Tag Archives: Bill McKibben

Weekly News Check-In 12/17/21

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Welcome back.

We’re leading with an update on the 55MW gas/oil peaking power plant heading for construction in Peabody despite stiff opposition from activists and municipal leaders. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, offers this: “I think it’s misguided. It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future.”

The transition to that future is not as straightforward as one would hope. A lot of this week’s reporting buzzed with the disappointing revelation that the Biden Administration’s recent leasing of huge Gulf of Mexico seabed tracts for new oil and gas drilling was not, in fact, compelled by court order as previously claimed. The move appears to have been a political bon-bon to coax West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to play nice and stop stonewalling critical climate legislation. And how did that go? The fossil fuel industry was the clear winner of this round, and Biden is now the subject of derisive holiday parody videos calling him out as a hypocrite.

Closer to home, utility Eversource heard from residents opposing its planned Springfield and Longmeadow pipeline expansion, and a bold energy efficiency plan that would have put solar panels, heat pumps, and batteries in low- and moderate-income Cape Cod households won’t be implemented quite yet. But here’s some good news: New York has become, by far, the largest US city to ban new gas hookups in new buildings.

Bill McKibben’s review of the past year’s climate news for New Yorker Magazine leans into just how strange, extreme, and unsettling the June/July Pacific Northwest heat event was – and what it says about the fragility of some very big systems that humans have knocked off-kilter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently debunked utility claims that large amounts of Southwest wind power was being “curtailed” because the grid was over-supplied with renewable energy. In addition to the problem actually being too much inflexible fossil-fuel generators clogging that grid, insufficient storage was also a factor. Help is on the way. We’re seeing lots of action in long-duration energy storage lately, including an innovative air battery design from Israeli company Augwind.

This is a great time to think about what it might take for a state like Massachusetts or California to go the final mile in their journey to “net-zero” carbon emissions. Grist explains some of the opportunities, challenges, and hype surrounding carbon capture and carbon removal. We also delve into the real, “break glass in event of emergency” possibility that someone might initiate a solar geoengineering project in the future – and the scientific debate over how to prepare for that.

We check in on cryptocurrency developments because activities like Bitcoin mining consume increasingly ridiculous amounts of energy. So, if you move your modular servers into the Permian Basin and run them off waste gas from fracking rigs, are you saving the planet? Not really…. Which brings us tangentially to methane released from landfills, and news that the Environmental Protection Agency may be way off in accounting for it.

We’ll wrap up the same way we started – with a little common sense from people who know what they’re talking about. Partnership for Policy Integrity Director Mary S. Booth takes the Baker Administration to task for its relentless promotion of biomass energy, reminding us that “if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.” And what about the plastics waste problem? Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and coauthor of a high-profile report in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine writes, “Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally.”

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

retiring peaker plant
Proposed Peabody ‘peaker’ plant ‘misguided,’ Environmental League of Massachusetts president says
By Mackenzie Farkus, WGBH
December 9, 2021

A proposed 55-megawatt peaking power plant in Peabody is drawing strong opposition from local climate activists. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to share why she believes the area should look to alternative energy solutions.

“I think it’s misguided,” Turnbull Henry said. “It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future. I’m sorry that it’s moving forward.”

Peaking power plants, also known as peaker plants and “peakers,” are power plants that run when there is a peak demand in electricity. Peakers are typically turned on during the coldest and warmest days of the year to compensate for spikes in space heating and air conditioning. Most peakers run on oil or gas.

Critics of the Peabody peaker plant are concerned over high amounts of CO2 and other pollutants emitted from the plant, believing that the plant is incompatible with a new Massachusetts law aimed at lowering carbon emissions by at least 45% of 1990 levels by 2030 before attaining “net zero” emissions by 2050.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Biden BabyCampaigners Say Biden ‘Deserves Lump of Coal This Christmas’ for Broken Climate Promises
Twelve days of “Biden’s Oily Christmas” events conclude with classic holiday movie parodies.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 13, 2021

Friends of the Earth on Monday concluded its campaign calling out U.S. President Joe Biden for breaking his promise to end new leasing of public lands and waters to fossil fuel companies with the release of three parody movie trailers based on classic Christmas films.

The trailers mark the environmental group’s final action as part of the “Biden’s Oily Christmas” campaign, which kicked off on December 2 with climate-emergency-themed carols and spanned a dozen days, inspired by the well-known song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

The videos—A Christmas Barrel, Biden Baby, and A Wonderful Lie, parodies of A Christmas Carol, Santa Baby, and A Wonderful Life—will play on eight mobile billboard trucks across Washington, D.C. from 9 am to 5 pm local time on Monday.

“President Biden promised to be the first president of the United States to comprehensively address the growing climate crisis. But instead, his Interior Department failed to fully address climate in its recent report on oil and gas leasing and is plowing forward with new lease sales that wreck our public lands and exacerbate climate change—all while enriching Big Oil CEOs,” said Nicole Ghio, senior Fossil Fuels Program manager at Friends of the Earth.

Climate campaigners have slammed the November Interior report as a “shocking capitulation to the needs of corporate polluters” and demanded details by filing public records requests about its development as well as the administration’s auction for the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred last month despite Biden’s pledge as a presidential candidate.
» Blog editor’s note: You can watch the holiday movie parody video clips by clicking on the “Read article” link below.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no expansion
Eversource natural gas pipeline proposal listening session held in Springfield
By Ashley Shook, Nick Aresco, WWLP Channel 22 News
December 14, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Advocacy groups in Springfield expressed their concerns over a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through their local streets.

Elected officials and residents continue to question why a pipeline is necessary in Springfield’s South End neighborhood, some showing their opposition Tuesday afternoon. Massachusetts’ Rep. Carlos Gonzalez held a meeting with Springfield residents to discuss concerns over the proposed Eversource pipeline project.

Many who live in the area where the pipeline would be constructed oppose the project because of the potential dangers it could pose. Eversource has proposed a roughly $33 million, 16-inch diameter gas pipeline that would be constructed underground between Longmeadow and the South End of Springfield.

“There are multiple problems that I see with the proposal. One is environmental. We are trying to get away from fossil fuels. There is a national effort, and global effort. A lot of ecosystems are being destroyed by fossil fuels,” said David Ciampi of Springfield told 22News.

“I am concerned for the potential hazard the proposal may have on the residents of Springfield. My priority should be moving to a less hazardous and greener production of energy,” said Chairman Gonzalez.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

NATURAL GAS BANS

NYC skyline
New York becomes largest US city to ban new gas hookups
It’s the biggest city yet to do so and a bellwether for the rest of the US
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 15, 2021

The Big Apple just became the biggest city yet to say goodbye to gas hookups in new construction. New York City Council passed a bill today that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels in new buildings, effectively phasing out the use of gas for cooking and heating.

Addressing building emissions is critical to New York City meeting its climate goals; they’re responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ban will apply to structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024 and to larger buildings in 2027. The measure will drastically cut down on pollution that fuels climate change: according to a recent study by clean energy think tank RMI, it’ll slash 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has about the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.

For years, the so-called natural gas industry has sold itself as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels like oil. But scientists, and a growing number of cities, are no longer buying the argument. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timespan. Methane leaks along the natural supply chain from wells to people’s homes. During a high-profile climate summit in November, the US joined over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.

