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Weekly News Check-In 11/6/20

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station              

EVERSOURCE PIONEER VALLEY (COLUMBIA GAS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about Eversource Energy

CONNECTICUT EXPANSION PIPELINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the CT Expansion pipeline         

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions             

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment              

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy                   

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about FERC                

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuel                 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment                 

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Weekly News Check-In 9/25/20

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Welcome back.

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Of the many gifts Justice Ginsburg left us from her long, brilliantly-lived life, this pearl of wisdom is foremost in my thoughts as she lies in state at the U.S. Capitol, and as I edit this week’s newsletter about our collective struggle for a fair and sustainable future. We will keep up the fight, we will keep it classy, and we very much appreciate those who have chosen to join us.

This week we’re forced to acknowledge that Enbridge will have its Weymouth compressor station, despite the long and fierce opposition and lack of any sane rationale for its existence – anywhere but especially in Weymouth. FERC issued its final approval and gas will flow soon. But this natural gas infrastructure asset deserves to be stranded and decommissioned, and resistance will continue until that happens.

We have news of other projects, too, including a link to a petition opposing the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline proposed by French oil giant Total. This project would slice through 1,400km of critical wildlife habitat and vulnerable human communities from western Uganda to Tanzania’s coast. It would carry crude oil for export, but the stuff is so sludgy it will have to be heated over the entire pipeline length just to keep it flowing. That’s just one example of projects and policies demanding opposition, so it’s good to see that some protests are beginning to move cautiously back into the street.

The divestment movement took a couple steps forward this week. Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network published a report identifying the banks most directly responsible for financing the disastrous fracking industry. Wells Fargo has been the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase is next in line. Pull the plug. Meanwhile, twelve major cities around the globe, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, have committed to fossil fuel divestment, pledging to direct their funds to sustainable projects for a green recovery.

Our “Greening the Economy” section includes an interesting pairing: the first article points out the need for carbon pricing as a tool to drive decarbonization at the required pace. The second article explores why both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. appear to have abandoned carbon pricing as a viable option. The climate can’t wait while we figure this out. Between the expected influence on environmental regulations of a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, to the foot-dragging of fossil fuel corporations in reforming their business models, barriers to policy-driven emissions reductions may be hardening.

As usual, there’s better news down at the level of technology advances and state-level initiatives. The rooftop solar industry is applauding a tentative net-metering agreement in South Carolina between advocates and Duke Energy. Their compromise could become a model for net-metering agreements elsewhere. New, long-duration zinc batteries are set to fill a niche in the energy storage market, and California governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in that state must be zero-emissions by 2035. In the same week, Tesla announced battery improvements and claims it will eventually offer a $25K EV.

We wrap up with a warning about methane leaking from abandoned gas wells as the fossil fuel industry continues a decline that’s now locked in by increasing investor awareness of risks associated with pipeline infrastructure projects. And since plastics are what we make from an increasing share of the gas and oil pumped out of the ground, our final piece is a Honduran beach postcard.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FERC gives final authorization
Weymouth Compressor Station gets OK to startup
By Chris Lisinski/State House News Service, The Patriot Ledger
September 24, 2020

FERC’s final authorization came amid ongoing opposition to the facility from community groups, environmental and public health activists, and many elected officials who represent the region, who argue that the compressor’s proximity to densely populated neighborhoods and the Fore River present significant threats.

Alice Arena, one of the leaders of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station organization, said her group was “very disappointed” but “not at all surprised” with FERC’s approval.

“FERC is and has been nothing but a rubber stamp organization for the fossil fuel industry for decades, so this isn’t at all a shock,” Arena said in an interview. “I wouldn’t say we’re feeling defeated. I would say we’re feeling angry. We will continue to try to stop them from operating, and we will do that through the courts, and we will do that by proving the continued damage they will do to our air quality.”

Despite pushback, the project was able to move through its permitting hurdles at the state and federal levels.

In January 2019, when state regulators awarded air quality permits for the project, Gov. Charlie Baker said he “basically had no choice” about granting approval because of federal rules governing the process and the results of a health impact assessment he sought.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which conducted the assessment that forecast no major health impacts from the facility’s operation, later announced its opposition to the compressor on environmental and safety grounds.

