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Weekly News Check-In 3/11/22

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Welcome back.

In Peabody, just north of Boston, ground is being prepared for a new fossil fuel powered peaking power plant with no defensible economic or technical reason to exist given today’s climate imperatives and renewable energy and storage alternatives. Two respected consulting firms have produced deeply-researched reports illuminating greener alternatives that in all cases cost less and reduce financial, health, and environmental risks. Now, a group of dedicated activists are prepared to begin a hunger strike, seeking to focus public and Baker administration attention on what has become a high stakes effort to stop an outdated and dangerous project from moving forward.

At the same time, the window is closing on any chance for national legislation that salvages the important climate components of President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better bill. Pressure is coming from a radically conservative Supreme Court that seems intent on preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, along with the real possibility that Democrats could lose control of one or both houses of Congress in upcoming midterm elections.

Both of those topics are loaded with the green economic transition’s promise to address climate change by cutting fossil fuel use, while simultaneously (finally) righting historic environmental injustices. The horrifying urgency of Russia’s war in Ukraine is driving energy-related decisions today that could push future emissions either up or down.

Some of those decisions involve physical and policy changes to modernize the electric grid. Here in New England, that starts with convincing our grid operator, ISO-NE, to embrace the coming changes and stop protecting the fuel-based status quo of the last century. Meanwhile, we have a story from Virginia about some of the creative ways renewable energy is being deployed.

The Biden administration recently restored California’s special status as a clean transportation leader, overturning the prior administration’s attempt to remove the state’s longstanding ability to set and enforce stringent tailpipe emissions requirements. Looking at aviation, efforts are underway to eventually eliminate emissions altogether in aircraft powered by green hydrogen fuel cells.

We have carried a number of stories about Massachusetts gas utility pilot projects to provide district heating and cooling using heat pumps connected to a network of underground pipes. We have an update, including a useful graphic showing what these ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” might look like.

Wrapping up with a local report, we’re looking at the possible sale and decommissioning of Pittsfield’s waste incinerator, which will benefit the area’s air quality and public health while also posing challenges. We’ll be advocating for policies that reduce packaging materials and divert organic waste to composting facilities.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

fast company
Protestors plan hunger strike over Peabody power plant
By Paul Leighton, Salem News
March 11, 2022

Environmental activists say they plan to go on a hunger strike next week to protest the building of a new oil-and-gas powered plant in Peabody.

In a posting on the Breathe Clean North Shore website, six members of Climate Courage say they will begin the hunger strike on Tuesday and visit the 14 communities that are involved in the planned peaker plant in Peabody.

“We’ve tried everything,” said Joy Gurrie, of Ipswich, one of the planned hunger-strikers. “We’ve marched, protested to officials. This is like a last-ditch effort.”

The $85 million peaker plant — so called because it will run only during peak demand times for electricity — is scheduled to be built on Pulaski Street in Peabody. Fourteen municipal light plants, including those in Peabody and Marblehead, are partnering on the project through the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company.

The project has been approved by the state and site work has begun on its construction next to the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s existing Waters River Substation. But residents and environmental advocates continue to fight it.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network released two reports saying the plant is risky both financially and environmentally. One of the reports said the municipal light plants could provide more power at a lower cost by “buying capacity” from the market, rather than spending $85 million to build a plant. The report estimated that would save $29 million over the first 15 years.

Another report said the plant could end up being “stranded,” or abandoned, before the end of its projected 30-year lifespan due to new laws intended to protect environmental justice communities, which are defined based on income and minority populations. The report also cited the volatility of gas prices as a threat to the plant’s financial future.

Sarah Dooling, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, said the project was approved by the state before new rules protecting environmental justice communities were adopted. The plant would be located in an environmental justice neighborhood in Peabody and less than a mile from eight others, according to her organization.

Dooling said the organization has asked the state’s environmental secretary, Kathleen Theoharides, to conduct an environmental review of the project.

“If the Baker administration does not want this plant to be built, it would not be built,” Dooling said.
» Read article 
» Read the Clean Power Coalition’s post on the hunger strike – see how you can support the strikers!
» Read the Strategen Consulting report on market capacity purchases    

» Read the Applied Economics Clinic risk assessment report      

time is short
Peabody Generator Opponents Make Late Plea To Halt Project
Climate advocacy groups released data Thursday they hope will prompt the state to reopen the proposed generator’s approval process.
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 10, 2022

Climate advocacy groups made a late — and perhaps ultimately final — push for the state to reopen the approval process for the proposed 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered peak capacity generator at Peabody’s Waters River substation on Thursday.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company Project 2015A — which the state Department of Public Utilities approved for $85 million in funding last July after months of appeals and fierce objections from opposition groups and some elected officials — is designed to provide residents in 14 MMWEC communities, including Marblehead and Peabody, with peak-capacity energy at below-market prices in the case of extreme weather conditions.

The MMWEC last spring hit a 30-day “pause” on the project, which moved through the state approval process in relative obscurity for years. The MMWEC and Peabody Municipal Light Plant made some alterations aimed at lowering the emissions impact on the surrounding communities but ultimately got the go-ahead for much of the framework for the original plan the utility said will operate approximately 239 hours per year and be 94 percent more efficient than generators across the state.

But both state and local climate and environmental justice advocates groups have kept up the fight — on Thursday citing more data that the generator threatens to be more expensive for consumers and risks become a “stranded asset” based on recent price trends in the energy industry and improvements in battery storage capacity.

“Gas peakers right now are not the only capacity resource,” said Maria Roumpani, Senior Manager of Strategen, an impact-driven firm whose mission is to decarbonize energy systems. “Resource economics and climate change have progressed significantly over the past five or six years (since the outset of Project 2015A). Today, we’re more aware of environmental impacts and at the same time renewable and storage energy costs have fallen dramatically, which changes a lot of the economics of the peaker.”
» Read article  

» More about peaker plants

LEGISLATION

closing window
The political window is closing on climate change
If Democrats can’t compromise now, they may come away with nothing.
By The Editorial Board, Boston Globe
March 3, 2022

The long-predicted effects of climate change are now hard upon us, and they will only get worse unless we take sweeping action. But it’s not just the atmospheric window that’s closing. The political portal is as well — and not just for this year but for the next several. That means Democrats must move with dispatch to pass the climate provisions of the Build Back Better legislation.

Several coalescing probabilities make congressional action in the next few months the best, and perhaps last, chance for timely action. On Feb. 28, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit intended to block the federal government’s ability to take strong regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That was the approach President Obama settled on in the face of Congress’s disinclination to act in a meaningful way on global warming. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan soon ran into legal problems, with the Supreme Court freezing it while a challenge to its legal grounding played out in court. Donald Trump then gutted Obama’s regulatory effort, only to see his own do-little-or-nothing rule thrown out by the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Biden administration has signaled it intends to return to an Obama-like approach by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory power to crack down on energy-sector emissions, but has yet to detail its plan. Despite the lack of a currently relevant justiciable policy, however, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the D.C. Appeals Court’s ruling. The fact that the high court opted to hear this case before President Biden has a set of rules in the game suggests that its conservative majority is intent on preemptively closing that regulatory avenue. That would be in keeping with those justices’ clear skepticism about administrative authority based on a broad interpretation of statute. If so, the EPA would see its power to require sector-wide greenhouse-gas reductions severely curtailed.

On the electoral front, meanwhile, the prognosis does not look good for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. Republicans could well end up in control of the House and perhaps the Senate as well. Shortsighted though it is, congressional Republicans, who are both deeply beholden to the fossil-fuel industry and deep into climate denial, feel little compunction to address the climate issue. Should they win control of either branch of Congress in November, it becomes highly unlikely that any meaningful climate measure will pass.
» Read article

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Raimondi Park
How Air Pollution Across America Reflects Racist Policy From the 1930s
A new study shows how redlining, a Depression-era housing policy, contributed to inequalities that persist decades later in U.S. cities.
By Raymond Zhong and Nadja Popovich, New York Times
March 9, 2022

Urban neighborhoods that were redlined by federal officials in the 1930s tended to have higher levels of harmful air pollution eight decades later, a new study has found, adding to a body of evidence that reveals how racist policies in the past have contributed to inequalities across the United States today.

In the wake of the Great Depression, when the federal government graded neighborhoods in hundreds of cities for real estate investment, Black and immigrant areas were typically outlined in red on maps to denote risky places to lend. Racial discrimination in housing was outlawed in 1968. But the redlining maps entrenched discriminatory practices whose effects reverberate nearly a century later.

To this day, historically redlined neighborhoods are more likely to have high populations of Black, Latino and Asian residents than areas that were favorably assessed at the time.

California’s East Bay is a clear example.

[…]Margaret Gordon has had decades of experience with these inequalities in West Oakland, a historically redlined neighborhood. Many children there suffer from asthma related to traffic and industrial pollution. Residents have long struggled to fend off development projects that make the air even worse.

“Those people don’t have the voting capacity, or the elected officials, or the money to hire the lawyers, to fight this,” said Ms. Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an advocacy group.
» Read article  
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Omsk refinery
As War Rages, A Struggle to Balance Energy Crunch and Climate Crisis
Rising oil prices and increased demand for expanded production come at a time when scientists say nations must sharply cut the use of fossil fuels.
By Brad Plumer, Lisa Friedman and David Gelles, New York Times
March 10, 2022

As the world reels from spikes in oil and gas prices, the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare a dilemma: Nations remain extraordinarily dependent on fossil fuels and are struggling to shore up supplies precisely at a moment when scientists say the world must slash its use of oil, gas and coal to avert irrevocable damage to the planet.

While countries could greatly reduce their vulnerability to wild swings in the oil and gas markets by shifting to cleaner sources of energy such as wind or solar power and electric vehicles — which is also the playbook for fighting climate change — that transition will take years.

So, for now, many governments are more urgently focused on alleviating near-term energy shocks, aiming to boost global oil production to replace the millions of barrels per day that Russia has historically exported but which is now being shunned by Western nations.

The two goals aren’t necessarily at odds, officials in the United States and Europe say.

Yet some fear that countries could become so consumed by the immediate energy crisis that they neglect longer-term policies to cut reliance on fossil fuels — a shortsightedness that could set the world up for more oil and gas shocks in the future as well as a dangerously overheated planet.

“In the short term we have to try to prevent this crisis from creating an economic catastrophe,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a managing director at RMI, a nonprofit that works on clean energy issues. “But there are also longer-term steps we need to take to reduce our underlying energy vulnerabilities.” Otherwise, she said, “we’ll end up right back in this situation several years down the road.”
» Read article  

Amazon fire
Amazon is less able to recover from droughts and logging, study finds
By Henry Fountain, New York Times, in Boston Globe
March 7, 2022

The Amazon is losing its ability to recover from disturbances like droughts and land-use changes, scientists reported Monday, adding to concern that the rainforest is approaching a critical threshold beyond which much of it will be replaced by grassland, with vast consequences for biodiversity and climate change.

The scientists said their research did not pinpoint when this threshold, which they described as a tipping point, might be reached.

“But it’s worth reminding ourselves that if it gets to that tipping point, that we commit to losing the Amazon rainforest, then we get a significant feedback to global climate change,” said one of the scientists, Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in England.

Losing the rainforest could result in up to 90 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide being put back into the atmosphere, he said, equivalent to several years of global emissions. That would make limiting global warming more difficult.

Among previous studies there has been a large degree of uncertainty as to when such a threshold might be reached. But some research has concluded that deforestation, drying, and other factors could lead to substantial forest destruction in the Amazon by the end of this century.

Carlos Nobre, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil and one of the first to sound alarm over the potential loss of the Amazon more than three decades ago, described the new study as “very compelling.”

“It raised my level of anxiety,” said Nobre, who was not involved in the research.

Covering more than 2 million square miles in Brazil and neighboring countries, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, and serves a crucial role in mitigating climate change in most years by taking in more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases. In its diversity of plant and animal species, it is as rich as or richer than anywhere else on the planet. And it pumps so much moisture into the atmosphere that it can affect weather beyond South America.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Mr Popular
Analysis: From Gas to Renewables to Efficiency, Putin’s War Has EU Scrambling for Energy Independence
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
March 7, 2022

With Vladimir Putin’s devastating war in Ukraine now well into its second week, news coverage and commentary are turning to the steps other European countries can take to break their dependence on Russian oil and gas, once and for all.

While the fossil industry tries to spin the war as justification for a new round of exploration and development, and Europe looks to alternate sources of gas for short-term relief, renewable energy and energy efficiency are dominating much of the conversation as a more practical, affordable solution.

Two intertwined issues brought into focus by the invasion of Ukraine are the 40% of European Union gas supply that comes from Russia, and the corresponding US$720 million in daily gas revenue that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using to finance his war. While sanctions and divestment are hitting broad swaths of the Russian economy, “in gas the flow continues unabated and, with European customers now paying even more exorbitant prices, Russia is benefiting from a staggering surge in revenue,” writes British historian and European Institute Director Adam Tooze, citing Bloomberg columnist Javier Blas.

“At the start of the year, Russia was earning $350 million per day from oil and $200 million per day from gas,” Tooze says. “On March 3, 2022, Europe paid $720 million to Russia for gas alone.”

[…]That dependence “has proved the Achilles’ heel of security for Europe and, by extension, the United States,” writes the Washington Post editorial board. “Quite simply, Russia has fossil fuels in abundance and has used this as a geopolitical tool to influence consuming countries such as Germany and Italy, blunting their willingness to take a stand against Mr. Putin’s aggressive policies until it is too late.”
» Read article  

800 MW offshore
House pushes for Massachusetts to become the center of U.S. wind production
By Mike Deehan, WGBH
March 3, 2022

House Speaker Ron Mariano and the Massachusetts House want to supercharge the wind energy industry in the Commonwealth by levying new fees on fossil fuels to invest in cleaner power produced off our shores.

“What oil did for Texas, wind can do for Massachusetts. We have enough wind energy out there that can power every home and every business in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Franklin Rep. Jeffrey Roy, the House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and key author of the bill.

Mariano and Roy’s wind bill is seen by Democrats as a key piece of the state’s strategy to meet it’s long-term emissions goals.

Under state law, Massachusetts must by 2030 reduce carbon emissions by 50% from 1990 levels. That target moves to a 75% reduction in emissions by 2040 and 85% of 1990 levels by 2050.

