Tag Archives: American Gas Association

Weekly News Check-In 2/26/21

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Welcome back.

We’re following two very positive news developments this week. First, a planned seismic survey for oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a brutal environmental assault  – was cancelled when a contractor missed a deadline for counting polar bears in the affected area. The Biden administration will not give them a second chance.

A couple days later we learned of a definitive vote by the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban fracking throughout the entire Delaware River watershed – a huge, environmentally sensitive region from the Catskills to Delaware Bay. This makes a longstanding moratorium permanent.

Meanwhile, folks in Weymouth continue to fight the compressor station. Now that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to review the controversial air quality permit, elected officials are pressing for the community’s health concerns to finally be taken seriously.

We’re showcasing another example of businesses retooling to thrive in a greener economy – a family-owned manufacturer in Virginia, now under third-generation leadership, has pivoted away from making coal mining equipment with plans to go big into battery storage.

Of course the climate is a mess, but we even found some good news here. A Maine startup called Running Tide Technologies is experimenting with carbon sequestration through free-floating kelp farms. Lots of practical and environmental questions have to be answered before the plan can be implemented and scaled up, but the core idea is simple and elegant. Our second bit of climate news will warm the hearts of our policy wonk friends: The Biden administration has reset of the social cost of carbon, and expects to raise it even further. This number, used in cost/benefit analysis around climate mitigation investments, was ridiculously undervalued by the Trump administration.

Since clean energy generation was falsely scapegoated during last week’s weather-related Texas grid failure, we’re offering a report on real lessons that can be learned from that disaster. This is also a good opportunity to consider the other side of the equation – demand for that energy – and the imperative to address energy efficiency in buildings.

We recently ran an article about Highland Electric Transportation, the Massachusetts electric school bus provider with an innovative business model that allows cash-strapped school districts to avoid the steep upfront costs associated with purchasing new electric buses. They’re gaining traction now, attracting investors and landing substantial contracts.

We’ve also been closely following the progress of Massachusetts’ landmark climate legislation as it bounces back and forth between the legislature and governor. Various industry groups lobbied heavily against parts of it, and this is reflected in Governor Charlie Baker’s initial veto and subsequent amendments. We offer a report on these industry influences, and where they’re coming from.

On biomass, we show what it takes to feed trees into Britain’s huge Drax power station. All of the bad ideas making Drax possible are alive and well in Governor Baker’s head, as he pursues the pretzel logic of changing Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to support the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

lawmakers push regulators
Lawmakers push regulators to reexamine compressor approval
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 24, 2021

Members of Weymouth’s congressional delegation want federal regulators to reconsider their decision to allow the compressor station on the banks of the Fore River to go into service. 

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren recently sent a letter to Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking that the commission rescind the in-service authorization issued for the compressor station in September.

“The site is located within a half mile of Quincy Point and Germantown – “environmental justice communities” that suffer persistent environmental health disparities due to socioeconomic and other factors – as well as nearly 1,000 homes, a water treatment plant and a public park,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “An estimated 3,100 children live or go to school within a mile of the site, and more than 13,000 children attend school within three miles of the compressor station.”

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the City of Quincy and other petitioners have also asked the commission to revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

“We urge you to review their concerns fully and fairly, and to swiftly move to rehear the approval of the in-service certificate,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The commission last week voted to take a look at several issues associated with the compressor station, including whether the station’s expected air emissions and public safety impacts should prompt commissioners to reexamine the project.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.

Last fall, local, state and federal officials called for a halt of compressor operations when two emergency shutdowns caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.
» Read article                 

» More about Weymouth compressor station       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no frack zone
Amid lawsuits, Delaware River Basin Commission makes fracking ban permanent
The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge to the drilling moratorium.
By Andrew Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer
February 25, 2021

The Delaware River Basin Commission on Thursday approved a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells along the river, doubling down in the face of new legal challenges.

The DRBC’s vote maintains the status quo — it formally affirms a drilling moratorium imposed in 2010 by the commission, the interstate agency that manages water use in the vast Delaware watershed. But environmentalists hailed the frack ban as historic.

The commission said it had the authority to ban fracking in order to control future pollution, protect the public health, and preserve the waters in the Delaware River Basin. For more than debate, environmental activists have rallied substantial public opposition in the basin to pressure the commission to enact the ban.

The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge from landowners to the drilling moratorium, which is now a permanent ban. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, along with Damascus Township in Wayne County, also filed a separate federal legal action last month alleging that the moratorium illegally usurps state legislators’ authority to govern natural resources.

Representatives of the governors of four states that are drained by the river — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, all governed by Democrats — voted in favor of the ban. The fifth commission member, a federal government representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, abstained because he said the corps needed additional time to “coordinate” with the new Biden administration.
» Read article                
» See Delaware River Basin map      
» Read Natural Resources Defense Council blog post             

Gavin Newsom sued
Avowed Climate Champion Gavin Newsom Sued for ‘Completely Unacceptable’ Approval of Oil and Gas Projects in California
“Newsom can’t protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry. We need the courts to step in and stop this.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
February 24, 2021

Accusing California regulators of “reckless disregard” for public “health and safety,” the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.

The lawsuit (pdf) claims that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) failed to adequately analyze environmental and health risks before issuing fossil fuel extraction permits, as required by law. According to the suit, California regulators approved nearly 2,000 new oil and gas permits without proper environmental review. 

