Tag Archives: bomb train

Weekly News Check-In 3/19/21

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Welcome back.

Cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was a positive move for the planet. But in the near term, it will force more tar sands oil into virtual pipelines – rail cars that have been implicated in horrific “train bomb” incidents involving massive destruction and mass casualties. Recent experiments prove that this oil can be transported economically without the explosive volatile constituents that make these trains so dangerous. Fast-track implementation of this transport method would extend direct benefits from the pipeline cancellation down to everyone living or working near train tracks.

Now that the Biden administration’s energy policies are coming into focus, a coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries is pressing for a rapid cut-off of all fossil fuel subsidies. The confirmation of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as the Interior Department’s first Native American Secretary sends a powerful signal, and indicates the administration’s seriousness about greening the economy. More locally, activists in Massachusetts are celebrating passage of truly landmark climate legislation, which now appears likely to receive Governor Charlie Baker’s signature.

As wealthy countries distribute Covid-19 vaccines, economic activity is resuming and oil consumption is rebounding toward pre-pandemic highs. Climate watchers expected this, and caution that we’re a long way from addressing the profound changes required at all levels of society to address global warming.

We’re always on the lookout for bird-safe wind power at an appropriate scale for residential use. Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless is proposing more than we bargained for! Maybe News Check-In readers can suggest finishing touches that would show the neighbors you’re really living the clean energy lifestyle.

Energy storage is getting some good attention in New York, with utility Con Edison moving to take advantage of virtual power plant services of batteries in homes and commercial buildings. This is a non-wires solution, where the utility incentivizes ownership of batteries in parts of the grid where extra power is needed during peak usage periods. In a complementary development, large stationary batteries, especially when associated with wind and solar power, have reached an economic point where they out-compete fossil fueled peaking power plants.

Of course batteries are also key to getting everyone into electric vehicles. We lead this section with a side trip into the new age of sailing ships, and follow that with a dose of reality about those vehicle batteries. Two articles consider consequences of sourcing all the lithium, nickel, and cobalt required to whisk all these people and things around without burning fuel.

All these new electric vehicles, wind turbines, and green buildings are – at least for now – going to need a lot of steel. But it’s a notoriously carbon-intensive material, and that has the industry taking a hard look at the possibility of creating a zero-carbon product. It’s technically possible, but the capital investment is daunting.

Regardless of how fast humanity reduces its emissions, we’ve already reached such a crisis point that climate scientists argue for some amount of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This can be a tricky subject, because the fossil fuel industry dangles the promise of carbon capture from smokestacks to greenwash a version of the future where business-as-usual continues without consequences. We’ll be bringing you CCS news as we find it, and will attempt to call out the propaganda.

While the Biden administration has already paused new oil and gas leases on federal land, legal experts are examining the feasibility of canceling some existing leases. This is in line with the “keep it in the ground” strategy, a reality that the fossil fuel industry appears to be grudgingly acknowledging through record write-downs of the value of their reserves. Another threat to the industry is a broad-based call for Biden to halt liquefied natural gas exports. We found a report that explores that issue, and considers the complicating factors – which unfortunately seem to rely heavily on the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” argument, when maybe we should be diverting some of this LNG build-out investment into the clean energy infrastructure that will achieve real climate goals.

We close with another clarification of the environmental threat that proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant poses to the environmental justice communities in Springfield. Also, a check-in on a newly-implemented international agreement that aims to curb the dumping of waste plastic into developing countries ill-equipped to safely process it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

bomb train alternativeAnalysis: Canceled Keystone XL Pipeline Driving Major Safety Changes in Canadian Oil-by-Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 12, 2021

The Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in January appears to be driving a revolutionary improvement in Canadian oil-by-rail safety that could protect the public from what have become known as “bomb trains.”

Without the KXL pipeline to help transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the United States, Canadian oil producers are turning to trains. And using a new technology to help make it more affordable — and less flammable.

When tar sands bitumen is mined and processed, it results in a thick, tarry substance which industry material safety data sheets note is a “low fire hazard” and “must be heated before ignition will occur.”

To ship tar sands oil by pipeline, however, the raw bitumen must be diluted with a light volatile petroleum product called condensate, which turns it into a “highly flammable” product, according to material data safety sheets. “This product,” the safety sheets state, “will easily ignite in the presence of heat sources, sparks, or flames.” This volatility is what causes devastating fires and explosions to happen so easily when oil trains derail.

Traditionally, the industry has chosen to pump this volatile diluted bitumen, or dilbit, into rail tank cars when shipping it by rail. But now the oil-by-rail industry is exploring a way to transport a form of bitumen that no longer easily ignites like the dilbit.

To do this, they’re investing in new technology that removes the flammable component of the diluted bitumen mixture before putting it into rail tank cars. The process is expected to make rail transport as affordable as sending bitumen via pipeline.

The first commercial application of this technology is being marketed as DRUbit and is a collaboration between Gibson Energy and US Development Group LLC that expects to begin operations in the second half of 2021. ConocoPhillips Canada has contracted to move 50,000 barrels per day and rail companies CP and Kansas City Southern will transport the product from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

DRUbit is a form of tar sands that is non-flammable and likely will not create large spills in derailments because raw or less-diluted bitumen doesn’t easily flow when exposed to air temperatures — effectively removing the risks to the public and environment from Canadian crude-by-rail transportation.
» Read article                

» More about virtual pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

end all fossil subsidies430+ Groups From 6 Continents Demand Biden End All US Subsidies for Global Fossil Fuel Projects
“We have to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies at the expense of our climate.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 18, 2021

A coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries Thursday called on the Biden administration to quickly cut off all U.S. public financing for fossil fuel projects overseas and work with governments around the world to bring about an end to taxpayer subsidies for the dirty energy sources driving the global climate emergency.

“We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly to end new financing for all parts of the fossil fuel supply chain (including for gas), stop new U.S. fossil fuel support within 90 days across all government institutions, and work with other nations to end fossil fuel financing,” reads a letter (pdf) sent to top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Signed by 432 groups from six continents—including Africa, Asia, and South America—comes weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House condemning “handouts to Big Oil” and vowing to work with Congress to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in the U.S.

“Governments can’t claim to be serious about climate change if they pump billions of dollars into the most polluting industries every year,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International, one of the signatories. “If President Biden is serious about zeroing out emissions by mid-century or earlier, the U.S. must end its billions of dollars in support for oil, gas, and coal projects around the world.”

Arguing that U.S. action to end public funding of fossil fuel infrastructure could spur other nations to follow suit, the new letter urges Biden to follow through on his initial steps toward launching a “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the climate crisis. The groups point to Biden’s January executive order directing federal officials to craft a plan aimed at “promoting the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.”
» Read article                
» Read the coalition letter to the Biden administration

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Deb Haaland confirmedDeb Haaland Confirmed As 1st Native American Interior Secretary
By Nathan Rott, NPR
March 15, 2021

Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm the Democratic congresswoman to lead the Interior Department, an agency that will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.

Her confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America’s Indigenous peoples. In addition to managing the country’s public lands, endangered species and natural resources, the department is also responsible for the government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Native American tribes.

“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.

As a congresswoman, Haaland was a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda and supported limits on fossil fuel development on public lands. She opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. She was also one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, which calls for drastic action to address climate change and economic inequality.
» Read article                

stealth carbon bombI Tried to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator. What I Got Was a Carbon Bomb.
Most refrigerators in the U.S. are still cooled by climate “super-pollutants” called hydrofluorocarbons. I’d been promised my new fridge wouldn’t be…
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 11, 2021

As a climate reporter covering “super-pollutants”—greenhouse gases thousands of times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide—I thought I knew enough to avoid buying a refrigerator that would cook the planet. Turns out, I was wrong.

Nearly all refrigerators in use in the United States today use chemical refrigerants that are some of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet. Yet, a growing number of manufacturers now offer new models with an alternative refrigerant that has little to no climate impact.

But none of the major appliance makers advertise which fridges are climate-friendly, and which are carbon bombs. In some cases, it seems they themselves don’t know which is which.

It didn’t have to be this way. In 1993, a German appliance manufacturer started selling an HFC-free refrigerator whose very name—“Greenfreeze”—touted its use of a climate-friendly refrigerant. More than 1 billion HFC-free refrigerators have now been sold worldwide, including units sold overseas by U.S. manufacturers, at a time when climate-friendly refrigerators are just becoming available in the United States.

A recent Inside Climate News investigation found the decades-long delay in the use of climate-friendly refrigerants in America has been driven largely by the U.S. chemical industry, which manufactures HFCs. HFCs are multi-billion dollar products that would likely be replaced by less expensive and more efficient climate-friendly alternatives if standards put forth by Underwriters Laboratories didn’t until recently limit their use, likely at the behest of chemical companies. Underwriters Laboratories, now known as “UL,” is a private company that provides independent safety certifications for thousands of consumer products.

When GE first submitted its application to EPA in 2008 to use only small amounts of isobutane as a refrigerator coolant, Honeywell International, one of the leading HFC manufacturers, opposed the rule change. The company claimed that isobutane is “highly flammable and explosive even in small amounts,” a claim that has not been substantiated by the more than 1 billion isobutane refrigerators in safe operation worldwide. The agency finally granted the request in 2011.

When I asked Julie Wood at GE Appliances why the company wasn’t now advertising the environmental benefit of its climate-friendly refrigerator models, she said she didn’t think there would be much interest.

“At the end of the day, there is just low consumer awareness,” Wood said.
» Read article                
» Visit EIA’s HFC-free refrigerator buyer’s guide

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATION

Kathleen Theoharides EEA Secretary
Baker administration ‘very pleased’ with climate change bill
With few options, top aide embraces Legislature’s amended proposal
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 18, 2021

WITH BOTH BRANCHES of the Legislature approving climate change legislation by veto-proof majorities, the Baker administration on Thursday declared victory and signaled that the governor will sign the bill into law.

“The governor and I are very pleased the Legislature adopted the vast majority of our amendments,” said Katie Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

She said she couldn’t definitively say the governor will sign the bill until it actually reaches his desk and he can see it in its final form, but she signaled that was likely. “We are very pleased by the inclusion of key amendments as well as technical changes,” she said.

Baker has little running room on the climate change bill. His only options are to sign the bill into law or veto it, and vetoing it would trigger overrides in the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature that could hurt him politically.

Baker “reluctantly” vetoed the climate change legislation passed by the Legislature at the end of the last session, saying he was boxed in by the calendar, which allowed him to only veto it or sign it into law because the bill reached his desk after the Legislature had adjourned. The Legislature responded by passing the exact same bill again in the current session; Baker sent it back in February with a series of amendments.