To get there, the state’s electricity supply must shift from being generated by polluting fossil fuels to clean energy sources like wind, solar and hydro energy. After Maine voters rejected a plan by Massachusetts and other northeast states to buy and transport hydropower from Canada, the Bay state was left looking for new ways to increase green power production.

“We happen to be located in the perfect space because the most robust waters in the contiguous United States are 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.,” Roy said.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy    

MODERNIZING THE GRID

future now
The future is now: Doubling down on fossil fuels is not the solution to New England’s energy needs
By Joe Curtatone, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 1, 2022
Joe Curtatone is president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council

Across New England, the second half of January ushered in freezing temperatures and along with it, a reinvigorated debate about the region’s overreliance on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. New England has made significant strides in recent decades, retiring most of its coal fleet and moving to a — comparatively — cleaner generating fleet that is now largely dominated by natural gas.

That is why it may surprise you to learn that in late January, the grid mix was, in fact, very dirty with over 25% coming from oil and coal at times, and with the monthly contribution of those dirty sources totaling a staggering 13%. Over the course of an entire year, coal and oil generation is quite small, typically below 1%, as it was in 2021. But in this cold, and with gas prices far higher than in recent years, it was coal and oil to the rescue on the vast majority of days. To be clear, the system was not in an emergency condition. It was just cold.

As we move on from a year that was the hottest in Boston’s history, with New England facing the impacts of climate change at an even more accelerated pace, this is simply untenable. New England states have enacted some of the most aggressive climate laws in the country, and we have made bold and smart bets on making clean energy resources like offshore wind and solar the new backbone of our grid in the future. But as this past January demonstrates, our work to meet those ambitions has only begun.

ISO New England’s CEO was recently quoted as saying, “[t]he clean energy transition is a long journey and we cannot escape the reality that the region will be reliant on much of the existing fleet, and the fuels they utilize, for many years to come”. We fear that framing the problem that way risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. By continuing to look to fossil fuel peaking resources as a first resort rather than last, we are ignoring significant opportunities that exist today to bring all available clean resources to solve this problem. Here are some ideas to start.
» Read article  

SEAM study
Grid operators’ ‘seam’ study paves way for renewable expansion

A new study shows how strategically sited transmission projects can unleash a wave of new clean energy generation.
By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News, in Energy News Network
March 5, 2022

A joint study by two regional grid operators with territories that span a wide swath of the central U.S. reveals how strategically sited transmission projects along their boundaries could enable a wave of new renewable energy generation that may not otherwise get built.

The final study, published yesterday, is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to help enable more wind and solar development across an area that’s become increasingly challenging for renewable developers because of grid constraints.

The study identified seven transmission projects along the MISO-SPP boundary that would cost $1.65 billion and enable 28 gigawatts of new generation capacity — and perhaps as much as 53 GW — across MISO and SPP combined. The latter estimate, based on modeling by SPP, would roughly double the combined wind and solar capacity that currently exists in the two regions.

“Identifying those projects that can meet the needs of interconnecting generators in both regions for a period of time is huge, it’s very important,” said Natalie McIntire, a technical and policy consultant for the Clean Grid Alliance, a St. Paul, Minn.-based group whose members include renewable developers.

The projects to help unlock the region’s renewable energy potential could accelerate the pace of the transition from fossil fuels in regions of the country long tied to coal.
» Read article  

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

PV on abandoned coal mines
In Virginia, abandoned coal mines are transformed into solar farms
Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes the model can be replicated nationwide
By Zoeann Murphy, Washington Post
March 3, 2022

Empty freight cars line the railroad tracks as far as the eye can see from Tim Jennings’s backyard in Dante — a town of less than 600 residents.

“They should open up some more new mines around here,” the 61-year-old former coal miner says, pointing up at the mountains surrounding the valley. “Solar panels — that might work too.”

In southwest Virginia, abandoned coal mines are being transformed into solar installations that will be large enough to contribute renewable energy to the electric grid. Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes it’s creating a model that can be replicated nationwide.

In 2019, the Nature Conservancy acquired 253,000 acres of forest in the central Appalachian Mountains that it calls the Cumberland Forest Project. It’s one small part of the group’s efforts in the mountain range, which reaches from Alabama to Canada.

“We’ve identified the Appalachians as one of the most important places on Earth for us to do conservation,” says Brad Kreps, the Nature Conservancy’s Clinch Valley program director, who is leading the solar projects. “We put the Appalachians in a very rare company along with the Amazon, the wild lands of Kenya and the forests of Borneo.”

The Cumberland Forest includes several abandoned mine sites scattered around Virginia’s coal fields region. Solar developers partnering with the Nature Conservancy, such as Dominion Energy and Sun Tribe, say the mine sites have vast flat areas exposed to sunlight that are a rarity in the mountains, and the sites offer advantages like being close to transmission lines.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Bay Bridge traffic
Biden Restores California’s Power to Set Stringent Tailpipe Rules
The state is expected to write strict auto pollution standards designed to significantly speed the transition to electric vehicles and influence new federal rules.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
March 9, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday restored California’s legal authority to set auto pollution and mileage rules that are tighter than federal standards, a potent climate policy that had been stripped away by former President Donald J. Trump.

The return of one of California’s most powerful environmental prerogatives could have a significant impact on the type of cars Americans will drive in the coming decade, the amount of gasoline the nation consumes and its ability to reduce the tailpipe emissions that contribute heavily to climate change.

As the most populous state, and with the world’s fifth-largest economy, California has been able to influence automobile makers and set the pace for the rest of the country. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the California rules, turning them into de facto national standards. Twelve other states are following California’s mandate to sell only zero-emissions vehicles after 2035.

With that leverage, California’s actions become pivotal to Mr. Biden’s broader push to accelerate the transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles toward electric vehicles, which require no oil and produce no emissions.
» Read article  

Zero E concept
Fortescue teams up with aero giant Airbus to accelerate green hydrogen planes
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
March 8, 2022

Fortescue Future Industries says it wants to speed up the development of aircraft fuelled by green hydrogen, as part of a push to decarbonise the aviation industry, forming a new partnership with European aircraft giant Airbus.

The clean energy unit of resources giant Fortescue Metals Group signed the MoU with Airbus on Tuesday to cooperate on the development of zero emissions aircraft, fuelled by hydrogen.

The partnership will see the two companies identify the needs and potential boundaries to the use of green hydrogen as an aircraft fuel, covering government regulation, necessary infrastructure and how to best establish global supply chains.

According to a joint statement, FFI will provide technical expertise on the development of the necessary hydrogen supply chains, and Airbus will focus on assessing the energy needs and fuelling requirements of the aviation industry, as well as the aviation regulatory environment.

Fortescue founder Dr Andrew Forrest said the aviation industry was responsible for a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, and had so far proven elusive in decarbonisation efforts.

“The time is now for a green revolution in the aviation industry. This exciting collaboration brings together leaders in the aviation industry with leaders in green energy for a pollution-free future,” Forrest said.

Airbus has unveiled a number of zero emissions aircraft concepts and is hoping to launch its first hydrogen-fuelled commercial aircraft by 2035.

The company says that green hydrogen could be used through two key methods for reducing aviation emissions, including as an input in the production of synthetic fuels for use in current aircraft, as well as for direct use in next-generation aircraft using modified turbines and fuel cells.
» Read article  

» More about green transportation

GAS UTILITIES

vertical ground loops
A net-zero future for gas utilities? Switching to underground thermal networks
Three pilot projects in Massachusetts will connect ground-source heat pumps to heat and cool entire neighborhoods.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
March 1, 2022

Massachusetts’ major gas utilities, facing the eventual demise of fossil fuels under the state’s decarbonization mandate, are contemplating a new business model: replacing neighborhood gas pipeline networks with pipes that capture and share thermal energy underground.

Over the next year, utilities Eversource, National Grid and Columbia Gas plan to break ground on separate pilot projects testing the viability of making such ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” into in-the-ground realities. If they succeed, the model could be extended to a much broader set of the utilities’ customers — and potentially offer gas utilities in other regions a path toward a carbon-free future.

Nikki Bruno, Eversource’s director of clean technologies, said the utility has hopes to expand well beyond its $10.2 million, three-year pilot project in a lower-income neighborhood in the city of Framingham, Massachusetts.

For that to happen, however, ​“we would have to show an environmental benefit, customer affordability, and technology performance,” she said.

Right now Eversource is busy signing up a mix of residential and commercial customers willing to install heat pumps that can tap into the pipes it will be laying alongside its fossil gas pipelines, Bruno said. Those pipes will carry a water-and-antifreeze mix that circulates through loops in boreholes sunk hundreds of feet into the earth, absorbing underground temperatures that linger at a stable range around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

As that temperate fluid is brought back to the surface, it can be used by electric-powered heat pumps to generate heat when it’s cold outside or cold when it’s hot outside, whichever is needed, as this Eversource graphic indicates.
» Read article  

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

spinning it
Canada’s ‘petro-provinces’ see opportunity in Russia-Ukraine war
Amid calls to ban Russian oil and gas, environmentalists slam pro-oil ‘opportunism’ in Canada and call for energy transition.
By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, Al Jazeera
March 8, 2022

As efforts ramp up to broker a ceasefire and bring an end to nearly two weeks of Russian attacks on Ukraine, calls have been growing internationally to ban oil imports from Russia as a way to exert pressure on President Vladimir Putin to end the war.

United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on US imports of Russian oil and gas. It was unclear whether Europe, more energy-dependent on Russia than the US, would follow suit.

That is where Canada’s oil industry lobby groups and pro-oil politicians are now hoping to step in, urging countries to choose what they describe as Canadian “ethical oil” over Russian “conflict oil” reserves.

But environmentalists, rights advocates and other experts have denounced attempts to expand fossil fuel projects in light of the war in Ukraine, saying the conflict should instead hasten a global energy transition to respond to the climate crisis.

“We’re seeing once again the fossil [fuel] lobby seizing upon a crisis with horrific human consequences to promote its destructive agenda and double down on fossil production expansion,” Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, told Al Jazeera. “It’s been absolutely distressing to see some politicians echo this grotesque spin.”
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP plume
If Pittsfield trash incinerator plant sale goes through it will close, which could mean you’ll pay more for trash disposal
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
March 11, 2022

If approved by a bankruptcy judge, a national company that boasts of capturing “value from waste” will take over and decommission a Pittsfield incinerator that has been a city landmark for two generations.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court identify Casella Waste Management of Massachusetts as the company poised to pay $1 million to buy the Hubbard Avenue plant, whose smokestacks, visible across the city’s east side, long have concerned environmentalists.

In February, a letter to employees from Richard Fish, Community Eco Power’s president and CEO, confirmed that a prospective new owner intended to dismantle the incinerator, which, in 2021, burned 80,000 tons of trash from Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

In a letter of intent included in a recent bankruptcy court filing, a Casella executive says that if the sale is allowed, it would halt trash incineration in Pittsfield and transform the site into a transfer station. From there, the executive said, trash would be trucked to landfills, possibly including four owned by Casella in New York state.

Closing the incinerator would force Pittsfield and other customers to renegotiate how to dispose of trash, having lost the option to have those costs tempered by the use of waste to generate energy. Casella already holds a contract to collect trash in Pittsfield.
» Read article   

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

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Welcome back.

Just as we were posting last week’s Check-In, news broke that the Massachusetts DEP revoked Palmer Renewable Energy’s air quality permit – effectively killing the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield. It was huge news and a victory for environmental justice, and now we’ve included some of the best articles on that important story.

The Weymouth compressor station is similar. It is a large piece of polluting infrastructure inappropriately located adjacent to vulnerable communities already burdened by long exposure to industrial toxins. It is staunchly opposed by residents of Weymouth and surrounding towns, under attack from every politician from Massachusetts’ two Senators down to local Mayors and City Councillors, and currently under review by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission newly concerned with environmental justice issues and climate change. So Tuesday’s large, unplanned gas release (3rd in eight months!) energized the opposition and raised hopes that this project, too, will be scuttled soon.

The concepts of equity, justice, and addressing the legacy of environmental racism are informing everything from suggestions on how best to build out electric vehicle infrastructure to how the Environmental Protection Agency sets enforcement priorities. These head-spinning changes have all occurred since January 20th, when a departing President Trump left behind a wasteland of hollowed out and demoralized government agencies and told us to “have a nice life”.

Something else to make corporate polluters nervous: environmental and climate advocates and a growing number of world leaders are calling for the designation of a new crime that can be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Ecocide involves the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change.

There’s been a lot of press lately touting hydrogen as the key to our clean energy future, and we’ve been cautious about accepting it as anything more than hype. New analysis from Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy concludes that batteries are much better positioned as the clean energy foundation – and hydrogen will only assume that role if batteries fail to live up to their potential.

A few weeks ago, we ran a story about how difficult it is to purchase a new refrigerator with climate-friendly refrigerant. We are pleased to offer this update, along with a link to Energy Star’s new list. It’s now possible in the U.S. to know you’re buying a non-HFC fridge!

We keep track of pipelines, and this week’s focus is on Enbridge’s Line 5. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered it shut down by May 12, and Enbridge says it will not comply. The Straits of Mackinac are set to be the scene of a complicated international showdown over fossil energy, where the stakes include the potential for catastrophic pollution of the Great Lakes.

Our own Rose Wessel addressed some of the issues and misinformation circulating about peaking power plants, and explains how these expensive, polluting relics can be replaced with clean energy alternatives. We also take a look at resistance from gas utilities to implementing new safety rules developed in the aftermath of the 2018 Merrimack Valley disaster, as necessary to protect the public.

Our Fossil Fuel Industry section includes three great articles about really bad behavior. The first is a white-knuckle thriller about October’s Hurricane Zeta and an ultra-deepwater drilling operation that nearly ended in a disaster that could have eclipsed BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill.

We close with a look at the online shopping that has sustained many of us through the pandemic, and consider Amazon’s excessive use of plastics in its packaging.

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

BIOMASS

Palmer Plant protest
Mass. Revokes Air Permit For Controversial Biomass Facility In Springfield
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 2, 2021

In a big win for public health and environmental justice advocates, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has revoked a key air permit for a controversial proposed biomass plant in Springfield.

The permit for the Palmer Renewable Energy facility — technically called the “Final Plan Approval” — was issued almost nine years ago, and according to the state, was revoked because of a lag in construction activities as well as major public health and environmental justice concerns.