“CalGEM routinely violates its duty to conduct an initial study and further environmental review for any new oil and gas well drilling, well stimulation, or injection permits and approvals,” the suit alleges. “Instead, CalGEM repeatedly and consistently issues permits and approvals for oil and gas drilling, well stimulation, and injection projects without properly disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the significant environmental impacts of these projects.”

The center noted that “despite Gov. Newsom’s progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California’s dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production.”

“His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking,” the group said in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read the Center for Biological Diversity complaint against CalGEM                   

» More about protests and actions              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

made in Virginia
This Virginia coal-mining equipment supplier sees a future in clean energy
Under third-generation leadership, a family-owned company has pivoted to energy storage and sees opportunity for other southwest Virginia companies to follow.
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Lawrence Brothers Inc. / Courtesy
February 22, 2021

When Melanie Lawrence packed her bags for the University of Tennessee in 1998 to major in Spanish and English, she aspired — not at all maliciously — to leave Tazewell County in the dust.

The Virginian flourished in Knoxville.

Her academic aptitude was her ticket to Spain and then Brussels for a graduate degree in international law and relations. She traveled the world — including a year spent aiding refugees on the Ethiopia-Sudan border — practicing humanitarian law. By 2007, she was married to fellow globetrotter Fernando Protti and living in a Washington, D.C., suburb. 

A year later, home called. The family business, which manufactured battery trays for coal-mining equipment, was seeking leadership from the third generation. 

The oldest of four sisters, Protti-Lawrence somewhat surprised herself by saying yes, aware that the wide gap between the nation’s capital and Appalachia isn’t measured in mere mileage.

For the last dozen years, Melanie, president, and Fernando, CEO, have fearlessly focused on diversifying Lawrence Brothers Inc.’s product line beyond less-and-less-relevant coal. Now, just 10% of its business is coal-related, a severe and intentional drop from 95% in 2008.

“If we had stuck solely with coal, we would be out of business,” Protti-Lawrence said. “You can’t strategically plan or grow if you’re relying on one industry. We made an absolute effort to go beyond our wheelhouse.”

That grit and innovation inspired an “aha” energy storage moment for Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices and Vivek Shinde Patil of Ascent Virginia.

Both nonprofit thinkers have been dogged about linking an oft-forgotten slice of their state to the wealth of jobs and knowledge blooming in the booming renewable energy industry. Why couldn’t companies in Tazewell and Buchanan counties pivot to exporting advanced batteries and other components that fuel cars in Asia, light homes in California or store energy generated by wind farms in Europe?
» Read article                 

» More about greening the economy          

 

CLIMATE

Running Tide
Maine Startup Aims To Pull Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere By Growing — And Then Sinking — Kelp Farms
By Fred Bever, Maine Public Radio, on WBUR
February 16, 2021

The fight against climate change has long focused on scaling back humanity’s emissions of planet-warming carbon-dioxide. But a movement is growing to think bigger and find ways to actually pull existing CO2 out of the air and lock it up somewhere safe.

One Maine startup has an innovative approach that’s drawing attention from scientists and investors: grow massive amounts of seaweed and then bury it at the bottom of the deepest sea, where it will sequester carbon for thousands of years.

On a fishing boat a few miles out in the Gulf of Maine, Capt. Rob Odlin and Adam Rich are tossing buoys into the water. Each is tethered to a rope entwined with tiny seeds of kelp, a fast-growing seaweed.

“We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” Odlin says.

The project is experimental R&D for a company called Running Tide Technologies, based on the Portland waterfront.

Marty Odlin, the boat captain’s nephew and the CEO of Running Tide, explains the company’s mission.

“Essentially what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” he says.

Odlin wants to mimic the natural processes that turned ancient plants into carbon-storing fossil fuels — and do it in a hurry. He sees individual kelp microfarms floating hundreds of miles offshore, over the deepest parts of the world’s oceans.

The kelp soaks up carbon, via photosynthesis, and grows. After about seven months, the mature blades get too heavy for their biodegradable buoys, and sink.

“The kelp will sink to the ocean bottom in the sediment, and become, essentially, part of the ocean floor,” Odlin says. “That gets you millions of years of sequestration. So that’s when you’re making oil. That’s got to be the ultimate goal.”
» Read article            

baseline restored
How Much Does Climate Change Cost? Biden Expected to Raise Carbon’s Dollar Value
The administration is expected to temporarily increase the “social cost” of carbon, at least to the level set by Obama, but climate-concerned economists say that’s not high enough.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
February 19, 2021

In fact, it calculated that the benefits of action on climate change added up to as little as $1 per ton of carbon dioxide, and it set policy accordingly. Almost any steps to reduce greenhouse gases seemed too costly, given the paltry potential gain for society.

President Joe Biden’s White House is moving forward on a crucial first step toward building back U.S. climate policy and is expected to direct federal agencies to use a figure closer to $52 per ton as their guidance for the so-called “social cost of carbon” number on a temporary basis.

That figure, applied during the Obama administration, is likely to serve as a baseline while the Biden administration works on developing its own metric amid calls by climate-focused economists for a value that is at least twice as high.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas crisis debrief
Inside Clean Energy: The Right and Wrong Lessons from the Texas Crisis
The state experienced an “all-of-the-above” failure, and previewed a future of winter peaks in energy demand. The Ted Cruz scandal was also instructive.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Now that the power is back on in Texas, we are entering a phase with investigations of all the systems that failed.