Between the original veto message and the filing of the amendments, Baker’s tone changed dramatically. In the veto message, Baker was defiant and dismissive, insisting the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions in 2030 50 percent below 1990 levels was too radical and would end up unnecessarily costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. He also objected to binding interim emission goals for six industry subsectors and raised questions about a proposed municipal energy code and a series of other provisions.

When he sent the bill back with amendments in February, Baker dropped his objections to some provisions and sought to compromise on others. On the 50 percent emissions reduction goal, for example, Baker suggested a target of somewhere between 45 and 50 percent with the administration setting the final goal. He also urged that goals for industry subsectors be used as planning tools rather than binding requirements.

The Senate passed a revised bill on Monday by a 39-1 margin and the House passed it 146-13 on Thursday. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on climate change, said the bill reflected a number of technical changes sought by the governor but didn’t budge on the major provisions in the Legislature’s original bill.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

CLIMATE

wrong direction
As Oil Demand Rebounds, Nations Will Need to Make Big Changes to Meet Paris Goals, Report Says
Covid-19 decreased oil demand by almost 9 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency. But it could surpass pre-pandemic levels within a few years.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
March 18, 2021

Global oil demand is expected to grow steadily over the next five years and quickly surge past pre-pandemic levels, a path that could put climate goals out of reach, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a report released Wednesday, the agency said that while the pandemic will have lasting effects on the world’s oil consumption, governments have to act immediately to set the global energy system on a more sustainable path.

Oil demand needs to fall by about 3 million barrels per day below 2019 levels by the middle of the decade to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the report said. But on the current trajectory, consumption is instead set to increase by 3.5 million barrels per day.

“Achieving an orderly transition away from oil is essential to meet climate goals, but it will require major policy changes from governments, as well as accelerated behavioral changes,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Without that, global oil demand is set to increase every year between now and 2026.”

While Covid-19 sent oil demand plummeting last year by nearly 9 percent, the report said demand is set to surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2023. Nearly all that growth will come from developing and emerging economies, particularly in Asia, and the bulk will come not from transportation but from petrochemicals used to make plastics.

The agency, made up of 30 member countries including the United States, stressed that the future is not preordained. But the report also underscored the huge policy and other changes that will be needed—including faster adoption of electric vehicles and a doubling of plastics recycling rates—to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
» Read article                
» Read the International Energy Agency report

beach erosion UK
World’s coastal cities face risk from land and sea
As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
March 15, 2021

Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.

This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.

Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.

And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.

Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.
» Read article                
» Read the Nature Climate Change study            

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

skybrator
Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home
‘Skybrators’ generate clean energy without environmental impact of large windfarms, say green pioneers
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
March 16, 2021

The giant windfarms that line hills and coastlines are not the only way to harness the power of the wind, say green energy pioneers who plan to reinvent wind power by forgoing the need for turbine towers, blades – and even wind.

“We are not against traditional windfarms,” says David Yáñez, the inventor of Vortex Bladeless. His six-person startup, based just outside Madrid, has pioneered a turbine design that can harness energy from winds without the sweeping white blades considered synonymous with wind power.

The design recently won the approval of Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector. Equinor will also offer the startup development support through its tech accelerator programme.

The bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.

It has already raised eyebrows on the forum site Reddit, where the turbine was likened to a giant vibrating sex toy, or “skybrator”. The unmistakably phallic design attracted more than 94,000 ratings and 3,500 comments on the site. The top rated comment suggested a similar device might be found in your mother’s dresser drawer. It received 20,000 positive ratings from Reddit users.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

powerwall VPP
New York utility Con Edison recognises value of home energy storage with new virtual power plant
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
March 17, 2021

The CEO of US virtual power plant provider Swell Energy has said that New York utility company Con Edison has been “very progressive” in recognising the value that aggregated home battery systems paired with solar can offer.

Swell Energy’s Suleman Khan was among a handful of staff that launched what later became known as Tesla Energy in 2015. Having taken responsibility at Tesla for pricing up the company’s Powerwall residential storage product, he now heads up a company that takes storage systems including Powerwalls and aggregates them into virtual power plants by combining their capacity and capabilities.

Swell Energy currently has under contract 300MWh of virtual power plant agreements in territories including Hawaii and California, having raised US$450 million in project financing, which Khan said represents about 14,000 homes’ worth of battery storage. The company’s business model is essentially based around selling homeowners batteries with or without solar at a discounted price, after agreeing local capacity contracts with utilities that help them reduce aggregate load in specific areas, the “surgical value of behind-the-meter storage” as he calls it.

“We ended up, from the business development standpoint approaching utilities and saying: ‘look, here’s your customer base, here’s your aggregate load. If you were to add storage to this portion of the customer base, you would really take your aggregate load down in periods where you want it to be down.’ We show them precisely how certain loads can be taken down on certain circuits in a surgical manner, as opposed to just a massive battery farm in the middle of the desert.”
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Oceanbird
New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions
By Andrew Willner, Mongabay
March 15, 2021

Despite the present dominance of fossil-fueled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both aging and fragile.

Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization’s most recent data.

This annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change — one of nine scientifically defined planetary boundaries (PBs) we now risk overshooting — it also contributes to ocean acidification (a second planetary boundary) which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity (a third PB). And add to that significant chemical pollution (a fourth planetary boundary) that is emitted from ship smokestacks.

All of these planetary boundaries interrelate and influence one another (negatively and positively): for example, reducing black carbon (or soot), the fine particulate matter emitted from fossil fueled oceangoing vessels could slow global warming somewhat, buying time to implement further steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations. (Innovators are already solving this problem with cold ironing, providing shoreside electrical power to ship berths, allowing main and auxiliary engines to be shut down.)

Today’s cargo industry is plagued not only by environmental issues, but by a difficult logistical and economic problem: its current fleet of fossil-fueled container ships are mostly behemoths — with immense carrying capacities. However, the “overcapacity” of these giant ships leaves them without the nimbleness to adapt to unexpected shifts in global supply and demand; the world’s ports and specialized markets could likely be better served, say experts, by smaller, far more fuel-efficient cargo ships.

The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalized world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.
» Read article                

Thacker Pass
The Battle of Thacker Pass
Electric cars require a lot of lithium. A showdown in Nevada shows that getting it won’t be easy.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
March 12, 2021

When Edward Bartell first learned that a lithium mine might be moving into his remote corner of northern Nevada, the longtime cattle rancher wasn’t upset.

“I was actually kind of excited about it,” Bartell said. He knew that lithium is a key metal used in batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid, and he knew the United States is going to need a lot of it to transition off fossil fuels.

But as Bartell started learning more about the proposed Thacker Pass mine — which would be the second, and by far the largest, lithium mine in the United States — he grew increasingly worried about its impacts on his ranching business and nearby ecosystems. In spite of the numerous concerns Bartell and others raised during a comment period in which the government solicited opinions about the proposed mine project from members of the public, Thacker Pass received speedy review and was approved by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, on January 15, the Trump administration’s final Friday in office. Construction of mining facilities and “pre-stripping” to expose lithium-rich ores could begin later this year.

Bartell is now suing the federal government to try to stop that from happening.
» Read article                

perilous pathway
Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Earth’s Most Sensitive Ecosystem?
Materials needed to make the batteries for electric cars and other clean technology is driving interest in deep-seabed mining, and scientists fear the cost to the ocean will be steep.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
March 10, 2021

From 2010 to 2019 the number of EVs on the road rose from 17,000 to 7.2 million. And that number could jump to 250 million by 2030, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.

The growing demand for electric vehicles is good news for limiting climate emissions from the transportation sector, but EVs still come with environmental costs. Of particular concern is the materials needed to make the ever-important batteries, some of which are already projected to be in short supply.

“Climate change is our greatest and most pressing challenge, but there are some perilous pathways to be aware of as we build out the infrastructure that gets us to a new low-carbon paradigm,” says Douglas McCauley, a professor and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara.

One of those perilous pathways, he says, is mining the seafloor to extract minerals like cobalt and nickel that are widely used for EV batteries. Extraction of these materials has thus far been limited to land, but international regulations for mining the deep seabed far offshore are in development.

“There’s alignment on the need to go as fast as we can with low-carbon infrastructure to beat climate change and electrification will play a big part in that,” he says. “But the idea that we need to mine the oceans in order to do that is, I think, a very false dichotomy.”

As pressure mounts to claim terrestrial minerals, commercial interest is growing to extract resources from the deep seabed, where there’s an abundance of metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, lead and lithium. Investors already expect profits: One deep-sea mining company recently announced a plan to go public after merging with an investment group, creating a corporation with an expected $2.9 billion market value.

But along with that focus comes increased warnings about the damage such extraction could do to ocean health, and whether the sacrifice is even necessary.

McCauley hopes that a combination of advances will help take the pressure off sensitive ecosystems and that we don’t rush into mining the seabed for short-term enrichment when better alternatives are on the horizon.

“One of my greatest fears is that we may start ocean mining because it’s profitable for just a handful of years, and then we nail it with the next gen battery or we get good at doing low-cost e-waste recycling,” he says. “And then we’ve done irreversible damage in the oceans for three years of profit.”
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

BUILDING MATERIALS

sheets of steel
How to Clean Up Steel? Bacteria, Hydrogen and a Lot of Cash.
With climate concerns growing, steel companies face an inevitable crunch. ArcelorMittal sees solutions, but the costs are likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in Europe alone.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 17, 2021

Few materials are more essential than steel, yet steel mills are among the leading polluters. They burn coke, a derivative of coal, and belch millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Roughly two tons of carbon dioxide rises into the atmosphere for every ton of steel made using blast furnaces.

With climate concerns growing, a crunch appears inevitable for these companies. Carbon taxes are rising, and investors are wary of putting their money into businesses that could be regulated out of existence.

None of this has been lost on the giant steel maker ArcelorMittal.

The company is spending 325 million euros (about $390 million) on pilot programs that include making steel with hydrogen and using bacteria to turn carbon dioxide into useful chemicals. The amount is less than 1 percent of the company’s 2020 revenue. But [Aditya Mittal, 44, who recently succeeded his father as chief executive], who had been ArcelorMittal’s chief financial officer, said the company had greater technical resources and global scale than most rivals and was well positioned to lead the cleanup.

“We can now imagine that it is possible to make steel without carbon emissions,” he said.

But the future costs of converting a string of blast furnaces into climate-friendly operations are likely to run into tens of billions in Europe alone, the company says.

