under the programme, which was introduced two years ago, solar power system owners in the state receive fixed rate payments for the energy they produce based on the kilowatt-hours of power produced. The agreements last 10 years and vary based on system size. The state’s lawmakers had issued emergency regulation for the programme last April to double its PV capacity deployment target to 3.2GW, as well as mandating the addition of energy storage on projects exceeding 500kW.
» Read article            
» Read the legislation – S2995         

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston net-zeroBoston zoning change would require net-zero emissions from new buildings
The initiative is among the most aggressive of existing or proposed strategies to cut energy consumption in buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Edward Faulkner / Flickr / Creative Commons
January 5, 2021

The city of Boston is laying plans to require newly constructed large buildings to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, a move supporters hope will help make carbon-neutral design more approachable and mainstream. 

“There are going to be folks that find this incredibly challenging — there are a lot of industry norms that are being questioned and challenged,” said John Dalzell, senior architect for sustainable development at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. “But I’m pleased to see some of these old norms starting to fall away.”

In 2019, the city released the Carbon Free Boston report, a framework for making the city carbon neutral by 2050. Reducing emissions from buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output, is a critical part of the plan. 

Other strategies for cutting building emissions are already in play or in the works. Boston has an existing energy disclosure ordinance, which requires buildings over 35,000 square feet to report their energy use each year. The city is also developing a performance standard that will require these buildings to meet targets for emissions reduction. And last year, Boston partnered with utility Eversource to launch an energy efficiency hub, a set of resources that will help the owners and operators of large buildings find ways to reduce their energy consumption.

One of the most aggressive measures the city intends to take is the plan to require new large buildings to achieve net-zero emissions. 

The details are still under development. The new requirements will modify existing green building zoning guidelines that apply to projects larger than 50,000 square feet, a threshold that includes about two-thirds of all new construction in the city. Over time, the threshold is likely to fall, encompassing more and more buildings over time, Dalzell said.
» Read article           

IECC changes
Code Development Changes Could Silence Voter Voices
By Lauren Urbanek, National Resource Defense Council
December 21, 2020

This year was a busy one when it came to defending strong building energy codes—and it looks like the work won’t be slowing down any time soon. After approving a 2021 energy code that will be more efficient than ever before, the International Code Council (ICC) is considering changes to the code development process that will eliminate local input. The ICC just announced it wants to change how the nation’s model building energy code is developed—moving it from a large, open process to having it be developed by a committee without input from the local government building officials who administer it.

The ICC—which is the body that manages creation of the building code—recently announced a public comment period for a proposal to use a standards process to develop the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), rather than the code development process that has been in place for the past decade and a half. The implications are unclear about what that will mean to the efficiency of future codes, but it’s a substantial change to the process used to develop a code that is referenced in federal law and adopted by jurisdictions in every state of the country.

For years the building energy code development process has been dominated by builders and industry interests, with input from environmental groups like NRDC. Governmental members showed up in a big way to develop the 2021 IECC, with voter turnout at its highest level ever. They voted in droves to approve proposals to make the code the most efficient one ever, with improvements in insulation, lighting, and other building components that will reduce energy consumption while lowering energy bills and keeping inhabitants more comfortable.

It’s impressive progress, achieved through a process that ultimately puts the final vote in the hands of the code officials and other local government employees who are the ones using the code—not anyone with a vested financial interest in the code’s outcome. So why is the ICC proposing such a dramatic change? That’s our question, too.
» Read article          
» Public comment information – deadline for written submissions 8 PM ET, January 11, 2021 (template here – takes about 3 minutes)           

» More about energy efficiency             

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cambridge stickers fuel pumps
Massachusetts city to post climate change warning stickers at gas stations
Bright yellow stickers warn drivers burning of gasoline has ‘major consequences on human health and the environment’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 25, 2020

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has become the first US city to mandate the placing of stickers on fuel pumps to warn drivers of the resulting dangers posed by the climate crisis.

The final design of the bright yellow stickers, shared with the Guardian, includes text that warns drivers the burning of gasoline, diesel and ethanol has “major consequences on human health and the environment including contributing to climate change”.

The stickers will be placed on all fuel pumps in Cambridge, which is situated near Boston and is home to Harvard University, “fairly soon” once they are received from printers, a city spokesman confirmed.

“The city of Cambridge is working hard with our community to fight climate change,” the spokesman added. “The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation              

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Hull turbine
8 Ways The New Climate Bill Affects You, Your Washing Machine And Our Climate Goals
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 5, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker has 10 days to decide whether to sign — or kill — a massive climate bill.

The legislation, which the House and Senate approved Monday, represents the state’s first big update to the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. It writes into law the ambitious goal of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050, and could radically transform the energy sector, building codes, transportation and more.