But some of the biggest lessons are already apparent.

Here are some of the things I learned, or relearned:
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

five things about builng emissions
5 Things to Know About Carbon-Free Buildings and Construction
By Stuart Braun, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
February 24, 2021

We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.

But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.

To ensure that the Paris climate targets are met, the building and construction industry needs to become a climate leader by moving towards net-zero construction. Its CO2 emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 for building stock to be carbon-free by 2050, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In response, a raft of new net-zero building initiatives are focused on curbing emissions across the whole building lifecycle.

A report released by C40 in October 2019 showed that the construction industry alone could cut emissions from buildings and infrastructure by 44% by 2050. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have since committed to take a leadership role in creating a global market for low-emission construction materials and zero-emission machinery.

Oslo, for instance, aims to make all city-owned construction machinery and construction sites operate with zero emissions by 2025. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s bold plan to be climate-neutral by 2025 will draw heavily on its commitment to zero-carbon construction. This will be achieved in part through “fossils- or emission-free construction machinery in construction projects,” said Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen.

With Stockholm also part of a cross-border tender for sustainable procurement of mobile construction machinery, such unified demand is designed to send a signal to the market, according to Victoria Burrows. The end result will be to “create a ripple effect” that will help kickstart the net-zero building transition.
» Read article           
» Read the UN report on building sector emissions        

» More about energy efficiency         

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Highland kickstartHighland Electric Raises $235M, Lands Biggest Electric School Bus Contract in the U.S.
Maryland county taps startup’s all-inclusive EV fleet leasing model to break up-front electrification cost barriers.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 25, 2021

Electric school buses don’t just eliminate the carbon and pollution emissions of their diesel-fueled counterparts, they cost less to fuel and maintain over the long haul. 

Unfortunately for cash-strapped school districts, an electric school bus still costs more than twice as much as a diesel bus today. And that’s not counting the cost of new charging infrastructure, or the risk that those charging costs may drive a district’s electric bills through the roof. 

Highland Electric Transportation says it can remove those barriers to school districts and transit authorities, by taking on the financing and management of an EV school bus fleet in exchange for a fixed annual leasing fee. In the past week, the Hamilton, Mass.-based startup has won two votes of confidence in its business model. 

The first came last week, with the close of a $253 million venture capital investment led by Vision Ridge Partners with participation by previous investors and Fontinalis Partners, the venture fund co-founded by Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford.

The second came this week, when Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded Highland a contract to supply it with what will be the country’s largest electric school bus fleet. The deal will start with 326 buses to be delivered over the next four years, along with charging systems at five bus depots. 

The cost of that service, $169 million, will be spread out over 16 years, and will fit into the existing budget structures for its existing diesel bus fleet, said Todd Watkins, the district’s transportation director. After seven years of budget neutrality, the contract will end up saving the district money compared to what it could have expected to spend on its existing bus fleet, he said.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation           

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

MA state house dome
Andrew Ahern: ‘Who’s delaying climate action in Massachusetts?’
By Andrew Ahern, Telegram & Gazette | Opinion
February 17, 2021

On Jan. 28, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a major climate change bill, sending it to Governor Baker for him to sign. The “Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” would be the first major piece of climate legislation passed into Massachusetts law since the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

That may sound surprising to some. In a state with so many progressive voters and an active climate scene, a 13-year gap on climate action seems counterintuitive. Add the fact that within those 13 years, we’ve seen accelerated global warming and record temperatures, it becomes worse than surprising, but maddening. Why such a delay?

Now, we might have some (definitive) answers. In mid-January, Brown University’s Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) released a report titled “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings.” The report, using data from over 1,187 pieces of testimony and over 4,000 lobbying records regarding clean energy, has some pretty remarkable findings.

Of the 12 findings, five discuss lobbying efforts from groups and organizations who actively fight against climate policy and clean energy.

Take our investor owned utilities as an example. In “Finding 3: On lobbying, clean energy advocates are outspent more than 3.5 to 1,” the report finds that trade associations representing real estate, fossil fuels and power generation industries are among the top 10 groups opposing climate and clean energy legislation over a six-year period (2013-2018).

National Grid and Eversource, Massachusetts’ two largest utility companies, opposed 56 and 32 climate and clean energy bills respectively, spending over a combined $3.5 million in lobbying efforts to do so. Others, like ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute add to this, with climate action obstructors outspending climate action advocates 3.5 to 1.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The report finds that Eversource and National Grid actively oppose solar energy. While the report notes that both utility companies showed some support for expanding wind energy and hydropower, both were active in opposing solar net-metering, which would allow an expansion of solar energy in the commonwealth.
» Read article           
» Read the Brown University CSSN Research Report, “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings”              

» More legislative news                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR seismic survey dead
Seismic Survey of Alaskan Arctic Refuge Won’t Move Forward
A missed deadline for flights to look for polar bears means the work to locate oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is effectively killed.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 22, 2021

An Alaska Native group failed to meet a critical deadline as part of its proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Interior Department announced. The failure effectively kills the survey, which would have determined the location of oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge in anticipation of drilling there.