In recent years, the oil and gas industry has come under pressure from governments embracing increasingly ambitious climate goals. One result is greatly expanded investments in renewable energy. Now, many see the regulatory focus turning to the steel industry and other heavy polluters.
» Read article                

» More about building materials

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

LCO2 carrier
Two European companies are mapping a future service for direct air capture to sequestration of CO2
By Jonathan Shieber, Tech Crunch
March 9, 2021

The Swiss-based, venture capital-backed, direct air capture technology developer Climeworks is partnering with a joint venture between the government of Norway and massive European energy companies to map the pathway for a business that could provide not only the direct capture of carbon dioxide emissions from air, but the underground sequestration and storage of those emissions.

The deal could pave the way for a new business that would offer carbon capture and sequestration services to commercial enterprises around the world, if the joint venture between Climeworks and the newly formed Northern Lights company is successful. It would mean the realization of a full-chain carbon dioxide removal service that the two companies called a necessary component of the efforts to reverse global climate change.

Northern Lights was incorporated in March as a joint venture between Equinor, Shell and Total to provide processing, transportation and underground sequestration services for captured carbon dioxide emissions. The business is one of the lynchpins in the Norwegian government’s efforts to capture and store carbon emissions safely underground under a plan called The Longship Project.

“There is growing awareness of the need to build capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve net zero by 2050. We are enthusiastic about this collaboration with Climeworks. Combined with safe and permanent storage, direct air capture has the potential to get the carbon cycle back in balance,” said Børre Jacobsen, the managing director of Northern Lights, in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read about the Longship Project

Carbfix
This Icelandic Startup Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Stone
By Savannah Hasty, EcoWatch
March 14, 2021

Carbon emissions are the leading cause forcing the climate crisis today. These emissions account for more than 60% of man-made global warming, as well as other conditions related to climate crisis such as ocean acidification and weather pattern disruptions. However, a new solution to these impending carbon catastrophes has been discovered by Icelandic startup Carbfix, which is turning carbon dioxide into stone.

Carbfix offers a plan for reaching Paris agreement goals for limiting anthropogenic warming using a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project, founded in 2007 by Reykjavik Energy and several research institutions (now owned by Reykjavik Energy), aims to capture CO2 from industrial sites, dissolve it in water, and then inject it into the ground where it turns to rock. The process only takes two years, effectively accelerating the process of natural carbon storage to meet increasing carbon emissions throughout the developed world.

Carbfix’s proprietary technology “captures” the carbon dioxide from an industrial facility before it enters the atmosphere, effectively bringing the facility’s emissions to zero. They are also partnering with a Swiss company, Climeworks, to perform what is called carbon capture, which withdraws the CO2 from surrounding air. This can reduce a company’s net carbon footprint, as well as negate previously unaddressed carbon emissions.
» Read article            

» More about carbon capture and sequestration

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

summer surgesReport: These rarely used, dirty power plants could be cheaply replaced by batteries
By Rachel Ramirez, Grist
June 11, 2020

As air conditioning units begin to hum with summer’s arrival, electricity use surges. Across the U.S., that demand is met by more than 1,000 so-called peaker power plants, which typically only run during infrequent periods of peak energy demand. They tend to be expensive, inefficient, and disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods of color, where they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants.

For all these reasons, environmental advocates consider peaker plants a high priority for retirement and replacement. A sweeping analysis released last month by researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, based on their operational features and the characteristics of local electricity grids, as well as the health, environmental, and equity benefits of retiring the plants. All of these factors combined present unique opportunities to replace some of the electricity sector’s most polluting facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.

The feasibility of these opportunities is largely the result of recent breakthroughs in energy storage, particularly battery storage. Energy storage is essentially any system used to store electricity generated at one point in time for use at another time. The most familiar type of energy storage is battery storage, in which the electricity generated by a solar panel system during the day, for example, could be stored and then later supplied once the sun sets.

“Energy storage is now competitive with peaker power plants,” said Elena Krieger, PSE’s director of research. “We’re sort of at that economic turning point where that’s the opportunity, but ideally that could set a precedent for how we think about adopting clean energy across the grid as a whole — so that we bring on these clean resources and not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but prioritize health, prioritize resilience, and prioritize equitable access.”
» Read article               
» Read report – The Fossil Fuel End Game (March 2021)  

» Read report – Dirty Energy, Big Money (May 2020)
» Join BEAT’s Put Peakers in the Past coalition! 

» More about peakers

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Kern County pumpjack
Keeping It All In the Ground?
Exploring legal options for congressional and executive actions to terminate existing fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
By Eric Biber, Legal Planet
March 11, 2021

The Biden Administration has set aggressive goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States.  And a necessary component for any long-term plan to address greenhouse gas emissions from the United States is reducing and ultimately eliminating the emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands.

Why is this such a critical issue? Almost half of the coal mined in the United States, about a quarter of the oil, and around one-sixth of the natural gas is produced from leasing federal lands to private parties for coal, oil, and gas development.  Without addressing federal fossil fuel leasing, the United States would not be able to meet the commitment of the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid more than two degrees Celsius in global temperature increases.

The Biden transition team indicated that they were looking at ending new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands – particularly coal – to help meet climate goals. On Biden’s first day in office, the administration set a 60-day pause on leasing and permitting, and there is talk of a full moratorium. But that just addresses new leases. What about the existing leases on federal lands, which already lock in substantial emissions and under current leasing systems could produce for decades to come?

Addressing those leases may be crucial for the new Administration.  To help answer this open question, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of the legal capacity of the federal government to end existing fossil fuel leases.

Of course, just because something can be legally done doesn’t mean it should be.  For example, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about whether unilateral efforts by a single nation to restrict the production of fossil fuels will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since those unilateral reductions may be offset by imports from other producers around the world, or by substituting one fossil fuel for another.  However, our initial review suggests that it is plausible that termination of coal leasing on federal lands in the United States would lead to significant emissions reductions – in part because the global market for coal is not nearly as robust as for oil, and in part because there are good lower-carbon or carbon-free substitutes for many uses of coal (e.g., renewable energy to produce electricity).
» Read article                
» Read the legal assessment

welcome to Colorado
Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup
As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits: plugging nearly 60,000 oil and gas wells.
By Nick Bowlin / High Country News, reprinted in Energy News Network
March 12, 2021

When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.

But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.

There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot — more than $8 billion, the report found.

Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They do so in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.

This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cove Point 2014Biden faces climate clash over LNG
By Lesley Clark and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
March 8, 2021

The Biden administration has yet to fully delineate its position on liquefied natural gas, prompting cautious optimism from industry but spurring pushback from groups that want to phase out the fuel.

In an interview Friday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged DOE’s legal responsibility to review proposed LNG export facilities and suggested that could move in step with things like curbing flaring and leaks from gas pipelines (see related story).

LNG shipments are often bound for “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels,” Granholm said, adding that “it does have the impact of reducing internationally carbon emissions.”

“However, I will say there is an opportunity here, as well, to really start to deploy some [carbon capture, use and storage] technologies with respect to natural gas in the Gulf [of Mexico] and other places that we are siting these facilities for that we are obligated to do under the law,” Granholm said.

The comments highlight a dilemma the Biden administration is facing on LNG: How will the fuel coexist with aggressive climate targets without infuriating a core of the Democratic base? President Biden has vowed to tackle climate change by transitioning to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050.

It’s currently unclear how Biden might differ on the issue from the previous two administrations. President Obama got many LNG export projects off the ground, and both Trump administration Energy secretaries were enthusiastic supporters. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s DOE dubbed it “freedom gas” at one point, boasting that it provided U.S. allies with a cleaner source of energy.

Biden officials have, however, made comments that mirror those from industry and some analysts about the role LNG exports can play in offsetting the continued growth of coal, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicDespite his claims, science is not on Vic Gatto’s side
Proponent of biomass power plant is making up ‘facts’
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
March 18, 2021

VIC GATTO has been a tireless campaigner for the 42-megawatt biomass power plant in East Springfield that his company wants to build over widespread community opposition. But in his effort to ostensibly dispel “public misinformation” about the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant (“Biomass Plant COO Says Science is on His Side,” Feb. 27, 2021), he is simply blowing more smoke.

We’ll grant Gatto’s complaint that the permitting process, which began in 2008, has been lengthy, complex, and litigious. This is testament to how bitterly contested this proposal has been from the beginning. But just because this plant has a permit does not make it benign.

Let’s look at the facts. According to its 2011 operating permit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Palmer biomass plant will burn nearly a ton of green wood chips per minute around the clock, requiring a smokestack more than 20 stories high to help disperse the pollution.

Even with “state of the art” pollution controls, the plant will emit more than 200 tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead. And that’s assuming the plant, once built, is able to comply with its permit restrictions. Around the country, the performance of biomass plants has been less than stellar, with frequent cases of air and water permit violations, fires, and other environmental hazards.

Gatto’s dismissive comments about the “very slight” air quality impacts of his project are particularly insensitive to the legitimate concerns of the Springfield community. The air permit allows the Palmer biomass plant to release more than 33 tons of fine particulate pollution per year, and emissions from increased truck traffic and “fugitive” emissions from wood chip and ash storage at the site will add to the ground-level air pollution burden. Since the plant was proposed, we’ve learned more about the cumulative impacts of air pollution, which include asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weight, dementia, and now, increased impacts and deaths from COVID-19.

These impacts are likely to be particularly acute in an overburdened environmental justice community like Springfield, where state environmental health tracking data show that residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care.  Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has written that “the proposed biomass facility in Springfield would jeopardize the health of an environmental community already deemed the nation’s ‘asthma capital.’”

In addition to denying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project, claiming that a state-sponsored study concludes that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution compared to chipping it and “allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.”

We could not find this statement anywhere in the studies Gatto cited — probably because it’s not what the science says.  Burning a ton of green wood releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instantaneously. That same ton of wood, if left to decompose on the forest floor, would gradually emit carbon dioxide over a span of 10-25 years, returning some of the carbon to the soil and forest ecosystem. Methane — a potent climate-warming gas — is only created when oxygen is not available. In reality, a much more likely source of methane from rotting wood will be the 30-foot high, 5,000-ton wood chip fuel pile at the plant.
» Read article          

» More about biomass         

PLASTICS RECYCLING

trash pickers
Countries Tried to Curb Trade in Plastic Waste. The U.S. Is Shipping More.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Michael Corkery, New York Times
March 12, 2021

When more than 180 nations agreed last year to place strict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, the move was seen as a major victory in the fight against plastic pollution.

But new trade data for January, the first month that the agreement took effect, shows that American exports of plastic scrap to poorer countries have barely changed, and overall scrap plastics exports rose, which environmental watchdog groups say is evidence that exporters are ignoring the new rules.