From geothermal energy to lightbulbs, the bill covers a lot of ground, but here’s what you need to know — in plain English — about how it will affect you, if Baker signs it:
» Read article       

» More legislative news             

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

new EPA rule
A Plan Made to Shield Big Tobacco From Facts Is Now E.P.A. Policy
The E.P.A. has finalized a so-called transparency plan that it says will improve the credibility of science. Scientists say it is designed to stop new public health protections by limiting what research the agency can consider.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 4, 2021

Nearly a quarter century ago, a team of tobacco industry consultants outlined a plan to create “explicit procedural hurdles” for the Environmental Protection Agency to clear before it could use science to address the health impacts of smoking.

President Trump’s E.P.A. has now embedded parts of that strategy into federal environmental policy. On Tuesday Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., formally released a new regulation that favors certain kinds of scientific research over others in the drafting of public health rules.

A copy of the final measure, known as the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information Rule, says that “pivotal” scientific studies that make public their underlying data and models must be given more weight than studies that keep such data confidential. The agency concluded that the E.P.A. or anyone else should be able to independently validate research that impacts regulations.

“It’s sunshine, it’s transparency,” Mr. Wheeler said of the regulation on Tuesday during an online forum with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes most environmental regulation. He described the policy as an effort “to reduce misunderstanding of our regulatory decisions.”

The new rule, public health experts and medical organizations said, essentially blocks the use of population studies in which subjects offer medical histories, lifestyle information and other personal data only on the condition of privacy. Such studies have served as the scientific underpinnings of some of the most important clean air and water regulations of the past half century.

Critics say the agency’s leaders disregarded the E.P.A.’s scientific review system to create an additional layer of scrutiny designed to impede or block access to the best available science, weakening the government’s ability to create new protections against pollution, pesticides, and possibly even the coronavirus.
» Read article            
» Read the new EPA rule        

» More about the EPA                

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
Christie Sworn in as Newest FERC Commissioner
FERC press release
January 4, 2021

Mark C. Christie was sworn in today as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during a ceremony in the chambers of the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Judge G. Steven Agee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit performed the swearing-in ceremony.

Commissioner Christie comes to FERC from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, having served three terms totaling almost 17 years, most recently as Chairman. He is a former president of the Organization of PJM States, Inc. (OPSI), which is comprised of regulators representing the 13 states and the District of Columbia that form the PJM region. He also is a former president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (MACRUC).

A West Virginia native, Commissioner Christie earned Phi Beta Kappa honors upon graduating from Wake Forest University, and received his law degree from Georgetown University. He has taught regulatory law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia School of Law and constitutional law and government in a doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Commissioner Christie also served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
» Read article             

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

unbidden ANWR
Trump auction of oil leases in Arctic refuge attracts barely any bidders
Coastal plain was up for sale as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
January 6, 2021

The Trump administration’s last-minute attempt on Wednesday to auction off part of a long-protected Arctic refuge to oil drillers brought almost zero interest from oil companies, forcing the state of Alaska into the awkward position of leasing the lands itself.

The coastal plain of the Arctic national wildlife refuge was up for sale to drillers as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue. Conservatives argued the leases could bring in $900m, half for the federal government and half for the state.

But the lease sales fell dramatically short of that amount – with the high bids totaling about $14m on 11 tracts of land that cover about 600,000 acres of the 1.6m-acre coastal plain.

The results back up the arguments from environmental advocates and watchdog groups that leasing the public land is a bad deal for the country, particularly when oil is in such low demand and public scrutiny grows of the industry’s role in the climate crisis and damage to sensitive habitats. Drilling for new oil now, when the planet is already experiencing dangerous heating, would be irresponsible, they said.

“This lease sale was an epic failure for the Trump administration and the Alaska congressional delegation,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “After years of promising a revenue and jobs bonanza they ended up throwing a party for themselves, with the state being one of the only bidders.”
» Read article             

Exxon reports Scope 3
Exxon, under investor pressure, discloses emissions from burning its fuels
By Reuters staff
January 6, 2021

Exxon Mobil Corp, under increasing pressure from investors and climate change activists, reported for the first time the emissions that result when customers use its products such as gasoline and jet fuel.

The largest U.S. oil producer said the emissions from its product sales in 2019 were equivalent to 730 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, higher than rival oil majors. The data comes as the company has drawn the ire of an activist investor focused on its climate performance.

The so-called Scope 3 data is included in its latest Energy & Carbon Summary released Tuesday, though Exxon downplayed its significance. “Scope 3 emissions do not provide meaningful insight into the Company’s emission-reduction performance,” the report said.

“Even to get to the point of having them disclose this has been like pulling teeth,” said Andrew Grant at think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. “Quite a lot of the rest of the world has moved on from the disclosure to ‘What are we going to do about this?’”

Most major oil companies already report Scope 3 emissions and some have reduction targets, including Occidental Petroleum, which in November set a goal to offset the impact of the use of its oil and gas by 2050.
» Read article             

Alberta pumps it up
Investment In Canada’s Oil Industry Set To Grow 12% In 2021
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 5, 2021

Canada’s oil industry expects that 2021 will be the year of recovery from the downturn caused by the pandemic in 2020, with total investments in Canada’s oil sector expected to increase by 12 percent this year compared to last year.

