Tag Archives: BBRS

Weekly News Check-In 7/31/20

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Welcome back.

Candidate positions on the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline may be a significant factor determining New Hampshire’s next governor. The contested status of other pipelines is also roiling related industries and enlivening local politics wherever they exist.

Two new nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may finally rebalance its makeup, which has been operating for much of the year with four of its five commissioners – only one of whom is a Democrat.

The recently-launched nonprofit Rewiring America has released its first major report on greening the economy and the jobs that could be created by a full-on effort at electrification. It’s an exciting prospect that requires a post-Trump political ecosystem. We found a related investigative report from DeSmog Blog, exposing efforts by the natural gas industry to delay electrification of the building sector.

Now that we’re heading into the home stretch of this political season, articles we’re finding on climate all project a jittery edginess around the stakes of the November election. Given the urgent need for sharp emissions reductions and a kind of global leadership that’s only possible when America is at its best, Bill McKibben’s suggestion that this election is about the next 10,000 years lacks even a hint of hyperbole.

We caught some encouraging glimpses of steady advances in clean energy and transportation  – things coming our way despite the best efforts of the Trump administration and fossil fuel industry. News from that sector, as usual, amounts to flashing red lights warning of an impending financial implosion.

We wrap up with two stories about “green energy” that is anything but. While Europe continues to insist – contrary to science – that woody biomass is effectively carbon neutral in the short term, American forests are being felled for pellets to fuel their converted coal power plants. This is all based on a carbon accounting error that originated with the Kyoto Climate Agreement, and was grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. It’s turned out to be a stubbornly difficult problem to correct.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

Breaking news: shortly after we published this post on 7/31, Liberty Utilities announced the cancellation of its Granite Bridge Pipeline project. Look for coverage in the upcoming Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20.

USD 400M misstep
Gas pipeline fuels debate among NH gubernatorial candidates
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 24, 2020

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky called the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline a ”$400 million step in the wrong direction” during a press conference in front of the Town Hall Friday.

Volinsky said Liberty Utilities’ proposed 16-inch liquefied natural gas pipeline for the Route 101 corridor between Exeter and Manchester will exacerbate climate change while other high-profile projects, like the Dakota Access pipeline, were being halted around the country.

“A key part of why I’m running for governor is to combat climate change, and part of that effort is to be opposed to fracked gas pipelines projects, like the Granite Bridge pipeline,” said Volinsky, a member of the state Executive Council. “Last municipal election, Exeter went on record as opposed to the pipeline. Fracking is especially dangerous for the environment, ratepayers would have to pay for that project for 20 or 30 years, and to what purpose? To line the pockets of Liberty Utilities and Granite Bridge shareholders.”

The Granite Bridge application is stalled at the state Public Utilities Commission after being filed in December 2017. The project includes a 150- to 170-foot high tank capable of storing 2 billion cubic feet of LNG in an abandoned quarry in West Epping.
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline

OTHER PIPELINES

risky business
Dakota Access Pipeline Saga Stalls Oil Production Recovery In The Bakken

By Tsvetana Paraskova, oilprice.com
July 29, 2020

The uncertainty surrounding the future operations of Dakota Access, the key pipeline carrying crude out of the Bakken, is stalling oil companies’ plans to invest in bringing back online the output they had curtailed after the pandemic-driven crash in oil demand and prices, executives told Reuters.

A federal judge ruled on July 6 that the Dakota Access Pipeline, in operation since 2017, must be emptied and shut down by August 5, until a new comprehensive environmental review is completed.

A week later, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Dakota Access can continue to operate while the court considers whether the pipeline should be shut down as ordered by a lower court’s ruling.

Until the new saga with the Dakota Access pipeline is resolved, oil drillers in the Bakken are not rushing to restore production as they see the move as too risky in case Dakota Access were to shut down.
» Read article

Ashland Select Board wins court case against Eversource over gas pipeline
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
July 23, 2020

Eversource must remove a decommissioned gas pipeline if it gets the go-ahead to install a new, wider pipeline through Ashland, a state Land Court judge has ruled.

Associate Justice Michael D. Vhay issued the judgment earlier this week, supporting the Town of Ashland’s position.

In Ashland and Hopkinton, Eversource wants to decommission a 6-inch-wide, 3.7-mile underground gas line that passes through both towns and replace it with new 12-inch pipeline. In Ashland, the gas line runs for 2.5 miles, cutting through more 80 house lots, town-owned properties, wetlands, the Chestnut Street Apartments and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.

Town officials and many residents adamantly oppose the project, saying it will have no direct benefit for Ashland residents and runs counter to the town’s sustainability goals.

In a Facebook status posted on the town’s Facebook page,Town Manager Michael Herbert shared the news of the court’s decision.

“Rarely does a small suburban town of 17,000 people take on a corporate giant like Eversource Gas and come out on top,” he said.
» Read article             

JC permit reversal
Land use permit for Jordan Cove pipeline is reversed
By Amanda Slee, KCBY.com
July 21, 2020

NORTH BEND, Ore. — The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has reversed a land-use permit approved by the city of North Bend.

The permit is for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal.

The Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition was the petitioner in the appeal. The decision by the North Bend City Council was to approve a temporary dredging material transport pipeline and dredging offloading facility.
» Read article             

» More about other pipelines        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC nominations
Trump makes two FERC nominations, potentially rebalancing commission
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
July 27, 2020

President Trump made two nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Monday, bowing to pressure from Democratic lawmakers who have pushed to maintain the bipartisan split in the commission.