The American companies seem to be relying on a remarkable interpretation of the new rules: Even though it’s now illegal for most countries to accept all but the purest forms of plastic scrap from the United States, there’s nothing that prevents the United States from sending the waste. The main reason: the United States is one of the few countries in the world that didn’t ratify the global ban.

“This is our first hard evidence that nobody seems to be paying attention to the international law,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit group that lobbies against the plastic waste trade. “As soon as the shipments get on the high seas, it’s considered illegal trafficking. And the rest of the world has to deal with it.”

The scrap industry says that many of the exports are quite likely compliant with the new rules and that the increase in January reflects growing global demand for plastic to recycle, and use as inputs for new products. Recent history, however, shows that a large amount of plastic scrap exported from the United States does not get recycled but ends up as waste, a reality that was the impetus for the new rules.

The new rules were adopted in 2019 by most of the world’s countries, although the United States isn’t among them, under a framework known as the Basel Convention. Underlying the change was the need to stem the flow of waste from America, and other wealthier nations, to poorer ones.

Though many American communities dutifully collect plastic for recycling, much of the scrap has been sent overseas, where it frequently ends up in landfills, or in rivers, streams and the ocean. China, which once accepted the bulk of that waste, in 2018 banned all plastic scrap shipments, declaring that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump.”
» Read article               

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 12/31/20

banner 07

Welcome back.

We’re bidding good riddance to 2020 and wishing everyone a healthy and bright new year. But to properly send this awful year on its way, we need to focus now and act on the urgent threat that the commercial use of woody biomass represents for both health and climate. The Massachusetts legislature will decide in the next week whether roll back existing science-based restrictions and qualify this dirty, carbon-and-soot emitting energy source for renewable energy credits, opening the door to a huge biomass-fueled electricity generating plant to be built in a Springfield neighborhood already bearing a heavy pollution burden. Senators Markey and Warren, plus the Springfield City Council strongly oppose this plant. Attorney General Maura Healey cautions that science was disregarded and the permitting process appears shoddy and inadequate. Finally, Dr. Marty Nathan’s excellent recent editorial offers a look into the science and politics that brought us to this point – and asks us all to immediately make a few phone calls.

The Weymouth compressor station and Mountain Valley Pipeline have generated news, and another bomb train full of Bakken crude blew up in Washington state, reminding us that the Trump administration blocked efforts to make rail transport of that particularly volatile product a little safer.

Protesters are standing in the way of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota, and some are being arrested. Construction is proceeding, in typical fashion for these projects, even before environmental permits are completed. Meanwhile, it’s been a busy year for climate action in the courts – we found a recap.

Divestment news includes another big win: Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has announced a market-wide policy to stop new insurance coverage for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and to pull out entirely by 2030.

An important component of greening the economy will include addressing the systemic racism baked into existing energy policies. Boston’s WBUR aired a story in September that offers insights into some of the issues and challenges.

Huge methane leaks are accelerating the pace of climate change, and one culprit is a failure of regulatory oversight. Add that to to the sky-high stack in President Biden’s inbox on Day One, along with the many suggestions from every environmental group eager to offer advice (and demands) for quick action.

We’re wrapping up the year with a great run of articles on clean energy, energy efficiency, green building materials, energy storage, and green transportation – including a story on the “rotating sail” – a hundred year old invention that adds supplemental wind power to boost the efficiency of powered ships. It’s been modernized for deployment on today’s fleet.

And we close on the subject of fracking – focusing on the damage it’s done to the communities that host its operations, and more generally to the fossil fuel industry itself. We also offer a recording of acclaimed ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber discussing the 7th annual compendium on the continued physical harms of fracking, assembled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

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

— The NFGiM Team

BIOMASS

biomass ground zero
Mass. Has Strong Rules About Burning Wood For Electricity. In 2021, It Plans To Roll Them Back

By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
December 22, 2020

Just off I-291 in East Springfield is a seemingly unremarkable plot of land. Sandwiched between an electrical switchyard, busy roads and a working class neighborhood, the fenced-in property is mostly barren, aside from some machinery for making asphalt in one corner and a few tall piles of gravel and crushed rock.

But the site, owned by the Palmer Paving Corporation, sits at the center of a long-standing environmental justice fight over a proposed wood-burning, or “biomass,” power plant.

If built, the facility would be the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would burn about 1,200 tons of wood per day in a city the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked the “Asthma Capital” of the country. Until now the plant has been on hold because biomass isn’t profitable in Massachusetts. But this could change early next year with new state rules about who qualified for renewable energy subsidies.

Though touted by supporters as “green” and “renewable,” burning wood for electricity is relatively inefficient and releases a lot of planet-warming greenhouse gases — a megawatt of electricity produced by burning wood actually releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than a megawatt generated from coal.

Critics of biomass also call it “dirty,” since these facilities regularly emit soot and pollutants like mercury and lead. And a biomass plant like Palmer would have diesel-burning trucks delivering wood every hour, adding to the pollution.

The plant’s developer, the Palmer Renewable Energy company, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) say it’s likely the company’s calculation about profitability will soon shift, allowing it to start construction.

That’s because early next year, the Baker administration plans to change how the state awards lucrative renewable energy subsidies.

Under the current rules, a plant like the Palmer facility isn’t eligible for renewable energy credits because it doesn’t meet the state’s efficiency standards. But should the changes go into effect, PFPI policy director Laura Haight estimates that the facility could get $13 million to $15 million a year in subsidies — enough, she says, to make it worth building.
» Read article            

Markey-Warren biomass letterSenators Markey And Warren Call For Pause On Springfield, Massachusetts, Biomass Plant
By Karen Brown, NEPM
December 24, 2020

Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators have asked the state to put a stop to a biomass plant in Springfield, at least until the incoming Biden Administration weighs in on the issue.

The plant was approved by the state almost 10 years ago, though Massachusetts has had strict rules in place that make biomass less profitable. The administration of Governor Charlie Baker is planning to loosen those rules next year.

The industry maintains that biomass, which uses tree waste, is a form of renewable energy. But in a letter to the state Department of Environment Protection (MassDEP), Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey said scientific studies show it releases dangerous pollutants into the air.
» Read article            
» Read the Senators’ letter        

AG letterhead RPS biomass
Letter from Attorney General Maura Healey to Senate Chair Barrett and House Chair Golden

By Attorney General Maura Healey
December 23, 2020

The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease—greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.
» Read letter       

Springfield says no biomass subsidies
Springfield City Council passes resolution opposing millions in state subsidies for biomass incineration
   
By Ariana Tourangeau, WWLP, Channel 22
December 22, 2020

The Springfield City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night in opposition to state renewable energy subsidies for wood-burning biomass incinerators in Massachusetts.

According to Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, the vote comes in the wake of final draft regulations being proposed by the state Department of Energy Resources that would weaken existing guidelines for taxpayer and ratepayer-funded subsidies in what is known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

This would potentially allow millions in state funds to flow to proposed biomass waste incinerating power plants for the first time since 2012. Lederman said that continued pending state legislation would incentivize power from such facilities under the premise that they represent renewable energy production.

Councilors Jesse Lederman, Michael Fenton, Tim Allen, Adam Gomez, Orlando Ramos, Justin Hurst, and Melvin Edwards filed the resolution on Friday after learning of the release of the DOER Regulations, which would weaken the existing state regulations in order to allow biomass plants to qualify.
» Read article            

we breathe what PRE burns
Biomass plant will create a ‘sacrifice zone’ in Springfield (Guest viewpoint)
By Marty Nathan, MassLive
December 23, 2020

Marty Nathan MD is a retired family practitioner who worked at Brightwood Health Center. She is a member of Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She thanks Partnership for Policy Integrity for informational support.

If I remember correctly, I was reading a piece describing the cancer and other severe chronic diseases suffered by low income people living in Louisiana’s petrochemical refinery district known as Cancer Alley. The writer said, “You can’t have a polluting industry without a sacrifice zone.”

Words to remember, that immediately flashed through my mind when listening to an explanation of the Baker Administration’s new rules classifying “clean” energy sources under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program (RPS). Technologies that  qualify get lucrative renewable energy subsidies from ratepayers.

And guess what now qualifies for what $13-15 million per year in ratepayer subsidies? Bingo! Industrial biomass! As in Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE), the company that has been pushing for 12 years to construct a massive 42-megawatt electric-generating wood-burning biomass power plant in a low-income part of East Springfield.

If constructed the PRE plant’s 275-foot smokestack will billow tons of pollutants per year to affect the lungs not just of that neighborhood but of those living and working throughout Springfield, which was named the Asthma Capital of the country for two years running. That smoke will include tiny particles that burrow deep into the lungs. It will carry nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and hazardous air pollutants, like  mercury, lead,  and hydrochloric acid. These are the things that make people wheeze and cough and have trouble breathing and predispose them to hospitalization and death from respiratory disease.  Recent studies have shown that low-income communities with high levels of fine particulate air pollution suffer higher fatality rates from Covid-19.

Arise for Social Justice, the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, and other groups fought this proposal, which the late Michaelann Bewsee described as a “zombie biomass plant,” since it was first proposed in 2008 and keeps springing back to life. The affected community and supporters forced a ground-breaking study by the Commonwealth that showed that biomass is counterproductive to the fight against climate change, that it is not carbon-neutral, and not “renewable” in the time that we have left to prevent catastrophic warming. So industrial biomass burning for electricity production was removed from the Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2012, when the state recognized the damage that such plants could cause.

In April 2019, the permit for the Palmer plant was about to run out when the MA Department of Energy Resources proposed rolling back the RPS regulations so that low-efficiency biomass plants like Palmer would once again be eligible for millions in subsidies. Local officials demanded on behalf of the people of Springfield that a hearing be held in Springfield, ground zero for impact of the changes. Over 200 people attended, demonstrated and spoke almost unanimously against the Administration’s plans to make the Springfield plant qualify as renewable energy. The words environmental racism were used repeatedly. So spoke Springfield. Did the Baker Administration listen?

While waiting for the answer, PRE’s permit from the City expired. All who cared about public health in Springfield and a future on a livable planet heaved a sigh of relief.

Then at the end of July, on the last scheduled day of the 2020 legislative session, the House presented a climate bill that , happily, included new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions by municipal light plants (publicly-owned utilities such as Holyoke’s). Unhappily, it listed burning biomass as a “non-carbon-emitting” electricity source, making the Palmer biomass plant eligible to sell power under these proposed rules. And, lo, the City proclaimed that the permit for the biomass plant had not expired after all but had been renewed in oral agreement with PRE. It also was revealed that Palmer had raced around the eastern part of the state signing power purchase contracts with as many MLP’s (located generally in richer, whiter communities) as it possibly could, to make the project viable.