Springfield City Councilor and long-time opponent of the Palmer facility, Jesse Lederman, praised the decision and called it “welcome news in the City of Springfield.”

“The days of polluters being rubber stamped in communities like ours are over,” he said in a statement. “For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out of town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities.”

First proposed in 2008, the 35 megawatt Palmer facility drew immediate public ire, but managed to receive a series of permits and green lights from local and state regulators. It got its final air permit from MassDEP in 2012 and was supposed to begin construction soon after.

In a letter accompanying the permit revocation, Michael Gorski of MassDEP explained that while there are some signs of pre-construction activities at the site, the company has not meaningfully “commenced construction.” Under state law, MassDEP can rescind a project’s final permit if it doesn’t begin construction within two years, or if it puts construction on pause for more than a year.

“The revocation of the approval for the Palmer biomass plant is a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet,” Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to celebrate this victory with the Springfield residents who fought so passionately against it. Today’s decision will save lives.”

If built, Palmer would have been the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would have burned about 1,200 tons of waste wood per day in the heart of a state-designated environmental justice community. Nearly one in five children in Springfield have asthma; the air quality is so poor that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked it the “Asthma Capital” of the country.
» Read article            

welcome to Springfield
Massachusetts Revokes Permit for Springfield Biomass Plant
By Partnership For Policy Integrity
April 5, 2021

In a major victory for Springfield residents and for environmental justice, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has revoked the permit for the long-contested Palmer Renewable Energy 42-megawatt biomass power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

While MassDEP based its April 2nd decision on a technicality – the permit is nearly a decade old and the developers have still not begun construction on the plant – the real reason behind this move is far more significant:

“MassDEP has determined to exercise this authority due to the amount of time that has elapsed since issuance of the PRE Final Plan Approval, more recent health-related information, and the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution during the intervening years.”

It took a long time for state officials to hear what the project’s opponents have been saying all along, but it’s clear they finally got the message: Stop treating Springfield as an environmental sacrifice zone.
» Read web post                

reason enough
After years of protests, state officials revoke permit for controversial biomass plant in Springfield
By David Abel, Boston Globe
April 2, 2021

After years of protests, the state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday revoked a critical air permit for a massive wood-burning power plant proposed to be built in Springfield, which opponents said would pollute the city and contribute to climate change.

In a five-page letter, state officials cited potential adverse health impacts in rejecting plans for the state’s largest commercial biomass plant, which was expected to burn nearly a ton of wood a minute and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants.

Noting the “strong opposition” from residents in Springfield, which has among the nation’s highest rates of asthma, environmental regulators said their decision was based on a “heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution.”

The link between environmental factors and heightened risk to the coronavirus also played a role in their decision.

“With COVID-19 rates particularly high in Springfield, there is increased concern, given multiple studies establishing a relationship between low-income and minority communities with elevated air pollution levels and increased severity of disease and/or mortality,” wrote Michael Gorski, director of the department’s offices in Western Massachusetts.

Officials at Palmer Renewable Energy, which proposed building the 42-megawatt incinerator, did not respond to requests for comment.

Local residents and environmental advocates, who have lobbied against the plant for years, cheered the decision.

“For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out-of-town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities,” said Jesse Lederman, a city councilor and outspoken critic of the plant who chairs the city’s sustainability and environment committee. “The days of polluters being rubber-stamped in communities like ours are over.”

Laura Haight, policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a Pelham-based advocacy group that opposes biomass, called the state’s decision “a huge victory” for environmental justice.

“Hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin for this ‘zombie’ plant,” she said, noting that it had been in the planning stages for more than a decade. She said provisions in the state’s new climate law, which Governor Charlie Baker signed last month, made it unlikely that the developer could find another way to build the plant.
» Read article           

» More about biomass            

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

strike three
Weymouth Compressor Reports Another ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release. Third Time In 8 Months
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 6, 2021

On Tuesday morning, the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station released a large quantity of gas into the air above the facility. The cause of the unplanned release remains unclear, but the company that owns and operates the facility, Enbridge, said it’s “continuing to gather information.”

Under state law, Enbridge is required to notify state and local officials if it vents more than 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas — an amount roughly equivalent to what the average U.S. home uses in two months.

According to Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron, the gas was released “in a controlled manner” through the compressor station’s tall vent stack and “the safety of the facility and surrounding area were not impacted by this occurrence.”

But opponents of the compressor like Alice Arena of the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) are skeptical. Big gas releases like this “don’t instill confidence in safety at all,” she said, adding that perhaps federal regulators should have some sort of “three-strikes rule” for problematic facilities

This is the third unplanned gas release in the last 8 months. The first — on Sept. 11, 2020 — occurred after an O-ring gasket failed and workers had to manually shut down the compressor. The second — on Sept. 30, 2020 — occurred after the emergency shutdown system loss power and automatically shut itself down. In both cases, the total amount of gas vented turned out to be much higher than initially reported
» Read article           

electrified barbed wire
Massachusetts politicians push to shutter Weymouth gas compressor station after third unplanned release of gas
By Emma Platoff, Boston Globe
April 7, 2021

Ahead of a deadline Monday evening, gas companies and industry groups rushed to tell federal regulators that a controversial Weymouth gas compressor station should be allowed to continue operating despite its rocky history, arguing the site was safe and critical to the country’s energy infrastructure.

Then, around 9:37 a.m. Tuesday morning, the site spewed at least 10,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas into the surrounding neighborhood, its third unplanned release in just eight months.

That incident comes at a crucial moment for the compressor station as federal regulators take a rare second look at its safety protocols and community impact. And it triggered a new wave of condemnations from top Massachusetts politicians, who say the only appropriate course of action is to shutter the site immediately.

“Every accident at the Weymouth Compressor Station endangers the lives and health of local residents and surrounding communities and these so-called blow outs have become a dangerous pattern of releasing harmful gas into the nearby residential neighborhood,” said US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who represents Weymouth. “It is completely unacceptable to allow Enbridge to continue their operations.”

Environmental activists and prominent politicians have been fighting the site for years, saying it brings unnecessary danger to a densely populated South Shore neighborhood.

After the latest release, and amid a federal review launched under a presidential administration that has called environmental justice a priority, activists hope this time the plant will be closed permanently.

Alice Arena, head of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has long protested the Weymouth site, said she’s “waffling between my regular pessimism and optimism.”

The timing of the incident feels less like coincidence than “karma,” she said.

“It seems as though every time they’ve had an accident it’s been at a tipping point,” Arena said. She pointed to a previous unplanned release last fall, which came just days before the facility was set to begin full operations.

“Instead, they ended up with a shutdown order,” she said wryly. The three gas releases show that operators are too reckless to continue work in the area, she said.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor           

 

PIPELINES

Line 5 - Getty
Can a pipeline company defy a governor’s orders? Gretchen Whitmer is about to find out.
The ongoing battle between North America’s largest mover of oil, Enbridge Energy, and the state of Michigan.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
April 7, 2021

As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada.

Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.    

A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirements laid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in a press release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.” 

Her order to shut down the pipeline follows years of concern from researchers, activists, and policymakers that Line 5 could seriously threaten Great Lakes fisheries and drinking water. The National Wildlife Federation found that the pipeline has spilled over 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in an estimated 30 spills to date. “Every day that pipeline lays on the lakebed, we’re a day closer to a catastrophe,” said David Holtz, an activist and coordinator for Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of Michigan organizations fighting to shut down Line 5 and support a clean energy transition.

Since Whitmer’s closure order in November, Enbridge has sued the state of Michigan on the grounds that it doesn’t have authority over the company because Enbridge is regulated federally by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Enbridge has also stated outright that it will defy the governor’s orders. “We do not plan to shut down Line 5 unless ordered by a court or PHMSA, which we view as highly unlikely,” a spokesperson for the company told Grist. Among its stated reasons for refusing to shut down are concerns over energy security for Michigan and Canada and the increased environmental impact from alternative modes of transporting propane. The pipeline supplies between 55 to 65 percent of Michigan’s propane needs.

For the shutdown to go into effect, a state or federal court would need to rule in Whitmer’s favor. If the case is sent to state court, Shroeck said, Enbridge could appeal that decision, therefore sending it to a federal court of appeals, whereafter it could be years before a decision is reached. In the meantime, Enbridge would be able to continue operating without penalty. 

The U.S. portion of the pipeline that crosses under the Mackinac straits is the worst possible location in the Great Lakes for an oil spill. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that because of the turbulent waters and switching directions of the current, a Line 5 oil spill could potentially contaminate more than 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines       

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

equity and infrastructure
States, utilities must ensure equitable investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, new report warns
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2021

Only a few states and power companies are taking steps to ensure low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color benefit from the transition to electric vehicles, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The study, published Tuesday morning, examined 36 states where utilities have filed transportation electrification plans, and concluded only six have some form of equity mandate or consideration.

“Without strong policies in place, you could see a big round of ratepayer-funded charging investments going disproportionately to communities that least need the support,” said Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior research analyst for transportation and author of the study.
» Read article            
» Read the ACEEE study          

» More about greening the economy               

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Donaldsonville LA
Exclusive: EPA reverses Trump stance in push to tackle environmental racism
Environmental Protection Agency launches crackdown on pollution that disproportionately affects people of color
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 12, 2021

Michael Regan, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has sought to revive the effort to confront environmental racism by ordering the agency to crack down on the pollution that disproportionately blights people of color.

On Wednesday, Regan issued a directive to EPA staff to “infuse equity and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs”. The memo demands the agency use the “full array of policy and legal tools at our disposal” to ensure vulnerable communities are front of mind when issuing permits for polluting facilities or cleaning up following disasters.

The directive states there should be better consultation with affected communities and indicates the EPA will be tougher on companies that violate air and water pollution mandates. Regan’s memo calls for the EPA to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution”.

Enforcement of pollution violations dropped steeply under Donald Trump’s administration, with the EPA even suspending routine inspections of facilities while the Covid-19 pandemic raged in the US last year.

A lack of federal intervention further exacerbated a longstanding inequity where poorer people and communities of color in the US are far more likely to be exposed to dangerous pollutants. The pandemic has further worsened this situation, with research showing that people with chronic exposure to air pollutants have suffered worse outcomes from Covid.

Years of discriminatory decisions over the placement of highways and industrial facilities have led to Black people being exposed to 38% more polluted air than white people, with exposure to toxins from cars and trucks in parts of the US two-thirds higher than for white people. Black children are five times more likely to be hospitalized from asthma than white children.
» Read article           

» More about EPA              

 

CLIMATE

ecocideAs the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
International lawyers, environmentalists and a growing number of world leaders say “ecocide”—widespread destruction of the environment—would serve as a “moral red line” for the planet.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Katie Surma and Yuliya Talmazan, Inside Climate News
April 7, 2021

In 1948, after Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews and other minorities during World War II, the United Nations adopted a convention establishing a new crime so heinous it demanded collective action. Genocide, the nations declared, was “condemned by the civilized world” and justified intervention in the affairs of sovereign states. 

Now, a small but growing number of world leaders including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have begun citing an offense they say poses a similar threat to humanity and remains beyond the reach of existing legal conventions: ecocide, or widespread destruction of the environment.

The Pope describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster,” and has proposed making it a sin for Catholics. 

The Pontiff has also endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. The monumental step, which faces a long road of global debate, would mean political leaders and corporate executives could face charges and imprisonment for “ecocidal” acts.
» Read article           

northern lights
Projected Surge of Lightning Spells More Wildfire Trouble for the Arctic
A major climate shift in the High North is sparking fires that can release huge amounts of greenhouse gases from tundra ecosystems, where fires have been rare until recently
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
April 5, 2021

With the Arctic warming at up to three times the pace of the global average, more lightning storms will invade the High North, igniting wildfires that release carbon dioxide and speeding the transition of flat mossy tundra to brush and forest landscapes that absorb more solar heat energy.

Yang Chen, an Earth scientist with the University of California, Irvine and lead author of a study released today in the journal Nature Climate Change that projected the increases in lightning strikes, said the findings were somewhat unexpected, and intensify wildfire concerns in the High North because lightning is the main ignition source in the Arctic.

“The size of the lightning response surprised us because expected changes at mid-latitudes are much smaller,” he said. More lightning-caused fires would speed a vicious circle of climate-warming changes already under way in vast areas of tundra and permafrost across Siberia and Alaska, he added.

A surge in the frequency of large Arctic fires in the last five years spurred the research, which is based on 20 years of NASA satellite data showing the relationship between lightning and the climate, he said. 

Linking that data with climate projections through 2100, the scientists estimated the number of lightning strikes will grow by about 40 percent for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. By late in the century, the IPCC projects the Arctic could warm by 4.5 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on emissions.

The study also shows that the region that experiences lightning will shift, with future flash rates in the far northern tundra areas equal to the current rate in boreal forests, 300 miles to the south. 

The increase may cause “a fire-vegetation feedback whereby more burning in Arctic tundra expedites the northward migration of boreal trees,” that will absorb more heat from the sun, accelerating the Arctic cycle of warming,” the authors wrote in the study.
» Read article           
» Obtain the study               

» More about climate                

 

CLEAN ENERGY

H2 uh-ohFor hydrogen to dominate the low-carbon world, batteries must fail
By James Fernyhough, Renew Economy
April 5, 2021

Hydrogen has the potential to help bring more than half of the world’s emissions down to zero, but to reach that potential it requires aggressive government support, a dramatically improved value chain – and it needs batteries to fail.

That last point is one of the most striking findings in a new series of reports by Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy, the last of which, on the “battery society”, was released last week.

The reports examine three solutions to the problem of storage in an energy system dominated by wind and solar: carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and batteries.

They conclude that battery technology is the most powerful of the three, having the potential to help reduce to zero 78 per cent of the world’s emissions. CCS could potentially help reduce 62 per cent of the world’s emissions, though it is the least practical of the three.

Hydrogen could help reduce 51 per cent of the world’s emissions, but to reach that level it would need to be used in areas where batteries currently have a big edge, such as electric vehicles and electricity grid support.

The race between hydrogen and battery technology is the latter’s to lose, the report argues. Batteries are not especially reliant on either dramatic policy changes, such as aggressive carbon pricing; or on rapid development in the value chain.

“An important advantage of the Battery Society is the fact that battery manufacturers must only rely on themselves to ramp up battery supply and bring the Battery Society to fruition,” the report says. “The CCS and Hydrogen Societies, on the other hand, are dependent on policy changes and cost developments in other parts of the value chain.