Trump nominated Allison Clements, Democrats’ preferred nominee, alongside Mark C. Christie, who currently serves as chairman of Virginia State Corporation Commission. If confirmed, the two would regulate electricity and natural gas markets alongside other major energy projects.

FERC’s five-member board is supposed to have no more than three members of any one party, but for much of the year it’s been operating with just four members — three Republicans and one Democrat.

Clements currently serves as the founder and president of Goodgrid, LLC, an energy policy and strategy consulting firm. She previously worked for a decade at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She also spent two years as director of the energy markets program at Energy Foundation, which advocates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Christie is one of the nation’s longest-serving state utility regulators, having served for 16 years on Virginia’s board overseeing utilities and other industries.

The nominations come as Commissioner Bernard McNamee’s term expired at the end of June.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

big green jobs machine
New Analysis Shows How Electrifying the U.S. Economy Could Create 25 Million Green Jobs by 2035
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
July 30, 2020

A report released Wednesday by a new nonprofit—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic disaster, and calls for a green recovery from those intertwined crises that prioritizes aggressive climate policies—lays out how rapidly decarbonizing and electrifying the U.S. economy could create up to 25 million good-paying jobs throughout the country over the next 15 years.

Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America envisions a dramatic transformation of the nation’s power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors by 2035 to meet the global heating goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The first project of the newly launched Rewiring America is “based on an extensive industrial and engineering analysis of what such a decarbonization would entail.”
» Read article             
» Read the report

» More about greening the economy

BETTER BUILDINGS

unplugged
Unplugged: How the Gas Industry Is Fighting Efforts to Electrify Buildings
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 28, 2020

Just over a year ago, the city of Berkeley, California, passed into law a first-in-the-nation ordinance prohibiting natural gas hookups in new buildings, a move that alarmed the gas industry. This alarm has since boiled over into a full-fledged opposition campaign to counter the rising tide of similar measures meant to restrict gas in favor of constructing all-electric buildings and cutting carbon pollution.

Natural gas constitutes a vast majority, about 80 percent, of the direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sectors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Transitioning away from direct fossil fuel use in buildings is key for de-carbonizing and meeting climate targets, experts say.

Initiatives are starting to emerge at the local level on the West Coast and in the Northeast to support this transition, with 31 cities in California committed to phasing out gas use in buildings, as of July 8, and several Massachusetts communities in the Boston area doing the same. Policies for electrifying buildings are also in the works in New Jersey as well as Seattle and other cities.
» Read article             

Mass. gas ban backers press ahead after state strikes down 1st East Coast bylaw
ByTom DiChristopher, S&P Global
July 24, 2020

Boston-area lawmakers intend to continue pursuing building electrification ordinances, but they acknowledged their path forward is uncertain after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the commonwealth’s first building gas ban.

Healey’s decision undermines the effort to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations in Arlington, Cambridge and Newton — all of which modeled their legislation after the rejected bylaw in neighboring Brookline, Mass.

The Board of Building Regulations and Standards — the state agency that Healey argued has exclusive control over building permits — is one potential avenue, [Cambridge City Councilmember Quinton] Zondervan said. The board regularly updates the state building code and could include a stretch code that allows towns and cities to require certain buildings be fossil fuel free. Bay State climate activists are already pushing for a stretch code allowing net-zero building energy requirements.

Brookline and environmental groups have already called for state-level action in light of Healey’s decision, in which the attorney general expressed support for the policy of limiting gas use.

“The attorney general’s opinion makes clear that the state does have the authority to stop this fracked gas infrastructure if it wants,” Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter Director Deb Pasternak said in a statement. “The fact is that we need an equitable statewide plan here in Massachusetts to close down the fracked gas energy system.”

The Sierra Club, along with ratepayer advocates and other climate activists, have recently presented regulators with plans for building electrification proceedings and gas distribution system phase-outs.

Healey herself has petitioned the DPU to open a proceeding to overhaul gas infrastructure planning in Massachusetts, with a goal of aligning the regulatory framework with state climate goals and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about better buildings

CLIMATE

regime change starts at home
The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years
By Bill McKibben, YES! Magazine, in EcoWatch – opinion
July 27, 2020

Every election that passes, we lose leverage—this time around our last chance at limiting the temperature rise to anything like 1.5 degrees would slip through our fingers. Which is why we need to register and vote as never before. It’s also, of course, why we need to do more than that: many of us are also hard at work this year taking on the big banks that fund the fossil fuel industry, trying to pull the financial lever as well as the political one. And even within the world of politics, we need to do much more than vote: no matter who wins, Nov. 4 and 5 and 6 are as important as Nov. 3; we have to push, and prod, and open up space for the people we work to install in office.
» Read article             

boot the joker
How the global climate fight could be lost if Trump is re-elected
The US will officially exit the Paris accord one day after the 2020 US election and architects of that deal say the stakes could not be higher
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 27, 2020

It was a balmy June day in 2017 when Donald Trump took to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden to announce the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the only comprehensive global pact to tackle the spiraling crisis.

Todd Stern, who was the US’s chief negotiator when the deal was sealed in Paris in 2015, forced himself to watch the speech.

“I found it sickening, it was mendacious from start to finish,” said Stern. “I was furious … because here we have this really important thing and here’s this joker who doesn’t understand anything he’s talking about. It was a fraud.”

The lifetime of the Paris agreement, signed in a wave of optimism in 2015, has seen the five hottest years ever recorded on Earth, unprecedented wildfires torching towns from California to Australia, record heatwaves baking Europe and India and temperatures briefly bursting beyond 100F (38C) in the Arctic.