The climate legislation remains locked in conference committee despite widespread demands that the biomass language be eliminated.

Two weeks ago, the other shoe dropped. DOER defied science and citizen demands and announced plans to roll back the 2012 regulations to allow low-efficiency, polluting biomass plants to again qualify for subsidies. Why? When asked, several legislators have responded, “There is a whole lot of money behind this.” With Palmer being the only biomass proposal poised to profit from the changes, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the source.

So, Springfield is the sacrifice zone for biomass industry profit. Palmer Renewable’s lobbyists have lured the legislature and the Baker Administration into creating a profitable “renewable” niche that defies science and public health. Its plant will make a lot of poor, Black and brown Springfielders sick while it contributes to climate change that will hurt all of us. In the name of fighting climate change.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We still have a few short weeks to stop these dangerous policies from happening. You have a voice, to protect the vulnerable whose lives and breathing are threatened. Learn more here. Make two calls today:

  1. Tell your state legislator to urge the climate conference committee to take language calling biomass power plants “non-carbon emitting” out of the climate bill and ask the TUE Committee to hold a hearing on Baker’s proposed RPS rules.
  2. Call Governor Baker at 888-870-7770 and demand that he stop the DOER from issuing rules that are a giveaway to Palmer biomass while making Springfield residents sick and turning our community into a sacrifice zone.

Blog editor’s note: We printed this commentary in its entirety because it does an excellent job presenting what’s at stake. Please make your voice heard by calling your elected officials as suggested above. This is truly urgent.
» Read article            

» More about biomass       

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

regional emergency planRegional emergency plan urged for Weymouth compressor
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
December 29, 2020

A potential major gas leak or explosion at the Fore River Basin’s compressor station might require some North Weymouth residents to evacuate into Quincy.

Weymouth District 1 Councilor Pasacle Burga said a possible evacuation of residents into Quincy illustrates a need for a regional emergency response plan to a potential crisis at the compressor station.

“Quincy is very close to the compressor station,” she said. “That is why we have to be on the same page. They need to be able to handle traffic if people are being evacuated. If you have all those cars going into Quincy, they will have to keep the traffic moving.”

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch’s chief of staff, Chris Walker, said the city’s emergency management department is developing a permanent response plan to address a potential crisis at the compressor.

“We think we have a pretty good handle on it,” he said. “We are well aware of what is necessary for an emergency response and have been working on it for quite some time.”

Walker said Quincy officials understand Weymouth’s concerns about a potential emergency at the compressor station.

“We are in this together,” he said.

Enbridge Inc. owns the compressor, and it experienced natural gas leaks on Sept. 11, Sept. 30.

According to state and local officials, both seepages collectively released 444,000 cubic feet of natural gas in the air and forced emergency shutdowns of the facility.

The leaks are under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
» Read article      

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

PIPELINES

MVP in Franklin County
Mountain Valley Pipeline faces political, regulatory changes in 2021
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
December 27, 2020


The history of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, from the time it was first proposed to its projected completion, will soon span the terms of three U.S. presidents.

So what impact will the incoming administration of Joe Biden — whose views on climate change and clean energy are the polar opposite of President Donald Trump’s — have on the deeply divisive natural gas pipeline?

It’s unlikely that a single action under Biden’s watch would kill the buried pipeline, much of it already in the ground despite legal action from environmental groups that has delayed construction and inflated its cost to about $6 billion.

But with federal agencies headed by Biden appointees and guided by his climate agenda, pipeline opponents say, the risk of a death by a thousand cuts is more likely.

“The developers behind MVP should be seriously weighing whether this project is still viable in a market and political atmosphere that favors clean energy and climate action,” said Lee Francis, deputy director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
» Read article            

MVP attacked again
Environmental groups make another legal attack on Mountain Valley Pipeline
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
December 22, 2020

In the latest legal strike at the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a coalition of environmental groups is contesting a federal agency’s decision to allow the troubled project to move forward.

At issue is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Oct. 9 order that allowed stalled construction of the natural gas pipeline to resume, and extended for another two years its deadline for completion.

An attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a law firm that represents the seven groups, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review FERC’s decision.

Although the two-page petition does not state the grounds for appeal, attorney Benjamin Luckett raised a number of objections in a brief filed last month with FERC that asked the agency to reconsider.

Since FERC initially approved the project in 2017, new information has surfaced that “drastically alters the picture surrounding the pipeline,” Luckett wrote.

Market conditions cited by FERC in finding there was a public need for the gas to be transported by the 303-mile pipeline have changed, he asserted, while construction has harmed the environment more than was anticipated three years ago.

Allowing construction to resume “ignores the extent of sedimentation, number of major slips [or slope failures], extent of blasting, impacts on threatened and endangered species, and numerous other environmental impacts,” Luckett wrote.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines       

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

2 inch tread
Another Bomb Train Accident Highlights Regulatory Failures
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 23, 2020

A train carrying over 100 cars of volatile Bakken oil derailed in Washington state, causing the evacuation of the town of Custer. At least two of the train cars ruptured and the oil ignited and burned — reminding us once again why these dangerous trains are known as bomb trains. 

Matt Krogh of Stand.earth has been leading efforts to keep these dangerous trains off the tracks for years, so he was well aware of the potential deadly consequences of oil train accidents in populated areas. Krogh could see the smoke from this latest accident from his home in Bellingham, Washington. 

“I think we got lucky today,” Krogh told the Associated Press, echoing the words of others after previous close calls with oil trains — several of which were highlighted in the DeSmog piece Luck Rides the Rails. 

It’s easy to feel lucky after a near miss with an oil train derailment and fire near a populated area because in 2013 an oil train full of Bakken oil derailed and caused catastrophic fires and explosions in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, — killing 47 people and destroying much of the downtown area. Downtown Lac-Mégantic has yet to be rebuilt more than seven years later.

The state of Washington is well aware of the dangers the oil trains pose to the public and the environment and have attempted to address this issue with state regulations. Washington has five oil refineries that all are highly dependent on Bakken crude by rail. Crude-by-rail movements in the U.S. and Canada fluctuate significantly based on market conditions, but the Washington refineries are one destination for Bakken oil that maintain consistent demand for the oil, and rail is the only option to get it to Washington — so the risks to Washington residents who live near the train tracks are ever present.

Washington regulators and politicians tried to take the most important safety step by passing a law that limited the volatility of the crude oil being moved by rail through Washington, a move that would greatly reduce the risk of fires and explosions during derailments. A rule proposed at the end of the Obama administration to limit the volatility was officially withdrawn by the Trump administration in May of 2020.
» Read article            
» Read 2016 article “Luck Rides the Rails”      

» More about virtual pipelines                 

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

tripod sitter
‘A Tangible Way to Fight for the World I Want to Live In’: Water Protector Arrested After Blockading Line 3 Pipe Yard
“Profits for a few are being privileged over the well-being of all communities near and far, present and future.”
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
December 28, 2020

Water protector Emma Harrison was arrested Monday in Backus, Minnesota after successfully obstructing construction on Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline project for several hours by ascending a tripod in front of a tar sands pipe yard owned by the Canadian company.

“I’m part of the Line 3 resistance movement because this pipeline embodies everything I believe is wrong with the world,” Harrison said before she engaged in civil disobedience.

As Common Dreams has reported, climate justice and Indigenous rights advocates are opposed to the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline, which would send 760,000 barrels of crude oil every day through northern Minnesota, from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin—traversing more than 800 wetland habitats, violating Ojubwe treaty rights, and putting current and future generations at risk of polluted water and a despoiled environment.

Since Enbridge began working on the pipeline in late November despite pending lawsuits, opponents have attempted to halt construction through a series of direct actions, including Monday’s blockade. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has responded “with complete silence,” Line 3 resistance activists said in a statement.

In a New York Times op-ed published Monday morning as people gathered to oppose the Line 3 pipeline, Louise Erdrich—a Minnesota-based novelist and poet as well as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, a Native American tribe in North Dakota—called the project “a breathtaking betrayal” of tribal communities and the environment. 

“This is not just another pipeline,” Erdrich wrote. She continued:

It is a tar sands climate bomb; if completed, it will facilitate the production of crude oil for decades to come. Tar sands are among the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet. The state’s environmental impact assessment of the project found the pipeline’s carbon output could be 193 million tons per year.

That’s the equivalent of 50 coal-fired power plants or 38 million vehicles on our roads, according to Jim Doyle, a physicist at Macalester College who helped write a report from the climate action organization MN350 about the pipeline. He observed that the pipeline’s greenhouse gas emissions are greater than the yearly output of the entire state.

If the pipeline is built, Minnesotans could turn off everything in the state, stop traveling, and still not come close to meeting the state’s emission reduction goals. The impact assessment also states that the potential social cost of this pipeline is $287 billion over 30 years.

On top of the project’s massive carbon footprint, “the extraction process for oil sands is deeply destructive,” Erdrich noted. “The water used in processing is left in toxic holding ponds that cumulatively could fill 500,000 Olympic swimming pools.”
» Read article            
» Read the Louise Erdrich op-ed in New York Times         

climate cases 2020
2020 Was a Busy Year for Taking the Climate Fight to the Courts
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 21, 2020

This year — with its converging crises, from the coronavirus pandemic to longstanding racial injustice to climate-related disasters — was also a remarkably active time for climate litigation. All around the world, communities, organizations, and especially young people turned to the courts in 2020 in strategic attempts to hold governments and polluting companies accountable for exacerbating the unfolding climate emergency.

In particular, this year saw a notable uptick in climate accountability litigation with multiple new cases filed in the U.S. and internationally.

“This extremely challenging year has made clear that people and the planet must come first,” Kristin Casper, general counsel with Greenpeace International, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. “Many are taking action to make it a reality by bringing their demands for climate justice to the courts.”

“We’re seeing climate litigation spring up all over the world. Advocates in many countries are finding it a very useful tactic,” said Michael Gerrard, environmental law professor at Columbia Law School and founder and faculty director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Over the years there have been more than 1,500 climate-related cases in 37 countries, according to a report on climate litigation trends released this summer. And a new wave of cases in recent years has made it clear that courts are emerging as a critical battleground in the climate fight.

This year was notable for the number of new climate cases brought to the courts. At least 20 new cases were filed around the world against governments and fossil fuel companies.
» Read article            

» More about protests and actions      

 

DIVESTMENT

insure our future
Lloyd’s market to quit fossil fuel insurance by 2030
By Julia Kollewe, The Guardian
December 16, 2020

Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has bowed to pressure from environmental campaigners and set a market-wide policy to stop new insurance cover for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and to pull out of the business altogether by 2030.