“In order to succeed, they essentially need batteries to fail,” it concludes
» Read article           

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Energy STAR refrigerant listWant to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator? Leading Manufacturers Are Finally Providing the Information You Need
The change came after I went out of my way to buy a green fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 6, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and leading appliance manufacturers have finally released key chemical refrigerant information that makes it easier for consumers to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators. 

Until the past few years, it’s been virtually impossible to buy a full-sized refrigerator in the United States that uses climate-friendly refrigerants like isobutane. The vast majority of refrigerators came with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemical refrigerants that are thousands of times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. 

For environmentally conscious consumers who wanted to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators, like me, it’s been difficult, if not impossible, to know which was which. As I found out the hard way, it seemed as if the manufacturers themselves didn’t even know.

But now, after I told the story last month of ordering an environmentally friendly fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house, two leading manufacturers have for the first time released lists of dozens of HFC-free refrigerators that they produce.

Meanwhile, the EPA’s Energy Star program has published its first concise list of all refrigerators that use climate friendly refrigerants.
» Read article           
» See the Energy Star list of products with climate-safe refrigerants                

MinneapolisMinneapolis program puts energy audits into hands of potential homebuyers
In its first year, a city ordinance requiring energy audits prior to home sales resulted in more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation, and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
April 5, 2021

Minneapolis saw near-perfect compliance and few complaints during the first year of a new ordinance requiring energy audits prior to all home sales.

The city’s residential energy benchmarking program generated more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners. The information is also publicly available online.

That’s more than six times the number of home energy audits typically conducted each year through a voluntary program.

“That’s an incredible gamechanger,” said Kim Havey, the city’s sustainability director, “but we need to be able to do that each and every year if we are going to be able to meet some of our goals for climate change.”

Sellers complied with the requirement for 95% of listings, but the city doesn’t yet have data on how the audits are affecting the housing market. Real estate agents said it’s unlikely energy efficiency is a deciding factor given how quickly homes are selling, but the reports could provide a useful roadmap for future home improvements — and in at least a few cases they have already spurred projects.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency            

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

green-drinks-ppp
‘Peaker’ plants or dirty energy is a false choice
By Rosemary Wessel, Cummington, Letter to the Editor – Berkshire Eagle
April 2, 2021
The writer is a member of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team

To the editor: In response to a recent letter about Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to put “peaker” plants in the past, it’s not surprising to see a restating of the false choices frequently proposed by the fossil fuel industry (“Letter: Environmental group misguided to target Berkshire ‘peaker’ plants,” Eagle, March 26).

It’s true that the sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow, as renewable energy detractors like to point out. And while it’s true that emissions from burning natural gas are roughly two-thirds that of oil or half that of coal, the truth is also that burning gas still creates dangerous fine particulate emissions as well as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. For the five percent of the time that the Pittsfield generating plant actually runs, it generates 15 percent of Pittsfield’s total annual stationary emissions.

One of the other fallacies in the author’s statement is that renewable energy would require cutting trees. I’m not sure if his reference was to biomass, which is not renewable in any realistic time scale and produces emissions roughly equivalent to coal, or if his assumption is that the only place to put solar panels is in the middle of forested land. BEAT does not support either of those options.

Understanding why fossil fuel peaker plants are no longer a valid option in the face of climate change requires consideration of modern options. Deployment of our state’s aggressive energy efficiency programs and other peak shaving options like demand response programs have already sharply reduced peak demand events on our region’s power grid and saved program participants significant sums in reduced energy costs.

When the wind blows and sun is shining, energy can be stored in grid-scale battery installations. It can also be stored in individual buildings like schools, town offices and other key municipal locations, commercial and industrial locations, multi-unit rental properties and even individual homes. This not only allows renewables to be installed on rooftops and over already disturbed grounds like parking areas, as they should be, but allows for thousands of “virtual power plants” to supply energy during peak demand, outages or whenever customers prefer to not draw power from the grid.

Mass Save’s Connected Solutions program allows for battery storage installations to be used in all these ways, and allows customers to combine financial incentives, shortening a payback period to a matter of years rather than a decade or more. Please visit tinyurl.com/putpeakersinthepast to learn more.
» Read article           

» More about peaker plants         

 

GAS UTILITIES

extra safe
Gas industry says new rules not needed
By Christian M. Wade, Eagle Tribune
April 8, 2021
*Photo from September 14, 2018 New York Times article on the Merrimack Valley gas disaster caused by shoddy work and lax engineering oversight.

BOSTON — A gas industry official told regulators Thursday that proposed rules requiring a professional engineer’s approval of certain projects may be unnecessary because gas companies already follow heightened standards.

State regulators are hammering out rules that mandate an engineer’s stamp on plans for “complex” projects that could pose a risk to public safety. The new rules stem from a 2018 law passed in response to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

The state Department of Public Utilities, which is drafting the rules, held an online hearing Thursday where an industry representative said utilities have since adopted guidelines, known as Pipeline Safety Management Systems, that make the new regulations unneeded.

Jose Costa, vice president of operations service at the Northeast Gas Association, said those guidelines include an engineering requirement that “provides another layer of protection that was not in place prior to 2018.”

“Some of the proposed prescriptive requirements in this rule-making are already being addressed through other methods and programs,” he told the panel.

Utilities, including National Grid and Eversource, have complained that the proposed regulations will be too costly, and that they are unnecessary.

Utilities have lobbied to limit the kinds of projects that must get an engineer’s sign-off, and submitted a litany of proposed changes to the rules ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

Brendan Vaughn, an attorney representing the utilities, made no mention of those requests Thursday but told regulators his clients “look forward to working with them.”

Meanwhile, an engineering group cautioned against excluding certain types of gas projects from review.

“While there may be instances in which a licensed engineer is not needed, I urge caution in defining those instances too broadly,” Anthony Morreale, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professional Engineers, wrote to regulators.

Gas industry officials have also raised concerns about a shortage of engineers who specialize in utility work, warning that delays could result.

But Morreale noted more than 15,000 licensed professional engineers are working in Massachusetts.

“I respectfully suggest that decisions about public safety should not be made based on the purported availability or not of personnel, but rather that companies tasked with upholding public safety adjust recruitment and hiring practices to ensure they are appropriately staffed,” Morreale wrote in an April 1 letter.
» Read article           

» More about gas utilities           
» More about the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster                    

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

AsgardExclusive: 2020’s Hurricane Zeta Nearly Caused ‘Another Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe’ in Gulf of Mexico
The near-miss raises questions of corporate management in a battered oil industry, how drillers will handle increasingly volatile hurricanes, and federal oversight of the offshore drilling industry nearly 11 years after the Gulf of Mexico was coated in oil.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 5, 2021

It was Thursday, October 22, 2020, when the crew aboard the Transocean Deepwater Asgard, an ultra-deepwater rig in the Gulf of Mexico, started monitoring a weather disturbance in the nearby Caribbean Sea that bore the tell-tale signs of a forming hurricane.

But the Asgard, which was drilling an oil well in the waters about 225 miles south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had other pressing matters to deal with. That same day, the oil well it was drilling more than a mile below the water’s surface experienced a kick — an eruption of oil, gas, or other fluids from deep underground up the drill pipe. If not properly controlled, this type of incident can sometimes lead to a blowout.

Kicks aren’t necessarily all that uncommon during offshore drilling. What happened over the following week, however, not only left the crew of the Asgard in deadly peril and caused over $5 million in damages to the ship and its equipment, but also, according to experts, risked an oil spill potentially several times the size of the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.

Events out to sea on the Asgard received little or no media attention at the time. An investigation by DeSmog reveals how close the Gulf Coast may have been to a major oil industry disaster this past fall.

“This could easily have become another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and former professor at the University of Alaska whose background includes advising on the response to that spill, the Exxon Valdez, and many others worldwide. “Secretary [of the Interior Deb] Haaland should order a comprehensive independent inquiry into the Deepwater Asgard incident, the failures leading up to it, and what needs to be done to prevent another such near casualty in the future.”
» Blog editor’s note: this article is a gripping and unsettling account of what’s happening out there in the world of deep water drilling.
» Read article           

tax refund
Analysis: Fossil Fuel Tax Programs to Cut Emissions Lead to Lots of Industry Profit, Little Climate Action
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 4, 2021

The fossil fuel industry and its investors have financially benefited from tax policies and subsidies designed to reduce the emissions from oil, gas, and coal — sometimes without taking the action required to tackle climate change.

Recently, claims have been surfacing of companies taking the taxpayer money offered to incentivize these actions but not following through on reducing their emissions. In March, for example, Reuters reported that Congress has opened an investigation into problems with the government’s “clean coal” tax credit. This is after Reuters revealed that financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs, were making huge profits off the program, despite it not effectively reducing emissions.

Now, companies such as ExxonMobil are lobbying against transparency efforts when it comes to reporting their emissions for an existing carbon capture tax credit.

And the industry is also increasingly calling for a national carbon tax to be introduced. In March, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it supports efforts to put a price on carbon — this is a reversal from its position a decade ago when it was opposed to a bill that would have introduced a cap and trade program to limit carbon emissions.

Introducing a carbon tax would allow polluters to continue to produce carbon, they would just have to pay a price to do so.

These market-based approaches to limiting climate emissions, however, raise concerns about their overall effectiveness. They provide an opportunity for companies to reap the financial benefits of climate action without actually delivering the emission reductions. This makes them incredibly popular with the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s naive of us to think that all of a sudden the oil and gas industry is going to put forward policies that are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Jim Walsh, senior energy policy analyst for environmental NGO Food and Water Watch, told DeSmog.
» Read article           

foolery exposedNAACP Report: Fossil Fuel Industry Uses Deception to Conceal Damage to BIPOC Communities
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2021

The fossil fuel industry continues to use a long list of deceptive tactics to conceal environmental destruction that harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.

That’s the top finding of a newly released NAACP report titled “Fossil Fuel Foolery.” The report identifies 10 tactics that polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians often deploy to deflect accountability for the impacts of fossil fuel production and pollution on the environment and human health.

This report updates material on fossil fuel industry influence tactics that the NAACP published in 2019.

Many of the industry’s tactics are familiar, such as obscuring or denying the true effects of pollution. In one glaring instance, a firm named Mobile Gas did not report a 2008 Alabama spill of tert-butyl mercaptan, a chemical that is mixed with natural gas to give it an odor that can help with detecting leaks. The spill probably contributed to respiratory ailments and other health problems affecting nearby residents of a mostly Black and working-class community. Years later, Mobile Gas maintained that the amount spilled was “safe.”

Another top-ten industry tactic identified by the NAACP is to “co-opt community leaders and organizations and misrepresent the interests and opinions of communities,” sometimes with financial support, to “neutralize or weaken public opposition.”

Utilities have lavished donations on churches, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to obtain local community buy-in on pollution-generating projects, or to stifle the push towards renewable energy. In a situation that directly affected the NAACP itself, the utility Florida Power & Light donated roughly $225,000 to the group’s Florida state chapter between 2013 and 2017. The donations alarmed the national organization when the Florida chapter began repeating industry talking points against the growth of solar energy in the state, and helped spur the NAACP’s initial 2019 report.

Fossil fuel companies and their allies also try to shift blame onto the very communities affected by pollution to distract from the impact of industry operations, the NAACP found.
» Read article           
» Read the NAACP report                

» More about fossil fuels                 

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

air pillow
This Peeler Did Not Need to Be Wrapped in So Much Plastic
Amazon must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.
By Pamela L. Geller and Christopher Parmeter, New York Times | Opinion
April 5, 2021

The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone.

Did you need a book, disposable surgical mask, beauty product, or garden hose? Amazon was probably your online marketplace. If you wanted to purchase a Nicolas Cage pillowcase or a harness with leash for your chicken, Amazon had your back (They’re #17 and #39 on a 2019 Good Housekeeping list of the 40 ‘weirdest” products available on the website “that people actually love.”) From pandemic misery came consumer comfort and corporate profit.

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

In 2019, Amazon used an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging, according to the nonprofit environmental group Oceana. The group also estimated that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste ended up as trash in freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world. These numbers are likely to rise in 2021.

The magnitude of plastic packaging that is used and casually discarded — air pillows, Bubble Wrap, shrink wrap, envelopes, bags — portends gloomy consequences.

These single-use items are primarily made from polyethylene, though vinyl is also used. In marine environments, this plastic waste can cause disease and death for coral, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Plastic debris is often mistaken for food, and microplastics release chemical toxins as they degrade. Data suggests that plastics have infiltrated human food webs and placentas. These plastics have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the bloodstream that help control growth and development during childhood, among many other important processes.
» Read article           

» More about plastics in the environment              

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Weekly News Check-In 3/26/21

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week’s news with a toot of our own horn, thanks to Danny Jin’s excellent reporting on the growing momentum behind BEAT’s campaign to replace polluting peaking power plants with renewables and battery storage. Please join the effort by signing our petition!

The Weymouth compressor station fight appears to be developing into something of a test case at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is beginning to focus on fossil project climate impacts for the first time. We use that framework to explore a couple potential effects: the impact on the broader U.S. natural gas industry, and the tie-in with another controversial project in Canada – the Goldboro LNG export terminal.

We’re exploring the fascinating contest between Michigan’s Governor Whitmer and environmental allies, vs Enbridge, Canada, and a good chunk of the oil industry, over Michigan’s recent demand the shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline – the aging section crossing under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Amy Westervelt of Drilled News offers an excellent podcast dive into the fossil fuel industry’s continuing efforts to criminalize nonviolent civil protest. Related to all those protests, the divestment movement has taken off – but big banks are still financing polluters to a shocking degree.

We have late-breaking news that Governor Charlie Baker signed landmark climate legislation into law just before we posted. As Massachusetts moves forward, we’re also keeping an eye on broader efforts to green the economy. We found a report explaining why skepticism is in order when considering big-polluter claims to go net-zero, and also some encouraging news about the greening of some aquaculture operations – a good thing since a new climate report shows that ocean trawling for fish releases as much carbon as emitted by the global aviation industry.

As usual, we can take a breather and enjoy some good news in our clean energy section, including a report on the multiple benefits of covering open canals and aquaducts with solar panels – a huge opportunity in southern California. The news is a bit more sobering as we consider home energy efficiency and electrification, and look at the current shortage of contractors with up-to-date skills. And likewise in clean transportation, where we’re reminded that heavy future reliance on personal electric vehicles, without reducing miles driven, would still be a problem.