Department of Environmental Protection regulators disclosed during an appeal process in May 2019 that the health study was based on incomplete air-quality data, but that did not change the outcome of the challenge.
» Read article        

Dear Mr. MonacoSenators Warren And Markey Call For Shutdown Of Weymouth Compressor
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
September 21, 2020

Both of the state’s U.S. senators called Monday for Enbridge to halt operations at its Weymouth compressor station, warning that the facility should not become operational mere weeks after an equipment failure prompted a release of natural gas. In an email, the energy giant said it was moving forward with plans to make sure the plant is “fit for service.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey urged Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, to pause all activities at the site near the Fore River while investigating the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 emergency shutdown.

The company said that a gasket failure pushed workers to trigger an emergency shutdown system with a volume of 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas, though it has not confirmed exactly how much it released.

“Concerns have been raised that this amount of gas, vented at ground level, could have possibly been ignited by a spark from a passing vehicle and caused a fire or an explosion,” Warren and Markey wrote in a letter. “This incident clearly demonstrates that we must do more to understand the dangers that the Weymouth compressor station poses to public health and safety.”
» Read article       
» Read the letter

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Total madness
Nearly One Million People Sign Petition to Stop Total’s East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline ‘Madness’
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
September 21, 2020

Almost a million people have signed a petition to stop a planned crude oil pipeline in East Africa that campaigners say poses serious risks to communities and wildlife along its route.

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline, developed by a consortium led by French company Total, will run for 1,443 kilometres from western Uganda to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in neighbouring Tanzania. The multimillion dollar pipeline is supported by the two governments and is being developed by China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the London Stock Exchange-listed Tullow Oil, alongside Total.

Avaaz, the campaign group hosting the ‘Stop This Total Madness’ petition, says the pipeline “will rip through some of the most important elephant, lion and chimpanzee reserves on Earth, displace tens of thousands of families, and tip the whole planet closer to full-blown climate catastrophe”.
» Read article       
» Sign the petition

TGP incidents in Agawam
MassDEP, activists differ on impact from Tennessee Gas pipeline incidents in Agawam

By Peter Goonan, MassLive
September 18, 2020

A state environmental agency says two recent incidents during construction of the Tennessee Gas pipeline extension project were “relatively minor” and cleaned up — a view that drew sharp criticism from opponents of the project.

“The two events were relatively minor and quickly addressed,” said Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The Columbia Gas Resistance Coalition, which opposes the Agawam pipeline project, said one incident in August involved Tennessee Gas being cited for driving trucks through a wetland area, and the second incident this month involved clay mud seeping up from the drilling operation.
» Read article        

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Fridays are backFridays for Future Climate Strikers Are Back on the Streets
By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
September 25, 2020

Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.

Today they are taking to the streets once more.

The Fridays for Futures movement, which started with activist Greta Thunberg skipping school to sit alone outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018, has become a global youth force calling for climate justice. But a surge in support last year was hobbled after coronavirus lockdowns closed schools and kept children at home.

The protest on Friday is the group’s first global action since the pandemic struck and follows meetings between prominent activists and world leaders. Last month, Thunberg and three other climate activists presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a letter signed by nearly 125,000 people demanding EU leaders “stop pretending that we can solve the climate and ecological crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

They have called for an immediate halt to investments and subsidies in fossil fuels and, in Germany, pressured the government to bring forward its deadline to phase out coal from 2038 to 2030, and to go carbon-neutral by 2035 instead of 2050.
» Read article        

take climate action now
Facebook suspends environmental groups despite vow to fight misinformation
Facebook blames mistake in system for restrictions on groups including Greenpeace USA
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
September 22, 2020

Facebook has suspended the accounts of several environmental organizations less than a week after launching an initiative it said would counter a tide of misinformation over climate science on the platform.

Groups such as Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote and Rainforest Action Network were among those blocked from posting or sending messages on Facebook over the weekend. Activists say hundreds of other individual accounts linked to indigenous, climate and social justice groups were also suspended for an alleged “intellectual property rights violation”.

The suspended people and groups were all involved in a Facebook event from May last year that targeted KKR & Co, a US investment firm that is backing the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a 670km-long gas development being built in northern British Columbia, Canada.