Berkeley, California, became the first city in the US to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019. Since then, the gas industry has fought back by lobbying for policies that prevent local governments from implementing such bans.
» Read article               

» More about gas bans

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

methane accountingIs There Something Amiss With the Way the EPA Tracks Methane Emissions from Landfills?
Environmental groups say the agency’s methods are outdated and flawed, with considerable climate change implications. An EPA methane expert agrees.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 15, 2021

Three environmental groups are making a move to hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for accurately tracking heat-trapping gases emitted from the nation’s landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club have filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA, the first step in a legal process under the Clean Air Act. The groups claim the agency allows landfills to use methods that are more than two decades old, which are underestimating methane emissions by at least 25 percent.

The EPA under the law must review and, if necessary, revise its landfill gas emissions calculation methods every three years, and agency officials have known those emissions factors have been off since at least 2008, according to the 10-page legal notice, which was sent to Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, last week.

“When it comes to pollution, it’s very difficult to manage what you can’t measure,” said Ryan Maher, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, in a press release. “EPA needs to fix how it estimates emissions from this massive source of methane and other air pollutants, not only to help us understand the full extent of the landfill problem, but also to make sure that we’re holding polluters accountable and regulating these facilities properly.”
» Read article               

» More about the EPA

CLIMATE

climate year 21
The Year in Climate
A summer that really scared scientists.
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker Magazine
December 16, 2021

This year, a lot of the things we’ve come to expect with the climate crisis happened: there were heavy rains (New York City beat its rainfall record twice in eleven days); there was a big global conference (this one in Glasgow) with modest results; the price of renewable energy fell some more; and a record amount of solar power and wind power was produced, but not at a pace fast enough to catch up with climate change. Raging wildfires produced plumes of smoke that spread around the world; President Joe Biden tried to free up a lot of money for climate work and, so far, Senator Joe Manchin has prevented him from doing so.

But some unexpected things happened, too—such as December tornadoes and windstorms, which have devastated parts of the country, and which are increasingly linked to warming. The most unexpected event by far, though—the thing that was truly off the charts—came in June. Toward the end of the month, torrential rains across China created a lot of atmospheric moisture, which the jet stream sucked out over the Pacific. Meanwhile, the remnants of a heat wave in the American Southwest moved north. The two weather events met over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, forming a giant dome of high pressure that diverted moisture to both the north and the south. Gradually, over a period of several days, the core of the high-pressure area freed itself of clouds, allowing the sun’s rays to blast down during the days immediately after the solstice.

The result was the most remarkable heat wave in recorded history. On Sunday, June 27th, Canada broke its all-time heat record, of a hundred and thirteen degrees Fahrenheit, when the temperature reached nearly a hundred and sixteen degrees in Lytton, a community of around two hundred and fifty residents on the Fraser River, in southern British Columbia. The next day, that record was broken, again in Lytton, when the temperature hit a hundred and eighteen degrees. On Tuesday, it was smashed again, when the temperature in the town soared to a hundred and twenty-one degrees. On Wednesday, Lytton, now parched dry, burned to the ground in a wildfire; only a few buildings were left standing. Breaking a long-standing record is hard (Canada’s old high-temperature record dated to 1937); surpassing it by eight degrees is, in theory, statistically impossible. It was hotter in Canada that day than on any day ever recorded in Florida, or in Europe, or in South America. “There has never been a national heat record in a country with an extensive period of record and a multitude of observation sites that was beaten by 7°F to 8°F,” the weather historian Christopher C. Burt said.

Records of almost equally incredible magnitude came in from across the region.

Essentially, this couldn’t have happened on the Earth we used to know. James Hansen, the planet’s most important climatologist, put it this way when I talked to him last month: “We’ve been expecting extreme events. But what happened in Canada was unusually extreme.”
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

wasted wind
Mythbusting “Wind Oversupply”
By Joseph Daniel, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
November 16, 2021

Wind energy is already a common source of electricity because it is abundant, clean, reliable, and a low-cost source of electricity. Wind turbines are also flexible. Grid operators can turn down (or curtail) the output from wind farms to balance electricity supply and demand.

Grid operators curtailing wind power have given rise to the myth that wind curtailment is caused by an “oversupply” of wind. However, a recent analysis shows that wind curtailment is not caused by an oversupply of wind energy. Rather, its main causes include insufficient transmission capacity, the inflexible operation of coal-fired power plants, and a lack of battery storage.

As we continue to add more wind resources, grid operators and others must address these shortcomings in the system. Otherwise, wind curtailment will increase and ultimately hinder the transition to a cleaner, more affordable power system.

The Union of Concerned Scientists commissioned Synapse Energy Economics to investigate how the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the grid operator in the Great Plains, handles wind curtailment. SPP has the highest level of wind adoption as a percentage of total load and is consequently the grid most likely to experience “wind oversupply” events.

The results were clear: “A wind oversupply does not exist in SPP.”

Rather, during all of the hours when wind was curtailed, other higher-cost, more-polluting resources were still online. And, because of coal resources’ higher marginal cost and emissions rate, electricity customers would be better off if SPP were able to curtail coal instead of wind. Customers could have saved more than $40 million and avoided nearly 1.2 million short tons of carbon emissions per year.
» Read article              
» Read the Synapse Energy Economics report            

solar coaster
The U.S. Faces ‘Solar Coaster’ Amid Challenges And Opportunities
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 14, 2021

The U.S. solar industry is set to be torn between huge opportunities and major stumbling blocks in the coming months and years, and it will likely see a wild “solar coaster” ride in the next few years, Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday.

Supply chain setbacks and constraints could delay many projects and put gigawatts of capacity additions at risk, Michelle Davis, Principal Analyst, Solar, at WoodMac, says.

But on the other hand, if Congress passes President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the U.S. solar industry will receive a shot in the arm with the multiple clean energy incentives set in the legislation, including an extension of the investment tax credit (ITC), Davis added.

Due to the opposing bullish and bearish dynamics, near-term U.S. solar capacity is set for the largest fluctuations since 2016, when the investment tax credit almost expired, WoodMac’s analyst noted.

“It’s the solar coaster like we’ve never seen it before,” Davis wrote.

Solar installations next year would be lower than previously expected due to supply chain constraints and rising prices, Wood Mackenzie reckons.

Utility-scale solar will be hit the hardest, the energy consultancy said, lowering its 2022 utility-scale outlook by 7.5 GWdc, or by 33 percent compared to last quarter’s outlook.

On the other hand, if Congress passes the Build Back Better Act, America would see an estimated 43.5 GWdc of additional solar capacity installed over the next five years, which is a 31-percent increase compared to the WoodMac’s base-case outlook.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

roof panels
A Cape Cod efficiency compact wants to bundle solar, storage, and heat pumps — but state regulators rejected the plan
The Cape Light Compact says helping low- and moderate-income households install solar, storage, and heat pumps will compound the financial and environmental benefits, but state regulators have rejected the plan.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 15, 2021

A Cape Cod energy organization is appealing the state’s rejection of a proposal to provide a package of heat pumps, solar power, and battery storage to low-income customers.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities ruled in early November that the plan would violate state laws regarding the use of energy efficiency funding by supporting technologies that do not improve efficiency. The department also argued the plan would have uncertain financial impacts. Supporters of the plan, however, argue that the state has fundamentally misunderstood both the law and the proposal.