Springfield’s City Council has enlisted the support of the Conservation Law Foundation in its fight against Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass plant. Meanwhile, across the pond, the Dutch have signaled it’s time to end biomass subsidies, ahead of the critical review in June of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). The EU must decide whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

We wrap up with a look at plastics, health, and the environment, along with a youtube video of comedian John Oliver’s deep dive into how the plastics industry convinced us to think we could simply recycle our way out of trouble. It’s pretty rude, but to the point.

   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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


BEAT’s ‘peaker’ campaign draws local support, statewide allies
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
March 20, 2021

In its campaign to convert three local power plants to less-polluting alternatives, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has added local supporters as well as allies across the state.

The “peaker” power plants in Pittsfield and Lee burn [gas, oil, and kerosene]. They serve to meet peak electricity demand — during the hottest summer days, for instance — but rank among the oldest and most polluting plants, disproportionately impacting neighborhoods that already have experienced significant pollution.

More than 10 local groups have joined the coalition opposing the operation of the three plants, and a petition to close them has reached about 200 signatures, said Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative.

“When we put up flyers in the afternoon, you see signatures by the evening,” Wessel said.

As a plan to transition Massachusetts to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 appears set to become law, Wessel said the state’s long-term climate goals align with a move away from fossil fuel-burning plants.

“That’s another argument for us: to switch over before they’re forced to shut down and become extinct,” Wessel said. “It’s a win-win for the companies, and we would get cleaner air sooner.”

The two plants in Pittsfield are on Merrill Road and Doreen Street, and the plant in Lee is on Woodland Road.

Wessel said BEAT has contacted the owners and operators of the plants but has not received a response. The California-headquartered IHI Power Services Corp. runs the Merrill Road plant, and Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix acquired the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants in 2016.

BEAT is pushing for battery storage as a cleaner alternative for peak demand, especially if paired with solar or wind energy. Wessel said BEAT wants to have a conversation with companies to see which storage incentives they might qualify for. The Clean Peak Energy Standard and the ConnectedSolutions program, for example, aim to cut costs and reduce emissions.

The Merrill Road plant is near Allendale Elementary School and Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state has designated an “environmental justice” area. Doreen Street is by Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road is at the edge of October Mountain State Forest.
» Read article               
» Sign the petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaking power plants!

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Why A Federal Order In The Weymouth Compressor Case Has The Natural Gas World Worried
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 19, 2021

In the six years since Massachusetts residents began fighting a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, the controversial and now-operational project has mostly been an issue of local concern. Not anymore.

As a challenge to the compressor station’s permit to operate winds its way through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — the agency in charge of approving interstate energy projects — some on the five-person body have signaled that they’re no longer interested in doing business as usual.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the commission began what some FERC experts are calling “a seemingly unprecedented” review process that not only raises questions about the future of the Weymouth Compressor, but has many in the gas industry worried about the fate of their current and future projects.

At the simplest level, this case is about whether FERC should hold a hearing to relitigate the Weymouth Compressor’s license to operate, known as a “service authorization order.” This happens all the time when project opponents appeal a FERC decision.

But two things make this situation unique: the potential precedent it could set, and the fact that FERC has a new commissioner who has promised to give more weight to climate change and environmental justice concerns.

The Weymouth Compressor was designed to be the linchpin of a large interstate gas pipeline system called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The project connects two pipelines and allows fracked natural gas from western Pennsylvania to flow through New Jersey and New England, and into Maine and eastern Canada for local distribution.

Though no public opinion polling about the compressor exists, there is intense opposition to it here in Massachusetts. From activists groups like the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) and Mothers Out Front, to elected officials, the anti-compressor movement here is vocal and visible.
» Read article                

Braintree Pays $20K For Air Quality Monitors At Fore River Plant
Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the area.
By Jimmy Bentley, Patch
March 19, 2021

Braintree will contribute $20,000 to help pay for an air quality monitoring system near the controversial natural gas plant along the Fore River.

Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the river basin’s communities, including Braintree, Weymouth, Quincy and Hingham.

Residents and elected officials in Braintree, Hingham, Quincy and Weymouth have expressed concern and have opposed Enbridge’s compressor station. Elected officials, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, also came out against the plant after an emergency shut down where 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas was released at the facility. There have been numerous protests outside the plant’s [construction] site and several arrests.

But Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Katie Gronendyke said upon the final approval that the project met all state and federal safety regulations, and that the project had passed air-quality testing impact assessments. Enbridge has also maintained that safety is their priority.

With state regulators approving the plant, Braintree joined Quincy, Hingham, the Ten Persons Group and the Ten Citizens Group in appealing the plant’s approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in federal court. The motion was filed last month in the U.S. 1st District Court of Appeals.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES


Gov. Whitmer offers propane plan for Upper Peninsula after Line 5 shutdown
By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
March 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration released its plan Friday to heat Michigan homes without depending on the Line 5 oil pipeline to deliver propane.

The plan calls for millions of dollars of investment in rail infrastructure and storage to help wean propane suppliers off the pipeline, plus other programs to reduce propane demand, help low-income customers pay their propane bills, and increase the state’s ability to monitor propane supplies.

The plan was praised by environmental groups, Native American tribes and others opposing Enbridge Line 5. But an Enbridge spokesperson called the plan “wholly inadequate” and at least one propane supplier raised doubts about whether it will adequately replace the propane currently supplied by the pipeline.

Whitmer has given Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy until May 13 to stop transporting oil through the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, citing concerns that the aging underwater pipeline poses an “unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

Much of the plan to replace Line 5 relies on grant programs Whitmer has written into her 2022 budget proposal, meaning it may require legislative approval.  Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

But the plan also notes that some propane suppliers have begun to independently wean themselves off Line 5 since Whitmer made the shutdown order in November.

Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis Parisio told Bridge Michigan the governor “is looking forward to discussions with the legislature and is hopeful that we can reach bipartisan support for her budget recommendations.”

In an interview Friday, Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps said the plan will put Michigan “in a good place for next winter and for whatever market changes arise.”
» Read article               
» Read the MI Propane Security Plan               


Ohio, Louisiana argue against Line 5 shutdown in federal court
By Garret Ellison, mlive.com
March 22, 2021

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is asking a federal judge in Grand Rapids to block Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s effort to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, arguing on behalf of Ohio refineries and the state of Louisiana that closing the submerged oil line would have economic impact beyond Michigan.

Yost filed an amicus brief on Friday, March 19 in the case Enbridge brought against Whitmer last fall, which is pending before Judge Janet Neff in the Western District of Michigan. The case is scheduled to begin mediation in April.

In the brief, Yost argues that closing the pipeline segment under the Straits of Mackinac would cause economic hardship for businesses supplied by the pipeline.

In November, Whitmer announced termination of the 1953 easement that allows the pipeline to cross the lakebed where lakes Michigan and Huron connect. She gave Enbridge until May 12 to stop the oil flow, a deadline the company says it won’t comply with absent a court order.

“Ohio refineries, their employees, and key industrial stakeholders directly rely on Line 5′s crude oil supply, and its economic effects are strongly felt in the Buckeye State and beyond,” Yost wrote. “Ohio, joined by Louisiana, respectfully urges the court to carefully balance protections for both the environment and the economic health of individuals and businesses on both sides of the border by allowing Line 5 to continue to operate safely.”

Case documents indicate Michigan opposes the motion but the state has not yet filed a reply.

Enbridge allies have mounted a full-throated defense of the controversial pipeline this year. Canadian government and business officials are lobbying the Biden Administration to intercede in Whitmer’s decision and are threatening to invoke a 1977 treaty governing the operation of cross-border pipelines unless Michigan backpedals the closure order.

Seamus O’Regan, Canadian natural resources minister, told a parliament committee earlier this month that the pipeline’s operation is “non-negotiable.”

The 68-year-old, 645-mile pipeline runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan. It is a key part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network that carries light crude and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac. Its existence has caused escalating concern since another Enbridge pipeline caused a massive oil spill in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River.

Because the pipeline crosses both Michigan peninsulas and many waterways, opponents see little benefit but substantial risk for the state from its existence and dismiss economic concerns around its closure as overblown.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Another Line 3 Battleground: free speech
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
March 20, 2021

We’ve covered the ongoing, fossil fuel-backed push to criminalize protest before. In 2017, Oklahoma passed the first of these bills, specifically citing the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Then American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), the trade group for refineries and petrochemical facilities, crafted sample legislation based on the Oklahoma bill, and pushed the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) to adopt it. In 2020 , the Covid-19 pandemic slowed things down a bit, but in 2021 things are speeding up. In January, Ohio passed a bill that’s been debated for years, bringing the total number of states with so-called “critical infrastructure laws” in place to 14.

What’s defined as critical infrastructure varies a bit from state to state, but pipelines are always included; penalties range, too, but across the board these laws increase both the criminal and financial penalties of protest, potentially landing protestors in jail for years with fines up to $150,000. It’s worth noting that all of these states have trespassing and property damage laws already, it’s not as though those things have been going unpunished; the new laws merely make the consequences much tougher. They also add penalties for organizers and organizing entities. In Montana, for example, a proposed bill would fine organizations up to a million dollars for being involved in protest.

All of which comes into play in Minnesota, where the fight against Line 3 is underway. There are currently six bills under consideration in the state, packaged into four legislative packages. If any of them pass, not only could protestors be facing stiffer penalties but also the organizations involved, most of them led by Native women, could find themselves slapped with large fines too.

In this interview, researcher Connor Gibson walks us through the origin of these laws, why they’re picking up steam, and what to expect this year.
» Listen to podcast, “How the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Undermining Free Speech”

» More about protests and actions               

DIVESTMENT

Big banks’ trillion-dollar finance for fossil fuels ‘shocking’, says report
Coal, oil and gas firms have received $3.8tn in finance since the Paris climate deal in 2015
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
March 24, 2021

The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of NGOs.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking”.

Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2C, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.

US and Canadian banks make up 13 of the 60 banks analysed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.

Overall financing dipped by 9% in pandemic-hit 2020, but funding for the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest expansion plans actually rose by 10%. Citi was the biggest financier of these 100 companies in 2020.

A commitment to be net zero by 2050 has been made by 17 of the 60 banks, but the report describes the pledges as “dangerously weak, half-baked, or vague”, arguing that action is needed today. Some banks have policies that block finance for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but almost two-thirds of funding is for oil and gas companies.

The report’s authors said targeting of banks by campaigners and activist shareholders could help change bank policies but that action by governments was also needed.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

Baker intends to sign climate and emissions bill
By Chris Lisinski, WWLP
March 25, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he plans to sign into law a sweeping climate policy bill the Legislature approved last week after vetoing an earlier version in January.

Asked as he departed a press conference if he would approve the climate bill, Baker replied with one-word: “Yes.” A spokesperson for his office then confirmed his intent to sign the legislation.

The landmark proposal aims to craft a path toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions statewide by 2050 by setting interim targets for emissions reductions, establishing energy efficiency standards for appliances and addressing the needs of environmental justice communities. Baker vetoed the original version of the bill, approved at the end of the 2019-2020 lawmaking session, in January over concerns that it could limit housing production and did not do enough to help cities and towns adapt to the effects of climate change effects.

Lawmakers passed the legislation a second time and then adopted many of Baker’s sought changes, though they did not agree to some of his more substantial amendments, such as a lower emissions-reduction milestone for 2030.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides signaled after the bill’s passage that the administration was happy with the amendments. Business groups NAIOP and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce have recently announced support for the bill after previously expressing hesitation. Baker has until Sunday to act on the climate bill.
» Read article            

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Why Companies’ ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions Pledges Should Trigger a Healthy Dose of Skepticism
By Oliver Miltenberger, The University of Melbourne and Matthew D. Potts, University of California, Berkeley, The Conversation, republished in DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2021

Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?

As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.

The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper.

The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.

Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.

Environmentalists may welcome Shell’s newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
» Read article            


That Salmon on Your Plate Might Have Been a Vegetarian
Pescatarians take note: Farmed fish are eating more veggies and less wild fish, according to new research. That’s good news for nature.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
March 24, 2021

Twenty years ago, as farmed salmon and shrimp started spreading in supermarket freezers, came an influential scientific paper that warned of an environmental mess: Fish farms were gobbling up wild fish stocks, spreading disease and causing marine pollution.

This week, some of the same scientists who published that report issued a new paper concluding that fish farming, in many parts of the world, at least, is a whole lot better. The most significant improvement, they said, was that farmed fish were not being fed as much wild fish. They were being fed more plants, like soy.

In short, the paper found, farmed fish like salmon and trout had become mostly vegetarians.

Synthesizing hundreds of research papers carried out over the last 20 years across the global aquaculture industry, the latest study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The findings have real-world implications for nutrition, jobs and biodiversity. Aquaculture is a source of income for millions of small-scale fishers and revenue for fish-exporting countries. It is also vital if the world’s 7.75 billion people want to keep eating fish and shellfish without draining the ocean of wild fish stocks and marine biodiversity.

At the same time, there have long been concerns among some environmentalists about aquaculture’s effects on natural habitats.

The new paper found promising developments, but also lingering problems. And it didn’t quite inform the average fish-eater what they should eat more of — or avoid.
» Read article              
» Read the original study
» Read the new aquaculture study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE


Trawling for Fish May Unleash as Much Carbon as Air Travel, Study Says
The report also found that strategically conserving some marine areas would not only safeguard imperiled species but sequester vast amounts planet-warming carbon dioxide, too.
By Catrin Einhorn, New York Times
March 17, 2021

For the first time, scientists have calculated how much planet-warming carbon dioxide is released into the ocean by bottom trawling, the practice of dragging enormous nets along the ocean floor to catch shrimp, whiting, cod and other fish. The answer: As much as global aviation releases into the air.

While preliminary, that was one of the most surprising findings of a groundbreaking new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The study offers what is essentially a peer-reviewed, interactive road map for how nations can confront the interconnected crises of climate change and wildlife collapse at sea.

It follows similar recent research focused on protecting land, all with a goal of informing a global agreement on biodiversity to be negotiated this autumn in Kunming, China.