A department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwarz, said that the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, had not undertaken reconnaissance flights to detect polar bear dens in the proposed survey area as a prelude to sending trucks and other survey equipment rolling across the refuge’s coastal plain this winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, had required that three flights be conducted before Feb. 13 as part of the corporation’s request for an authorization that would require extensive efforts to avoid the animals during the full seismic survey.

As a result of the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said that the corporation had been advised “that their request is no longer actionable, and the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization.”

Separately, another Interior agency, the Bureau of Land Management, has been reviewing the corporation’s application for an overall permit to conduct the survey. The decision not to act on the polar bear authorization makes the issuance of the broader permit moot, effectively killing the proposal.

The demise of the seismic survey does not have a direct effect on the oil and gas leases in the refuge that were sold in January, the last-minute culmination of the Trump administration’s efforts to open the area to development. Those leases are currently being reviewed by the Biden White House, which is opposed to drilling there.
» Read article            

gas fights backThe battle over climate change is boiling over on the home front
Municipalities want new buildings to go all electric, spurning gas-fired stoves and heating systems. The gas industry disagrees.
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post
February 23, 2021

A new front has opened in the battle over climate change: The kitchen.

Cities and towns across the country are rewriting local building codes so that new homes and offices would be blocked from using natural gas, a fossil fuel that when burned emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. New laws would force builders to install heat pumps instead of gas furnaces and electric kitchen stoves instead of gas burners.

Local leaders say reducing the carbon and methane pollution associated with buildings, the source of 12.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is the only way they can meet their 2050 zero-emission goals to curb climate change.

But the American Gas Association, a trade group, and its members are campaigning in statehouses across the country to prohibit the new local ordinances. Four states last year adopted such laws, and this year similar legislation has been introduced in 12 more.

“Logically the natural gas industry does not want to see its business end, so it’s doing what it can to keep natural gas in the utility grid mix,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “But long term, if cities are serious about their climate goals, electric buildings are inevitable.”

Most of the gas industry, however, is fighting back.
» Read article   

» More about fossil fuel               

 

BIOMASS

Drax doubles downDrax Purchase Would Implicate the United Kingdom in Loss of Canadian Forests
The operator of the world’s largest wood-burning power station is doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model.
By Elly Pepper Jennifer Skene Sasha Stashwick, NRDC | Blog
February 25, 2021

Today, Drax—which operates the world’s largest wood-burning power station—released its earnings report, continuing to greenwash with its claims that biomass is a “green” energy source.

But, in reality, Drax is simply doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model, as evidenced by its recent decision to purchase Pinnacle—Canada’s largest wood pellet manufacturer—to become the world’s third-largest manufacturer of wood pellets.

While the U.K. attempts to burnish its environmental record ahead of hosting the COP 26 and push countries toward protecting at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 (30×30) at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), its wholesale support for biomass, including £2 million per day in subsidies to Drax, smacks of hypocrisy.

Here are the top reasons this deal makes absolutely no sense:

It will worsen climate change. Biomass energy is already a climate boondoggle since it creates emissions every step of the way, from the time trees are cut down for biomass in the forest to the smokestack when trees are burned to generate electricity. On the landscape, replacing older trees with saplings after harvest reduces the amount of carbon stored in the regrowing forest (even under the best-case scenario in which trees are replanted and regrow immediately). This is a significant source of emissions, known as foregone carbon sequestration. Biomass harvest in forests also releases carbon from the soil. Next, power plants like Pinnacle’s generate emissions by burning fossil gas (or more wood) to manufacture their pellets from the cut wood. And from there, the carbon footprint only grows, with the transport of wood pellets across the globe and the massive carbon emissions from Drax’s smokestacks. Sadly, under the government’s rules, which categorize biomass as a “renewable energy,” Drax can treat its smokestack emissions as zero. With an accounting flourish, Drax’s roughly 13 million tons of CO2 emissions per year just magically disappear in the ledger. And policymakers get to take credit for delivering “low-carbon electricity.”
» Read article             

» More about biomass       

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Weekly News Check-In 6/19/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

We covered a lot of ground this week, but similar themes cropped up with a frequency that made the journey feel like running laps on an oval track.

With the Weymouth compressor station air quality permit recently vacated by court order, Massachusetts’ two U.S. Senators have sent a letter to Federal regulators demanding a halt to construction. Their prior letter sought a stop-work order due to public health concerns related to the construction itself.

In the Merrimack Valley, some attorneys handling settlement claims against Columbia Gas for the 2018 disaster are skimming fees. The practice is being called out as double-dipping at victims’ expense.

We found three great articles for our Protests and Actions section, exploring how fossil fuel supporters along with the conservative lobbying group ALEC are attempting to criminalize non-violent acts of civil disobedience – especially against pipelines and similar infrastructure projects. Louisiana’s Democratic governor recently vetoed such a bill, but in West Virginia some forms of nonviolent direct action are now felony offenses carrying steep fines and jail time.

Other pipeline news includes a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. Farther west, a farm in Nebraska transferred a small plot of land to the Ponca Tribe – a move that will force TransCanada to negotiate under terms of the tribe’s special legal status for Keystone XL pipeline right-of-way.

In divestment news, dozens of Massachusetts lawmakers have asked insurance giant Liberty Mutual to stop investing in or providing coverage for fossil fuel projects – including the Keystone XL and Mariner East pipelines.