The Cape Light Compact, the organization behind the proposal, has filed an appeal arguing that the decision “is based upon error of law, is unsupported by substantial evidence and unwarranted based on facts found in the record.”

“We were given express legal authority to submit an energy plan that does more than the utilities and more than the state,” said Maggie Downey, administrator of the Cape Light Compact. “We believe that everything we’re doing is consistent with that legislation.”

While Massachusetts is generally considered a leader in both energy efficiency programs and solar incentives, lower-income households adopt these technologies at much lower rates than more affluent residents. A 2020 report by the state’s utilities found that residents of primarily White and higher-income areas took advantage of efficiency services at significantly higher rates than those in marginalized communities. And less than 1% of the solar projects that have received state incentives since 2018 are designated for low-income consumers.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Augwind air battery
IEC inks $8 million deal with company that uses air, water to store energy
Touted as a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to lithium batteries, Augwind’s ‘air batteries’ can power turbines when needed
By Sue Surkes, The Times of Israel
December 15, 2021

An Israeli company that has developed a unique method of storing renewable energy using air and water announced Wednesday that it has signed an $8 million agreement in principle with the Israel Electricity Corporation to build the first facility of its kind in the world, in Dimona, southern Israel.

Augwind, short for augmented wind, has developed a closed, circular system that uses water to compress air. This in turn is stored underground in long, flexible, balloon-like tanks, and when the energy is needed, the air is released, pushing out water which in turn drives a turbine that creates electricity.

The Dimona facility will provide 40-megawatt hours of storage (enough to power a small town for a day). It will be built in 2023, subject to the signing of a detailed agreement with the IEC.
» Read article               

» More about long-duration energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CR v CC
Why California can’t fill a major gap in its climate strategy
The debate over a net-zero bill highlights some of the biggest tensions plaguing climate action around the world.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 15, 2021

In the past few years, many states have passed new laws requiring that they achieve “net-zero” emissions by mid-century. Virginia, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all plan to cut emissions across their economies by 80 to 90 percent by 2050, and to offset any remaining emissions using either nature-based solutions known as carbon sinks, like trees and soils, or technology to suck carbon out of the air. Several more states, including Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota, have legally binding targets to reduce their emissions by at least 75 percent by 2050.

Many of these laws were passed in response to a landmark report released by an international group of scientists in 2018. The report found that the whole world needed to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s promise of trying to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The planet will not stop heating up until net-zero emissions is achieved.

But although California passed some of the first and strongest laws to tackle climate change in the nation, its legally mandated economy-wide emissions goals stop at 2030.

“We like to talk about how we’re leading the nation in the fight against climate change,” State Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi told Grist. “But increasingly we’re falling behind.”

This past legislative session, Muratsuchi introduced A.B. 1395, a bill that would have brought the state up to speed by enshrining in law a goal to achieve net-zero by 2045.

The story behind A.B. 1395 highlights one of the biggest areas of tension in the politics of climate change around the world right now: disagreement over the need for carbon capture and carbon removal.

That landmark 2018 report, and many studies since, have concluded that both carbon capture and carbon removal will be needed to stabilize the climate. But a large contingent of the climate and environmental movement, including researchers, justice advocates, and policy experts, reject these solutions due to concerns about locking in dependence on fossil fuels, further burdening communities with pollution, and wasting time and resources on plans that may never pay off.

As seen in California, the debate threatens to slow climate action at a time when it’s becoming increasingly urgent.
» Read article               

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

cheap and messy
Think Climate Change Is Messy? Wait Until Geoengineering
Someone’s bound to hack the atmosphere to cool the planet. So we urgently need more research on the consequences, says climate scientist Kate Ricke.
By Matt Simon, Wired
November 30, 2021

Here’s the thing about the stratosphere, the region between six and 31 miles up in the sky: If you really wanted to, you could turn it pink. Or green. Or what have you. If you sprayed some colorant up there, stratospheric winds would blow the material until it wrapped around the globe. After a year or two, it would fade, and the sky would go back to being blue. Neat little prank.

This is the idea behind a solar geoengineering technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection, only instead of a pigment, engineers would spray a sulfate that bounces some of the sun’s radiation back into space, an attempt at cooling the planet. It’s the same principle behind a supervolcano loading the stratosphere with aerosols and blocking out the sun. And it, too, would rely on those winds distributing the material evenly. “If you do it in one place, it’s going to affect the whole planet,” says climate scientist Kate Ricke, who studies the intersection of geoengineering, human behavior, and economics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Not just because you’ve cooled down and changed the global energy balance, but because the particles spread out.”

While it’s not likely that someone will colorize the atmosphere anytime soon, it’s getting increasingly likely that someone will decide it’s time for stratospheric aerosol injection. Emissions are not declining at anywhere near the rate needed to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the climate crisis is worsening.

But the science isn’t ready. This anthropogenic geoengineering might trigger unintended effects, like droughts in certain regions and massive storms in others. Plus, if engineers abruptly stopped spraying aerosols in the atmosphere, temperatures would swing back to where they started, potentially imperiling crops and species.

Still, stratospheric aerosol injection would be fairly cheap. And there’s nothing stopping countries from unilaterally deciding to spray their airspace, even though those materials would ultimately spread around the globe. “I just have a hard time seeing with the economics of it how it doesn’t happen,” says Ricke. “To me, that means that it’s really urgent to do more research.”
» Read article              
» What is solar geoengineering?     

» More about solar geoengineering

CRYPTOCURRENCY

modular mining
A ‘false solution’? How crypto mining became the oil industry’s new hope
Climate experts warn that plans to repurpose waste gas is not a solution, but more like placing a Band-Aid over a gaping wound
By Leanna First-Arai, The Guardian
December 16, 2021

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the most-popular decentralized digital currency, have a notoriously large carbon footprint (bitcoin mining alone consumes about half as much electricity in a year as all of the UK). So to leverage a cheap source of energy to run their bitcoin mining operations, Lochmiller and Cavness found themselves partnering with oil companies to repurpose a byproduct, primarily methane, that’s typically vented or burnt off in flares.

Their creation is part of a niche wave of tech startups that are now eyeing the oil and gas industry to help power the cryptocurrency boom. Lochmiller and Cavness, who started a bitcoin mining company called Crusoe Energy, see their fix as a marriage between two problems capable of “solving” one another: the wasting of gas flaring that contributes to the climate crisis, and the need for cheaper energy as crypto increases in popularity.

Climate experts, however, warn it’s a “false solution” so long as oil and gas production is allowed to continue. The world’s leading authority on climate science concludes that only a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will help avert a climate calamity; merely finding alternate uses for “waste gas” doesn’t confront the dire need to curb fossil fuel consumption. If anything, researchers warn, oil companies may feel incentivized to drill even more.

“At the end of the day, they’re still burning natural gas,” said Arvind Ravikumar, a methane researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, who deemed flare mitigation and companies proposing similar technologies a “scam”.
» Read article               

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Deepwater Horizon file photo
Revealed: Biden administration was not legally bound to auction gulf drilling rights
Justice department admits a previous ruling did not force the detonation of what environmentalists call ‘huge carbon bomb’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 13, 2021

The Biden administration admitted that a court decision did not compel it to lease vast tracts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, shortly before claiming it was legally obliged to do so when announcing the sell-off, the Guardian can reveal.

Last month, the US government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, offering up more than 80m acres of the gulf’s seabed for fossil fuel extraction.