Combined investments in oil sands operations and conventional oil and gas production are expected to rise to nearly US$21 billion (C$27 billion) in 2021, compared to US$19 billion (C$24 billion) in 2020, Calgary Herald reports, citing forecasts from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“An extra $2 billion of investment into the Western Canadian economies, relative to 2020, I’d say is a pretty significant vote of confidence there will be some stability and recovery in energy markets,” CAPP vice president Ben Brunnen told Calgary Herald’s Chris Varcoe.

According to CAPP’s November 2020 capital investment and drilling forecast, exploration and production (E&P) capital spending was US$27 billion (C$35 billion) in 2019, down by 10 percent compared to 2018. Due to the pandemic, the forecast for the 2020 investment showed an unprecedented 32-percent slump from 2019 to US$19 billion (C$24 billion).

The association expected that around 3,000 oil and gas wells would have been drilled in 2020, while the number would increase to around 3,300 oil and gas wells drilled in 2021.

Oil companies have plans to ramp up their production after the Alberta government said it would remove oil production limits at the end of last year.
» Read article           

» More about fossil fuel          

 

BIOMASS

Baker is wrong
Baker is wrong to subsidize wood burning
4 scientists say using wood to generate electricity will worsen climate change
By William Moomaw, John Sterman, Juliette Rooney-Varga and Richard Birdsey, CommonWealth Magazine
January 4, 2021

GOVS. CHARLIE BAKER of Massachusetts and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan were featured US officials at the fifth anniversary celebration of the Paris Climate Agreement. Their presence demonstrated that state leaders, from both political parties, are actively battling the climate emergency.

It is therefore baffling that the Baker administration just released new regulations that directly undermine the governor’s and Legislature’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The regulations allow wood-burning electric power plants that currently fail to meet Massachusetts’ environmental standards to receive subsidies from ratepayers. But burning wood to generate heat or electricity is unnecessary, will increase carbon emissions, and worsen climate change.

By removing trees from our forests, the proposed regulations also reduce the ability of our forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This undermines the governor’s net zero emissions plan that relies on our forests to soak up carbon emitted by any fossil fuels we still use in 2050.  As Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides has noted, “The conservation of the Commonwealth’s forests is critical to meet our ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050.”

The Department of Energy Resources justifies weakening the existing standards by falsely arguing that burning wood instead of natural gas will reduce carbon emissions.  Wood burning releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than any fossil fuel – 75 percent more than natural gas. Therefore, generating heat or electricity with wood immediately increases greenhouse gas emissions more than fossil fuels, worsening climate change.

Eventually, regrowth might remove enough carbon to equal the additional carbon emitted when the wood is burned. But regrowth takes time. New England forests take upwards of a century or more for additional growth to capture enough carbon to breakeven with fossil fuels. Break-even times are far longer for wood bioenergy compared to wind and solar, even after counting  the emissions from making and installing the turbines and panels.

Under the Baker administration’s proposed regulations, utilities will be charging electricity users – all of us – to burn more of our forests, worsen climate change, harm our health, and erode social justice. We urge Baker to preserve his reputation as a champion for climate, health, and justice by withdrawing these flawed regulations. The legislature should also eliminate wood bioenergy from the energy sources eligible for subsidies in the climate legislation they are now considering, and support climate-friendly energy instead.
» Read article            
» Read the proposed regulations           

Palmer Paving Corp
Massachusetts lawmakers deal blow to Springfield biomass project
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
January 4, 2021

Power from wood-to-energy plants — like the long-proposed Palmer Renewable Energy in East Springfield — won’t qualify as “green power” for municipal power utilities for at least five years under new rules announced over the weekend by state lawmakers.

A conference committee of state senators and representatives also called on Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration to complete a new study examining the impact of these biomass plants on greenhouse emissions, global climate change and public health. The conference report – meant to hammer out differences between the Senate and House bills passed in 2020 – will go to lawmakers for a vote before the term ends Tuesday.

It’s part of a major climate change legislation.

The five-year moratorium removes one incentive utilities would have had to buy power from Palmer Renewable Energy.

State. Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, praised the conference report Sunday, calling it “a major win for environmental justice.”

But Laura Haight, a biomass opponent and U.S. Policy Director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said another subsidy that could benefit the Palmer Renewable Energy plant is still alive.

“However, this bill may not have any impact on the proposed biomass plant in Springfield,” she said.

Also winding its way through the statehouse in Boston is a different set of regulations – ones introduced in December by the Baker administration – that would make the Springfield biomass project eligible for green energy credits.

Those regulations, now sitting in front of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, would grant the Palmer Renewables project as much as $13 million a year in green energy subsidies paid for by the state’s electricity customers through the Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards program, also called RPS.