In its first environmental, social and governance report, Lloyd’s, which has been criticised for being slow to exit fossil fuel underwriting and investment, said the 90 insurance syndicates that make up the market would phase out all existing insurance policies for fossil fuel projects in 10 years’ time. Less than 5% of the market’s £35bn annual premiums comes from insurance policies in this area.

“We want to align ourselves with the UN sustainability development goals and the principles in the Paris [climate] agreement,” said the Lloyd’s chairman, Bruce Carnegie-Brown.

“A lot of syndicates are already doing some of the things we are setting out here but we are trying to create a more comprehensive framework for the whole market.”

The Lloyd’s market will also end new investments in coal-fired power plants, coalmines, oil sands and Arctic energy exploration by 1 January 2022, and phase out existing investments in companies that derive 30% or more of their revenues from this area by the end of 2025.

Carnegie-Brown defended the 2030 target date for ending fossil fuel insurance. “We want to try to support our customers in the transition and we don’t want to create cliff edges for them,” he said.
» Read article            

» More about divestment            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

TCCCBL
How To Create Anti-Racist Energy Policies
By Shalanda H. Baker, WBUR
September 23, 2020

Once you begin to see injustice, you cannot unsee it.

The pandemic has exposed longstanding inequality in our society and revealed how many Americans are one mishap away from losing basic necessities such as food, housing and health care.

The pandemic has also revealed the many burdens communities of color routinely bear as a result of the structure and design of our nation’s energy system. That system disproportionately extracts wealth from the lowest-income Americans, who also tend to live in communities with the poorest air quality and are at a higher risk of the complications of COVID-19. These are the same communities that will be hit first and hardest by climate change.

The time for reckoning with the racialized violence embedded within the current energy system is long overdue. Now is the time to advance anti-racist energy policy. Now is the time for energy justice.

Our system of paying for energy — electricity, natural gas and other fuels — is unfair. The system inequitably burdens people who live in poor and low-income communities, who struggle to pay their utility bills. The poorest families in this country pay far more of their income for energy costs — upwards of 30% — while higher-income families pay about 3% or less. It should come as no surprise that the households paying the highest portion of their income for energy and confronted with difficult decisions about how to pay their utility bills are also disproportionately Black, Latinx and Indigenous. Lower-income families already tend to use less energy.

But the struggle to meet basic energy needs predates the current crisis. A 2015 analysis revealed that 31% of all Americans regularly face some sort of energy insecurity, which includes the lack of ability to pay for energy. This figure jumped to 45% for Latinx respondents and 52% for Black respondents and was still greater for Native American and Indigenous people, who experienced energy insecurity at a rate of 54%. A staggering 75% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander respondents experienced energy insecurity, a rate more than twice the national average. Yet white respondents experienced energy insecurity only 28% of the time.

The legacy of environmental racism also means that Black people are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants than other people, and Black, Latinx and Indigenous people routinely absorb more of the toxic byproducts of our fossil-fuel-based energy system. The same communities are less likely to have access to local, clean energy.

During the pandemic, these environmental injustices create a deadlier set of health risks. As researchers at Harvard Chan School of Public Health recently found, long-term exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of dying from COVID-19.
» Read article            

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

shortfalls in oversight
Large Methane Leaks Reveal Long-Standing Shortfalls in Oversight
New rollbacks could make controlling fugitive emissions from oil and gas infrastructure even harder
By Chiara Eisner, Scientific American
December 21, 2020

Ever since a father and son managed to draw four whiskey barrels of oil from a hand-dug hole near California’s Kern River 121 years ago, productive oil and gas wells have multiplied like mushrooms across the area. Though such wells are expected to emit minimal amounts of greenhouse gases during the oil-extraction process, scientists from a space-related research group were shocked by the size of the methane plumes they detected when they flew an infrared sensor over Kern County in 2015. Repeating the flights three more times in the next three years confirmed the initial reading: some wells were releasing at least six times more of the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in one day than the Environmental Protection Agency had estimated they should emit in a year.

Karen Jones is one of the scientists at the Aerospace Corporation, the California-based nonprofit organization that conducted the aerial survey. She says she felt mystified by what she calls a lack of action among the oil fields’ operators and regulators as she watched the methane—the second-highest contributor to human-caused warming after carbon dioxide—continuously spew over the years. “The gas coming out of Kern County isn’t supposed to be there,” she says.

Revelations like Aerospace’s, which the nonprofit published in a report this past summer, are becoming more common. For years, oil and gas companies have been required to detect and repair methane leaks in their equipment. But scientists have produced dozens of studies over the past decade that suggest the current methods and technology used by industry to detect leaks—and by regulators to estimate how much methane is emitted—are inadequate to catch the actual scale of the problem.

Nonprofit groups and private satellite companies may soon make high-quality data about methane publicly available and ubiquitous, potentially creating more pressure to address the situation. Action to plug leaks and prevent further air pollution may be stymied in the meantime, though: the Trump administration took numerous steps that could weaken environmental protections, including rules outlining how companies monitor for and locate natural gas leaks in their equipment (methane is the main component of natural gas). Whether they will be reversed when the Biden administration enters the White House, and how long that will take if it happens, remains to be seen.

Scientists say people of color and low-income communities, who already suffer disproportionately from the consequences of air pollution, will continue to bear much of the health brunt of such regulatory rollbacks. And more methane in the atmosphere is also likely to speed up the already accelerating process of global warming.
» Read article            

climate emergency
Groups Provide Biden With Draft Climate Emergency Order to Help Put Out ‘Fire Fanned by Trump’
The president-elect “must take bold action the moment he steps into the Oval Office, without punting to a dysfunctional Congress.”
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
December 16, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden must swiftly move once in office to “avert the climate emergency” with a series of actions to ensure the nation invests in “a just, clean, distributed, and democratic energy system that works for all.”

That’s the demand Wednesday from over 380 groups who’ve sent Biden a draft executive order (pdf) that details how, exercising executive authority, he can rein in greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard the environment while boosting jobs and community wellbeing.

The new effort was convened by organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Indigenous Environmental Network and is backed by a diverse collection of hundreds of state and national groups including Fire Drill Fridays, Breast Cancer Action, the National Family Farm Coalition, and the Sunrise Movement. International organizations including the Center for International Environmental Law and Global Witness are also listed as supporters.

President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration, said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and one of the key authors of the order, has taken a wrecking ball to the climate—making efforts to address the global crisis even more urgent.
» Read article            
» Read the draft executive order            

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen 2020 recap
2020: The Year of Green Hydrogen in 10 Stories
Green hydrogen exceeded expectations in 2020 with a spate of huge projects, binding deployment targets and a handful of gigafactories.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
December 29, 2020

2020 has been notable for the rush of activity in the green hydrogen space.

Using renewable-powered electrolyzers to create low-carbon hydrogen can squeeze emissions out of sectors where direct electrification isn’t going to cut it. Green hydrogen could replace methane to generate heat or power. It could replace high-carbon, or grey, hydrogen in a number of industrial and chemical processes. It could even be used as a fuel in heavy transport.  

As 2020 unfurled and then unraveled, climate change ambition ramped up. ‘Green recovery’ emerged as a favored approach to stoking flagging economies — tackling the unparalleled challenge of climate change to invest our way out of an unrivalled economic test.

Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there were clues that green hydrogen might shift up the agenda. Rob Gibson is the whole system and gas supply manager for National Grid Electricity System Operator in the U.K. He has been tracking the contribution of gas, including hydrogen, for the operator’s 2050 Future Energy Scenarios. When the country was working with an 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050, hydrogen had a smaller role in those forecasts.

When the country first set out the net-zero goal in June 2019, that changed, he told GTM in a recent interview. Economies face a much more costly path to decarbonizing the final 10 to 20 percent of their emissions, making hydrogen a cost-effective alternative for reaching 100 percent carbon-free goals. 

It’s a trend now repeating around Europe with other markets not far behind. Wood Mackenzie declared the 2020s the decade of hydrogen. This is how it began.
» Blog editor’s note: The greenest application of green hydrogen involves its use with fuel cells – extracting the energy as electricity without combustion. We advise readers to approach any news concerning big moves into green hydrogen with considerable skepticism. Much of the current hype (and actual momentum) is being financed by the natural gas industry, as a way to continue the business model of providing volatile gas for combustion. This has great potential for negative health and climate impacts, particularly related to high NOx emissions.
» Read article            
 

UK gas boiler ban coming
New gas boilers to be banned in 15 years to meet emissions target (UK)
By Steven Swinford and Emily Gosden, The Times
December 15, 2020

 

New gas boilers will effectively be banned by the mid-2030s and have to be replaced with low-carbon alternatives such as heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, the government has said.

An energy white paper published yesterday said that the country would have to “transition completely away from natural gas boilers” as part of the target to hit net-zero emissions by 2050.

At present about 1.7 million gas boilers are installed every year.

The government will also launch a consultation on whether it is appropriate to end gas grid connections entirely for new homes. The Times has previously reported that gas boilers for new homes could be banned as soon as 2023.
» Read article             

one-spin wonder
New Offshore Wind Turbine Can Power a Home for a Day in Just 7 Seconds
By John Rogers, Senior energy analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists
December 3, 2020

The first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States may use the largest wind turbine in the world. Here are a few ways to think about what all that might mean.

The developers of the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts have just announced that they’ll be using GE wind turbines—specifically, the GE Haliade-X. That turbine recently got a capacity upgrade, from a world-leading 12 megawatts (MW) to a world-leading-by-even-more 13 MW.

Hearing that 312 MWh number got me thinking about how much electricity the average home uses in these parts, and wondering how it compared. So I did the math: At full power, a turbine that size could cover a whole household’s daily electricity needs in under 7 seconds.

Sure, not every day is that windy, you’d lose some energy transmitting it from the turbine to the home, and you’d need storage to use it the other 86,393 seconds of the day. (So I wouldn’t recommend this approach for DIY home power…)

But still: 7 seconds.

The manufacturer itself offers another way to make the comparison between turbine and home: A single spin of the turbine, says GE, “could power a UK household for more than 2 days”. While specifying “UK” is important, because of their lower per-home electricity use, the math still works out to a single spin of the blades generating enough energy for a day for the average home in at least the 10 or 12 most efficient states in the US.
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                                    

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

view from ESB
How to slash buildings’ growing greenhouse gas emissions
A new UN report gives a blueprint for greener buildings
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 16, 2020

Carbon dioxide coming from the buildings where we live and work set a new record in 2019. What’s more, those planet-heating emissions will probably keep rising after the pandemic, the authors of a new UN report warn. The report urges governments to make structures more energy efficient and speed up a transition to renewable energy. Doing that could be a great way to address both the climate crisis and the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

The building sector was responsible for a whopping 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally in 2019, the report says. For comparison, all the planes, trains, automobiles, and other transportation in the world only pump out about 24 percent of global carbon emissions. Growing prosperity around the world, especially in developing nations that don’t yet have a lot of renewable energy, led to higher-than-normal rise in building sector emissions last year. When economies grow, there’s more construction, larger floor plans for buildings, and more energy-guzzling appliances and electronics filling those spaces.