The enormous sale, which took place just four days after crucial UN climate talks in Scotland, represented a spectacular about-turn from Joe Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling and was denounced by outraged environmental groups as a “huge carbon bomb”.

The president’s administration insisted it was obliged to hold the lease sale due to a court ruling in favor of a dozen states that sued to lift a blanket pause placed on new drilling permits by Biden.

But a memo filed by the US Department of Justice before the lease sale acknowledges that this judgement does not force the government to auction off drilling rights to the gulf.

“The administration has been misleading on this, to put it mildly. It’s very disappointing,” said Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager of Food and Water Watch. “They didn’t have to hold this sale and they didn’t have to hold it on this timeline.

“We know this will exacerbate the climate crisis, it undermines US credibility abroad and it contradicts a campaign promise by Biden. If the administration was taking the climate crisis seriously they would be fighting tooth and nail to keep every molecule of fossil fuel in the ground. They are nowhere near to doing that.”

“This is not going to help with Democratic turnout next year,” said Meyer. “There is a core constituency of young people and people who care about climate change who are upset and feeling betrayed by the Biden administration.”

Some commentators have pointed to Biden’s need to appease senator Joe Manchin, a fossil fuel– friendly centrist Democrat who is a crucial vote for the president’s Build Back Better spending bill, as a reason for the drilling.

“If it is political, that is unfortunate because the climate doesn’t really care about politics,” said [Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney at Earthjustice]. “Climate change will continue to cause problems for the whole nation if we don’t address it.”
» Read article               

Newport Beach cleanup
Texas oil company charged in massive spill off southern California coast
Prosecutors say company repeatedly failed to act on alarms that alerted workers to pipeline rupture
By The Guardian
December 16, 2021

A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries have been charged over a massive oil spill off the coast of southern California in October that fouled waters and beaches and endangered wildlife.

Prosecutors say the spill was caused in part by failing to properly act when alarms repeatedly alerted workers to a pipeline rupture.

Amplify Energy and its companies that operate several oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach were charged by a federal grand jury with a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil.

Investigators believe the pipeline was weakened when a cargo ship’s anchor snagged it in high winds in January, months before it ultimately ruptured on 1 October, spilling up to about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil in the ocean.

US prosecutors said the companies were negligent six ways, including failing to respond to eight leak detection system alarms over a 13-hour period that should have alerted them to the spill and would have minimized the damage. Instead, the pipeline was shut down after each alarm and then restarted, spewing more oil into the ocean.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

chip salad
Baker’s new biomass rules are step backward
Roll back climate, forest protections enacted in 2012
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
November 19, 2021

Mary Booth is director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which provides science and legal support so that citizen groups, environmental organizations, and policymakers can better understand energy development impacts on air quality, water quality, ecosystems, and climate.

HERE’S  A QUICK tip for greening our heat and power: if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.

That should be the guiding principle for the state’s new Commission on Clean Heat, which could finally shed some light on a sector rife with methane leaks, oil spills, and wood smoke. Skeptics may wonder if the commission is a way for Gov. Charlie Baker to slow-walk measures to curb pollution from heating systems, but a bigger concern is the administration’s ongoing and relentless promotion of dirty climate solutions, particularly biomass energy.

While many citizens may be aware of controversy around the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) making biomass power plants eligible for millions of dollars in subsidies, probably fewer know that the MA Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS) also subsidizes biomass power plants, as well as residential and commercial wood heating.

New changes to the RPS biomass rules proposed by Baker will roll back air quality, climate, and forest protections that were enacted in 2012 after a painstaking four-year process. One of the most shocking changes is the new rules will allow inefficient and polluting biomass plants in northern New England to once again qualify for millions each year in publicly funded subsidies, reversing the 2012 prohibition on such support.

As a concession to activists and scientists and an acknowledgement of how polluting wood-burning is, the new RPS rules will prevent biomass plants within five miles of environmental justice communities in Massachusetts from receiving subsidies. Meanwhile, similarly polluting power plants and residential and commercial heating units can still qualify for subsidies under the APS, with no restrictions on where they are built.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

PLASTICS BANS, ALTERNATIVES, AND INITIATIVES

reduce first
Beyond reusing and recycling: How the US could actually reduce plastic production
Whether it’s a cap on production or a market mechanism, it’s likely to meet industry opposition.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
December 13, 2021

A panel of experts last week made a simple, common-sense recommendation for dealing with the U.S.’s plastic pollution problem: Stop making so much plastic.

“Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally,” said Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and a coauthor of a high-profile report that was released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

It’s an idea that environmental activists have espoused for years. Beyond recycling and reusing the 42 million metric tons of plastic that the U.S. tosses out annually, they say, we should reduce the tide of plastic that is manufactured in the first place. Plastic production is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution that harms frontline communities, and plastic waste clogs ecosystems around the world. Making less plastic would help on all three fronts.

Now that the recommendation is coming from the influential National Academies, advocates are hopeful that federal policymakers may give it greater credence, raising a major question: What would a national strategy to phase down the unsustainable production of plastic look like?
» Read article              
» Read the report

» More about plastics bans, alternatives, and initiatives

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Weekly News Check-In 9/4/20

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Welcome back.

The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to begin a lengthy environmental review for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Since regulatory agencies failed to enforce this requirement prior to the pipeline’s construction and commission, it is belatedly underway because the courts have threatened to shut the pipeline down. Resistance continues without letup. On the international front, fossil fuel protest recently took the form of an Extinction Rebellion action calling attention to a group of climate-denying libertarian organizations operating from an office building in central London.

While greening the economy necessarily involves sweeping policy initiatives, the stories we offer this week are smaller in scale, and illustrate how local or company-specific programs can produce better jobs and greener products. But the climate isn’t waiting around for humans to get their act together – it’s heating and changing even faster than predicted while the Trump administration pretends it isn’t happening.

We highlight some of the headwinds facing clean energy, including lagging utility adoption of carbon free energy resources worldwide. Closer to home, we feature an interesting podcast describing how the administration quashed a study exploring grid optimization because Trump considered it a threat to the coal industry. This general “keep folks in the dark” strategy to forestall decarbonization even extends to residential energy efficiency. But Portland, Oregon successfully implemented a program to assign homes an energy efficiency score. It’s benefiting home buyers in that city and providing a model for the rest of the country.

We’re tracking innovation this week, including a hybrid energy storage system combining lithium-ion batteries with mechanical energy storage in the form of flywheels. Now operating in the Netherlands, it provides 9MW of frequency stabilizing primary control power to the transmission grid. And satellite technology is coming back to Earth in the form of metal-hydrogen batteries, reformulated by the firm EnerVenue to be affordable while offering decades of cycles without degradation.

We lead our Clean Transportation section with a story from The Guardian about how seriously bad SUVs are for the planet – and consider the climate implications of their phenomenal market penetration worldwide. Electric school buses and delivery trucks are coming soon, but our love affair with SUVs has the capacity to gobble up all progress on transportation emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the fossil fuel industry were both in the news. The EPA for allowing coal plants to dump toxic waste into waterways, and the industry for continuing to demonstrate its decline in spite of the Trump administration’s relentless support.