Haight’s group and others have been speaking out against Baker’s proposed rule changes since they came out in December.
» Read article             

» More about biomass              

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


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 7/10/20

banner 03

Welcome back.

This week it’s possible to look toward the horizon, squint a little into just the right kind of light, and glimpse the faint contours of a sustainable future. The big news stories include the cancellation of the $8 billion, 600 mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline; a federal district court order to shut down and drain the Dakota Access Pipeline pending a proper environmental review; and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to allow continued construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline pending appeal of its water crossing permit – effectively halting a project that presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to end if elected. After years of activism and litigation, the environmental community is celebrating significant progress in the fight against fossil fuel infrastructure buildout. Almost every article in this week’s News Check-In relates to this potential turning point.

Although the Trump administration continues to use the COVID-19 pandemic as cover for its rollback of climate regulations, lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel companies are proliferating worldwide. The sophistication and success of this litigation has the fossil fuel industry on the ropes, with some analysts concluding it’s no longer possible to build a major pipeline project in the United States. A recent circuit court ruling that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) does not have the authority to postpone decisions on stakeholder requests for rehearing indefinitely, reduces industry advantage even more. As utilities survey this landscape and consider infrastructure investments, they increasingly conclude that renewables are a safer bet than new pipelines and power plants.

It’s worth remembering that significant portions of the natural gas pipeline construction frenzy has been to connect fracking wells to the once-promising liquefied natural gas (LNG) export market. The controversial and highly contested Weymouth compressor station project exists for the primary purpose of pushing fracked gas from the Marcellus shale play up to Nova Scotia’s planned Goldboro LNG terminal. But the global pandemic cratered LNG prices, and the future promises lower demand and much thinner margins than previously imagined. LNG projects are being cancelled or placed on hold worldwide – and the future of Goldboro is uncertain.

So this is a good time to focus on some of the goals and challenges facing a rapid transition to clean energy. One place to start is the Climate Plan just published by the Biden-Sanders “unity task force”. It describes a vision for economic recovery that addresses both climate change and longstanding social and environmental equity issues. Electric vehicles are part of all this, and the auto industry has lately been buzzing about new “million mile” batteries. We found an article explaining that in practical terms.

After all this encouraging news, we’ll close with a cautionary tale: while the pandemic and economic downturn hurt fossil fuels, it’s been something of a gift to the related plastics industry. Lobbyists successfully pushed aside recently-imposed plastic bag bans by promoting mostly unsupported theories of the relative health safety of single-use packaging. It may take years to recover lost ground in public acceptance of reusable bags.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Atlantic Coast Pipeline

ACP is dead
Duke Energy, Dominion abandon the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By John Downey, Charlotte Business Journal
July 5, 2020

The $8 billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is dead.

Dominion Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. are canceling the project because of continuing court delays likely to drive the price tag higher. That would threaten the economic viability of the project, they say.

Bound up in the cancellation is Dominion’s decision, announced separately, to sell it gas transmission business to Berkshire Hathaway Energy for $4 billion in cash and the assumption of $5.7 billion in debt.

Duke and Dominion specifically cite the April decision by a federal judge in Montana that vacated a key water permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Known as a Nationwide Permit 12, the permission to cross water bodies and wetlands was issued under an expedited process also used to permit the ACP. A decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals at the end of May allowing the order to stand until it is heard on the merits threatened to delay the Duke and Dominion project for at least a year.
» Read article           

project is dead
Atlantic Coast Pipeline win was a hard-earned victory. Beware industry and government’s revisionist history.
By Lorne Stockman, Oil Change International
July 8, 2020

Sunday’s announcement of the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) was remarkable for so many reasons. Not least that the two companies, Dominion and Duke, are the most powerful corporate entities in their respective states (Virginia and North Carolina). For these two corporate giants to back down is a rare and beautiful thing to behold.

This victory comes as an enormous relief to people all along the more than 600 miles of pipeline route through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Farmers, homeowners, small business entrepreneurs — the pipeline fighters who won this rich victory were everyday people whose lives were upended for the past six years just because Dominion and Duke came up with a nifty scheme to enrich their shareholders with guaranteed ratepayer money. Or so they’d hoped.

There is little doubt that movements for environmental and climate justice in the U.S. and Canada are turning the tide on a reckless and arrogant industry that has run roughshod over all else for too long. But public statements from the companies involved, as well as from U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette, mislead the public about the demise of ACP, as well as the implications for U.S. energy supply.
» Read article           

Dakota Access Pipeline

leaving Cannonball
Judge suspends Dakota Access pipeline over environmental concerns
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
July 6, 2020

A federal judge has sided with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and ordered the Dakota Access pipeline shut down until a more extensive environmental review is done.

US district judge James Boasberg said previously the pipeline, which has been in operation three years, remains “highly controversial” under federal environmental law, and a more extensive review was necessary than the environmental assessment that was done by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In a 24-page order Monday, Boasberg wrote that he was “mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause”, but said he had concluded that the pipeline must be shut down.