These sorts of impacts could be a mere appetizer, scientists warn, given they have been fueled by levels of global heating that are on track to triple, or worse, by the end of the century without drastic remedial action. The faltering global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off further calamity hinges, in significant part, on whether the US decides to re-enter the fray.

“The choice of Biden or Trump in the White House is huge, not just for the US but for the world generally to deal with climate change,” said Stern. “If Biden wins, November 4 is a blip, like a bad dream is over. If Trump wins, he seals the deal. The US becomes a non-player and the goals of Paris become very, very difficult. Without the US in the long term, they certainly aren’t realistic.”
» Read article             

better than last year
House climate change bill calls for roadmap
Measure differs from more prescriptive Senate approach
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 29, 2020

The House unveiled a climate change bill on Wednesday that directs the executive branch of government to create a roadmap for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and includes sections dealing with solar power subsidies, grid modernization, clean energy jobs, and municipal light plants.

The bill is expected to be taken up in the House on Thursday and then go to a conference committee that will be charged with sorting out differences with a Senate bill that is broader in scope and far more detailed in its instructions.

The House bill requires the administration to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and sets interim goals for 2030 and 2040. It charges the administration with coming up with a roadmap of policies, regulations, legislative recommendations, and carbon pricing mechanisms to reach the targets.

The Senate bill is far more detailed and prescriptive. It requires the administration to meet statewide emission targets every five years and also requires the setting of emission reduction targets for individual sectors, including transportation, buildings, solid waste, and natural gas distribution. The Senate bill calls for phased-in carbon pricing on automobile and building fuels and requires all MBTA buses to be electrified by 2040.
» Read article             

tell the truth
Mainstream News Prioritises Big Business and Opponents of Climate Action – Study
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2020

Statements from large business associations and opponents of climate action are twice as likely to be included in climate change coverage by national newspapers than pro-climate action messaging, according to a new study. The findings suggest mainstream media bias favors entrenched economic interests and that journalistic norms of objectivity and balance have skewed the public conversation around climate change.

“I wanted to specifically look at which interest groups get a say in this debate, what voices are dominating the national conversation about climate change, and how is that reflected in media coverage,” study author Rachel Wetts, Assistant Professor of Environment and Society and Sociology at Brown University, told DeSmog.

The study also found that climate-related messaging from scientific and technical experts was least likely to be picked up in national news. Messaging from business coalitions and large businesses on climate change, on the other hand, received heightened media visibility.

“In terms of this question of whose voices are being heard and who gets to dominate the national conversation around climate change, I find that opponents of climate action and large business interests are the groups that are getting the most visibility, while organizations with scientific expertise are getting very low visibility,” Wetts said in an interview with DeSmog. “This says something about whose voices are being heard that could potentially help explain why we’ve been so slow to adopt any [national] policy to address this issue.”
» Read article             
» Obtain the study            

scud
What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?
Scientists are studying the extreme weather in northern Argentina to see how it works — and what it can tell us about the monster storms in our future.
By Noah Gallagher Shannon, New York Times
July 22, 2020

Every storm is composed of the same fundamental DNA — in this case, moisture, unstable air and something to ignite the two skyward, often heat. When the earth warms in the spring and summer months, hot wet air rushes upward in columns, where it collides with cool dry air, forming volatile cumulus clouds that can begin to swell against the top of the troposphere, at times carrying as much as a million tons of water. If one of these budding cells manages to punch through the tropopause, as the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere is called, the storm mushrooms, feeding on the energy-rich air of the upper atmosphere. As it continues to grow, inhaling up more moisture and breathing it back down as rain and hail, this vast vertical lung can sprout into a self-sustaining system that takes on many different forms.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

welcome mat
Colorado’s Eastern Plains is big-time producer of renewable energy, ripe for even more, report says

New report highlights renewable energy’s economic benefits for eastern Colorado: thousands of jobs, millions of dollars a year
By Judith Kohler, The Denver Post
July 29, 2020

Along with wheat, corn and cattle, Colorado’s Eastern Plains grow another big crop: more than 95% of the state’s renewable energy capacity that produces thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in benefits each year.

A report released Tuesday by The Western Way, a conservative organization that promotes environmental stewardship, in partnership with PRO 15 and Action22, policy and economic development organizations, highlights the importance of renewable energy to eastern Colorado.

Greg Brophy, a former state legislator and Colorado director of The Western Way, said he hopes the report demonstrates how valuable renewable energy is to the area’s economy and that it encourages other eastern Colorado counties to “roll out the welcome mat” for wind, solar and battery storage projects.
» Read article       
» Read the report

Sununu Blocks Bill To Expand N.H.’s Required Renewable Energy Use, Now Lowest In New England
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
July 24, 2020

Gov. Chris Sununu handed down another expected veto of a clean energy plan Friday.

He rejected a bill that would expand New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and increase how much solar power utilities must use.

Right now, the state caps that solar requirement at 0.7% from this year on out. The bill Sununu vetoed would have increased that to nearly 19% by the year 2040.

Sununu says it represented a handout to the state’s fledgling solar industry. Democrats decried the veto as another effort by the governor to block clean energy expansion.

The bill also would have increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard, to make clean energy cover nearly 57% of New Hampshire’s fuel mix by 2040.

The current standard levels out at around 25 percent in 2025 – the lowest percentage, at the earliest date, of any New England state.
» Read article             

green ammonia
How stored electricity can make cleaner fuels
EU industry is seeking ways to save surplus power. Now it’s also hunting for methods to use that stored electricity to make green fuels.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
July 21, 2020
   
With renewable energy now the cheapest way of mass-producing electricity, the race is on to find the best way to conserve the surplus for use at peak times, and also to use the stored electricity to develop new fuels for transport.