Our Biomass section has news you can use! Specifically, the first story describes a bill before the Massachusetts house that would classify biomass and trash incineration as “non-carbon” emissions. This, of course, is not true. The article includes a call for action, including contacting representatives and signing a petition. Please consider taking these steps, as failure to amend this bill would result in the construction of a large biomass incinerator in Springfield – a city that already has the worst air quality in Massachusetts – and the most asthma within its population.

We wrap up with a few stories about plastics in the environment and the plastics / fracking connection. Note the hellish photo in the final article (New York Times, captioned “A dump in Nakuru, Kenya….”). I can tell you that a few decades ago those hills were lush and green, and the lake in the background hosted thousands of flamingos. The world should recognize the dignity of the people in that photo, affirm that they deserve a restored environment, and acknowledge that what has been done to them is a crime.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

encroachment
Corps weighs Dakota Access easement options, plans to begin environmental review process
By Amy R. Sisk, Bismarck Tribune
August 31, 2020

The federal agency embroiled in a lawsuit over the Dakota Access Pipeline is evaluating whether to continue allowing the line to pump oil following a court order revoking a key permit, and it plans to begin a lengthy environmental review this week.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated its plans in a court filing Monday. Because U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg revoked the pipeline’s easement in a July ruling, the pipeline is now considered an “encroachment” on federal property managed by the Corps, the agency wrote in a status report.

While the Corps weighs its options, it’s allowing Energy Transfer to continue operating the pipeline under the terms of that easement. The easement allows the line to cross under the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The Corps’ general policy “is to require removal of encroachments,” but it can make exceptions, the agency said. The two “most plausible options” involve removing the pipeline or giving it permission to continue using the property through a method such as granting a new easement.

The Corps acknowledged that the latter option would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which is at the heart of the lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribes over the pipeline. The agency’s procedures state that complying with that law might require an Environmental Impact Statement, which is the lengthy environmental review it plans to begin this week after Boasberg ordered it earlier this year.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines          

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

think again
Former Green Party Spokesperson Arrested at ‘Home of Climate Denying Thinktanks’
By Richard Collett-White, DeSmog UK
September 3, 2020

Four Extinction Rebellion activists were arrested on Wednesday night at the end of a demonstration in Westminster against the influence of “right-wing climate sceptic thinktanks” on the UK’s political system.

The arrestees included former Green Party spokesperson and philosophy professor Rupert Read, who was removed by police after pouring fake blood over the entrance to 55 Tufton Street.

The word “lies” was also spray-painted on the front of the office building.

The central London address is home to several libertarian organisations with a history of opposing environmental regulations and downplaying the threat of climate change, including the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Read said the “few still pretending that the climate and ecological emergency is not an existential threat to civilisation as we know it” were “yesterday’s men”.

The event was organised by Writers Rebel, a subgroup of the environmental activist movement that brought parts of the capital to a standstill last year and is currently staging 10 days of protests. Jessica Townsend, co-founder of Writers Rebel, was another of those arrested, along with two activists who had been perched on top of tripods for the duration of the protest, blocking the road to traffic.

Townsend said in a statement: “the fossil fuel companies, their lobbyists and other climate deniers are putting the welfare of people in the UK in danger, not to mention the billions in the Global South, by using the cynical tactics first used by the tobacco industry.”
» Read article

» More about protests and actions    

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Van Jones
Watt It Takes: Van Jones Reflects on the Origin of Green Jobs
This week on Watt It Takes: Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch sits down with green jobs pioneer Van Jones.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media – podcast
September 3, 2020

Today, Van Jones is best known as a CNN host and author of three best-selling books.

But long before the Green New Deal, Jones was on the front lines of clean energy, trying to bring green jobs to black and brown communities. He helped spearhead the Green Jobs Act of 2007, the first time the country deliberately trained workers for the future clean economy. Later, he went to the White House to become President Obama’s green jobs czar.

In this episode, Jones reveals a little-told backstory of his “nerd” childhood and early life, his transformation at Yale Law School, and the painful time he briefly joined, and then left, the Obama administration.

“I spent a year clinically depressed. I wouldn’t ask anybody to go through what I went through — such a steep rise and then such a steep fall. You go from Oakland to the White House and then the White House to, like, public enemy number one. And at no point do you really feel understood,” said Jones.
» Listen to podcast          

Appalachian solarAppalachian solar effort a reality after backers powered through setbacks
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Jimmy Davidson / Courtesy / Appalachian Voices
September 2, 2020

Persistence should be Adam Wells’ middle name.

The nonprofit organizer’s vision of embedding solar energy training, jobs and renewable power in his native Appalachia is on the verge of happening after five-plus years of brainstorming, cajoling and striving.

A new initiative announced Wednesday, called Securing Solar for Southwest Virginia, will deliver on Wells’ dogged pursuit of affordable solar power for businesses, nonprofits and local governments in the state’s seven-county historic coalfield region.

Private and public partners involved in the ambitious undertaking plan to install up to 12 megawatts of solar power in the next three years while also creating 15 full-time jobs in solar installation, sales and marketing, entrepreneurship, and small business development.
» Read article          

greening Unilever
Unilever to drop fossil fuels from cleaning products by 2030
By Siddharth Cavale, Reuters
September 1, 2020

Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) said on Wednesday it would invest 1 billion euros to eliminate fossil fuels from its cleaning products by 2030, cutting the carbon emissions created by the chemicals used in making the products.

The household goods conglomerate behind the Omo, Cif, Sunlight and Domestos brands said that, instead of petrochemicals, the products would use constituents created from plants and other biological sources, marine sources such as algae and waste materials.

Chemicals in its cleaning and laundry products make up 46% of its Home Care division’s carbon emissions across their life cycle.

The switch – which Unilever said it is the first company to commit to – will cut those emissions by a fifth.

Surfactants, or de-greasing agents, are the biggest petroleum-derived components, Peter ter Kulve, Unilever’s president of Home Care, told Reuters.

He said the company was working with small biotech companies and chemical makers such as Dow Chemical (DOW.N) to create environment friendly product formulations.

“The writing is on the wall.. the next phase is industry change in chemicals and cleaning agents ….many of these big suppliers still have a lot of capital still locked in the old carbon economy,” he said.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy 

CLIMATE

energy to spare
How Fast Is the Climate Changing?: It’s a New World, Each and Every Day
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker
September 3, 2020

The struggle over climate change is necessarily political and economic and noisy—if we’re going to get anything done, we’ll have to do it in parliaments and stock exchanges, and quickly.

But, every once in a while, it’s worth stepping back and reminding ourselves what’s actually going on, silently, every hour of every day. And what’s going on is that we’re radically remaking our planet, in the course of a human lifetime. Hell, in the course of a human adolescence.

The sun, our star, pours out energy, which falls on this planet, where the atmosphere traps some of it. Because we’ve thickened that atmosphere by burning coal and gas and oil—in particular, because we’ve increased the amount of carbon dioxide and methane it contains—more of that sun’s energy is trapped around the Earth: about three-fourths of a watt of extra energy per square meter, or slightly less than, say, one of those tiny white Christmas-tree lights. But there are a lot of square meters on our planet—roughly five hundred and ten trillion of them, which is a lot of Christmas-tree lights. It’s the heat equivalent, to switch units rather dramatically, of exploding four Hiroshima-sized bombs each second.
» Read article        

Arctic heating overperforming
Arctic heating races ahead of worst case estimates
Arctic heating is happening far faster than anybody had anticipated. And the ice record suggests this has happened before.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
September 2, 2020

An international team of scientists brings bad news about Arctic heating: the polar ocean is warming not only faster than anybody predicted, it is getting hotter at a rate faster than even the worst case climate scenario predictions have so far foreseen.