“Clear precedent favoring vacatur during such a remand coupled with the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the 13 months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take,” Boasberg wrote.
» Read article           

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard“A Dream That Comes True”: Standing Rock Elder Hails Order to Shut Down DAPL After Years of Protest
By Democracy Now
July 07, 2020

Following years of resistance, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Indigenous organizers across the country scored a massive legal victory Monday when a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to be shut down and emptied of all oil, pending an environmental review. “You ever have a dream, a dream that comes true? That is what it is,” responds LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, an elder of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and founder of Sacred Stone Camp, where resistance in 2016 brought tens of thousands of people to oppose the pipeline’s construction on sacred lands. We also speak with Ojibwe lawyer Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective.
» Watch video        

arrogance on display
Energy Transfer Launches Appeals Following Court Order to Shut Down Dakota Access Pipeline
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 9, 2020

On Monday, July 6, a federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) by August 5. The move follows a March judgment that ordered the pipeline to undergo a more thorough environmental review.

However, Energy Transfer, the pipeline’s parent company, later revealed that the company was continuing to offer deals to oil companies to ship their product on DAPL during times when the pipeline is slated to be shut down. Today, the legal battle moved towards the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, after the judge denied a request to freeze the shutdown order.

Energy Transfer said that it was continuing to offer shippers oil transportation on DAPL after the court-ordered shutdown date, Bloomberg reported on July 8, adding that the company had made “no moves to take it offline.”

“We are not shutting in the line,” Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado told Bloomberg, adding “we believe [Judge James Boasberg] exceeded his authority and does not have the jurisdiction to shut down the pipeline or stop the flow of crude oil.”

Energy Transfer’s statement that DAPL was not being shut down caused a stir, with some observers asking whether the company intended to openly defy the federal court.

“To be clear, we have never suggested that we would defy a court order,” the company wrote. “Rather, DAPL is seeking appropriate relief from that order through the established legal process.”

The suggestion that the company might keep oil flowing unlawfully garnered immediate condemnation from Indigenous and environmental organizations.

“Perhaps they’re taking their inspiration from the father of the Trail of Tears, Andrew Jackson. In response to the 1832 Supreme Court decision that established tribal sovereignty in the U.S. — Worcester vs. Georgia — President Jackson declared: ‘[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it,’” the Lakota People’s Law Project, a Bismark-based legal advocacy group, wrote in a statement.
» Read article           

Keystone XL Pipeline

Keystone dead end - Supremes
Supreme Court Won’t Block Ruling to Halt Work on Keystone XL Pipeline
But the justices stayed the rest of a federal trial judge’s ruling striking down a permit program, allowing construction of other pipelines around the nation.
By Adam Liptak, New York Times
July 6, 2020

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request from the Trump administration to allow construction of parts of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that had been blocked by a federal judge in Montana. But the court temporarily revived a permit program that would let other oil and gas pipelines cross waterways after only modest scrutiny from regulators.

The court’s brief, unsigned order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices rule on emergency applications, and it said it would last while appeals moved forward. There were no noted dissents.

Environmental groups had challenged the permit program, called for by the Clean Water Act, saying it posed a threat to endangered species. In April, Judge Brian M. Morris of the Federal District Court in Montana suspended the program, which is administered by the Army Corps of Engineers, saying that it had been improperly reauthorized in 2017.
» Read article           

In Yet Another Blow to Keystone XL, Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Revive Key Water Crossing Permit
Court Rejects Push from Trump Admin to Allow Construction of KXL Through Waterways Amid Appeal
By Sierra Club
July 6, 2020

Today, the United States Supreme Court declined a request from TC Energy and the Trump administration to allow Keystone XL to proceed under Nationwide Permit 12, a key water crossing permit for pipelines that a district court found unlawful. The court also issued a partial stay of the district court’s decision as it applies to other pipelines while a full appeal of the decision moves forward.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines               

CLIMATE

Trans-Alaska
From the Pandemic to the Protests, Trump Is Using National Crises as Cover for Climate Rollbacks
By Amy Westervelt and Emily Gertz, Drilled News
July 7, 2020

If there’s one thing we’ve learned since we began, three months ago, to track the Trump administration’s climate rollbacks and favors to fossil fuel under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that the fossil fuel industry and its allies never waste a good opportunity to advance their interests with as little public scrutiny as possible.

So in the days and weeks since the first protesters hit the Minneapolis streets on May 26 over the killing of George Floyd, we have not been surprised to see Trump’s team use the national uprising for Black lives and against police brutality for cover to advance a new flurry of incentives for fossil fuel development.

But what is remarkable is how sweeping these moves have been. Over just the first two weeks of June, the Trump administration knocked the foundations out from under U.S. environmental protections by targeting three key laws that the fossil fuel sector has long fought to weaken: the Clean Air, Clean Water, and National Environmental Policy acts.