Our Greening the Economy section has a critique of the International Energy Agency’s recent report on its vision for a sustainable recovery – plus an essay from CBS News on why America needs social justice. This is all about reversing climate change, which is made doubly difficult by the twin threats of over-abundant cows and anti-science department managers at all levels of government agencies.

Even clean energy and clean transportation face threats from shadowy groups spreading confusion and disinformation. But we found progress there too – like initiatives taking hold in New England to offer rebates on the purchase of electric bikes.

We close with three articles on the fossil fuel industry. The first two describe deceptions and regulatory agency influence aimed at extending fossil’s destructive run. The last shows BP finally dipping a toe into the cool, clear, pool of reality – writing billions of dollars off the value of its reserves in a first, tentative admission to shareholders that the company doesn’t expect to actually burn it all up.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Senators weigh in again
With Air Permit Vacated, Senators Call For Construction To Stop On Weymouth Compressor
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
June 19, 2020

On Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey wrote to federal regulators asking to halt construction of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth. The letter comes after a federal court vacated the compressor’s air permit earlier this month.

“Given the invalidation of the facility’s air quality permit, construction must stop immediately,” the senators wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate gas transmission.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) granted the air quality permit after contentious hearings last May, during which MassDEP admitted that the project’s provisional air permit was based on incomplete data. On June 3, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that MassDEP did not follow its own established procedures, and vacated the permit.
» Read article            
» Read the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor station   

COLUMBIA GAS DISASTER

Gas disaster settlement fees in question
By Jill Harmacinski, Eagle Tribune
June 13, 2020

A total of $26.1 million of the $143 million Merrimack Valley gas explosion class-action settlement was earmarked for payment of legal fees and administrative costs.

And yet, some victims are being asked to pay an 11% fee to get their checks, which are compensation for everything from spoiled food and property damage, to lodging costs, mental anguish and other fallout from the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster.

The first round of checks was recently issued with an average settlement payment of $8,000. Eleven percent of that payment is $880.

As of Friday, a spokesperson for Attorney General Maura Healey said the office had heard from eight recipients about the fee being assessed by attorney David Raimondo of the Raimondo Law Firm. Healey’s office is looking into this.
» Read article             

» More about Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley disaster      

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

assault on accountability
From the Streets to the Courts, Fossil Fuel Is Trying to Outlaw Climate Accountability
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
June 12, 2020

There are a couple ways so-called “average” Americans can try to hold the powerful to account: We can take to the streets or take to the courts. But for decades, powerful industries and their allies in state houses nationwide have been slowly, surgically narrowing those options.

Now, with an alarming number of states moving to criminalize protest, and a renewed effort to push “tort reform,” a euphemism for eroding the public’s ability to hold companies legally and financially liable for the harms they cause, these two key tools are very much in danger.

The social movements of the 1960s and 1970s brought big wins for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and environmental and consumer protections. In a lot of ways, efforts to roll back those wins over the last several few decades have been one long counter-reaction to those initial reforms.
» Read article            

Governor Edwards
Louisiana’s Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Imposed Harsh Penalties for Trespassing on Industrial Land
Activists had argued that the law, if enacted, would intimidate opponents of pipelines and chemical plants by threatening prison sentences for minor infractions.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
June 13, 2020

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday vetoed a bill that would have stiffened penalties for trespassing on pipelines, levees and a long list of other facilities in the state. The veto handed a victory to civil liberties advocates and local organizers, who said the bill would have trampled on their right to protest industrial development.

The legislation would have imposed a mandatory minimum three-year sentence for stepping onto “critical infrastructure” during a state of emergency and expanded the list of what falls under that definition, to include flood control structures, which criss-cross the state.

Advocates said the bill would have extended the reach of an already vague law that imposes harsh penalties for trespassing on oil and gas industry land and other sites.
» Read article             

new WVA felonyA Powerful Petrochemical Lobbying Group Advanced Anti-Protest Legislation in the Midst of the Pandemic
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
June 7 2020

One day after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the governor quietly signed into law the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the law created new felony penalties for protest actions targeting oil and gas facilities, as the state continues to confront opposition to two massive natural gas pipelines designed to cut through delicate forests, streams, and farmland.

If construction is completed, the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would transport gas extracted via fracking in West Virginia to markets in Virginia and North Carolina, passing through the crumbly limestone landscapes known as karst that underly much of the mountainous region. Such projects are key to keeping fracking companies operating at a time when gas prices are at historic lows and allowing a booming petrochemical industry to continue its expansion. Local landowners and residents concerned with environmental issues have attempted to stop construction by locking themselves to equipment and camping out in trees in the pipelines’ paths. Along with more conventional actions such as lawsuits, the protest efforts have cost the projects’ backers billions of dollars in delays.

Now, a person who trespasses on a West Virginia property containing “critical infrastructure” with the intention of defacing or inhibiting operations could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The law creates a new felony and fines of up to $20,000 for any person who conspires to deface or vandalize such properties if the resulting damage is more than $2,500. “Critical infrastructure” is defined as an array of oil and gas facilities including petroleum refineries, compressor stations, liquid natural gas terminals, and pipelines.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions      

PIPELINES

the pipeline stops here
Supreme Court clears way for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

By Lyndsey Gilpin, Grist
June 15, 2020

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday. By a 7 to 2 margin, the court reversed a lower court’s decision and upheld a permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service that the project’s developers could tunnel under a section of the iconic wilderness in Virginia.