Protecting strategic zones of the world’s oceans from fishing, drilling and mining would not only safeguard imperiled species and sequester vast amounts of carbon, the researchers found, it would also increase overall fish catch, providing more healthy protein to people.

“It’s a triple win,” said Enric Sala, a marine biologist who directs National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. Dr. Sala led the study’s team of 26 biologists, climate scientists and economists.

How much and what parts of the ocean to protect depends on how much value is assigned to each of the three possible benefits: biodiversity, fishing and carbon storage.

Trisha Atwood, an aquatic ecologist at Utah State University who was one of the study’s authors, compared trawling to cutting down forests for agriculture.

“It’s wiping out biodiversity, it’s wiping out things like deep sea corals that take hundreds of years to grow,” Dr. Atwood said. “And now what this study shows is that it also has this other kind of unknown impact, which is that it creates a lot of CO2.”
» Read article               
» Read the study


We have turned the Amazon into a net greenhouse gas emitter: Study
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
March 19, 2021

Something is wrong in the lungs of the world. Decades of burning, logging, mining and development have tipped the scales, and now the Amazon Basin may be emitting more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

Most of the conversation about climate change is dominated by carbon dioxide. While CO2 plays a critical role in the complex climate equation, other forces such as methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and black carbon are also factors.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a group of 31 scientists calculated the balance of all natural and human-caused greenhouse gases coming in and out of the massive Amazon Basin. The team concluded that warming of the atmosphere from agents other than CO2 likely exceeds the climate benefits the Amazon provides via CO2 uptake. Or more simply: due to humans, the Amazon Basin is now a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

“I would highlight that natural greenhouse emissions from ecosystems aren’t causing climate change,” the study’s lead author, Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor at Skidmore College told Mongabay. “It’s the many human disturbances underway in the basin that are contributing to climate change.”

Earth receives constant energy from the sun. Climate-forcing factors in the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases, act like a blanket, trapping that heat energy on Earth. When there’s more energy coming in from the sun than is being reflected back out into space, the planet warms and our climate is thrown out of balance.

A healthy forest ecosystem sucks in CO2 and keeps other climate-forcing factors in relative balance. But in the Amazon, where forests have faced increased logging, mining, dam construction, and clearing for agricultural (typically using fire), the system is drying and degrading. One study found that the amount of aboveground plant tissue in the Amazon was reduced by roughly one-third over the past decade.

In short, the ability of the Amazon to absorb CO2 is declining.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Why Covering Canals With Solar Panels Is a Power Move
Covering waterways would, in a sense, make solar panels water-cooled, boosting their efficiency.
By Matt Simon, Science
March 19, 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Hall & Oates. Now there’s a duo that could literally and figuratively be even more powerful: solar panels and canals. What if instead of leaving canals open, letting the sun evaporate the water away, we covered them with panels that would both shade the precious liquid and hoover up solar energy? Maybe humanity can go for that.

Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership. Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

California’s water conveyance system is the world’s largest, serving 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland. Seventy-five percent of available water is in the northern third of the state, while the bottom two-thirds of the state accounts for 80 percent of urban and agricultural demand. Shuttling all that water around requires pumps to make it flow uphill; accordingly, the water system is the state’s largest single consumer of electricity.

Solar-paneling canals would not only produce renewable energy for use across the state, it would run the water system itself. “By covering canals with solar panels, we can reduce evaporation and avoid disturbing natural and working lands, while providing renewable energy and other co-benefits,” says environmental engineer Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Merced, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead author on the paper.
» Read article              


As early renewables near end-of-life, attention turns to recycling and disposal
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
March 24, 2021

Although only a handful of states have implemented rules related to the disposal of batteries, PV panels and other renewable assets, the time has come to consider their fate as early installations reach the end of their useful life, industry leaders concluded during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Batteries, solar panels and even wind turbines contain components that could be repurposed and recycled, panelists said, but high costs and the limited availability of these materials present barriers to scaling up recycling operations.

To create a “circular economy” in which no raw materials are wasted would reduce the lifetime environmental impact of renewable energy, but accomplishing this requires intent and funding that “starts at the design phase,” said Peter Perrault, senior manager of circular economy and sustainable solutions at Enel North America.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND ELECTRIFICATION


He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem.
Want to electrify your home? Good luck finding a contractor.
Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 18, 2021

Adam James had been casually browsing the housing market for about a year when he came across a home that seemed like the perfect fit. The 31-year-old and his wife recently had their third child, and the 1960s split-level ranch house in Ossining, New York, a village on the Hudson River with ample green space and a commuter train station, was just what they were looking for. The house had only one downside: Its oil-based heating system was 35 years old and on the brink of sputtering out.

Except that wasn’t a downside for James, who works as chief of staff at Energy Impact Partners, a sustainable energy investment firm. “I was actually excited because I was like, I’m gonna get this thing off of fuel oil and decarbonize it,” he told Grist last October.

By that he meant he wanted to switch out the heating and hot water systems in the house for appliances that run on electricity. This kind of conversion is called electrification, and it is currently the only proven way to eliminate the carbon emissions directly generated by our buildings. But even in New York state, which has a legal mandate to cut emissions 85 percent by 2050, a goal of getting 130,000 electric heat and hot water systems installed by 2025, and several public and private programs that promote and incentivize electric heating, James had an unexpected amount of trouble getting it done.

The first thing James did was call a few local contractors to ask about geothermal heat pumps, highly efficient systems that absorb heat from the near-constant temperature beneath the earth’s surface and transfer it into your home. But he quickly learned that it was going to cost a lot more than he thought — around $40,000, by one estimate. So James gave up on geothermal and began looking into air-source heat pumps, similar systems that instead absorb heat from the outdoor air, even on cold winter days. He found a list of contractors on the website for New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, a state agency tasked with promoting energy efficiency and renewables. The contractors on the list were ostensibly certified to install heat pumps, and James said he called about 10 of them just to figure out what his options were.

Several didn’t respond to his inquiry. A few told him they didn’t do heat pumps. The rest said they could install heat pumps but tried to talk him out of it, explaining that a heat pump would be more expensive than a fuel oil system or a propane furnace, and that he would still need one of those as a backup source of heat.

[Nate Adams, a home performance specialist based in Ohio who goes by the nickname the “House Whisperer,”] said some contractors are afraid of heat pumps because earlier generations of the technology were noisy and didn’t work well in colder temperatures. The technology has come a long way, and new, cold-climate heat pumps work just fine in places like New York, but contractors still perceive them as riskier than traditional systems. “We have 105,000 HVAC contractors across the U.S. that have to be convinced this is a good idea,” said Adams, using the acronym for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

There’s disagreement about heat pump effectiveness even among contractors who recommend the technology. In February, about five months after James’ ordeal, I called several contractors from the same list James consulted and reached Scott Carey, a contractor in Briarcliff, New York, who installs heat pumps for clients and even recently put them in his own house. However, he recommends that his customers keep a back-up source of heat, such as a propane furnace, for when the heat pump periodically goes into defrost mode, running the system in reverse and pumping cold air into the house.

Daphney Warrington, who runs an HVAC company called Breffni Mechanical with her husband in Yonkers, New York, and also installs heat pumps, disagreed — she said there was no need for a backup system unless the homeowner wanted to have one. When asked about James’ trouble finding a contractor, Warrington and Carey offered a similar assessment — a lot of contractors are old school and haven’t stayed up to date with the latest technology. “They still are thinking that heat pumps aren’t for this part of the country,” said Carey.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency and electrification

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Critics warn Massachusetts’ climate progress is headed for traffic jam
Climate advocates and analysts say the state will need to reduce driving if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and that current plans focus too much on vehicle electrification.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 22, 2021

Massachusetts won’t meet its climate goals without getting people to drive less.

That’s the unpopular message from climate advocates and analysts who say the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan draft places too much emphasis on vehicle electrification and all but ignores the critical need to also reduce driving miles.

The number of vehicle miles traveled in the state is on pace to increase by 21% from 2010 to 2030, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for greater Boston. This growth would cause emissions to rise unless all the vehicles in the state achieved an average — and unlikely — efficiency of 29 miles per gallon, the report concludes.

To alter this course, advocates say, state leaders will need to consider implementing congestion pricing, per-mile fees for road usage, or land use policies that make it easier and more attractive to use public transit — ideas that are not currently major parts of the climate plan.

“It leans on electrification of the vehicle fleet, which is obviously a critical pathway to pursue at the policy level,” said Conor Gately, senior land use and transportation analyst for the planning council. “There’s not as much enthusiasm for the land use side of things to reduce underlying demand.”
» Read article               
» Read the MAPC report

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick, Danly spar over gas pipeline reviews as FERC considers project’s climate impacts for first time
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
March 19, 2021

FERC’s decision to consider climate impacts when approving a pipeline certificate marks a significant compromise between Glick and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who had indicated in the weeks leading up to the meeting that he might be willing to consider such factors.

“I give [Chatterjee] a lot of credit,” said Glick. “He approached me a while back and said ‘Hey, I think we can work out some sort of compromise here on this issue.'”

Danly, in his dissent, accused the commission of a “dramatic change” inconsistent with long-standing precedent that the commission does not have the right tools to properly assess the impact of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. Further, he expressed concern that oil and gas companies were not sufficiently involved in the process.

“It appears to me that the financial gas industry and its customers are on the verge of experiencing some dramatic changes in the coming months and years, and we’ve learned that those changes can come from unexpected proceedings,” he said.

FERC’s Thursday meeting followed the commission’s first listening session of the Office of Public Participation, wherein commissioners listened to hours long testimony from landowners and others who had been negatively impacted by gas infrastructure development and, they felt, left out of FERC’s proceedings. Glick pointed out that Danly’s arguments disregard those stakeholders.

“You had suggested that everyone should intervene in all these natural gas pipeline proceedings,” he said. “Well, I would say the same for not just the pipeline companies, but for all the other people that have been screwed by the Commission,” Glick said, calling Danly’s stance “the height of hypocrisy.”

“You were the general counsel, Mr. Danly, when the Commission … without any notice, without telling landowners, without telling people that are concerned about climate change” repeatedly chose not to examine the climate impacts of infrastructure, despite a 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that found that FERC’s environmental impact assessment for pipelines was “inadequate.”

“Absolutely, if you’re a pipeline company, and you want to intervene in a proceeding, go for it … but I would say that everyone else, please you intervene too, because we need to hear your voices as well,” Glick said. “Not just the voices that can afford high-priced Washington D.C. law firms to participate in these proceedings.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


SLAPPed silly: the company promoting the Goldboro LNG plant that Premier Rankin supports is trying to bully its critics into silence
By Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner
March 22, 2021

This weekend, delegates at the Conservative Party of Canada’s national convention rejected a motion that called for the party to acknowledge that “climate change is real.”

Some of the no votes were more nuanced than others, but the gist is that party members don’t want to adopt policies — support for the Paris Accord and carbon taxes, better regulation of emissions from the oil and gas industry — that are necessary to confront the problem. If it means losing votes in the oil fields, they’re against it, the future of the planet be damned.

It’s a reprehensible attitude, but hopefully will have little real-world impact: the CPC is out of power, not even a bit player in the governing minority government, and by voting against the motion, delegates made it that much harder for the party to get back in power.

But it’s an entirely different matter when Iain Rankin, the Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, who is presiding atop a majority government that is setting energy policy for the next several decades, embraces the natural gas industry. Unlike the now powerless CPC, Rankin’s actions can contribute materially to humanity’s failure to confront climate change.

The Pieridae proposal envisions natural gas sourced in Alberta being delivered via new and enlarged pipelines to Nova Scotia, where it will be liquified at the Goldboro plant. That LNG would then be pumped into giant LNG carriers that will carry the LNG across the Atlantic to a new terminal to be built by the energy company Uniper in Wilhelmshaven, Germany; there, the gas will be regasified and distributed to German homes and businesses.

And last night, activists in the US alerted me to yet another possible gas source for the Goldboro plant — natural gas produced by fracking in Western Pennsylvania.

At issue is a now-operating natural gas compressing plant in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As WBUR, the NPR station in Boston, explained it in October:

The 7,700-horsepower Weymouth compressor [emphasis added] is part of a larger gas pipeline plan called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The purpose of the project is to make it easier for “fracked” natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of Western Pennsylvania to get to northern New England and Canada, and it does this by connecting two existing pipeline systems: the Algonquin Gas Transmission, which flows from New Jersey into Massachusetts, and the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which flows from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, Canada.
» Read article                
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 1           
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 2             

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Springfield City Council enlists Conservation Law Foundation in fight against Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
March 23, 2021


The Springfield City Council will challenge Palmer Renewable Energy’s decade-old building permit with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation of Boston.

At issue is councilors’ contention that the 2011 permit expired because construction has not begun at the proposed $150 million, 35-megawatt power plant. They say any construction now would require a new special use permit under a 2013 city ordinance.

The appeal will be filed this week — possibly Wednesday — with the Springfield Zoning Board. Whatever side loses at the Zoning Board can appeal to one of several courts after that.

“The people of Springfield seem largely opposed (to the plant),” said Johannes Epke, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “We had a unanimous vote of the city council (Monday) night. If the city council and the people of Springfield cannot make these developers come in for a special permit and explain to the city why this is a beneficial use, there is a real problem in the operation of zoning and building enforcement.”

Building permits require construction to commence within six months, Epke said.

The appeal isn’t costing the council, or the city, anything to pursue, Epke said. The Conservation Law Foundation is “happy” to advocate on the council’s behalf, he said.
» Read article                

Dutch to limit forest biomass subsidies, possibly signaling EU sea change
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
March 9, 2021

The Dutch Parliament in February voted to disallow the issuing of new subsidies for 50 planned forest biomass-for-heat plants, a small, but potentially key victory for researchers and activists who say that the burning of forests to make energy is not only not carbon neutral, but is dirtier than burning coal and bad climate policy.

With public opinion opposing forest biomass as a climate solution now growing in the EU, the decision by the Netherlands could be a bellwether. In June, the EU will review its Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

Currently, forest biomass burning to make energy is ruled as carbon neutral in the EU, even though a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that it takes many decades until forests regrow for carbon neutrality to be achieved.

The forestry industry, which continues to see increasing demand for wood pellets, argues that biomass burning is environmentally sustainable and a viable carbon cutting solution compared to coal.
» Read article                

» More about biomass                 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

My Team Found 2,000 Plastic Bags Inside A Dead Camel
By Marcus Eriksen, Bloomberg | Opinion, in NDTV
March 24, 2021

Digging between the ribs of a dead camel buried in the sands of Dubai, I couldn’t believe what my colleagues and I found: a mass of plastic bags as big as a large suitcase. At least 2,000 plastic bags were lumped together where the animal’s stomach would have been.