Let’s take a look at what happened in the first two weeks of June. As always, you can find more details on these moves, and more than 100 other climate-and-energy-related rollbacks and fossil fuel incentives pushed forward since the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March on our Climate & COVID-19 Policy Tracker.
» Read article
» Go to the Climate & COVID-19 Policy Tracker

climate litigation report
Report: Global Climate Lawsuits Against Governments and Polluters on the Rise
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 7, 2020

Climate litigation is not going away any time soon.

Lawsuits demanding accountability and action on the existential threat of climate change continue to take hold across the world with some significant new developments and new cases emerging over the past year, according to a new report on trends in global climate change litigation.

That report, published July 3 by the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, provides an overview of climate change lawsuits around the world including key developments between May 2019 and May 2020. Grantham Research Institute maintains a database of global climate change lawsuits and in recent years has issued annual reports on trends in climate litigation.

While a majority of climate-related lawsuits are routine cases such as regulatory proceedings or challenges to fossil fuel permitting, cases are also being brought more strategically as a way to hold governments and companies accountable for damaging climate impacts. This kind of litigation against national governments and against fossil fuel companies has taken off in recent years.
» Read article          
» Read the report

delayed gratification
There’s no quick fix for climate change
Scientists looked for a ‘shortcut’ and didn’t find one
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 7, 2020

It could take decades before cuts to greenhouse gases actually affect global temperatures, according to a new study. 2035 is probably the earliest that scientists could see a statistically significant change in temperature — and that’s only if humans take dramatic action to combat climate change.

Specifically, 2035 is the year we might expect to see results if we switch from business-as-usual pollution to an ambitious path that limits global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius — the target laid out in the Paris climate agreement. The world isn’t on track to meet that goal, so we might not see the fruits of our labor until even later. That means policymakers need to be ready for the long haul, and we’re all going to need to be patient while we wait for the changes we make now to take effect.

“I foresee this kind of train wreck coming where we make all this effort, and we have nothing to show for it,” says lead author of the study, Bjørn Samset. “This will take time.”
» Read article          

» More about climate            

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

reverse the TrumpocolypseBeginning of the End for New Oil and Gas Pipelines?
On this week’s Political Climate, we discuss recent pipeline-project setbacks against the backdrop of President Trump’s multiyear effort to expand oil and gas development.
By Julia Pyper, GreenTech Media – podcast
July 9, 2020

In a series of major wins for environmental advocates, three multibillion-dollar pipeline projects — the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — were recently delivered devastating setbacks.

The business and legal decisions undermine President Trump’s multiyear effort to ease environmental regulations and expand oil and gas development in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force has released its roadmap on combating the climate crisis that calls for immediate action “to reverse the Trump administration’s dangerous and destructive rollbacks of critical climate and environmental protections.”

On this week’s episode of Political Climate, we dig deeper into the pipeline project defeats and their implications for the energy sector in an interview with Steven Mufson, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter covering the business of climate change for The Washington Post.

We discuss the environmental movement’s strategy and recent successes in the courtroom against the backdrop of President Trump’s deregulation agenda. Plus, we address how these developments are playing politically ahead of the 2020 election.
» Listen to podcast       

fast track dead endThis federal permit used to fast-track pipelines. Now it’s threatening them.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
July 8, 2020

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is officially dead as of Sunday, and the Supreme Court delivered another blow to the troubled Keystone XL Pipeline on Monday. While the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s demise was a decision made by its developers, and Keystone’s impairment a judicial matter, both outcomes are directly tied to the same ongoing battle over a federal permit that helps developers to fast-track pipeline construction called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12). Its fate could have far-reaching consequences for pipeline development all over the country.

NWP 12 is a streamlined permitting process that’s been around since the 1970s and is designed to get infrastructure built faster. It is considered a “general” permit, in that it gives blanket permission for certain standard construction activities that have been deemed to have minimal impact to rivers, streams, and wetlands. Under the Clean Water Act, pipelines must obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to cross U.S. waters. Pipeline developers can either apply for a Clean Water Act permit for their specific project, which requires extensive environmental assessment and a public comment period, or, they can seek permission to use NWP 12. NWP 12 allows them to skip that public, comprehensive review process if they can demonstrate to the Corps that the project will result in only “minimal adverse environmental effects.”

Environmental groups have been arguing for years that NWP 12 was never meant to be used to streamline such large and environmentally risky infrastructure projects and that pipelines like Keystone should have to undergo full and transparent environmental assessments.

“We need to go back to this individual permit process where there’s a real analysis, there’s public input, there’s everything that the law requires of these types of projects to make sure that they’re not harming the environment or endangered species or anything else,” said [Jared Margolis, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity].
» Read article          

DAPL for example
Is This the End of New Pipelines?
Defeats at three projects reflect increasingly sophisticated legal challenges, shifting economics and growing demands by states to fight climate change.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Brad Plumer, New York Times
July 8, 2020

They are among the nation’s most significant infrastructure projects: More than 9,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in the United States are currently being built or expanded, and another 12,500 miles have been approved or announced — together, almost enough to circle the Earth.