The case looked at whether the Forest Service had authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant rights-of-way within national forest lands traversed by the Appalachian Trail. “A right-of-way between two agencies grants only an easement across the land, not jurisdiction over the land itself,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s opinion. So the Forest Service had enough authority over the land to grant the permit. The dissent, by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, argued that the “outcome is inconsistent with the language of three statutes, longstanding agency practice, and common sense.”

Though this decision is significant, it doesn’t determine the ultimate fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. While the Supreme Court has granted the Forest Service the ability to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ striking down of the Forest Service’s permit still stands. Dominion is required to look at other routes that avoid parcels of protected federal land, and the Forest Service is prohibited from approving a route across these lands, if reasonable alternatives exist, according to [Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center].
» Read article            
» Read the Supreme Court decision        

Ponca land acquisition
‘Historic First’: Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
June 15, 2018

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government’s long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

At a deed-signing ceremony earlier this week, farmers Art and Helen Tanderup transferred to the tribe a 1.6-acre plot of land that falls on Ponca “Trail of Tears.”

Now, as the Omaha World-Herald explained, rather than battling the farmers, “TransCanada will have to negotiate with a new landowner, one that has special legal status as a tribe.”

The transfer was celebrated by members of the Ponca Tribe as well as environmental advocates who oppose the construction of the pipeline and continue to demand a total transition to renewable energy.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines        

DIVESTMENT

Liberty unveiled
Massachusetts lawmakers ask Liberty Mutual to stop financing fossil fuels
As other major insurers commit to backing off oil and gas projects, activists say Liberty Mutual isn’t keeping pace.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By User54871 / Wikimedia Commons
June 18, 2020

Dozens of Massachusetts state legislators have sent a letter asking Boston-based insurance giant Liberty Mutual to stop investing in or providing coverage for fossil fuel projects. The demands are the latest move in an ongoing campaign to fight climate change by undermining financial support for fossil fuel extraction and development.

“Arguably, the main reason that these projects keep getting built is because there are still companies willing to provide the insurance for what is becoming more and more of a risky project,” said state Sen. James Eldridge, one of the lawmakers who organized the effort. “It really doesn’t make environmental or financial sense.”

Liberty Mutual is the fifth-largest property-casualty insurance company in the United States, with just under $39 billion in premium revenue in 2019. While other major insurance companies, especially in Europe, have announced plans to stop covering and investing in fossil fuel projects, Liberty Mutual’s commitment has not kept pace, activists argue.

Liberty Mutual’s clients include some major, and controversial, fossil fuel projects, including the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada and the Pacific Northwest, and the Mariner East II natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania. Further, the insurer has $8.9 billion invested in fossil fuel companies or utilities that make extensive use of fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about divesting from fossil fuels        

GREENING THE ECONOMY

IEA sustainable recovery
Oil Change International Response to IEA Sustainable Recovery Report
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International, Press Release
June 18, 2020

“The IEA again misses the mark where it matters the most, completely ignoring the link between sustainable recovery and staying within 1.5°C of warming. Nowhere in the report is there mention of the critical 1.5-degree warming limit, let alone analysis of what’s needed for a recovery plan to be fully aligned with it.

“As trillions of dollars shift as part of the COVID-19 recovery, governments need clarity on the bold and decisive steps required to halve carbon emissions within this decade, the key guidepost laid out by climate scientists for staying within 1.5°C. This report does not deliver it.

“While eventually concluding the obvious, that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the best recovery investments, the IEA does not assess how governments can drive a transition to those solutions at the pace and scale needed to meet global climate goals. Moreover, the IEA sends confusing messages by considering measures that would prolong, rather than phase out, fossil fuels.
» Read full press release                
» Read the IEA report           

NY for clean power
Why America Needs Environmental Justice
By Jeff Berardelli, CBS News
June 16, 2020

In recent weeks, our nation has been forced to come to grips with the variety of ways in which inequality harms minority communities, from the death of George Floyd at the hands of police to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. A recent Harvard study concluded that air pollution — which is typically worse in areas with larger minority populations — is linked to higher coronavirus death rates, along with a slew of other health problems.

This is just one form of environmental injustice, which Peggy Shepard has dedicated the better part of her life to combating. Shepard is the co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York City nonprofit organization that’s been working to improve the environment of local communities since 1988. The mission of WE ACT is to “build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.”

Environmental justice has become a mainstream topic recently as awareness grows of the worsening impacts of climate change and the proposal for a Green New Deal. So this week CBS News asked Peggy Shepard to discuss how environmental issues disproportionately impact minority communities and what needs to be done to fix that. Here is a portion of that conversation.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy     

CLIMATE

cow burps
Don’t have a cow, but Big Dairy’s climate footprint is as big as the UK’s
By Joseph Winters, Grist
June 18, 2020

If dairy cows were a country, they would have the same climate impact as the entire United Kingdom. That’s according to a new analysis from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), which considered the combined annual emissions from the world’s 13 largest dairy operations in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available.