And European Union companies are competing to devise lucrative ways to use this cheap power just as more solar and wind energy is being produced than the market demands.

Large batteries are currently the favoured method, because they are already cost-effective when used with pumped storage. This uses cheap electricity to move water uphill into reservoirs, to be released later to drive turbines when extra electricity is needed to meet peak demand.

Both these technologies take advantage of buying power at rock-bottom prices, and make their profits by storing it – until they can sell it back at much higher prices when the peak arrives.

The newer technologies under development seek to use the cheap surplus electricity to create so-called green hydrogen, and now green ammonia – both for use as substitutes for fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

plagued by controversy
E.P.A. Inspector General to Investigate Trump’s Biggest Climate Rollback
The agency’s watchdog office said Monday it would investigate whether the reversal of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards violated government rules.
By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 27, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog said Monday it had opened an investigation into the agency’s weakening of Obama-era regulations that would have limited automobile emissions by significantly raising fuel economy standards.

The yearlong effort to write the Trump administration rule was plagued with controversy. Just weeks before the final rule was published, the administration’s own internal analyses showed that it would create a higher cost for consumers than leaving the Obama-era standard in place and would contribute to more deaths associated with lung disease by releasing more pollution into the air.

“This is really serious,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s rare for E.P.A.’s inspector general to conduct an investigation of the agency’s rule-making.”
» Read article             

E-ferry
Danish electric ferry reports successful first year in service
By Nick Blenkey, MarineLog
July 13, 2020

In its first year of operation on a 22 nautical mile route, the pioneering Danish all-electric ferry Ellen has notched up some noteworthy milestones, according to Danfoss Editron .

Operating between the Danish islands of Ærø and Fynshav, the vessel was designed by Jens Kristensen Consulting Naval Architects and built by the Søby Værft shipyard. Just under 60 meters long and with a breadth of approximately 13 meters, the ferry travels at speeds of 12-12.5 knots, and is capable of carrying 198 passengers in summer months, with this capacity dropping to 147 during winter. It can also carry 31 cars or five trucks on its open deck.

With a 4.3 MWh capacity battery pack, the largest currently installed for maritime use, it is the first electric ferry to have no emergency back-up generator on board.

The E-ferry is the result of a project supported by the EU Horizon 2020 program that set out to achieve two main objectives. The first was to design and build an innovative fully-electric vessel which would incorporate an energy-efficient design, lightweight equipment and materials, and state-of-the-art electric-only systems with an automated high-power charging system. The second objective was to validate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the concept to the industry and ferry operators. The fully-electric ferry had to be able to cover distances of up to 22 nautical miles in the Danish part of the Baltic Sea that were, at the time, only operated on by conventional diesel-powered vessels.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL

hang it up
As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 30, 2020

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Today, the shale boom of the 2010’s is officially bust, battered not only by the US’s outsized failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks and an oil price war in which foreign producers proved their ability to steer oil prices, but also a wave of multi-billion dollar write-downs by oil giants — write-downs that predated both the price war and the pandemic and resulted from the industry’s perpetual struggles to generate profits from shale drilling and fracking regardless of the price of oil.

In April, Scott Sheffield, the chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, testified before the Texas Railroad Commission (which serves as the state’s oil regulator) that the shale rush had been “an economic disaster.”

“Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste,” Sheffield testified, warning that without state intervention, “we will disappear as an industry, like the coal industry.”

Indeed, before the pandemic struck, the shale industry’s financial foundations were stunningly shaky, with experts questioning the ways companies calculated their reserves, their ability to generate free cash flow from their drilling operations, and ratings agencies grading shale debts at junk levels. The entire fossil fuel industry’s long-term future is also deeply uncertain, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly visceral and the global need to cut emissions from oil and gas more urgent.
» Read article             

pipeline uncertainty for oilsands
Regardless of COVID, the outlook for the oilsands gets dimmer year after year
The pandemic has cost the industry billions, but in the long term, it has bigger challenges
By Kyle Bakx, CBC News
July 29, 2020

The latest forecast for oilsands production growth was released on Tuesday, and it continues a trend over most of the last decade of industry experts having a less optimistic outlook for the sector.

The new report by IHS Markit expects oilsands production to reach 3.8 million barrels per day of oil in 2030, compared to last year’s projection of production climbing to 3.9 million bpd.

It’s a relatively small change to the forecast the firm released in 2019, but notable because of yet another downward revision. That pattern has occurred just about every year since 2014, when the main oilpatch industry group forecast oilsands output climbing to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030.

For context, oilsands production at the beginning of this year was about 2.9 million barrels per day.

Analysts with IHS Markit lowered their latest forecast predominantly because of pipelines. There is still doubt about when and if new export pipelines will be built, and that uncertainty will weigh on the confidence level of companies looking to invest the significant funds needed to build new oilsands facilities.
» Read article             

tick-tick report-zoom Fossil fuel “fraud” regarding climate risks is a “ticking time bomb” to financial system
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 27, 2020

If the fossil fuel industry had acted decades ago, we would not be in a climate emergency. And some believe that this climate emergency is going to cause a financial emergency too.

A new report, published last week by U.S. National Whistleblower Center (NWC), entitled “How fossil fuel industry fraud is setting us up for a financial implosion – and what whistleblowers can do about it,” does not mince its language.

It outlined what it called “widespread deception by fossil fuel executives regarding the financial risks of climate change [which] represents a ticking time bomb that, if not addressed, could contribute to worldwide economic devastation.”