The suspensions, the day before another online action aimed at KKR & Co, has enraged activists who oppose the pipeline for its climate impact and for cutting through the land of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, a First Nations people.
» Read article        

climate lawsuit SpainClimate Lawsuit Filed in Spain Demanding Government Increase Ambition in Confronting Climate Crisis
By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2019

Environmental organizations have brought a climate change lawsuit against the government of Spain in an effort to compel more ambitious action in addressing the climate emergency.

Greenpeace Spain, Ecologistas en Acción and Oxfam Intermón filed their case before Spain’s Supreme Court on September 15 contending that Spain has failed to take adequate action on climate in violation of the nation’s international obligations and legal duties. It is the first domestic climate lawsuit initiated against the Spanish government.

“To avoid devastating climate change there is only one way: to drastically and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and accelerate the ecological transition, which requires courageous political and judicial decisions,” Mario Rodríguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, said in a press release.
» Read article       
» Read the press release (Spanish)

Betchatow plant will close
Polish Court Recognizes Climate Damage, Rules Coal Plant Operators Negotiate Closure with Environmental Lawyers

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 22, 2020

A judge in Poland has ruled that operators of the Bełchatów coal plant – Europe’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution – must negotiate a settlement with environmental lawyers that brought a lawsuit last year over the coal plant’s destructive environmental and climate impacts.

The ruling, which followed a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in the District Court of ŁódĽ, could put the Polish coal facility on a path towards closure. Lawyers for the environmental law charity ClientEarth argued that closing the Bełchatów plant’s coal operations is necessary in the face of the climate crisis. The power plant burns 45 million tons of coal every year, equivalent to a ton every second, and has emitted over a billion tons of CO2 over its lifetime. The plant’s annual emissions are roughly equal to the total annual emissions of New Zealand.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

fracking fiasco
Fracking Fiasco: New report names Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase as main players funding U.S. shale bust
By Oil Change International – press release
September 24, 2020

A new report by Oil Change International and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) shows how major banks have continued pouring money into fracking companies in recent years despite numerous warnings that the sector was financially unsustainable — on top of the well-documented environmental, health and climate impacts of the industry.

Our research reveals that financing for the fracking industry is highly concentrated, with Wells Fargo the biggest banker of U.S. frackers since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, and JPMorgan Chase a standout second place. The fracking industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with dozens of bankruptcies so far this year, but its troubles long predate the coronavirus.

“Banks and asset managers have enabled the oil and gas industry’s destructive boom and bust cycles for generations. Our planet cannot afford another oil boom. We need regulators, shareholders, and the public to force banks to consider the climate impact and demand they stop financing destructive and unstable business activities,” said Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, U.S. Program Director at Oil Change International. “Our collective health continues to be at risk, and we cannot let banks fund another oil boom when this pandemic passes.”

“The fracking sector has become a poster child for the serious problems facing the U.S. oil and gas industry,” said Alison Kirsch, lead researcher for RAN’s climate and energy program. “The disastrous climate consequences of fracking, as well as its horrific community health impacts, are well known, but by continuing to pour billions of dollars into this dying sector, banks are also injecting a real level of systemic risk into the U.S. economy.”
» Read article       
» Read the report

cities pledge to divest
12 major cities pledge fossil fuel divestment
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
September 23, 2020

The mayors of 12 major cities around the globe have pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies in an effort to further support a green and sustainable COVID-19 recovery.

The C40 Cities-backed declaration, unveiled at a virtual Climate Week NYC event on Tuesday, calls on signatories to commit to divesting all city assets and pension funds from fossil fuel companies; increasing financial investments in climate solutions; and advocating for fossil-free finance from other investors.

The signatories include the mayors of Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh, along with the leaders of eight international cities including London and Oslo. Details of individual divestment amounts and timelines were not shared. Following this commitment, cities must navigate their specific divestment processes and structures in proposing next steps to pension boards.

A public declaration from a group of leading cities “sends a huge signal to the marketplace,” [New York’s Chief Climate Policy Advisor Dan Zarrilli] said, which is key to leading this charge and effectively pursuing a green recovery.