The institute’s report follows up on a similar analysis the organization undertook for 2015. That year, the IATP found that the five largest meat and dairy companies combined had emissions portfolios greater than those of some of the world’s largest oil companies, like ExxonMobil and Shell. Most of the emissions were from meat, but this latest report finds that dairy remains a significant and growing source of emissions: In the two years between reports, the 13 top dairy companies’ emissions grew 11 percent — a 32.3 million metric ton increase in greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions that would be released by adding an extra 6.9 million cars to the road for a year.

Dairy emissions come mostly from the cows themselves — specifically, from their notorious burps. Fermentation processes in cows’ stomachs produce the byproduct methane, which doesn’t stick around in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide but absorbs more heat. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says methane from ruminants like cows are an important contributor to the increase of atmospheric methane levels.
» Read article            
» Read the IATP analysis
» Read the 2015 IATP analysis on meat & dairy emissions

agency corrosion
A War Against Climate Science, Waged by Washington’s Rank and File
Efforts to block research on climate change don’t just come from the Trump political appointees on top. Lower managers in government are taking their cues, and running with them.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
June 15, 2020

WASHINGTON — Efforts to undermine climate change science in the federal government, once orchestrated largely by President Trump’s political appointees, are now increasingly driven by midlevel managers trying to protect their jobs and budgets and wary of the scrutiny of senior officials, according to interviews and newly revealed reports and surveys.

Government experts said they have been surprised at the speed with which federal workers have internalized President Trump’s antagonism for climate science, and called the new landscape dangerous.

“If top-level administrators issued a really clear public directive, there would be an uproar and a pushback, and it would be easier to combat,” said Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, which supports scientists. “This is a lot harder to fight.”

An inspector general’s report at the Environmental Protection Agency made public in May found that almost 400 employees surveyed in 2018 believed a manager had interfered with or suppressed the release of scientific information, but they never reported the violations. A separate Union of Concerned Scientists survey in 2018 of more than 63,000 federal employees across 16 agencies identified the E.P.A. and Department of Interior as having the least trustworthy leadership in matters of scientific integrity.
» Read article            
» Read the inspector general’s report

» More about climate             

CLEAN ENERGY

Boulder panels
Inside Clean Energy: Rooftop Solar Could Lose Big in Federal Regulatory Case
Regulators are considering a proposal one opponent called “pretty close to saying solar is illegal.”
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
June 18, 2020

Rooftop solar as we know it is under threat from a case before federal regulators, and a broad array of clean energy advocates and state officials are getting nervous.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering a request from an obscure consumer group that wants to end net metering, which is the compensation mechanism that allows solar owners to sell their excess electricity to the grid. By selling the electricity they don’t need, solar owners get credits on their utility bills, producing savings that help to cover the costs of solar systems.

Monday was the deadline to file comments in the case, and those who responded were overwhelmingly opposed to the petition, but clean energy advocates say there is still a real chance that FERC will decide to throw out state laws that allow net metering.
» Read article            

growth spurt
GE will make taller wind turbines using 3D-printing
Turbines with a 3D-printed base could be taller than the Seattle Space Needle
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 17, 2020

GE announced today that it’s developing skyscraper-sized wind turbines with massive 3D-printed bases. The conglomerate plans to work with partners in the construction industry to produce both a printer and materials that could eventually be deployed around the world.

Taller turbines can capitalize on stronger winds at higher altitudes, and the structures support larger blades that generate more power. But building bigger turbines makes transporting the pieces needed to put it together a logistical nightmare. GE hopes to 3D print the base of a turbine wherever they want to place it, so that they won’t need to haul around such a gigantic hunk of concrete or steel. The company says its onshore turbines could reach up to 200 meters tall, which is taller than the Seattle Space Needle and more than double the average height for wind turbines in the US today.
» Read article            

CCUS subsidies
Carbon Capture Will Require Large Public Subsidies to Support Coal and Gas Power
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
June 15, 2020

In April, the Center for Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University released a report concluding that, without major new subsidies from the American public, technologies for capturing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas-fired power plants will remain uneconomical.

However, CGEP, which has a history of strongly supporting the interests of the fossil fuel industry, concludes in this report that the government should implement new publicly financed policies in order to ensure investors are willing to take the risk of investing in carbon capture — and use the public to backstop that risk so those investors make money.

While prices for renewable energy continue to fall, this report is suggesting that prices for gas and coal-fired power will have to increase if CCUS is implemented.

The report also leaves no doubt that this will require significant policy changes and subsidies, concluding that “additional incentives are needed to stimulate private investment in CCUS projects and to scale deployment.”

Carbon capture is currently a favored approach for the fossil fuel industry because it is premised on long-term use of fossil fuels. One reason investors are hesitant to put their money into risky carbon capture projects is the fact that renewable power generation offers a better investment opportunity — while also being carbon free.
» Read article           
» Read the CGEP report

» More about clean energy                 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

RapidRide
Transportation Fairness Alliance Revealed: Behind the Oil Industry’s Latest Attack on Electric Cars
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
June 18, 2020

Earlier this spring, while much of the nation’s attention focused on the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. oil and gas industry quietly launched a new coalition using messaging that invokes “transportation fairness.” Like other petroleum interest front groups that have campaigned against clean transportation measures, this new coalition appears poised to counter policies designed to accelerate the transition away from petroleum-powered transportation.

The Transportation Fairness Alliance (TFA), as the new coalition is called, describes itself as “a diverse partnership of businesses, associations, and organizations that support a competitive and equitable transportation sector. Collectively, we represent our nation’s manufacturers, small business owners, farmers, and folks who pay utility bills.”