Air conditioning is one of the biggest worries when it comes to energy-hungry buildings. Economic development in hotter climates comes with a big bump in emissions from air conditioners. Historic heatwaves during 2019, the second hottest year on record, was another reason why that year saw the most building emissions on record, according to the International Energy Agency. “The need for more energy efficient air conditioning is so vital to the future of both emissions [and] the reality of what we’re building,” says Ian Hamilton, lead coordinating author of the new report. “Those lovely, great big glassy towers in hot parts of the world rely so heavily on air conditioning for them to be comfortable, livable.”

Economic prosperity doesn’t need to translate into more planet-heating pollution. About 10 percent of buildings’ environmental footprint comes from their construction and materials. But most of the emissions that buildings are responsible for come from the energy used for heating, cooling, and lighting. Right now, fossil fuels are still a large part of the energy mix — which is what report authors hope to see change.
» Read article            
» Read the UN report          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY / BUILDING MATERIALS

Earthbag domesA Community of Superadobe Earthbag Domes Empowers Its Residents
Built with earth-based materials, these colorful domes were constructed with the help of local residents looking to revive their local economy.
By Kimberley Mok, Treehugger.com
December 17, 2020

In reducing the carbon footprint of both existing and new buildings, there are a number of possible strategies. One approach is to reduce the size of homes, thus reducing the energy needed to heat and maintain them (which is one reason why smaller homes are gaining popularity). Another is to increase their energy efficiency, as we see being done with Passivhaus / Passive House homes. Yet another tack is to change the kinds of materials we use in constructing more eco-friendly homes, swapping out materials with high embodied carbon (a.k.a. upfront carbon emissions) like concrete and steel for more sustainable materials like wood, cork and bamboo.

There’s yet another weapon to add to the growing arsenal of sustainable materials – but it’s not a new one, rather, it’s something that humans have used for millennia – earth. The soil beneath our feet is actually a great building material, whether it’s rammed, or compressed into modular earth blocks. We’ve seen a number of interesting architectural projects using earth-based materials, be they large or small.

On Iran’s Hormuz Island, these distinctive domes were constructed by Tehran-based firm ZAV Architects, using an innovative method called superadobe. Initially developed as a form of earthbag construction by Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili, the technique involves layering long fabric tubes or bags filled with earth and other organic materials like straw to form a compression structure.

Intended as a project that encourages “community empowerment via urban development,” the domes have been built with the help of local residents, who were trained with the necessary construction skills.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficient building materials           

 

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage 2020 recap
Greentech Media’s Must-Read Energy Storage Stories of 2020
An attempted shortlist of the major breakthroughs in the energy storage industry’s biggest year ever.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
December 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic brought the broader economy to a halt, but the energy storage industry didn’t get the memo.

Instead, developers made this year the biggest ever for battery installations in the U.S. More capacity is going into homes than ever before, helping families make better use of rooftop solar investments and keeping the lights on during outages. Large-scale projects reached new heights, including LS Power’s completion of the largest battery in the world, just in time to help California grapple with its summer power shortage.

Just a few years ago, energy storage was a niche item, something people built in the very few locations where a higher force compelled it. Now, utilities across the country are using batteries to solve numerous grid problems and planning far more for the near future. And the most boisterous of power markets, Texas, has finally broken open for storage developers, with major projects already underway.

Here is an attempt at condensing all of these upheavals and breakthroughs into a list of the crucial energy storage storylines from the year. Think of it as a cheat sheet for all things energy storage in 2020.
» Read article            

ESGC published
US Department of Energy publishes its ‘first comprehensive energy storage strategy’
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
December 23, 2020

The US government’s Department of Energy (DoE) has described its just-published Energy Storage Grand Challenge Roadmap as its first comprehensive strategy on energy storage, identifying cost and performance targets to be met in the coming years.

Among other things, it sets out a target for the levelised cost of long-duration energy storage to be reduced by 90% over the next nine years.

The ESGC looks to establish the US as a leader in energy storage and maintain that position; focusing not just on innovative new technologies and research into existing technologies but also on helping them traverse the fabled ‘Valley of Death’ that lies from lab to commercialisation. The Challenge also seeks to enable domestic manufacturing in the sector through secure supply chains.

The overarching goal of the ESGC is to develop and domestically manufacture energy storage technologies capable of meeting all of the needs of the US market by 2030 – a goal which the Department said in a press release is “aggressive but achievable”. The American energy storage industry should also be competitive internationally, including export opportunities, the DoE said.
» Read article            

» More about energy storage              

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

H2 evangelist
The Gospel of Hydrogen Power
Mike Strizki powers his house and cars with hydrogen he home-brews. He is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries.
By Roy Furchgott, New York Times
December 28, 2020

In December, the California Fuel Cell Partnership tallied 8,890 electric cars and 48 electric buses running on hydrogen batteries, which are refillable in minutes at any of 42 stations there. On the East Coast, the number of people who own and drive a hydrogen electric car is somewhat lower. In fact, there’s just one. His name is Mike Strizki. He is so devoted to hydrogen fuel-cell energy that he drives a Toyota Mirai even though it requires him to refine hydrogen fuel in his yard himself.

“Yeah, I love it,” Mr. Strizki said of his 2017 Mirai. “This car is powerful, there’s no shifting, plus I’m not carrying all of that weight of the batteries,” he said in a not-so-subtle swipe at the world’s most notable hydrogen naysayer, Elon Musk.

Mr. Strizki favors fuel-cell cars for the same reasons as most proponents. You can make fuel using water and solar power, as he does. The byproduct of making hydrogen is oxygen, and the byproduct of burning it is water. Hydrogen is among the most plentiful elements on earth, so you don’t have to go to adversarial countries or engage in environmentally destructive extraction to get it. The car is as quiet to drive as any other electric, it requires little maintenance, and because it doesn’t carry 1,200 pounds of batteries, it has a performance edge.

Mr. Strizki is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries. He has faced opposition from the electric, oil and battery industries, he said, as well as his sometimes supporter, the Energy Department. Then there is the ghost of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion, which hovers over all things hydrogen. The financial crash of the high-flying hydrogen truck manufacturer Nikola hasn’t advanced his case.

Mr. Strizki’s expertise has made him a cult figure in hydrogen circles, where he has consulted on notable projects for two decades. He has worked on high school science projects as well as a new $150,000-ish hydrogen hypercar that claims to get 1,000 miles per fill-up.

“Hydrogen is in some ways safer than gasoline,” said JoAnn Milliken, director of the New Jersey Fuel Cell Coalition, a volunteer group, who knew Mr. Strizki from her time at the Energy Department. She cited a 2019 study from Sandia National Laboratories that found a hydrogen car to have no more fire hazard than a conventional vehicle.

Ever since Mr. Musk called fuel cells “staggeringly dumb,” there has been a fierce rivalry between lithium-ion and hydrogen backers. Cooler heads see a place for each. Electric is suitable for people with a garage who travel limited distances and can charge overnight. But for long-haul trucks, hydrogen doesn’t add weight or reduce cargo space the way batteries do. Furthermore, hydrogen tanks can be refueled in minutes.
» Blog editor’s note: Mr. Strizki is advocating for hydrogen fuel cells, in which hydrogen does not undergo thermal combustion. That’s a great use of solar-produced green hydrogen. Problems with NOx emissions only occur when you burn it.
» Read article            

Flettner rotor
Rotating Sails Help to Revive Wind-Powered Shipping
A century-old concept, Flettner rotors, gets a fresh look as shippers cut back fuel
By Lynn Freehill-Maye, Scientific American
December 1, 2020

In 1926 a cargo ship called the Buckau crossed the Atlantic sporting what looked like two tall smokestacks. But these towering cylinders were actually drawing power from the wind. Called Flettner rotors, they were a surprising new invention by German engineer Anton Flettner (covered at the time in Scientific American). When the wind was perpendicular to the ship’s course, a motor spun the cylinders so their forward-facing sides turned in the same direction as the wind; this movement made air move faster across the front surface and slower behind, creating a pressure difference and pulling the ship forward. The rotating sails provided a net energy gain—but before they could be widely adopted the Great Depression struck, followed by World War II. Like the electric car, the Flettner rotor would be abandoned for almost a century in favor of burning fossil fuel.

Now, with shippers under renewed pressure to cut both costs and carbon emissions, the concept is getting another shot. In one notable example, the 12,000-gross-ton cargo vessel SC Connector is adding 35-meter Flettner rotors that can tilt to near horizontal when the ship passes under bridges or power lines. The new rotors need electrical power to spin, but manufacturer Norsepower says they can still save up to 20 percent on fuel consumption and cut emissions by 25 percent.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation       

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking killing US oil and gas
How The Fracking Revolution Is Killing the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2020

After over a decade of the much-hyped U.S. fracking miracle, the U.S. oil and gas industry is having to deal with years of losses and falling asset values which has dealt the industry a serious financial blow. This is despite the fracking revolution delivering record oil and gas production for the past decade, peaking in 2019.

While the pandemic has hurt the industry, companies have also benefited from excessive bailouts from pandemic relief programs but these bailouts are a stop gap financial band-aid for the struggling industry.

The oil and gas industry has always required huge amounts of money to explore for and produce oil and gas but up until now the industry made returns on those investments

The industry made a huge bet on fracking shale deposits to unleash the oil and gas reserves in that shale. It worked from a production standpoint; the industry produced record amounts of oil and gas. The difference is that, unlike traditional oil and gas production, the cost to produce fracked oil and gas was more than what the market was willing to pay for it.

As a result, the U.S. fracking industry has lost over $300 billion. Fracking was supposed to be the future of the U.S. oil and gas industry — instead it has dealt the industry a major financial blow which has likely sped up the energy transition away from oil and gas towards a lower carbon future.
» Read article            

fracking boom oral historyThe Rise and Fall of a Fracking Boom Town: An Oral History
Rock Springs, Wyoming, sits on vast underground stores of natural gas and shale oil. But what was meant to be a blessing turned into a curse.
By J.J. Anselmi, New Republic
December 21, 2020

It’s always feast or famine in Rock Springs. In the 1970s, this wind-worn mining town in southwest Wyoming was the site of an immense energy boom. Men from across the country moved in to make fast money in coal, oil, gas, or trona (the raw material for soda ash, which in turn is used to make glass, paper, baking soda, and other products). My dad worked at the Jim Bridger power plant for nearly 15 years, first dumping huge trucks of coal ash, then laboring in the warehouse. He met my mom during the ’70s boom.