“It’s absurd how much we as a globe continue to subsidize fossil fuels, and part of the call here is to make sure our green recovery … is pulling those subsidies out” and instead putting investments toward green jobs and clean infrastructure, Zarrilli said.
» Read article        

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Darwinian challengeWoodMac: Energy Sector Faces ‘Darwinian Challenge’ to Tame Climate Change
The world is on course for 2.8 to 3 degrees Celsius of warming as existing infrastructure weighs heavy and COVID-19 slows progress.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
September 24, 2020

The world is on course to sail past the recognized “safe” level of 2 degrees Celsius of warming to as much as 3 degrees Celsius, according to the latest Wood Mackenzie Energy Transition Outlook.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and ideally to limit it 1.5 degrees. Yet just as efforts toward that goal are finally scaling up — via the EU’s amplified climate targets, China’s new carbon-neutral target for 2060, and other examples — the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a massive dose of uncertainty.

“As the world begins to reconstruct its economy, all energy and natural-resources sectors will face a survival of the fittest,” said Prakash Sharma, head of markets and transitions for Asia-Pacific at Wood Mackenzie. “We call it the ‘Darwinian challenge’ because society and investors must evolve and adapt to the changes needed to overcome the twin crises and prepare for the future.”

“While the world is adding renewable power generation capacity and manufacturing electric vehicles, it is still not enough. No efforts have been made to decarbonize the existing infrastructure,” said Sharma, pointing out that huge swaths of existing steel, cement, refining and transportation infrastructure still have decades left in their life cycles.

David Brown, head of markets and transitions for the Americas at Wood Mackenzie, said that the appropriate figure for the task is $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. An EU carbon credit in its Emissions Trading System is currently priced at just shy of €30 ($35).

“We need more policy support than is available today. The EU is the most favorable,” Brown said during a press conference to launch the report, adding that even that support limits access to carbon credits. “Governments need to actually sponsor these projects to get them off the ground.”

Brown alluded to the need for a regulatory overhaul to make the 2-degree pathway a reality. WoodMac reports that the investment levels required, though not guaranteed, appear to be attainable. The technology necessary already exists, even where it has yet to be scaled. All eyes now return to politicians and regulators.
Blog editor’s note: November 3, 2020… Vote early if you can!
» Read article

priced outPriced Out
Both parties used to love the carbon tax. So why are they giving up on it?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 23, 2020

Although carbon dioxide itself doesn’t constitute a direct health threat, fossil fuel use also releases a slurry of toxic chemicals that can lead to asthma, strokes, heart disease, and cancer. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 7 million people around the world die each year from causes linked to air pollution.

Burning fossil fuels, therefore, creates a massive cost that no one is paying for — a “negative externality” in economist-speak. “Allowing people to emit CO2 into the atmosphere for free is similar to allowing people to smoke in a crowded room or dump trash into a national park,” wrote the Nobel prize-winning economist William Nordhaus in 2008. Nicholas Stern, also an economist and the author of an influential 2006 report on global warming, has argued that climate change “is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.”

To those who spend their days thinking about money and markets, there’s a simple fix: Put a price on carbon to reflect its actual costs to the planet and human health. If fossil fuels are more expensive, the thinking goes, individuals, corporations, and governments will not only use less energy, they’ll also boost wind and solar power, expand public transportation, and take other steps necessary to build a green economy.
» Read article        

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

RBG
How Justice Ginsburg’s Death Could Affect Future Climate Rulings
Legal experts say a sixth conservative Supreme Court judge could imperil current and future emissions regulations
By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News, in Scientific American
September 22, 2020

If President Trump is able to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the nation’s highest bench, he may stymie climate action for generations to come.

Legal experts say that the addition of a sixth conservative justice to the court could lock in opposition to expansive readings of the Clean Air Act that encompass greenhouse gas emissions or trigger a reexamination of the landmark 2007 climate case Massachusetts v. EPA.

In either case, court watchers say, the outcome doesn’t bode well for the future of climate regulation.

“Climate change is a crisis, and we really need all the tools we can get, and some of them are probably not going to be there,” said Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“If Trump is able to fill this vacancy, there’ll be at least five conservative votes for at least 20 years, and we don’t know what … new doctrines that are not now on the horizon that could really weaken the power of the government to deal with climate change,” he said.