It claims it is the “first-ever analysis of legal strategies for exposing climate risk fraud by the fossil fuel sector,” and says it is a “call to action” for executives of fossil fuel companies and others with knowledge of improper accounting and disclosure practices, such as external auditors, to blow the whistle on the decades of deception.
» Read article             
» Read the NWC report         

‘It’s Past Time’: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders Unveil Bill To Strip Fossil Fuel Funding
The legislation aims to cut off oil, gas and coal companies reaping billions from federal COVID-19 relief and annual subsidies.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
July 24, 2020

In the richest and most powerful nation in history, doctors beg for basic protective gear amid a deadly pandemic, 21% of children live in poverty and 84-year-olds take jobs scrubbing motel toilets to survive.

Yet, as fossil fuel emissions cook the planet and wreak a mounting toll of destruction, the federal government gives oil, gas and coal companies nearly $15 billion per year in direct federal subsidies and already directed billions more in support through coronavirus relief programs this year.

New legislation from five of the country’s top progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aims to cut the fossil fuel industry off, HuffPost has learned.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

burning down the houseBurning down the house? Enviva’s giant U.S. wood pellet plants gear up
By Saul Elbein, Mongabay
July 29, 2020

When biomass manufacturer Enviva completes its two newest U.S. Gulf Coast plants on opposite sides of the Alabama-Mississippi state line, likely by 2021, they will be the largest “biomass for energy” manufacturing plants on the planet.

Every year, the two factories will grind the equivalent of a hundred square miles of forest into 2.7 million metric tons of combustible wood pellets, to be burned at former coal plants in Europe and Asia — with all the resulting carbon released into the atmosphere.

These U.S. biomass plants, and the wood pellets they churn out, will thrive atop a shaky Jenga tower of political, economic and environmental paradoxes, according to environmentalists. Unable to compete with carbon fuels like coal or natural gas on price, Enviva’s wood pellet plants will stay afloat because of direct and implicit subsidies coming from the European Union, whose members agreed to derive 32% of their energy from renewables by 2030 — a category that they deemed to include biomass.

Those subsidies, say scientists, are based on now debunked research first conducted and used as guidance for making policy incorporated into the Kyoto Climate Agreement, a policy then grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Agreement. They say the mistake that makes biomass economically viable today is the contention that burning up the world’s forests to produce energy is carbon neutral, an inconvenient untruth that, critics contend, the United Nations has dodged facing at every annual international meeting since Paris.

And so the EU renewables quotas — with their claim of biomass carbon neutrality — have meant a boon for companies like Enviva that sell wood pellets to energy producers and countries now leery of more traditional power sources, ranging from nuclear to coal to hydropower, and who want to squeeze a few more decades out of existing coal burning power plants — now converted to burning wood pellets on an industrial scale.
» Read article             

what it looks like
House Climate Crisis Action Plan Gets a Lot Right on Biomass

By Sasha Stashwick, National Resources Defense Council – blog post
July 9, 2020

Biomass refers to the use of any plant or organic matter to produce energy. Too often, in places that have incentivized biomass use to generate electricity like the European Union, biomass is incentivized to generate electricity in dedicated power plants, or old coal plants converted to run partially or fully on biomass. The fuel demand of these plants is so large that the only source of biomass supply big enough to meet is, unfortunately, wood from forests.

Established science now shows that burning biomass from forests for electricity is not a climate solution within timeframes relevant to addressing climate change. Here in the US, it’s therefore critical that federal climate plans do not repeat the same mistakes as the E.U. in adopting flawed policies based on the debunked assumption of biomass “carbon neutrality.”

In 2018, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out its report describing the climate action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, it explained that countries would have to cut their CO2 emissions, such as from power plants, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping “well before 2030” and be on track to fall by roughly 45% by around 2030. Scientists are clear that what we do over the next decade is incredibly consequential in this fight.

That is why the timeframe used to evaluate the climate impacts of biomass systems is so critical. Evaluate the carbon impacts of biomass-burning over a long enough timeframe, and it may look good. Eventually, if new trees are replanted, they can suck up the carbon that was emitted when older trees were harvested and burned as fuel for energy production. But trees take many decades to grow back. In the meantime, biomass electricity actually loads the atmosphere with more CO2 than fossil fuels (because wood is a less energy dense fuel, so more of it needs to be burned to generate the same amount of electricity).
» Read article             

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/17/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines    

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate    

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency      

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation    

EPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the EPA        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels        

LNG

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG         

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Weekly News Check-In 12/13/19

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

Enbridge continues with preliminary construction activities at the Weymouth compressor station, prompting more protests and arrests. Residents expressed renewed concerns over soil contamination and Congressman Joseph Kennedy demanded that FERC halt the project.

Protesters gathered in Concord, NH last weekend to demand cancellation of the Granite Bridge pipeline, and in other actions protesters blocked a trainload of coal bound for the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow.

We found lots of climate news, including direct video evidence of massive methane leaks from fracking operations in the Texas Permian Basin. Meanwhile, the global stew of greenhouse emissions continues to rise – hitting another record in 2019 – while the Arctic thaws and ocean oxygen levels plummet.

We offer an important article on energy efficiency in building codes, and how an obscure state agency is slowing progress toward zero energy buildings.

Our sections on clean energy alternatives and regional energy developments concentrate largely on the mounting proof that it’s time to trim back our natural gas infrastructure. It’s a theme that surfaces again in news from the fossil fuel industry. That section concludes with an excellent 5-part series exploring why we continue to build natural gas power plants even though alternatives are less expensive and more reliable.