Such dramatic rises in Arctic temperatures have been recorded before, but only during the last Ice Age. Evidence from the Greenland ice cores suggests that temperatures rose by 10°C or even 12°C, over a period of between 40 years and a century, between 120,000 years and 11,000 years ago.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated,” said Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, a physicist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, one of 16 scientists who report in the journal Nature Climate Change on a new analysis of 40 years of data from the Arctic region.

They found that, on average, the Arctic has been warming at the rate of 1°C per decade for the last four decades. Around Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, temperatures rose even faster, at 1.5°C every 10 years.

During the last two centuries, as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide climbed from an average of around 285 parts per million to more than 400ppm, so the global average temperature of the planet rose: by a fraction more than 1°C.

The latest study is a reminder that temperatures in the Arctic are rising far faster than that. And the news is hardly a shock: within the past few weeks, separate teams of researchers, reporting to other journals, have warned that Greenland – the biggest single reservoir of ice in the northern hemisphere – is melting faster than ever; more alarmingly, its icecap is losing mass at a rate that suggests the loss could become irreversible.
» Read article          
» Obtain the study

laundry list of shame
President Donald Trump’s Climate Change Record Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet
Pursuing an unrelenting fossil fuel agenda, Trump has scaled back or eliminated over 150 environment measures, expanded Arctic drilling, and denied climate science.
By VERNON LOEB, MARIANNE LAVELLE, STACY FELDMAN, InsideClimate News
September 1, 2020

In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama’s last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.

The move represented an environmental trifecta of sorts for the president, who had handed the oil and gas industry another gift in his quest for “American energy dominance,” thumbed his nose yet again at climate change and came close to fully dismantling his predecessor’s environment and climate legacy.

It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he’d placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation’s most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

coal-fired power capacity
Only one in 10 utility firms prioritise renewable electricity – global study
Vast majority of world’s electricity companies remain heavily invested in fossil fuels
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
August 31, 2020

Only one in 10 of the world’s electric utility companies are prioritising investment in clean renewable energy over growing their capacity of fossil fuel power plants, according to research from the University of Oxford.

The study of more than 3,000 utilities found most remain heavily invested in fossil fuels despite international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and some are actively expanding their portfolio of polluting power plants.

The majority of the utility companies, many of which are state owned, have made little change to their generation portfolio in recent years.

Only 10% of the companies in the study, published in the research journal Nature Energy, are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas- or coal-fired capacity.

Of the companies prioritising renewable energy growth, 60% have not stopped concurrently expanding their fossil fuel portfolio and only 15% of these companies are actively reducing their gas and coal capacity.

Galina Alova, the author of the report, said the research highlighted “a worrying gap between what is needed” to tackle the climate crisis and “what actions are being taken by the utility sector”.
» Read article          
» Obtain the study

quashed supergrid reportWhy Trump’s Energy Department Quashed a Supergrid Report
This week on The Interchange, we dig into an investigation of Trump’s suppression of clean energy.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media – podcast
August 28, 2020

This week, we discuss how an innocuous grid-modeling project came to be seen as a threat to Trump’s efforts to save coal and then languished inside the Department of Energy.

It’s one of many pieces of research that have been suppressed by the current administration.

What is the study? What does it tell us about the systematic dismantling of government institutions and norms under Trump? What are the implications for a cleaner grid?

Journalist Peter Fairley joins us on this week’s Interchange podcast to talk about his investigation, which was a collaboration between InvestigateWest and The Atlantic.
» Listen to podcast

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Portland leading
Why Aren’t Home Efficiency Scores Standard in Online Real Estate Listings?
Realtors say such scores are useful for buyers and can open the door to broader conversations about home energy use.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
September 2, 2020

Consumers rely on labels and scores to understand the attributes and performance of the products they buy. There are miles-per-gallon ratings for cars, nutrition labels for food and Energy Star ratings for appliances. But when it comes to the energy efficiency of their biggest investment — buying or renting a home — Americans are largely on their own.

Many U.S. consumers take on mortgages without knowing how much energy a home uses, consigning themselves to needlessly high future utility bills. But the right information delivered at the right time can nudge homebuyers to select the more energy-efficient option before closing papers are signed.

Portland, Oregon is the best real-world example in the U.S. to date.

Portland’s Home Energy Score program took effect on January 1, 2018, so it’s had some time to establish itself. Homes are scored on a 10-point scale based on DOE’s Home Energy Score system: homes with a “1” rating use the most energy; homes with a “10” rating use the least.

Scores posted thus far show considerable opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of Portland’s housing stock. By the end of 2019, the average Home Energy Score was 4.6, while 36 percent of homes received an initial score of 3 or below. However, half of the homes could cost-effectively improve to a score of 8 or higher.
» Read article           

» More about energy efficiency   

ENERGY STORAGE

taking a spin
Flywheel-lithium battery hybrid energy storage system joining Dutch grid services markets
Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
September 2, 2020

A hybrid energy storage system combining lithium-ion batteries with mechanical energy storage in the form of flywheels has gone into operation in the Netherlands, from technology providers Leclanché and S4 Energy.

The hybrid system combines 8.8MW / 7.12MWh of lithium-ion batteries with six flywheels adding up to 3MW of power. It will provide 9MW of frequency stabilising primary control power to the transmission grid operated by TenneT and is located in Almelo, a city in the Overijssel province in the east Netherlands.

S4 Energy launched into the frequency containment reserve market using a combination of its KINEXT flywheels and batteries in 2017. According to the company’s project director Dominique Becker Hoff, the flywheel supplies instantaneous power for very short periods of time without losing capacity. The 5,000kg KINEXT flywheel operates at 92% efficiency, storing energy as rotational mass.

The technology is seen as complementary to higher capacity electrochemical battery storage because the flywheels are not prone to degradation. The flywheel component can supply reserve power continuously while the battery only joins in for lengthier variations in frequency, protecting the batteries from degradation and ensuring a longer lifespan for cells.
» Read article          

down to earth
Metal-hydrogen batteries coming down to earth with launch of EnerVenue
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 28, 2020

Startup technology provider EnerVenue has launched a bid to commercialise a variation of metal-hydrogen batteries of the type used on the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope for use in stationary storage applications.

“As an example of metal hydrogen batteries, nickel-hydrogen batteries have proven to be an incredibly powerful energy storage technology – albeit an expensive one – for the aerospace industry over the past 40 years. The performance and longevity of nickel-hydrogen batteries is well-established and second to none. We’re now able to deliver the same performance and durability at a breakthrough competitive price using new low-cost materials,” EnerVenue founder, chief technology advisor and board member Dr Yi Cui – who is a Stanford University professor of materials science, said.

Claimed advantages include the ability to operate at temperatures from -40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees, 30-year / 30,000+ duty cycle lifespan without battery degradation and a broad charge and discharge range from C/5 to 5C. Claiming that it also does not run the risk of thermal runaway as lithium batteries do, EnerVenue also said that its devices could even beat lithium-ion on CAPEX cost reductions over time too.
» Read article           

» More about energy storage       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

squashed
How SUVs conquered the world – at the expense of its climate
Exclusive new emissions analysis shows how much more dangerous for the climate SUVs are than smaller vehicles, and how embedded they have become in our lives
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
September 1, 2020

They are the hulking cars that have conquered the world. Spreading from the heartlands of the US to a new generation of eager buyers in China to dominate even the twisting, narrow streets of Europe, the sports utility vehicle, or SUV, has bludgeoned its way to automobile supremacy with a heady mix of convenience and marketing muscle.