We had been led to the site by Ulrich Wernery of the Dubai-based Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, who knew we were researching floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region. After two decades at sea, I thought I had seen it all. We had traveled from the Arctic to the Antarctic, publishing research on plastic pollution across all the oceans’ garbage patches. We found plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. We have seen albatrosses full of plastic on Midway Atoll, fish with microplastics in their stomachs and California sea lions with nooses of fishing line around their necks.

But the camels were a whole new level of appalling. Our team of scientists documented that more than 300 camels in the Dubai region had died because they ate humans’ trash, accounting for 1% of dead camels evaluated there since 2008. Unlike other research that might examine animals in a laboratory, this was a field study with concentrations of plastic trash that exist in the environment. It is a real-world tragedy with ecologically relevant concentrations of trash.

Imagine having 50 plastic bags in your stomach that you could not digest, causing ulcers and tremendous discomfort and the feeling that you’re full all the time. You can’t and don’t eat any food. This is what happens to camels, and it results in intestinal bleeding, blockages, dehydration, malnutrition and death.

Much of the world still perceives plastic pollution as a problem limited to the ocean. Last month, U.N. Secretary General Antnio Guterres opened the gathering of the United Nations Environmental Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making body, by warning that the “oceans are filling with plastic,” and left it at that.

This is wrong. The camels are only the latest casualties occurring in all environments on this planet due to plastic. Researchers have also observed death and suffering in animals from elephants to reindeer. They have found plastic fragments in farmland, food and drinking water. Another recent report drawing on the results of more than 30 studies calls attention to the damage that a chemical found in plastic may do to babies’ brains. Plastic has even been seen in Earth’s orbit.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING


John Oliver Takes on the Plastics Industry
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 23, 2021

In his latest deep dive for Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver took on plastic pollution and, specifically, the myth that if we all just recycled enough, the problem would go away.

Instead, Oliver argued, this is a narrative that has been intentionally pushed by the plastics industry for decades. He cited the [iconic] 1970 Keep America Beautiful ad, which showed a Native American man (really an Italian American actor) crying as a hand tossed litter from a car window. Keep America Beautiful, Oliver pointed out, was partly funded by plastics-industry trade group SPI.

“Which might seem odd until you realize that the underlying message there is, ‘It’s up to you, the consumer, to stop pollution,'” Oliver said. “And that has been a major through line in the recycling movement, a movement often bankrolled by companies that wanted to drill home the message that it is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products.”
» Read article              
» Watch ‘Last Week Tonight’ video (viewer discretion advised)

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 2/21/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

Over 200 people turned out on Wednesday to protest the Weymouth compressor station, currently under construction. Thirteen people were arrested and construction ceased for the day. The point was to draw attention to the environmental damage and local injustice of siting this facility in a densely populated community already burdened with high levels of pollution and related disease.

Another protest drawing considerable attention is happening in Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en against the Coastal GasLink project. Protesters have blocked ports and rail lines, ramping up pressure on the Trudeau administration.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos captured a lot of attention for his $10B pledge to fight climate change. An article in Vox.com suggests that Bezos might consider putting his money and energy into cleaning up mega-polluter Amazon itself. Meanwhile, a new study in the journal Nature reveals that methane emissions from oil and gas production may be considerably greater than previously understood – and calls out the devastating consequences of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks.

From the cutting edge of clean energy, we found a report on recent laboratory success in using protein nanowires to produce electric currents from moisture in the air. Near term, this could eliminate the need for batteries in small electronic devices. A little farther out, the technology could potentially scale up to power much larger applications.

Good news on clean transportation: the Trump administration’s effort to weaken vehicle emissions standards appears to be running off the road. While incompetence is partly to blame, the real issue is economics. Clean transportation is rapidly becoming more affordable than the dirty old model.

Wrapping up, we offer an article on serious problems with plastics recycling – and how vast quantities of nominally “recyclable” waste are piling up in landfills.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

compressor construction site
13 people arrested in protest at Weymouth compressor station site, police say
Over 200 people attended the demonstration calling on state officials to stop the controversial project, activists said.
By Christopher Gavin, Boston
February 20, 2020

Construction began on the compressor station — part of the company’s “Atlantic Bridge Project” to expand capacity on a natural gas pipeline to Canada — in December after Enbridge secured final permits.

According to a statement from FRRACS, Wednesday’s protest was to call on Gov. Charlie Baker and the state Department of Environmental Protection to halt construction of the facility.

“Multiple people were arrested for blocking the gate to the construction site, while two other people were arrested for locking to pieces of construction equipment on site,” the statement says. “As a result of today’s action, construction was stopped and workers left the site.”
» Read article        

FRRACS logo
Press Release: Climate Protectors stop construction at compressor station
By Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS)
February 19, 2020

North Weymouth, MA – Early this morning, over 200 members of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and allies gathered for a mass demonstration at Enbridge’s compressor station site to call on Baker and the DEP to immediately halt construction on the project. Multiple people were arrested for blocking the gate to the construction site., while two other people were arrested for locking to pieces of construction equipment on site. As a result of today’s action, construction was stopped and workers left the site.  Thirteen arrests were made in total. Court dates will be held on Thursday, February 20 and Wednesday, February 26 at 8:30AM at the Quincy District Court.
» Read article        

Weymouth arrests 2-19-20
Dozens of protesters arrested at Weymouth compression center worksite
By Brynne Connolly, WHDH – Boston
February 19, 2020


WEYMOUTH, MASS. (WHDH) – Dozens of people protesting the construction of a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth were taken into custody Wednesday, according to the group protesting the project.
» View report             

Weymouth lockup
Weymouth Compressor Opponents Lock Themselves To Equipment

Protest group said two protesters locked themselves to construction equipment at the site of the Weymouth compressor station on Wednesday.
By Scott Souza, Patch.com
February 19, 2020

WEYMOUTH, MA — The group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said efforts for a large-scale protest at the construction site of the proposed Weymouth gas compressor station drew hundreds of protestors and included two locking themselves to equipment to halt construction on Wednesday. The protest was the latest from FRRACS and similar groups in Weymouth that have resulted in arrests in recent months.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Coastal GasLink protest
Canada: protests go mainstream as support for Wet’suwet’en pipeline fight widens
Protesters have blocked railways and barricaded ports in wave of dissent – and the pressure on Justin Trudeau has increased
By Amber Bracken at Unist’ot’en Camp and Leyland Cecco in Toronto, The Guardian
February 14, 2020

Set amid dense evergreen forests near the bank of the Wedzin Kwah, or Morice River, the remote cabins at Unist’ot’en camp have become a place of healing for Indigenous youth, who take lessons on trapping and traditional medicines.

But the camp in north-western British Columbia is also the last line of defence in the Wet’suwet’en nation’s fight against a controversial natural gas pipeline.

And in recent days, their fight has been taken up by other groups across the country.

For more than a week, members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk have blocked freight and commuter rail traffic in Ontario, in support of the Wet’suwet’en. Elsewhere, protestors have blocked roads, barricaded access to shipping ports and occupied the offices of elected officials in a wave of dissent.
» Read article        

» More about protests and direct actions

CLIMATE

Bezos dressed himself today
Donating $10 billion isn’t the best way for Jeff Bezos to fight climate change
Amazon is a mega-polluter. Cleaning house at the company should be the CEO’s top priority.
By Sigal Samuel, Vox
February 19, 2020

“I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share,” Bezos wrote in his Instagram announcement on Monday. “This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”

That sounds good, and donating $10 billion to address the climate emergency is certainly a commendable action, although it’s worth noting that figure represents less than 8 percent of Bezos’s total net worth of $130 billion.

But the devil is, as they say, in the details. And Bezos’s announcement is very short on those. Some climate groups are far more effective than others, so depending on where exactly Bezos puts his money, he could have a vastly beneficial effect on the planet — or very little effect at all.

There is, however, something Bezos could do right now that would be guaranteed to have a vastly beneficial effect on our climate: He could clean house at his company. Amazon is a mega-polluter, and although Bezos has lately pledged to decrease its carbon footprint in response to pressure from inside and outside the company, there’s a whole lot more he could do.
» Read article        

methane study
Fossil Fuels Are to Blame for Soaring Methane Levels, Study Shows
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
February 19, 2020

Oil and gas production may be responsible for a far larger share of the soaring levels of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, in the earth’s atmosphere, new research has found.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, add urgency of efforts to rein in methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry, which routinely leaks or intentionally releases the gas into air.

Adding to climate concerns, the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that effectively eliminates requirements that oil companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from oil and gas facilities. By the Environmental Protection Agency’s own calculations, the rollback would increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons through 2025, enough to power more than a million homes for a year.
» Read article       
» Obtain the study     

warmer winters
How Warming Winters Are Affecting Everything
By Lauren Sommer, Mose Buchele, Molly Samuel, Patty Wight, Michael Elizabeth Sakas, Amy Mayer, Nat Herz, NPR
February 18, 2020

Winters are warming faster than other seasons across much of the United States. While that may sound like a welcome change for those bundled in scarves and hats, it’s causing a cascade of unpredictable impacts in communities across the country.

Temperatures continue to steadily rise around the globe, but that trend isn’t spread evenly across the map or even the yearly calendar.

“The cold seasons are warming faster than the warm seasons,” says Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “The colder times of day are warming faster than warmer times of day. And the colder places are warming faster than the warmer places.”
» Read article       

416ppm
‘The Saddest Thing Is That This Won’t Be Breaking News’: Concentration of CO2 Hits Record High of 416 ppm
“Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation need to be reduced to ZERO to stop this trend!”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 12, 2020

The United Kingdom’s national weather service, the Met Office, warned in January that “a forecast of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide shows that 2020 will witness one of the largest annual rises in concentration since measurements began at Mauna Loa, in Hawaii, 1958.”

The Met Office said that “the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is expected to peak above 417 parts per million in May,” noting that the anticipated increase is due in part to emissions from the bushfires that have devastated large swaths of Australia since late last year.

“Although the series of annual levels of CO2 have always seen a year-on-year increase since 1958, driven by fossil fuel burning and deforestation, the rate of rise isn’t perfectly even because there are fluctuations in the response of ecosystem carbon sinks, especially tropical forests,” explained professor Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Center and University of Exeter.
» Read article     

paid for by the upper crust
Meet the Millionaires Helping to Pay for Climate Protests

By John Schwartz, New York Times
September 27, 2019

Three wealthy donors formed the Climate Emergency Fund this year to support “disruptive activists,” as Trevor Neilson, one of the founders, put it. For years, he said, they have individually given money to more traditional environmental organizations like Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, but concluded that these groups were taking a too-gradual approach to the fight against climate change and that the crisis demanded greater urgency.

“The smartest place for philanthropists to invest is in this new generation of activists who refuse to accept the excuses of the adults whose lazy approach to climate is leading us off a cliff,” Mr. Neilson said. “The era of gradualism in environmental activism is over.”
» Read article     

» More about climate  

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

air gen
New green technology generates electricity ‘out of thin air’
By University of Massachusetts Amherst
February 17, 2020

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a device that uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air, a new technology they say could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change and in the future of medicine.

As reported today in Nature, the laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass Amherst have created a device they call an “Air-gen.” or air-powered generator, with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.
» Read article        

» More about clean energy    

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

efficiency winning
Trump’s Path to Weaker Fuel Efficiency Rules May Lead to a Dead End
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 13, 2020

WASHINGTON — Last April, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, proclaimed at an auto show here that he would soon roll back President Barack Obama’s stringent fuel efficiency standards.

That, the administration contends, would unleash the muscle of the American auto industry. It would also virtually wipe away the government’s biggest effort to combat climate change.

Nearly a year later, the rollback is nowhere near complete and may not be ready until this summer — if ever. In January, administration staff members appointed by President Trump sent a draft of the scaled-back fuel economy standards to the White House, but six people familiar with the documents described them as “Swiss cheese,” sprinkled with glaring numerical and spelling errors (such as “Massachusettes”), with 111 sections marked “text forthcoming.”

The cost-benefit analysis showed that consumers would lose more money than they would gain. And, because the new auto pollution rule lacks the detailed technical analyses required by law, the regulations would be unlikely to withstand court challenges.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

PLASTICS RECYCLING

recycling NOT
America’s ‘recycled’ plastic waste is clogging landfills, survey finds
Many facilities lack the ability to process ‘mixed plastics’, a category of waste that has virtually no market as new products
By Erin McCormick, The Guardian
February 18 2020

Many plastic items that Americans put in their recycling bins aren’t being recycled at all, according to a major new survey of hundreds of recycling facilities across the US.

The research, conducted by Greenpeace and released on Tuesday, found that out of 367 recycling recovery facilities surveyed none could process coffee pods, fewer than 15% accepted plastic clamshells – such as those used to package fruit, salad or baked goods – and only a tiny percentage took plates, cups, bags and trays.

The findings confirm the results of a Guardian investigation last year, which revealed that numerous types of plastics are being sent straight to landfill in the wake of China’s crackdown on US recycling exports. Greenpeace’s findings also suggest that numerous products labeled as recyclable in fact have virtually no market as new products.
» Read article        

» More about plastics recycling  

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Weekly News Check-In 1/10/20

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

We have some good news breaking for the many people opposing Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. An appeals court in Virginia vacated permits for a similar compressor planned for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, on grounds that the health and environmental effects on those living nearby were not considered. This closely parallels arguments against the Weymouth compressor.

Protesters continue to delay coal trains heading for New Hampshire’s Merrimack Station, and we have a report on Amazon’s threats against employee climate activists.

The Trump administration’s assault on climate continues with several reports on new regulations intended to speed permitting of fossil fuel infrastructure like gas pipelines by eliminating many requirements for environmental impact studies. This is straight from the school of “don’t look for something you don’t want to see”.

We found reporting on how support for clean energy in environmental justice communities has been co-opted by the fossil fuel industry through donations to local NAACP chapters. Subversion is also happening through a Trump administration initiative to improve heavy truck emissions standards, which appears to be a back-door move to slow real progress.