The Trump administration has made environmental deregulation a cornerstone of its agenda for the last four years, rolling out major changes to rules including emissions standards for automobiles and power plants. Green groups have lambasted the changes as violations of federal environmental and administrative law, which require reasoned rulemaking.

But a conservative Supreme Court majority that favors curbing agency powers could limit oversight of emissions without even touching Massachusetts v. EPA, which said the government can regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, said Hana Vizcarra, staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental & Energy Law Program.

“EPA has been reconsidering their own interpretations of the law in order to limit their own authority,” she said.
» Read article        

big oil reality check
Spoiler alert: Big oil companies are still failing on climate
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International
September 23, 2020

Over the past year, big oil and gas companies have seen their social license and financial bottom lines face unprecedented threats. With climate disaster after climate disaster devastating communities across the globe and oil markets crashing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these companies have faced growing pressure – from frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples, shareholder activists and major investors, policy experts and city leaders – to take responsibility for the climate wreckage they are causing and change course.

In response, major oil and gas companies have released a slew of new commitments outlining their climate “ambitions” and pledges to become “net zero” carbon companies, all signs that the pressure is having an effect. But these oil company pledges and promises cannot be taken at face value.

That’s why today, Oil Change International, in collaboration with 30 other organisations, released a new assessment of the latest climate pledges from BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and Total. In the briefing, called Big Oil Reality Check, we focus on how these companies’ plans stack up against the bare minimum of what’s needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

As one might expect from corporations notorious for decades of climate deception, on the whole, these plans use fancy terminology and convoluted metrics to cover up still grossly inadequate levels of action. Granted, some companies are doing more than others (e.g., Exxon and Chevron really are the worst). But being a “leader” among laggards doesn’t cut it when we’re in a climate emergency – a crisis that the oil and gas industry has done the most to cause.
» Read article       
» Download the paper

second-place finishArctic Sea ice melts to second-place finish at annual minimum
By Gloria Dickie, Mongabay
September 21, 2020

After a spring and summer that saw record-breaking heat waves above the Arctic Circle — with 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures — the sea ice floating atop the Arctic Ocean reached its annual minimum extent last Wednesday, with 3.74 million square kilometers (1.44 million square miles) of sea ice remaining, coming in a close second to 2012.

In the last decade, Arctic sea ice cover has declined drastically. The record low of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) reached in 2012 was largely due to an intense late-season cyclone which decimated the residual ice. What worries scientists is that 2020’s sea ice vanishing act followed a similar trajectory, even in the absence of such an extreme weather event. In no other years on record besides 2012 and 2020 has sea ice extent dropped below 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). To many experts, this indicates the Arctic has entered a new ecological state.

The drastic heating up of the Arctic is significant in itself, but also to the planet. Over the past 30 years, the region has warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with the significant shifts up North not only felt there, but ultimately influencing weather patterns in the lower latitudes, possibly as far south as the equator.

Jennifer Francis studies these connections as a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. Her past research has focused extensively on how Arctic warming impacts the mid-latitudes of North America, primarily through a weakening of the northern jet stream — a high speed, high altitude river of wind that circles the pole.

The temperature difference between the Arctic (cold) and the temperate zone (warm) is one of the primary drivers of the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere. But as sea ice vanishes and Arctic temperatures increase, the temperature variant between these regions is getting smaller. That means there’s less force driving the winds in the jet stream from west to east. Losing energy, the weakened jet stream starts to swing wildly southward, deviating from its typical polar path into lower latitudes which can cause temperate weather patterns to stall in place — bringing extended bouts of extreme weather, either drought or deluge, heatwaves or even cold periods.
» Read article                  

risky storageThis Oregon forest was supposed to store carbon for 100 years. Now it’s on fire.
By Emily Pontecorvo and Shannon Osaka, Grist
September 18, 2020

As fires ripped through the West this month, displacing families and releasing a thick, choking cloud of smoke that reached all the way to Europe, some scientists began to worry about yet another loss. Thousands of acres of forest, maintained to offset greenhouse gas emissions, might be going up in smoke.