Despite claims of “diversity” and “equity,” the coalition is comprised mainly of oil and gas trade associations with a vested interest in maintaining the petroleum-dependent transportation system status quo. Logos for these trade associations appear near the bottom of the website’s “About Us” section, making it no secret who is funding and driving this new alliance.

The coalition outlines its policy positions and statements of principle on its website. Many rely on easily debunked talking points and cherry-picked data that have been perpetuated by the oil industry for years.
» Read article            

e-bike rebate
In New England, declining car sales prompt call for electric bike rebate
s
Supporters in Connecticut argue that e-bike incentives, like those in Vermont, would be a timely investment.
By Lisa Prevost and David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Richard Masoner / Flickr / Creative Commons
June 17, 2020

As interest in cycling rises and electric vehicle sales drop off amid the pandemic, advocates are calling on Connecticut officials to extend the state’s rebate program to include electric bicycles.

About 80 organizations, businesses and individuals have signed a letter to state officials seeking rebates for e-bikes, which use an electric motor to amplify the rider’s pedal force and are seen as a way to replace car trips. The state’s existing electric vehicle rebate program is “inequitable,” they argue, because it only applies to electric cars, which are unaffordable for many middle- to lower-income households.

The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program, or CHEAPR, has $3 million in annual funding. Spending that money may be a challenge this year with car sales depressed, and that makes the addition of e-bike rebates particularly timely, said Anthony Cherolis, an avid cyclist and coordinator of Transport Hartford, which is leading the effort.

“I could see an e-bike rebate from $200 to $500 as a game-changer for the equity and mobility of low-income households, particularly in Connecticut’s large cities,” said Cherolis, who noted that about a third of households in Hartford do not own a car.
» Read article          
» Read the sign-on letter         

» More about clean transportation          

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

cookin with gas
The gas industry is paying Instagram influencers to gush over gas stoves
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones, in Grist
June 19, 2020

Amber Kelley has a “super-cool way” to make fish tacos. “You’re going to start with the natural gas flame,” the teenage one-time Food Network Star Kids winner explained in a professionally produced video to her 6,700 Instagram followers, adding, “because the flames actually come up, you can heat and cook your tortilla.”

Kelley’s not the only Instagram influencer praising the flames of her stove. “Chef Jenna,” a 20-something with cool-girl rainbow hair and 15,800 followers, posted, “Who’s up for some breakfast-for-dinner? Chef Jenna is bringing you some stovetop Huevos Rancheros this evening! Did you know natural gas provides better cooking results? Pretty nifty, huh?!” The Instagram account @kokoshanne, an “adventurous mama” with 131,000 followers, wrote in a post about easy weeknight dinners that natural gas “helps cook food faster.”

The gas cooking Instatrend is no accident. It’s the result of a carefully orchestrated campaign dreamed up by marketers for representatives with the American Gas Association and American Public Gas Association, two trade groups that draw their funding from a mix of investor- and publicly owned utilities. Since at least 2018, social media and wellness personalities have been hired to post more than 100 posts extolling the virtues of their stoves in sponsored posts. Documents from the fossil fuel watchdog Climate Investigations Center show that another trade group, the American Public Gas Association, intends to spend another $300,000 on its millennial-centric “Natural Gas Genius” campaign in 2020.
» Read article            

Bill Cooper DoE
From Hurricane Maria to COVID, Gas Lobbyist-turned-Trump Energy Lawyer Uses Crises as ‘Opportunity’
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
June 14, 2020

Among a string of recent environmental rollbacks, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) aims to vastly narrow the scope of environmental reviews for those applying for liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits. The proposal has been guided by Bill Cooper, a former oil and gas industry lobbyist who’s now a top lawyer for the DOE.

On May 1, the DOE issued a proposal to limit environmental reviews for LNG export permit proposals so that the review applies to only the export process itself — literally “occurring at or after the point of export.” The rule would take off the table for consideration lifecycle greenhouse gas analyses, broader looks at both build-outs of pipelines and power plants attached to the export proposals, and other potential environmental impacts.

It comes as many larger forces up the pressure on LNG projects: The oil and gas industry is facing financial crisis, exports of fracked gas to the global market are steeply waning, and the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic nosedive are marching on in the United States.
» Read article           

BP or not to BP
“Historic moment” as BP writes-off billions of reserves as stranded assets
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 16, 2020

For years, climate activists have been warning Big Oil and their loyal investors that there would come a time when their most prized assets, their oil, would become their greatest liability, due to climate change. They came up with a term for the concept: stranded assets.

At first, activists were dismissed out of hand. Oil majors and pundits said the world would always need more oil. And so companies carried on drilling. But slowly, the concept gained traction amongst influential climate scientists, investors, and bankers such as Mark Carney, the ex-Governor of the Bank of England.

In 2015, Carney warned about the risks of climate change — or as he called it — the “tragedy of the horizon.” Carney cautioned that “the vast majority of reserves” of oil, gas, and coal could become “stranded” and literally become “un-burnable.”

Climate reality has finally caught up with BP’s corporate dreamland that it could carry on drilling forever. Bernard Looney, chief executive of BP, said, “we have reset our price outlook to reflect that impact and the likelihood of greater efforts to ‘build back better’ towards a Paris-consistent world.”
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuels

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