The rise of the SUV as the world’s pre-eminent car has been so rapid that the consequences of this new status – the altered patterns of urban life, air quality, pedestrian safety, where to park the things – are still coming into focus.

But it’s increasingly clear that SUVs’ most profound impact is playing out within the climate crisis, where their surging popularity is producing a vast new source of planet-cooking emissions.

Last year, the International Energy Agency made a finding that stunned even its own researchers. SUVs were the second largest cause of the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade, eclipsing all shipping, aviation, heavy industry and even trucks, usually the only vehicles to loom larger than them on the road.
» Read article           

yellow bus planSchool buses should go electric – here’s how
Vehicles offer huge health and economic benefits
By Duncan McIntyre, CommonWealth Magazine – Opinion
August 29, 2020

Deep within Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan for creating a more resilient, sustainable economy is a proposal that deserves wider attention. Under the heading of “position[ing] the American auto industry to win in the 21st century,” Biden proposes a goal of all American-made buses being zero-emission by 2030, starting with “converting all 500,000 school buses in the country to zero emissions.” Practically, that means the next generation of yellow school buses would be electric. That is good news for parents, for communities, and for our economy.

Most of the half million school buses in use across the country today, on which each student spends an average of 180 hours annually, are diesel-powered. Diesel exhaust exposes children to toxic pollutants. Poor air quality is responsible for high rates of asthma, cancer, and heart disease. Children are even more vulnerable to air pollutants than adults, and the hardest hit children are those in disadvantaged communities, which have the highest concentrations of air pollution.
» Read article           

electric UPS
Soon, the Kitty Litter Will Come by Electric Truck
With deliveries surging during the pandemic, carriers like UPS and FedEx and companies like Amazon are renewing their push toward electric vehicles.
By Jim Motavalli, New York Times
August 27, 2020

Going back years, you might have been able to spot a truck from the likes of FedEx and UPS, and more recently Amazon, that ran on electricity. But most of these were small, short test runs that left the internal-combustion status quo in place.

Now that battery technology is catching up to ambitions, many companies are making big commitments to electrify the last delivery mile, typically from transportation hub to destination. The momentum means that plugging in the fleet may happen well before another vaunted goal — self-driving — is reached. Success is not guaranteed, though. The companies are eager to buy, but they will need the latest in battery-powered trucks, and a lot of them.

The rush to electrify, prompted by concern about climate change, a chance to offset growing delivery costs, government regulation and big advances in battery technology, is occurring as the coronavirus pandemic has caused a huge spike in package delivery. UPS, for instance, was delivering up to 21.1 million packages a day in the second quarter, a nearly 23 percent jump in average daily U.S. volume from a year earlier. Avery Vise, vice president for trucking at FTR Transportation Intelligence, said big increases in delivery truck orders hadn’t shown up yet, but they’re very likely coming.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

contaminant pass-thru
Trump weakens Obama-era rules on toxic wastewater from coal plants
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
August 31, 2020

The Trump administration is loosening rules for toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Coal plants generate wastewater when they rinse the filters they use to catch pollutants from smokestacks. That wastewater is discharged into rivers and lakes and often ends up in drinking water.

Obama administration regulations required coal plants to upgrade their wastewater systems to treat arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals. Electricity companies will now have more time and flexibility to meet those standards. Plants shutting down or switching to natural gas by 2028 will be exempt, according to Bloomberg News.

Steam-based power plants, including coal plants, are the third biggest source of toxic wastewater in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The pollutants they release into the water – either directly or from leaching from ponds where coal ash water is stored – are linked with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and developmental problems for children.
» Read article           

» More on the EPA 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Hoboken at the forefront
‘At the Forefront of Climate Change,’ Hoboken, New Jersey, Seeks Damages From ExxonMobil
The city joined a long line of state and local litigants alleging Big Oil knew burning fossil fuels caused climate-related problems like sea level rise.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
September 3, 2020

The city of Hoboken, New Jersey, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking damages from ExxonMobil and other major oil and gas companies for misleading the public about the harmful climate-related impacts such as sea level rise they knew would be caused by burning fossil fuels.

The city cast itself as a prime example of an oceanside community “at the forefront of climate change,” as Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in announcing the lawsuit.

Less than five miles from midtown Manhattan in New York City, Hoboken is uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the lawsuit filed in Hudson County Superior Court. It set forth nuisance, trespass and negligence claims, as well as violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
» Read article          
» Read the complaint

corporate humiliation
“Humiliation”: Exxon dumped out Dow Jones Industrial Index after nearly 100 years
Do not underestimate the significance of this moment. Exxon is the oldest member of the influential Index, having joined in 1928.
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
September 1, 2020

The once mighty Exxon suffered the corporate humiliation of being booted out the highly influential Dow Jones Industrial Index.

“The last day of August also marked the first day of trading for the newly reconfigured Dow”, reported the Washington Post. “The index, which tracks 30 large publicly traded companies, swapped out three companies.” And one of those was oil giant, ExxonMobil.

The Seeking Alpha investor website calls the move the “ultimate insult” for Exxon. As an article in NPR notes: “The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the classic blue-chip stock index. Exxon Mobil is an iconic blue-chip stock … It reflects just how once-dominant Exxon has diminished.”

But the company’s demise has been a long time coming. The Motley Fool investor website has calculated that Exxon’s stock has lost value over the past 20 years. This compares to an increase of over 130% for the S&P 500.

Such was the size of the company that even seven years ago, Exxon was still the world’s most valuable corporation. But since then, the company’s market value has disintegrated a staggering $267 billion.
» Read article           

patchy performance
Big Oil’s patchy deals record casts shadow over green makeover
As major oil companies prepare to spend billions on renewable energy assets to stay relevant in a low-carbon future, the industry’s patchy track record on takeovers is a red flag for some investors.
By Ron Bousso, Reuters
September 1, 2020

[With] European policymakers cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s major oil companies have promised to reinvent themselves as low-carbon power suppliers that would thrive in a world of clean energy.

To hit their goals in time, though, they will almost inevitably have to chase a relatively small pool of renewable energy assets in competition with big utility companies at a time valuations are going through the roof.

And some investors worry that history will repeat itself.

“The majors have been poor capital allocators for the better part of the past 20 years,” said Chris Duncan, an analyst at Brandes Investment Partners which has shares in several European oil firms. “I’m nervous … usually when companies transition to a different market the transition is not a profitable process.”
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels 

BIOMASS

take action on biomass
MA House Climate Bill Would Promote Biomass Incinerators as “Non-Carbon Emitting Sources”
By Partnership for Policy Integrity
September 3, 2020

In the closing days of July, the Massachusetts House of Representatives rushed through language in its 2050 Climate Roadmap Bill – a broad package of climate proposals – that defines biomass power plants as “non-carbon emitting energy” sources. A conference committee with three members each from the House and Senate will decide the ultimate fate of this legislation this fall. PFPI and environmental justice advocates in Springfield, MA and across the state are urging the conference committee to reject this language.