Claudia Herbert, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, who is studying risks to forest carbon offsets, noticed that the Lionshead Fire — which tore through 190,000 acres of forest in Central Oregon and forced a terrifying evacuation of the nearby town of Detroit — appeared to have almost completely engulfed the largest forest dedicated to sequestering carbon dioxide in the state.

The project, owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, spans 24,000 acres. Before the fires, the state of California had issued more than 2.6 million offset credits based on the carbon stored in its trees. That translates to 2.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or the equivalent of driving 560,000 cars around for one year.

California has a cap-and-trade law that limits greenhouse gas emissions from major emitters like power plants. Those companies, however, have a little bit of leeway — in order to meet the law’s requirements, instead of fully reducing their emissions, they can buy “carbon offsets.” Those often take the form of paying a forest manager to boost growth so the trees will suck up, and store, more carbon dioxide over the long term: in theory, at least 100 years. Those offsets are supposed to counterbalance any extra emissions, so the climate is no worse off than before.

Runaway wildfires, however, throw a wrench in that plan — and as climate change intensifies fires around the world, forest carbon offsets are only going to get riskier.
» Read article        

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

net metering agreement
In South Carolina, a Happy Compromise on Net Metering
The agreement between Duke Energy and Sunrun may allow other states to resolve the debate after years of conflict.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
September 24, 2020

A compromise in South Carolina between advocates of solar power and a utility may offer a blueprint for other states trying to resolve one of the major conflicts in the clean energy transition: the debate over net metering.

Duke Energy has reached an agreement with Sunrun, the rooftop solar company, and Vote Solar, the solar advocacy group, that sets up a process for compensating solar owners for the excess electricity they send back to the grid.

This potential breakthrough in the net metering debate follows years of bitter conflict in the Carolinas and across the country.

Under the plan, solar owners would pay rates that vary depending on the time of day, and would get credits at those same rates for sending excess electricity to the grid. The rates would be highest from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when electricity demand is high. Rates would be lower during the day and lowest overnight.

The agreement, which is still subject to approval by state regulators, would allow Duke to pay lower rates for solar during the hours when the grid has plenty of electricity, such as in the morning. And by paying higher rates during times of peak demand, Duke would be encouraging solar owners to set up their panels in places that get more sun during the evening.

“This new arrangement not only recognizes the value of solar and the enabling energy grid, but it unlocks additional benefits for all customers by addressing when utilities experience peak demand across their systems in the Carolinas,” said Lon Huber, Duke Energy’s vice president for rate design and strategic solutions, in a statement.
» Read article       
» Read Duke Energy’s announcement

ORPC tide power
Maine company looks to tidal power as renewable energy’s next generation
After years of development, tidal and river energy supporters say the technology is on the cusp of wider commercial deployment, especially if it can win federal support.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By ORPC / Courtesy
September 23, 2020

With much of New England’s attention on offshore wind, a Maine company hopes to put itself on the map with tidal energy.

Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Eastport on a five-year plan to develop a $10 million microgrid primarily powered by tidal generation.

The project will be an opportunity for the small port city to expand its workforce and build its appeal for younger residents. It’s also an opportunity for ORPC to expand its reach as the company’s leaders try to find a viable market for ocean- and river-based generation in an industry largely dominated by solar and wind.

While tidal and river energy haven’t reached the same level of visibility as other renewable sources, supporters say these and related resources like wave and ocean current energy — collectively called marine and hydrokinetic resources — are at a similar point now to where solar and wind were a decade ago. They say the predictability of tides and currents in places like the Western Passage, the inlet on which Eastport is located, makes these resources promising as governments aim to create a resilient grid.

The federal Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is also looking at hydrokinetic energy. “Each one of those [resources] has massive amounts of energy distributed at different locations around the country,” said Levi Kilcher, a researcher who focuses on ocean energy at the lab.

“If we’re totally honest, the amount of energy that’s in the tides and in the waves is not as large” as wind or solar, Kilcher said. “We really see the value in sort of diversifying our energy sources.”