We finish with an excellent video op-ed from the New York Times on plastics recycling, explaining how that system is so completely broken.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

truck stop - Weymouth
Congressman Joseph Kennedy demands halt to Weymouth compressor station construction
By Ed Baker, wickedlocal.com
December 12, 2019

Congressman Joseph Kennedy III is demanding a stop to the construction of a compressor station in the Fore River Basin by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Kennedy said FERC should issue a stop-work order and review its previous approval of certificates to Enbridge Inc. due to a reduced demand for natural gas.

“Federal energy regulators should have never approved construction of the Weymouth compressor station, and decreased market demand only underscores their initial mistake,” Kennedy said in a letter to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee.

Kennedy said two energy firms (National Grid and Eversource) recently indicated the compressor station is unnecessary to meet their customer demands and “federal regulators must immediately halt construction and review outdated, faulty approvals.

“It is time for these regulators to listen to the voices and concerns of the citizens and community who will be impacted most by their oversight,” he said.
» Read article

keep it in the ground
Protest Group: 6 More Arrested At Weymouth Compressor Station
The group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said six protesters were arrested for blocking entrance to the station.
By Scott Souza, Patch
December 11, 2019

WEYMOUTH, MA — For the second time in a week, the group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said protestors were arrested for blocking entrance to the station. Last Thursday, four people were arrested during the hours-long protest. The group said two more were taken into custody Wednesday morning after they laid down in front of the gates of the compressor station, followed by two additional arrests about an hour later.

The group said two additional people were arrested later in the morning with all six set to appear in court Wednesday afternoon.
» Read article

bricks and asbestos
Neighbors Want More Asbestos Testing at Compressor Site

By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
December 9, 2019

WEYMOUTH — Residents fighting the construction of a natural-gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River want excavation of contaminated fill at the site halted until regulators order more testing for asbestos, a microscopic mineral fiber known to cause cancer.

Weymouth resident, Margaret Bellafiore, says a firm hired to evaluate contamination on the site did not adequately test bricks that were dumped on the property years ago after being removed from an incinerator across the street. She recently called on state Department of Environmental Protection regulators to block the excavation of fill at the compressor station site until more testing is complete.

Bellafiore said the firm TRC Environmental Corp. tested eight bricks found at the site for asbestos, four of which came from the furnace of the now defunct Edgar coal plant. Small pieces of burned coal and tan-colored burner bricks used as the furnace lining at the plant were dumped there for decades and are still visible on the beach along the Fore River.

Bellafiore said members of a citizens group, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, researched the manufacturer stamped on the furnace bricks and found that the company, A.P. Green Industries, was known to use asbestos and was sued for asbestos contamination. Bellafiore said she has called and emailed several officials from the state about the finding but has not received a response.

“We’re asking for more than just looking at four bricks. Even if you were doing a school science project, they wouldn’t allow testing of four bricks,” Bellafiore said. “We’ve gotten no answers, nothing from the DEP, and that’s what they’re supposed to be doing — oversight of the contamination. It’s a designated waste site.”
» Read article 

arsenic and dieselArsenic And Diesel As Thick As Peanut Butter: What’s Below The Future Weymouth Compressor?
Miriam Wasser, WBUR
December 6, 2019

On the banks of the Fore River in Weymouth, just west of Kings Cove Park and north of Route 3A, there’s a triangular plot of fenced-in land. The future home of a natural gas compressor station, the space looks like any other grassy area. But just below the surface, a legacy of pollution from power plants fired by coal, oil and gas lingers.

Documents filed with the state show the dirt contains arsenic and coal ash, the lightweight, heavy-metal rich substance left after coal burns. And below ground, there’s a pool of old diesel fuel that one environmental expert working on the site said could have the consistency of peanut butter.
» Read article

» More on the Weymouth compressor station

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

science is real
Concord Climate Strike Protests Liberty Utilities’ Granite Bridge Pipeline Plan
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
December 6, 2019

Protesters at a climate strike in Concord Friday called on state lawmakers to oppose a natural gas pipeline plan from Liberty Utilities. The rally was part of another global day of protests, tied to a major United Nations climate change summit taking place in Spain.

Dozens of activists, many of them teenagers, gathered outside the State House to call for more action on climate in New Hampshire. Then they marched across Concord’s Main Street to continue protesting outside an office of Liberty Utilities.

The company’s proposed pipeline would connect Manchester and the Seacoast and could go up for state approval next year. Liberty has said the project is necessary to meet current natural gas demand and serve new customers in the area.
» Read article

» More about the Granite Bridge Pipeline

ACTIONS & PROTESTS

Bow coal plant protesters
Protestors block train carrying coal to Bow power plant
By David Brooks, Concord Monitor
December 8, 2019

Climate activists blocked a train carrying coal to the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow this weekend, leading to a number of arrests.

Groups from the Climate Disobedience Center and 350NH say they blocked a train carrying coal north in Massachusetts for several hours, first in Worcester on Saturday and then in Ayer at about 4 a.m. Sunday, then on a railroad bridge over the Merrimack River in Hooksett on Sunday afternoon. They say that more than 16 people were arrested for trespassing on railroad territory during “peaceful” protests.

Merrimack Station is the largest coal-fired power plant in New England that has no plans to close.
» Read article      

» More on protests and direct actions

CLIMATE

methane super-emitters
Exposing a Hidden Climate Threat: Methane ‘Super Emitters’
By Jonah M. Kessel and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
December 12, 2019

To the naked eye, there is nothing out of the ordinary at the DCP Pegasus gas processing plant in West Texas, one of the thousands of installations in the vast Permian Basin that have transformed America into the largest oil and gas producer in the world.

But a highly specialized camera sees what the human eye cannot: a major release of methane, the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that is helping to warm the planet at an alarming rate.