Specifically, Section 15 of H.4933 creates a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standard for municipally owned electric utilities in MA, known as municipal light plants (MLPs). MLPs are exempt from many of the standards that apply to investor-owned utilities, like National Grid and Eversource, so this provision on its surface appears to be a step forward in reducing GHG emissions from the power sector.

The problem, however, lies in the definition of “non-carbon emitting energy.” The House bill defines this term to include both non-emitting energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear, and biogenic fuels, which emit carbon when combusted, such as landfill gas, anaerobic digestion, and biomass. It also includes any other generation qualifying for MA’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), which brings in garbage incineration, and for good measure gives the MA Department of Energy Resources (DOER) unlimited authority to add additional resources. In all, there are four different ways that a woody biomass power plant could qualify as “non-carbon emitting energy” for the purpose of this new MLP procurement standard – even though biomass plants are more polluting than coal.

Take Action for Clean Air and Environmental Justice!

A conference committee has been set up to negotiate the final language of the climate bill, comprised of six members: Senators Michael Barrett, Cynthia Creem, and Patrick O’Connor, and Representatives Tom Golden, Patricia Haddad, and Brad Jones. Whatever comes out of the climate conference committee this fall will be voted on without further opportunity for amendment. It would then go to Governor Baker for his signature.

MA residents can take action by contacting their state legislators and urging them to reach out to their peers on the climate conference committee to oppose language in the House bill that defines biomass energy as “non-carbon emitting,” and by signing this petition to the conference committee chairs, Senator Barrett and Rep. Golden.
» Read article           

biomass burning surges
Are forests the new coal? Global alarm sounds as biomass burning surges
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
August 31, 2020

Though current science has shown that burning the world’s forests to make electricity is disastrous for biodiversity, generates more emissions than coal, and isn’t carbon neutral, a UN policy established in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol erroneously counts energy produced from forest biomass as carbon neutral.

As a result, nations pay power companies huge subsidies to burn wood pellets, propelling industry growth. While the industry does utilize tree residue, forests are being cut in the US, Canada, Russia, Eastern Europe and Vietnam to supply pellets to the UK, EU and other nations who can claim the energy creates zero emissions.

So far, the UN has turned a blind eye to closing the climate destabilizing carbon accounting loophole. The Netherlands, which now gets 61% of its renewable energy from biomass, is being urged to wean itself off biomass for energy and heat. If the Dutch do so, advocates hope it could portend closure of Europe’s carbon loophole.

The forest biomass industry is sprawling and spreading globally — rapidly growing in size, scale, revenue, and political influence — even as forest ecologists and climatologists warn that the industry is putting the planet’s temperate and tropical forests at risk, and aggressively lobbying governments against using wood pellets as a “renewable energy” alternative to burning coal.

“We have repeatedly pointed out that… the large-scale substitution of coal by forest biomass [to produce electricity] will accelerate climate warming, and will increase the risks of overshooting Paris [Climate Agreement] targets,” Michael Norton, environmental director of the Science Advisory Council of the European Academies, said in a December 2019 statement issued to European Union countries.

“The reason is simple: when the forest is harvested and used for bioenergy, all the carbon in the biomass enters the atmosphere very quickly, but it will not be reabsorbed by new trees for decades. This is not compatible with the need to tackle the climate crisis urgently,” said Norton.
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PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

nurdle apocalypse
Pollution Scientist Calls Plastic Pellet Spill in the Mississippi River ‘a Nurdle Apocalypse’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
August 28, 2020

Three weeks after a shipping container full of tiny plastic pellets fell into the Mississippi River near New Orleans, cleanup hired by the vessel that lost its cargo stopped shortly after it started as a pair of major storms approached the Gulf Coast. But huge numbers of the pellets, which were made by Dow Chemical and are melted down to manufacture plastic products, still line the river banks in New Orleans and further afield.

After visiting a couple locations along the river banks affected by the spill, Mark Benfield, an oceanographer and plastic pollution expert at Louisiana State University, estimated that nearly 750 million of these lentil-sized plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, could have been lost in the river.

He described the mess as “a nurdle apocalypse.”

The nurdle spill occurred after an incident at the Ports America facility in New Orleans in which four shipping containers were knocked off the container ship CMA CGM Bianca on August 2. Three containers were retrieved, but the fourth, containing 55-pound bags of Dow Chemical polyethylene, fell into the river. It is unclear how many, if any, of the bags of nurdles were recovered.
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» More about plastics in the environment    

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

plastic Mt KenyaOil industry lobbies US to help weaken Kenya’s strong stance on plastic waste
Environmentalists fear changing Kenya’s resolve would lead to all of Africa becoming a plastics dumping ground
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
September 1, 2020

Major oil companies are lobbying the United States to pressure Kenya to change its world-leading stance against plastic waste, according to environmentalists who fear the continent will be used as a dumping ground.

The request from the American Chemistry Council to the Office of the United States Trade Representative came as the US and Kenya negotiate what would be the first US bilateral trade deal with a country in sub-Saharan Africa.

That deal is expected to be a model for others in Africa, and its importance helped lead to the Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s White House visit with Donald Trump this year – a rarity for an African leader during this administration.

In 2017 Kenya imposed the world’s strictest ban on the use, manufacturing and import of plastic bags, part of growing efforts around the world to limit a major source of plastic waste. Environmentalists fear Kenya is now under pressure not only to weaken its resolve but to become a key transit point for plastic waste to other African countries.

The 28 April letter from the American Chemistry Council’s director for international trade, Ed Brzytwa, seen by the Associated Press, urges the US and Kenya to prohibit the imposition of domestic limits on “production or consumption of chemicals and plastic” and on their cross-border trade.
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plastic Nakuru
Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic.
Faced with plunging profits and a climate crisis that threatens fossil fuels, the industry is demanding a trade deal that weakens Kenya’s rules on plastics and on imports of American trash.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, Michael Corkery and Carlos Mureithi, New York Times
August 30, 2020

Confronting a climate crisis that threatens the fossil fuel industry, oil companies are racing to make more plastic. But they face two problems: Many markets are already awash with plastic, and few countries are willing to be dumping grounds for the world’s plastic waste.

The industry thinks it has found a solution to both problems in Africa.

According to documents reviewed by The New York Times, an industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence United States trade negotiations with Kenya, one of Africa’s biggest economies, to reverse its strict limits on plastics — including a tough plastic-bag ban. It is also pressing for Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic garbage, a practice it has pledged to limit.

The chemistry council’s plastics proposals would “inevitably mean more plastic and chemicals in the environment,” said Griffins Ochieng, executive director for the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development, a nonprofit group based in Nairobi that works on the problem of plastic waste in Kenya. “It’s shocking.”

The plastics proposal reflects an oil industry contemplating its inevitable decline as the world fights climate change. Profits are plunging amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the industry is fearful that climate change will force the world to retreat from burning fossil fuels. Producers are scrambling to find new uses for an oversupply of oil and gas. Wind and solar power are becoming increasingly affordable, and governments are weighing new policies to fight climate change by reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

Pivoting to plastics, the industry has spent more than $200 billion on chemical and manufacturing plants in the United States over the past decade. But the United States already consumes as much as 16 times more plastic than many poor nations, and a backlash against single-use plastics has made it tougher to sell more at home.
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» More about the plastics / fracking connection  

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