Tides are very predictable, he said, and so are other water resources like rivers, waves and the Gulf Stream. “Then couple that with a diversified energy portfolio,” he said. “In my opinion, a more diverse set of energy resources gives you a more resilient energy system.”
» Read article        

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

zinc precipitate
Can a Novel Zinc Battery Deliver Clean Multiday Backup Power?
California is testing Canadian startup e-Zinc’s long-duration technology to keep businesses powered through wildfires and outages.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
September 18, 2020

California is looking for ways to keep power flowing to customers amid wildfires without burning fossil fuels. A Canadian storage technology startup thinks it has the solution.

This summer, Toronto-based e-Zinc won a $1.3 million grant from the California Energy Commission to demonstrate its long-duration zinc battery for the commercial and industrial market. As the state’s worst wildfire season on record rages on, the urgency to find new tools for clean backup power has only grown.

The batteries precipitate little bits of zinc out of a solution while charging, using a windshield-wiper-like tool to clear the plate and make room for more charging. This allows for longer-duration storage, while the cheap component costs promise to keep prices low relative to other options on the market.

The CEC grant will help the startup stake a claim on an underserved market, CEO James Larsen said in an interview.

Lithium-ion batteries are good at daily cycling for bill management, but they can’t run long enough to guarantee multiday backup, he noted. Customers looking for economic multiday backup power usually have to turn to fossil fuels, like gas or diesel generators.

“We can do both: We can do the short-duration time-of-use arbitrage and demand-charge reduction and help monetize those opportunities for customers, but we can also provide them up to two days of backup power in the face of an outage,” Larsen said.
» Read article        

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cal ICE ban by 2035
Newsom calls for California ban on new gas-fueled cars by 2035
By COLBY BERMEL, Politico
September 23, 2020


Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling for California to ban new gasoline-fueled vehicles within 15 years in a bid to combat climate change and make the state the first in the nation to stop sales of cars with internal combustion engines.

The Democratic governor on Wednesday signed an executive order that directs the California Air Resources Board to establish regulations requiring that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California in 2035 be zero-emission vehicles.

The ban on gas-powered vehicles is likely to face opposition from automakers and Republican leaders in Washington, who have already battled the state over its stricter fuel economy rules. The Trump administration is fighting the state in court over whether it can set stricter emissions standards than the nation as a whole.

While environmentalists embraced his call to ban gas-powered vehicles, some questioned Tuesday why he wasn’t doing more to stop fracking.

Newsom announced he was asking state lawmakers to implement a fracking ban by 2024, but stopped well short of directing his own oil and gas regulators to stop approving fracking permits. Environmentalists have increased their criticism of Newsom on fracking in recent days, especially as the governor has emphasized California’s role in fighting climate change.
» Read article        

Tesla battery tech
How Tesla plans to make batteries cheap enough for a $25,000 car
Tesla’s big “battery day” event, explained.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARS Technica
September 23, 2020

Tesla’s business model depends on continuous improvements in the cost and energy density of batteries. When Tesla was founded in 2003, it was barely possible to build a battery-powered sports car with a six-figure price tag. Over the next 15 years, cheaper and more powerful batteries enabled Tesla to build roomier cars with longer ranges at lower prices.

Tesla expects that progress to continue—and maybe even accelerate—in the next few years. And it isn’t waiting for other companies to come up with better battery designs. In recent years, Tesla has had a large team of engineers re-thinking every aspect of Tesla’s batteries, from the chemistry inside the cells to the way the batteries are incorporated into vehicles.

At a much-touted Tuesday event, Tesla pulled back the curtain on a suite of improvements the company hopes to roll out in the next three years. In total, Tesla says that all of these innovations put together will enable a 56-percent reduction in the per-kWh cost of its batteries.

As a result, Elon Musk said, Tesla will be able to realize a longstanding dream: a truly affordable electric car.

“We’re confident that long-term we can design and manufacture a compelling $25,000 electric vehicle,” Musk said. He added that this would happen “probably about three years from now.” Tesla didn’t provide a name or other details about this planned low-cost Tesla.
» Read article        

Airbus innovatingAirbus reveals plans for zero-emission aircraft fueled by hydrogen
Aviation firm announces three different concepts with aim of taking to the skies by 2035
Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 21, 2020

Airbus has announced plans for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft models that run on hydrogen and could take to the skies by 2035.

The European aersospace company revealed three different aircraft concepts that would be put through their paces to find the most efficient way to travel long distances by plane without producing the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global heating.