Two New York Times journalists detected this from a tiny plane, crammed with scientific equipment, circling above the oil and gas sites that dot the Permian, an oil field bigger than Kansas. In just a few hours, the plane’s instruments identified six sites with unusually high methane emissions.
» Read article

Greenland glacier
Greenland’s ice melting faster than first feared – exposing millions more to flooding
By Jamie Roberton, ITV News
December 10, 2019

Greenland’s ice is melting faster than first feared – exposing tens of millions more people to a greater risk of flooding, according to a stark report from the world’s leading climate scientists.

In what is described as the “most complete picture of Greenland ice loss to date”, the major new study has painted a far bleaker picture of the consequences of climate change and its potentially devastating impact on communities, particularly those in low-lying coastal areas.

Researchers say Greenland is losing ice seven times faster than in the 1990s and is following the UN’s “high-end climate warming scenario”, the model which predicts the potential future effects of global warming.
» Read article

lake in Greenland
Climate Change Is Ravaging the Arctic, Report Finds
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times
December 10, 2019

Warming temperatures were just one of the concerning changes documented in the report. Ninety-five percent of the Greenland ice sheet thawed this reporting year, buoyed in part by the onset of an earlier-than-usual melt, prompting growing concerns over sea level rise. A separate study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature found that Greenland was losing ice seven times faster than it did in the 1990s, a pace that would add roughly three additional inches of sea level rise by century’s end.

Arctic sea ice — which helps cool the polar regions, moderates global weather patterns and provides critical habitat for animals like polar bears — continued to decline this year, matching the second lowest summer extent recorded since satellite records began in 1979. (It was tied with 2016 and 2006.)
» Read article          
» Read report

gasping for breathWorld’s Oceans Are Losing Oxygen Rapidly, Study Finds
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times
December 7, 2019

The world’s oceans are gasping for breath, a report issued Saturday at the annual global climate talks in Madrid has concluded.

“The ocean is not uniformly populated with oxygen,” he added. One study in the journal Science, for example, found that water in some parts of the tropics had experienced a 40 to 50 percent reduction in oxygen.

“This is one of the newer classes of impacts to rise into the public awareness,” said Kim Cobb, a climate scientist and director of the global change program at Georgia Tech, who was not involved in the report. “And we see this along the coast of California with these mass fish die-offs as the most dramatic example of this kind of creep of deoxygenation on the coastal ocean.”
» Read article          
» Read report

Saddleridge fire
California Bans Insurers From Dropping Policies Made Riskier by Climate Change
By Christopher Flavelle and Brad Plumer, New York Times
December 5, 2019

“People are losing insurance even after decades with the same company and no history of filing claims,” Ricardo Lara, California’s insurance commissioner, said in a statement. “Hitting the pause button on issuing non-renewals due to wildfire risk will help California’s insurance market stabilize and give us time to work together on lasting solutions.”

One consequence of global warming is that it intensifies natural disasters such as fires and floods, but insurers have struggled to anticipate the spiraling costs. Natural disasters in 2017 and 2018 generated $219 billion in payouts worldwide, according to Swiss Re, a leading insurance company.
» Read article

» More on climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Cracking the climate code: Battle raging over building energy standards
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 8, 2019

While much attention has been focused on reducing emissions from power plants and cars, commercial, residential, and industrial buildings in Massachusetts collectively spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than either the power or transportation sectors. Commercial and residential buildings in Massachusetts emit about as much harmful gas into the air as the entire transportation sector.

» Blog editor’s note: Excellent overview of the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector, and efforts in Massachusetts, New York, and California to improve building energy codes. Article describes arguments being made for and against moving toward net zero energy buildings.
» Read article

» More on energy efficiency

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

gas is the past
Brookline’s ban on natural gas connections spurs other municipalities to consider the idea
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
December 11, 2019

When Brookline banned new natural gas hookups last month, many in the business community worried it would be the first of many dominoes to fall.

Well, here they go.

Next in line: Cambridge, and then Newton.

On Wednesday, a Cambridge City Council committee held a hearing on a proposed ordinance that would block natural gas connections in new buildings or major reconstruction projects; a Newton City Council committee discussed advancing a similar measure last week.

And officials in more than a dozen other municipalities, such as Lexington and Arlington, have started to consider bans. All this activity reflects the growing concern that not enough is being done to rein in carbon emissions and address the climate crisis.
» Read article

gas off
Sacramento Wants to Electrify Its Homes, Low-Income Families Included
How does a municipal utility committed to eliminating carbon from buildings ensure its most disadvantaged customers aren’t left behind?
By Justin Gerdes, Green Tech Media
December 6, 2019

“No one has more to gain from electrification than low-income and moderate-income households.”

With that, Scott Blunk set the agenda for a small team that had gathered at a Utah ski resort earlier this year to address a thorny challenge: How does a not-for-profit municipal utility that has committed to eliminate carbon from buildings ensure that its most disadvantaged customers aren’t left behind during the transition?

Blunk, a strategic planner with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), had assembled a diverse group of stakeholders with expertise in energy policy, green building, energy efficiency retrofits and program implementation.
» Read article

» More on clean energy

REGIONAL ENERGY

Despite shutdown of Pilgrim nuclear plant, New England has enough electricity thanks to solar and efficiency
By David Brooks, Concord Monitor
December 7, 2019

New England has more than enough electricity on hand even if extreme weather hits this winter, according to an estimate from the organization that runs the six-state power grid.