As depressing as all that is, we take some encouragement in knowing that the fossil fuel industry is going to spend much of the coming year defending itself in court. Still, they’ll be headlong into extracting, emitting, and denying until a combination of law and economics forces them to stop. Climate writer and activist Bill McKibben suggested recently in New Yorker that pulling business out of JP Morgan Chase and other top banks financing the fossil fuel industry might be a good way to hasten that reckoning.

Wrapping up, we now know that there were nearly 33,000 gas leaks reported in Massachusetts in 2018, including over 7,500 classified as most serious. The primary cause is aging, deteriorating distribution pipes.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no fracking wey
Compressor station opponents buoyed by Virginia ruling
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, in Patriot Ledger
January 7, 2020

Opponents of a natural gas project under construction in Weymouth were optimistic Tuesday that a court ruling vacating a permit for a similar facility in Virginia could serve as a helpful precedent.

In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board did not sufficiently consider the consequences a proposed natural gas compressor station would have on the predominantly African-American community near its site. The court tossed out a state permit issued in 2018 to developer Dominion Energy for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline and remanded the matter back to the board.

South Shore residents who have been fighting plans for a compressor station in the Fore River basin were encouraged by the news, citing parallels they see between the Virginia case and a federal appeal unfolding in Massachusetts.
» Read article

BREAKING: Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Vacates Permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline Compressor Station in Union Hill
By lowkell, Blue Virginia
January 7, 2020

“Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked, and the Board’s failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the Compressor Station resulted in a flawed analysis”

“We conclude that the Board thrice erred in performing its statutory duty under sections 10.1–1307(E)(1) and (E)(3): (1) it failed to make any findings regarding the character of the local population at Union Hill, in the face of conflicting evidence; (2) it failed to individually consider the potential degree of injury to the local population independent of NAAQS and state emission standards; and (3) DEQ’s final permit analysis, ostensibly adopted by the Board, relied on evidence in the record that was incomplete or discounted by subsequent evidence.”
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

coal train barricade
Coal Train Protesters Target One of New England’s Last Big Coal Power Plants
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
January 4, 2020

Climate activists halted a coal train bound for one of New England’s last large coal-fired power plants by building a barricade on the tracks and sitting on it for about eight hours this week. The delay was temporary, but it was the fifth time activists had stopped a coal train in the region in less than a month.

The protest is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate coal-fired power production in New England. It also draws attention to what activists say is a costly and unnecessary subsidy for coal-burning power plants that consumers ultimately pay.
» Read article

protest coal plantActivists block coal-carrying train for hours
Goal is to shut down New Hampshire coal-fired plant
By Sarah Betancourt, Commonwealth Magazine
January 3, 2020

CLIMATE ACTIVISTS USED AN UNUSUAL METHOD Thursday night to stop a delivery to the largest coal-fired plant in New England — erecting scaffolding directly on the tracks.

A group of about 30 protesters refused to leave train tracks in the woods of Harvard, Massachusetts, in an effort that delayed delivery of coal to Merrimack Station in Bow, NH for over eight hours. Their goal, they say, is to get parent company Granite Shore Power to set a date for the plant’s shutdown, with regional grid operator ISO-New England facilitating that move.
» Read article            

Amazon climate clampdown
Amazon Threatens to Fire Climate Activists, Group Says
By Matt Day, Bloomberg News
January 2, 2020


A group of Amazon.com Inc. employees who pushed the company to combat climate change say Amazon has threatened to fire some of them if they continue to speak out about their employer’s internal affairs.

Two were threatened with termination, a spokesperson for Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said, and a total of four were told in meetings that they were in violation of the company’s policies on workers speaking to the press and on social media.
» Read article   

» More about protests      

CLIMATE

pipelines unbound
Trump Moves to Exempt Big Projects From  Environmental Review

By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 9, 2020

WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday will introduce the first major changes to the nation’s benchmark environmental protection law in more than three decades, moving to ease approval of pipelines and other major energy and infrastructure projects without detailed environmental review.

Many of the changes to the law — the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark measure that touches nearly every significant construction project in the country — have been long sought by the oil and gas industry, whose members applauded the move and called it long overdue.

Environmental groups said the revisions would threaten species and lead to more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The proposed regulations also will relieve federal agencies of having to take climate change into account in environmental reviews.
» Read article

Trump Officials To Overhaul National Environmental Policy Act
By Jeff Brady, NPR
January 9, 2020

Under expected new rules, federal agencies won’t have to consider climate impacts of major infrastructure projects. The move aims to speed the OK for things such as oil and gas pipelines and highways.
» Listen to report  

cumulative effects
Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 3, 2020

The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects.

According to one government official who has seen the proposed regulation but was not authorized to speak about it publicly, the administration will also narrow the range of projects that require environmental review. That could make it likely that more projects will sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do things like discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution.

The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. In recent years courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project.
» Read article

end of the line
‘High likelihood of human civilization coming to end’ by 2050, report finds
By Harry Cockburn, The Independent
June 4, 2019

[A recent study] argues that the detrimental impacts of climate breakdown, such as increasing scarcity of food and water, will act as a catalyst on extant socio-political instabilities to accelerate disorder and conflict over the next three decades.

To usefully prepare for such an impact, the report calls for an overhaul in countries’ risk management “which is fundamentally different from conventional practice”.“It would focus on the high-end, unprecedented possibilities, instead of assessing middle-of-the-road probabilities on the basis of historic experience.”
» Read article
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

NAACP and energy
N.A.A.C.P. Tells Local Chapters: Don’t Let Energy Industry Manipulate You
The civil rights group is trying to stop state and local branches from accepting money from utilities that promote fossil fuels and then lobbying on their behalf.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
January 5, 2020

When utilities around the country have wanted to build fossil-fuel plants, defeat energy-efficiency proposals or slow the growth of rooftop solar power, they have often turned for support to a surprisingly reliable ally: a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Most Americans know the N.A.A.C.P. as a storied civil rights organization that has fought for equal access to public facilities, fairness in housing and equality in education. But on energy policy, many of its chapters have for years advanced the interests of energy companies that are big donors to their programs. Often this advocacy has come at the expense of the black neighborhoods, which are more likely to have polluting power plants and are less able to adapt to climate change.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

truck pollution regs
E.P.A. Aims to Reduce Truck Pollution, and Avert Tougher State Controls
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
January 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday took its first step toward tighter pollution controls on trucks, an anomalous move for a government known for weakening environmental policies but one that would pre-empt tougher state rules.

Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, began the legal and regulatory process for curbing highway truck emissions of nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to asthma and lung disease.

While the move could give President Trump a nominal environmental achievement for the 2020 campaign, public health experts say the truck regulations are not as out of line with administration policy as they would appear. The emerging rule will quite likely limit nitrogen dioxide pollution more than current standards, they say, but still fall far short of what is necessary to significantly prevent respiratory illness and even premature deaths.

Instead, the administration appears to be complying with the wishes of the trucking industry, which has called for a new national nitrogen dioxide regulation to override states that could otherwise implement their own, tighter rules. On that front, the E.P.A. rule is likely to open a new battle in Mr. Trump’s long-running war with California over environmental regulations and states’ rights. California is already moving ahead with stringent state-level standards on nitrogen dioxide pollution from trucks that could be replicated by other states.
» Read article

Baker-Polito Administration Extends and Increases Funding for Successful Electric Vehicle Rebate Program
Press release
December 31, 2019


Starting on January 1, 2020, MOR-EV will be extended to support qualifying battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) up to a $50,000 final purchase price with a $2,500 rebate. Additionally, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVS) with an all-electric range of 25 miles or greater and with a final purchase price up to $50,000 are eligible for a $1,500 rebate. Rebates will not be made available to purchases made prior to January 1, 2020. The program was phased out from September 30, 2019 to December 31, 2019 due to the rapid growth in applications causing a lack of funding. However, the Baker-Polito Administration proposed a funding proposal in the budget presented last January, which was largely adopted in a recent supplemental budget.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

petro industry emissions
Report: Oil & Gas Industry Set To Release An Extra 220 Million Tons Of Greenhouse Gases By 2025
That’s about as much as 50 large coal plants, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.
By Katie Watkins, Houston Public Media
January 8, 2020

The oil and gas industry could release an additional 227 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. by the year 2025, as companies expand drilling and build new plants, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project.

“If you count greenhouse gases from drilling operations and from compressor stations and the big tank farms and then you add in the petrochemical plants, we’re looking at an increase of more than a third compared to what we’ve seen in recent years,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “To put that in scale, that’s equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions that you’d get from more than 50 large coal plants.”

“The petrochemical industry is actually the fastest-growing source of [greenhouse gas] pollution in the U.S. right now,” said Schaeffer. “And we’re projecting that greenhouse gas load is going to continue to grow as these plants build out and keep expanding.”
» Read article

pipelines in court
2020: A Year of Pipeline Court Fights, with One Lawsuit Headed to the Supreme Court
Several cases challenge natural gas pipeline routes, including across the Appalachian Trail, and question companies’ right to take land they don’t own.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
January 3, 2020

After years of mounting opposition to the increasing build-out of oil and gas infrastructure, 2020 is shaping up to be the year that pipeline opponents get their day in court.

One case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court takes a closer look at whether parts of the Appalachian Trail are off-limits to fossil fuel infrastructure and may determine the fate of two multi-billion-dollar pipelines. A defeat there, the industry argues, would severely limit its ability to get natural gas from the Marcellus shale to East Coast cities and export terminals. Another case weighs state sovereignty against pipeline interests and could have implications nationwide.

Meanwhile, a question of potentially greater significance looms: Can pipeline companies continue to justify taking private land as the public benefits of fossil fuel pipelines are increasingly questioned and the risks they pose to the environment and climate increase?
» Read article

Katrina-Rita spills
How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled
By Joan Meiners, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate
December 27, 2019


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, while stranded New Orleanians flagged down helicopters from rooftops and hospitals desperately triaged patients, crude oil silently gushed from damaged drilling rigs and storage tanks.

Given the human misery set into motion by Katrina, the harm these spills caused to the environment drew little attention. But it was substantial.

Nine days after the storm, oil could still be seen leaking from toppled storage tanks, broken pipelines and sunken boats between New Orleans and the Mississippi River’s mouth. And then Hurricane Rita hit. Oil let loose by Katrina was pushed farther inland by Rita three weeks later, and debris from the first storm caused damage to oil tankers rocked by the second.

Fourteen years later, not one assessment of the damage to natural resources after the two 2005 hurricanes has been completed. None of the 140 parties thought to be responsible for the spills has been fined or cited for environmental violations. And no restoration plans have been developed for the impacted ecosystems, fish, birds or water quality, a review by The Times-Picayune and The Advocate and ProPublica has found.

The extent of the damage to the environment may never be known.
» Read article

fire and fence
Call for climate disaster levy to be funded by Australia’s fossil fuel industry

A new plan to make companies producing fossil fuels foot the bill for the escalating costs of natural disasters in Australia has been welcomed by some New South Wales mayors who say people in their communities are paying the price of devastating bushfires.
By Peggy Giakoumelos, SBS News
December 18, 2019

A new plan to make companies producing fossil fuels foot the bill for the escalating costs of natural disasters in Australia has been welcomed by some New South Wales mayors who say people in their communities are paying the price of devastating bushfires.
» Listen to report

fossils on trial
Fossil Fuels on Trial: Where the Major Climate Change Lawsuits Stand Today

Some of the biggest oil and gas companies are embroiled in legal disputes with cities, states and children over the industry’s role in global warming.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
November 29, 2019

The wave of legal challenges that is washing over the oil and gas industry, demanding accountability for climate change, started as a ripple after revelations that ExxonMobil had long recognized the threat fossil fuels pose to the world.

Over the past few years: Two states launched fraud investigations into Exxon over climate change, and one has followed with a lawsuit that went to trial in October 2019. Nine cities and counties, from New York to San Francisco, have sued major fossil fuel companies, seeking compensation for climate change damages. And determined children have filed lawsuits against the federal government and various state governments, claiming the governments have an obligation to safeguard the environment.

The litigation, reinforced by science, has the potential to reshape the way the world thinks about energy production and the consequences of global warming. It advocates a shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy and draws attention to the vulnerability of coastal communities and infrastructure to extreme weather and sea level rise.
» Read article            

Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns
What if the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker
September 17, 2019

Some activists have begun to envision a campaign to pressure the banks. Chase’s retail business is a huge part of its enterprise, as is the case with Citi, Wells Fargo, and the others. “One of the major risk factors going forward for these guys is generational,” Disterhoft said. “You have a rising generation of consumers and potential employees that cares a lot about climate, and they’re going to be choosing who they do business with factoring that into account.” In 2017, when Twitter-based activists accused Uber of exploiting Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, rather than protesting it, it took just hours for downloads of the Lyft app to surge, for the first time, past those of the Uber app. Switching banks is harder, but, given the volume of credit-card solicitations that show up in the average mailbox every year, probably not much.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

GAS LEAKS

leaky old pipes
Thousands of gas leaks plagued Massachusetts in 2018, new DPU report says
By Lisa Kashinsky, Boston Herald
January 1, 2020


Gas companies reported 32,877 gas leaks across Massachusetts in 2018, according to a new report from the Department of Public Utilities, a consequence of an aging system that a leading advocate says remains inherently unsafe.

“It’s pretty much the same year after year,” said Audrey Schulman, co-executive director of HEET, a Cambridge-based energy efficiency nonprofit that maps gas leaks across the state. “That’s a demonstration that we’ve got an aging infrastructure that is unsafe.”

There were 7,578 Grade 1 leaks — the most serious kind, which represent “an existing or probable hazard to persons or property” and must be repaired “as immediately as possible” — identified across the state in 2018, according to the DPU report submitted to the state Legislature as 2019 came to a close. Of those, 41 leaks remained unrepaired by the end of 2018.

Gas companies also reported 6,588 Grade 2 leaks and 18,711 Grade 3 leaks of lesser severity. Of those, 2,346 Grade 2 leaks remained unrepaired by the end of 2018, along with 15,146 Grade 3 leaks. Overall, the number of gas leaks reported in 2018 is similar to those in the past few years.

Massachusetts has one of the oldest and most leak-prone natural gas infrastructures in large part because the explosive fossil fuel continues to flow through areas of non-cathodically protected steel, cast- and wrought-iron pipes that are prone to corrosion and in some places are more than a century old.
» Read article             

» More about gas leaks

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» 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!