UK holidaymakers and business travellers could fly from London to the Canary Islands, Athens or eastern Europe without producing carbon emissions, should the plans become a commercial reality.

Guillaume Faury, the Airbus chief executive, said the “historic moment for the commercial aviation sector” marks the “most important transition this industry has ever seen”.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

abandoned gas well
A Dying Industry is Leaving A Deadly Legacy
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
September 18, 2020

An important investigation by Bloomberg Green, published yesterday, examined the issue of the shocking state of over three million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States. Nor is this a problem only linked to America. There are believed to be nearly 30 million abandoned oil and gas wells worldwide.

Many of these wells are leaking methane, the potent greenhouse gas or polluting water courses. As the article states, “if carbon dioxide is a bullet, methane is a bomb.”

We have known for a long while that abandoned wells were a problem, but we still do not know the extent of the problem. Even now. The oil industry may be dying, but it will still pollute us for decades after its death.

One scientist tracking the issue, Mary Kang from Princeton, has been modeling how carbon dioxide and methane leak from old wells. In 2016, Kang published a study of 88 abandoned well sites in Pennsylvania, revealing that 90% of wells investigated leaked methane.

Another scientist working on the issue, Anthony Ingraffea, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell who has studied leaks from oil and gas wells for decades, told Bloomberg, “we really don’t have a handle on it yet… We’ve poked millions of holes thousands of feet into Mother Earth to get her goods, and now we are expecting her to forgive us?”
» Read article       
» Read original Bloomberg Green article

risks revealed
As pipeline projects cancel, future falls into question
By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle
September 15, 2020

For years, a small clique of investors has questioned the logic of putting money into oil and gas pipelines that take decades to pay off when climate change policy was pushing the energy sector away from fossil fuels.

Banks and other institutions, however, largely continued to finance the multibillion-dollar projects, confident in projections by oil and gas companies that the so-called energy transition would take time and oil and natural gas would be needed for decades to come.

But a rash of cancellations and delays of new pipelines, largely brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, raises questions of whether those skeptics’ warnings are starting to catch on and the cancellations reflect a newfound wariness among banks to back the projects in view of an uncertain future for fossil fuels.

“No doubt some of these decisions are short-term concerns, but also an understanding there is a long-term risk profile for (pipeline) assets that cost billions of dollars and at best have 10-year shipper commitments,” said Andrew Logan, head of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit advising investors on sustainability. “There’s a lot more exposure for investors than had been understood before.”

The potential impact of tougher climate policies is increasing borrowing costs for oil and gas companies, analysts said, even as low interest rates push down borrowing costs for most industries.

“The environmental pushback is starting to increase the cost of capital for some producers, leading to lower overall production, and that ultimately boomerangs into the (pipeline) space,” said John Coleman, an oil analyst at the research firm Wood Mackenzie. “The big question is how long does that transition take. Right now, the market is pricing in a rapid transition.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

trash tsunami
‘Trash Tsunami’ Washes up on Honduran Beaches

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 23, 2020

A “trash tsunami” has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

The trash is mostly plastic waste, Voice of America reported Tuesday, and it is polluting the typically pristine tropical beaches of Omoa in the country’s north. Honduran officials said Saturday that the refuse was coming from the mouth of the Motagua River in neighboring Guatemala. It poses a problem for the local economy because it depends on the tourism the beaches attract.

“This wave of trash which came from the Motagua River really surprised us, and even though it caused problems, it has not stopped our activities,” Honduran environment official Lilian Rivera said, as Yahoo News reported. “We are committed to cleaning our beaches and keeping them clean, but today we are demanding that authorities in Tegucigalpa take strong actions, actions to find a permanent solution to this problem.”

Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras.

The Hondoran government, meanwhile, has demanded action from Guatemala to stem the tide of plastic, according to Voice of America.

But the plastic flowing from Guatemala’s Motagua River is an ongoing problem for the region, as The Intercept reported in 2019. The plastic tide is fed by the fact that Guatemala has few managed landfills or wastewater treatment plants. The plastic then washes out in the Caribbean Sea, home to the biodiverse Mesoamerican reef.
» Read article        

» More about plastics in the environment

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