The announcement, while not a surprise, is important because this is the first winter since Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station shut down last May. The closure of large power plants like Pilgrim has led to some concern about electricity supplies during extreme cold spells, when natural gas that would otherwise be fueling electric plants is needed for heating.

“The Pilgrim retirement coincided with several new resources coming online, including three dual-fuel plants capable of using either natural gas or oil to produce power, as well as solar and wind resources,” noted ISO-New England in its announcement.
» Read article

» More about regional energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Exxon walks
New York Loses Climate Change Fraud Case Against Exxon Mobil
By John Schwartz, New York Times
December 10, 2019

A New York state judge on Tuesday handed Exxon Mobil a victory in the civil case brought by the state’s attorney general that argued the company had engaged in fraud through its statements about how it accounted for the costs of climate change regulation.

After some four years of investigation and millions of pages of documents produced by the company, the judge said, attorney general Letitia James and her staff “failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence” that Exxon violated the Martin Act, New York’s powerful legal tool against shareholder fraud, in the closely watched case.
» Read article

Aramco low-ballHow Aramco’s Huge I.P.O. Fell Short of Saudi Prince’s Wish
As investors balked, some bankers and Saudi officials still hoped to achieve the crown prince’s target price of $2 trillion. They wound up settling for less.
By Kate Kelly and Stanley Reed, New York Times
December 6, 2019

On Thursday, Saudi Aramco priced the I.P.O at 32 riyals, or $8.53, a share, valuing the company at $1.7 trillion. The offering is expected to raise $25.6 billion — a fraction of the $100 billion that Prince Mohammed originally imagined. The company’s shares are set to begin trading Wednesday on Saudi’s stock exchange, known as the Tadawul.

The result was not what Saudi officials had in mind. Rather than being listed in New York or London, shares of Aramco are being sold primarily to investors in Saudi Arabia and in neighboring countries. Some of the international banks hired to underwrite the deal have instead taken on secondary roles, with the I.P.O. share sales being overseen by two Saudi banks and the British bank HSBC.
» Read article

gas flare image
Natural gas drives record emissions in 2019, more
By Michelle Lewis, Electrek Green Energy Brief
December 5, 2019

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Natural gas may not be as toxic as coal, but it is still very much a fossil fuel. And it’s natural gas that’s driving up carbon emissions this year.

Authors of the Global Carbon Project attributed this year’s rise in emissions to natural gas and oil growth, which offsets the falls in coal use.
» Read article

The False Promise of Natural Gas
By  Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H., and Brita E. Lundberg, M.D.,
New England Journal of Medicine
December 4, 2019

Gas is associated with health and environmental hazards and reduced social welfare at every stage of its life cycle. Fracking is linked to contamination of ground and surface water, air pollution, noise and light pollution, radiation releases, ecosystem damage, and earthquakes (see table). Transmission and storage of gas result in fires and explosions. The pipeline network is aging, inadequately maintained, and infrequently inspected. One or more pipeline explosions occur every year in the United States. In September 2018, a series of pipeline explosions in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts caused more than 80 fires and explosions, damaged 131 homes, forced the evacuation of 30,000 people, injured 25 people, including two firefighters, and killed an 18-year-old boy. Gas compressor stations emit toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and formaldehyde. Wells, pipelines, and compressor stations are disproportionately located in low-income, minority, and marginalized communities, where they may leak gas, generate noise, endanger health, and contribute to environmental injustice while producing no local benefits. Gas combustion generates oxides of nitrogen that increase asthma risk and aggravate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Compounding these hazards are the grave dangers that gas extraction and use pose to the global climate. Gas is a much more powerful driver of climate change than is generally recognized.
» Read article  

overpowered-1
Overpowered: Why a US gas-building spree continues despite electricity glut
This is the first of a five-part series exploring oversupply in the power sector and the factors driving a glut of natural gas-fired power plants.
By  Stephanie Tsao & Richard Martin, S&P Global
December 2, 2019

Utilities, faced with a steady stream of coal plant retirements and the allure of historically low natural gas prices, have continued to build new gas plants despite flat electricity demand and rapidly falling prices for energy from renewable sources. That building spree has led to a glut of generation capacity in many regions. And it continues today, because natural gas is cheap and because business models and regulatory structures reward many U.S. utilities for building new infrastructure, whether it is economically viable or not.

But many experts believe that these plants are likely to become stranded assets well before their planned lifetimes are over. And if the boom continues, it will eliminate any possibility that the U.S. will meet the targets set out by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
» Read article
» Read the other installments:
Overpowered [2]: PJM market rules drive an era of oversupply
By Stephanie Tsao and Richard Martin, S&P Global
December 3, 2019
Overpowered [3]: In Virginia, Dominion faces challenges to its reign
By Darren SweeneyRichard MartinKrizka Danielle Del RosarioCiaralou PalicpicJose Miguel Fidel Javier, S&P Global
December 4, 2019
Overpowered [4]: Hailing renewables, NextEra bet big on gas in Florida
By Author Michael CopleyAnna DuquiatanCiaralou Palicpic, S&P Global
December 5, 2019
Overpowered [5]: Eyeing zero-carbon grid, California seeks a gas exit strategy
By Author Garrett Hering, S&P Global
December 6, 2019

» More about the fossil fuel industry

PLASTICS RECYCLING

The Great Recycling Con
The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products.
By Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza, New York Times Opinion
December 9, 2019

This holiday season, the United States Postal Service expects to ship almost one billion packages — cardboard boxes full of electronics and fabric and plastic galore. And the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generate 25 percent more waste in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than during the rest of the year, an additional one million tons per week.

But hey, most of it is recyclable, right?

Well, not really.
» Watch video

» More about plastics recycling

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