Now, however, pipeline projects like these are being challenged as never before as protests spread, economics shift, environmentalists mount increasingly sophisticated legal attacks and more states seek to reduce their use of fossil fuels to address climate change.

“You cannot build anything big in energy infrastructure in the United States outside of specific areas like Texas and Louisiana, and you’re not even safe in those jurisdictions,” said Brandon Barnes, a senior litigation analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

The growing opposition represents a break from the past decade, when energy companies laid down tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines to transport oil and gas from newly accessible shale formations in North Dakota, Texas and the Appalachian region.

Strong grass roots coalitions, including many Indigenous groups, that understand both the legal landscape and the intricacies of the pipeline projects have led the pushback. And the Trump administration has moved some of the projects forward on shaky legal ground, making challenging them slightly easier, said Jared M. Margolis, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

In the meantime, the entire energy industry is wrestling with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused demand for oil and gas to drop worldwide. Falling energy prices further complicate the financial case for new pipelines.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

stakeholders have rights too
DC Circuit pipeline ruling could prompt dramatic shift in FERC power sector actions, attorneys say
The ruling could have major consequences for stakeholders requesting a rehearing from the commission in the gas and electricity sectors.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 8, 2020

A recent ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that prevents federal regulators from delaying decisions on whether to build out gas infrastructure indefinitely leaves many unanswered questions for the power sector, attorneys say.

Last week, the court ruled 10-1 that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not have the authority to postpone decisions on requests for rehearing indefinitely. The Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC en banc hearing concerned the commission’s practice of delaying landowners’ requests for rehearing on pipeline development, while developers could move forward with construction under the Natural Gas Act.

But the D.C. Circuit’s response was much broader than anticipated, according to industry lawyers, and as a result could lead to a dramatic shift in legal processes before FERC.
» Read article         
» Read the D.C.Circuit Court of Appeals ruling

» More about FERC          

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

pipeline to nowhere
As Fossil Fuel Pipelines Fall to Opposition, Utilities See Renewable Energy as Safe Bet
Atlantic Coast and Dakota Access pipeline woes underscore trends pushing utilities toward clean power as a less risky business.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
July 6, 2020

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s cancellation marks the natural-gas market’s “third high-profile victim in the last six months,” [director of the North American gas team at Wood Mackenzie, Dulles Wang] wrote in a Monday note. The others include Williams Co.’s Northeast Supply Enhancement and Constitution Pipeline projects, which were withdrawn after facing permitting denials and public opposition from New York state.

“The setbacks speak to the difficulties of building new pipeline projects in the northeast U.S., even when there is actual consumer demand that supports these projects,” Wang said.

The legal victories for environmental groups on technical permitting issues are part of a broader fight against the global warming impacts of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has so far denied challenges based on the greenhouse gas impacts of pipeline projects, but groups including The Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund continue attacking those decisions in court.

For utilities and energy companies, the mounting challenges to pipeline projects may serve as an incentive to shift from plans to rely on natural gas as a bridge fuel, and toward a less risky role building ratepayer-financed electric infrastructure to serve an increasingly renewable-powered grid, analysts say.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities              

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Freeport LNG
US LNG Exports at 20-month Low
By Scott DiSavino, MarineLink
July 8, 2020

Natural gas flows to U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants plunged this month after falling to a 20-month low in June as coronavirus lockdowns cut global demand for the fuel.

Before the pandemic slashed energy demand, U.S. producers counted on LNG exports to keep growing fast as an outlet for their record gas output. But after soaring 68% in 2019 and 53% in 2018, U.S. LNG exports were only expected to rise about 7% in 2020.

With U.S. LNG capacity rising as new units enter service, utilization of those plants has collapsed from 85%-90% in 2019 to just 32% so far this month as buyers cancel dozens of cargoes.

Analysts at Simmons Energy, energy specialists at U.S. investment bank Piper Sandler, projected U.S. LNG utilization will hover between 60%-70% over the next several years.
» Read article           

LNG clean claims doubtedCanada’s LNG industry on shaky ground as high-profile investors back off: report
By Lee Berthiaume, Global News
July 6, 2020

Legendary investor Warren Buffett’s decision to walk away from a proposed export terminal for liquefied natural gas in Quebec is being held up in a new report as a sign that the LNG sector in Canada and elsewhere is on shaky ground.

The Global Energy Monitor report released Monday says Buffett’s move in March underscores the growing political and economic uncertainty that LNG projects are facing even as governments around the world tout liquefied natural gas as a clean alternative to coal power.

Monday’s report goes on to suggest that political opposition is only one of many new challenges to the LNG sector, with another being a dramatic drop in the price of gas due to an oversupply at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has sent demand plummeting.

The result: plans to build pipelines, terminals and other infrastructure in Canada and around the world have been put on hold _ or dropped entirely.

The report lists 13 LNG projects in Canada alone that have been cancelled or suspended in recent years. That includes a $10-billion [Goldboro] LNG export facility in Nova Scotia, which is now in limbo as the company behind the project tries to decide whether to move ahead or not.
» Read article           

gas bubble
Gas Bubble 2020

TRACKING GLOBAL LNG INFRASTRUCTURE
By Lydia Plante, James Browning, Greig Aitken, Mason Inman, and Ted Nace, Global Energy Monitor
July, 2020

In the past year, the fossil gas industry worldwide has more than doubled the amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal capacity under construction, a strategy driven by the U.S. and Canada as they seek to create new markets for LNG supplied from North America by tanker ship. This boom in construction threatens to lock in massive amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and negate any chance of limiting global warming to the 1.5°C tipping point identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Yet even measured against the balance sheets of their own financial and political backers, the future of many of these projects is tenuous due to low gas prices caused by global oversupply, now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, growing concern about the role of methane emissions in climate change is threatening the industry’s social license to promote and build fossil fuel projects.
» Read report            

KBR to focus on government contracts, quit natural gas, energy business
By Jennifer Hiller, Reuters
June 22, 2020

Engineering and construction firm KBR Inc (KBR.N) will exit most of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) construction and other energy projects, it told investors and employees, as customers pull back on energy investments.

The company will refocus on government contracts and technology businesses, Chief Executive Stuart Bradie wrote to employees on Monday. It will “no longer engage in lump sum, blue collar construction services,” saying the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the decision to leave fixed-contract energy projects.

KBR held contracts for engineering and construction services for several LNG projects, including at Freeport LNG in Texas, Pieridae Energy Ltd’s proposed Goldboro LNG facility in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Glenfarne Group’s Magnolia LNG project in Louisiana.
» Read article           

» More about LNG            

CLEAN ENERGY

good starting point
Can the Clean Energy Industry Deliver On the Biden-Sanders Climate Plan?
The campaign’s unity task force wants 100 percent carbon-free power by 2035.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
July 9, 2020

After effectively clinching the Democratic presidential primary, Joe Biden’s campaign began work with Senator Bernie Sanders in May to create a “unity task force.” The group hoped to propose policies that appeal to moderates and progressives alike, uniting Democrats ahead of the 2020 election.

The task force’s climate change recommendations, out this week, push further than any policy proposed in previous general election platforms. They call for carbon-free power production by 2035, net-zero emissions for new buildings by 2030, and accelerated adoption of zero-emission vehicles. The authors frame the national climate response as a matter of equity for communities that have suffered disproportionately from pollution and climate impacts, and as a form of economic rebuilding after the coronavirus pandemic.
» Read article          
» Read the climate change recommendations

» More on clean energy           

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

follow the yellow brick road
‘Million-mile’ batteries are coming. Are they a revolution?
By Maddie Stone, Grist
July 6, 2020

Electric vehicles (EVs) have a clear environmental advantage over their gas-guzzling counterparts, but when it comes to longevity, the two are in a dead heat. Two hundred thousand miles is considered a good, long run for a car built today, regardless of whether it’s powered by a lithium battery or an internal combustion engine. But if a flurry of recent reports are to be believed, EVs may soon surge ahead in this long-distance competition — not by mere thousands of miles, but by 800,000.

But what does the million-mile battery revolution actually mean? According to experts in battery storage technology and the EV market, claims of new batteries that will last a million miles don’t tell us much on their own. How these batteries can be used is going to depend, first and foremost, on how they perform and degrade over their so-called “million-mile” lifespan. Several experts pointed out that true million-mile batteries are likely to outlast whatever cars they’re built for, meaning their arrival could dramatically impact both second-use markets and battery recycling.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation        

PLASTICS BANS

COVID plastic
‘It’s all on hold’: how Covid-19 derailed the fight against plastic waste
Pandemic prompted states to temporarily ban reusable grocery bags and stalled legislation aimed at reducing plastic packaging
By Erin McCormick, The Guardian
July 9, 2020

2020 was supposed to be the year America revolted against plastic.

Consumers were refusing straws and toting their own coffee mugs. Legislators had proposed an unprecedented wave of laws to ban single-use plastics. Even companies like Coke and Pepsi were opening up to the idea plastic might not be the future.

Then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Now activists worry the anti-plastic movement is once again back in the trenches.

The fight has stalled on a number of fronts across the US. Fears about the virus spreading on surfaces prompted several states to temporarily ban reusable grocery bags, sending single-use bags flooding back into the marketplace. Major legislation aimed at reducing plastics packaging has stalled as lawmakers’ priorities shifted elsewhere. Disposable masks and gloves have become the harbingers of pandemic life, along with plastic take-out food containers and the debris of Amazon packages.

Meanwhile the plastics industry ramped up its lobbying, urging federal agencies to declare the sanitary benefits of disposable plastics, and arguing that plastic bag bans went against public health.
» Read article          

» More about plastics bans          

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


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!