Then the oil fields dried up. Demand for trona fell sharply, and soon workers were getting laid off at Jim Bridger (thankfully for us, my dad was able to keep his job). As one resident, Tammy Morley, told me, “It seemed to me like the boom left all at once. The town was dead. The oil fields got sucked dry. All the rest just went away.”

I graduated high school in 2004 and tried to go to school in Colorado, but I dropped out. When I came back to Rock Springs in 2005, the hydraulic fracturing boom had begun. The town and its surrounding areas sit on vast underground stores of natural gas and shale oil. And the mad rush to extract this untapped store of energy changed everything.

Suddenly, every hotel was filled with roughnecks from across the country. Rent got much more expensive, and stucco neighborhoods sprouted up like an invasive plant species. Guys with huge work trucks blasted around town. Most of my friends got jobs with Halliburton or one of the other companies doing fracking out in the massive Jonah Field. At the time, we had the biggest Halliburton fracking facility in the country, its arsenal of red trucks and heavy-duty equipment on militaristic display. Schlumberger had its own battery of blue trucks and equipment on the other side of town. 

There was suddenly, too, a lot of money. But this blessing, as so much else in this country, would turn out to be a nightmare in disguise. This is the story of Rock Springs’ last boom, as told by the people who lived through it (some of their names have been changed or withheld to protect their privacy).
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuel             

 

HAZARDS OF FRACKING

harms of fracking - update
Sandra Steingraber, ‘The Harms of Fracking’ Update
Green Radio Hour with Jon Bowermaster, WKNY Radio
December 27, 2020

Join me in conversation with Sandra Steingraber on the eve of the release of the 7th annual compendium on the continued physical harms of fracking, assembled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York. When the first tracking of the harms was published seven years ago, it easily fit in a manila envelope. Today it’s grown to 500 pages and more than 1,900 footnotes. Obviously the harms just keep mounting!
» Listen to broadcast          

» More about fracking hazards       

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Weekly News Check-In 7/17/20

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Welcome back.

Last week’s news was all about pipeline projects scuttled by fierce popular resistance, smart litigation, and economic reality. This week, proponents of big gas/oil and business-as-usual struck back by further slashing environmental regulations in the hope of greasing the skids for future projects. And with the Dakota Access Pipeline held up indefinitely, a lot more volatile crude may soon be moving by rail on trains and track near you – having never effectively addressed all those “bomb train” safety issues.

Some of the biggest banks financing fossil fuel projects are prime targets of the divestment movement. Many are also backing Rocky Mountain Institute’s new Center for Climate-Aligned Finance. The Center’s mission is to guide banks operating in carbon-heavy sectors, with the goal of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050. Conflict of interest? Environmental organizations will be watching closely.

The Biden campaign released an ambitious plan that aims to green the economy while rescuing it from the Covid-19 collapse. And while the climate reels from unchecked methane emissions – posting another record – scientists are launching a new satellite system supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning to pinpoint and track global carbon emissions in real time. This will allow direct measurement for the first time – and presents an opportunity for effective management and stronger international agreements.

Some good news in clean energy involves the rescue of rooftop solar net metering from an attempt by the shadowy New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) to move policy decisions from State to Federal jurisdiction. And now that natural gas is no longer seriously considered a clean bridge fuel, we’re facing the tricky question of how best to trim back its role in generating power and heating buildings. Massachusetts, New York, and California are leading the way.

Energy storage and clean transportation are increasingly synergistic. Expect to see robust growth in both sectors, with topped-up EVs providing storage services to the grid, and retired EV batteries finding their way into stationary storage installations – especially now that a new generation of lithium-ion batteries is expected to last much longer than a typical vehicle’s life on the road.

The fossil fuel industry is promoting “renewable” natural gas, derived from non-fossil methane sources. We offer an analysis of this niche fuel, and how it’s being used as cover for the continued use of fossil methane. Also a must-read article from the Times, discussing the huge and growing problem of methane leaks from abandoned oil and gas wells, at a time when fracking companies are failing and leaving cleanup costs to taxpayers.

The wood pellet industry is booming, thanks to policies in both Europe and the U.S. that treat woody biomass as a carbon neutral fuel. A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency may make the problem worse, and that’s bad news for the climate and forests.

We reported last week that plastics industry lobbyists had pounced on the opportunity presented by uncertainty around modes of disease transmission in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis – convincing states to roll back municipal plastic bag bans in the interest of public safety. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has now reinstated those bans, since we now understand that Covid-19 transmission from surfaces is a low risk. We close with a report on plastics in the environment – everywhere.

— The NFGiM Team

OTHER PIPELINES

orange is the new stupid
President Trump just made it harder to stop new pipelines
Trump moved to speed up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 15, 2020

President Trump today gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, a move that many environmental advocates worry will make it harder for people to have a say in how major infrastructure projects would affect them. The new rules speed up permitting for large infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways by truncating the environmental review process.

Environmental reviews are designed to figure out if a project will significantly change the environment around the project in some way. The process can take years and involves scientific studies, intense analysis, and time for the public to comment on the proposals. The new rules, first proposed in January, limit the timeline for environmental reviews to two years — even though the process frequently takes twice as long. The changes would also allow projects that aren’t primarily federally funded to bypass the environmental reviews entirely. The revised rules also permit federal agencies to ignore climate change when making their assessments.

NEPA helped Native American tribes and pipeline opponents secure recent victories. A federal judge decided in March that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA in granting a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and earlier this month ordered the pipeline to shut down pending an environmental review. Pipeline opponents successfully asserted in 2018 that developers of the Keystone XL pipeline violated NEPA.

While today’s changes won’t affect pipeline decisions that have already been made, environmental advocates and attorneys argue that it will become harder for people to contest a major new infrastructure project in the future.
» Read article          

Return of the Bomb Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 12, 2020

On July 6th Reuters published an article on the potential for a resurgence of moving crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota across the country by rail, due to a judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline over permit issues.

July 6th also was the 7th anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec when a train full of Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded — resulting in 47 fatalities and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic.

And while the timing was just coincidence, it is a stark reminder of the dangers of moving Bakken crude (and Canadian crude) oil by rail and the risks that a resurgence of this industry poses to the 25 million people living along the tracks these oil trains traverse.

After the Lac-Mégantic disaster, regulators in Canada and the U.S. worked to put in place new safety regulations to prevent another such disaster from happening. However, as we have documented here on DeSmog and in my book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk, the oil and rail industries have effectively blocked or forced the repeal of any meaningful safety regulations.

Regulations for modern electronically controlled pneumatic brakes were repealed by the Trump administration. State regulations to require the volatile Bakken oil to be stabilized to remove the natural gas liquids in the crude oil that make it so dangerous were overruled by the Trump administration.

There still are no regulations about rail track wear and replacement even though track failure is a leading cause of train derailments and is suspected of causing the two most recent oil train derailments that resulted in large spills and fires. There still are no regulations on the length of the trains, even though longer trains derail more often and train operators — the men and women driving the trains — say that longer trains are harder to operate.

And the new tank cars that were supposed to be safer have failed in every major oil and ethanol train derailment they have been involved in to date.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines              

DIVESTMENT

RMI bedfellows
JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs back launch of climate finance center
By Dan Ennis, Utility Dive
July 15, 2020

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy nonprofit, launched the Center for Climate-Aligned Finance on Thursday with financial backing from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs.

With the goal of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, the center aims to collaborate with banks to design guidance for working with carbon-heavy sectors such as steel or utilities, and to help banks determine which climate benchmarks and data to follow.

Banks are increasingly seeing the value — not just in optics but in revenue — of environmentally responsible investment.

Paul Bodnar, chair of the center and managing director of the institute, said the Poseidon Principles, which encourage financing of more environmentally friendly shipping vehicles, influenced the center’s creation.

“One sector provides the lifeblood that powers all the others, and that is finance,” he told American Banker.

Climate activists indicated the center is an initiative to watch.

“It could drive real steps toward banks aligning with 1.5°C,” Jason Opeña Disterhoft, senior climate and energy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement emailed to Banking Dive, referring to a goal of limiting global temperature increase. “But it could also be used as an excuse for banks to keep supporting the world’s worst climate polluters.

“The four founding partner banks include three of the top four fossil banks in the world, and together are responsible for more than $700 billion in fossil financing since Paris,” he added. “The four of them bank a clear majority of the companies doing the most to expand oil, gas and coal.”
» Read article           https://www.utilitydive.com/news/jpmorgan-bank-of-america-wells-fargo-goldman-sachs-back-launch-of-climat/581599/

» More about divestment      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

build back better
Biden’s $2 Trillion Climate Plan Promotes Union Jobs, Electric Cars and Carbon-Free Power
The former vice president linked a new green economy with America’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, saying the nation needs to “Build Back Better.”
By Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers, Ilana Cohen, Judy Fahys, and Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
July 15, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion clean economy jobs program Tuesday that marked a significant expansion in his plan for tackling climate change, with jobs-creation and environmental justice as its pillars.

With a blue “Build Back Better” placard on his lectern, the former vice president sought to signal that the coronavirus crisis will not displace the imperative to act on climate. Instead, he framed the immediate and long-term crises as linked, requiring the same sort of government intervention: a massive program to ramp up electric vehicles, carbon-free power and energy efficiency throughout the economy.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

TRACE by COP-26
The entire world’s carbon emissions will finally be trackable in real time
The new Climate TRACE Coalition is assembling the data and running the AI.
By David Roberts, Vox
July 16, 2020

There’s an old truism in the business world: what gets measured gets managed. One of the challenges in managing the greenhouse gas emissions warming the atmosphere is that they aren’t measured very well.

“Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” says Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Without this information “you cannot devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions,” she says, and “you cannot track them to see if you are making progress against your goals.”

The lack of good data also complicates international climate negotiations. “It’s frustrating that nearly three decades after countries committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to publish national GHG emissions inventories, we still don’t have recent, comprehensive, and consistent inventories for all countries,” says Taryn Fransen of the World Resources Institute.

The ultimate solution to this problem — the killer app, as it were — would be real-time tracking of all global greenhouse gases, verified by objective third parties, and available for free to the public.

When countries began meeting under the UNFCCC in the mid-1990s, that vision was speculative science fiction. It was basically regarded as science fiction when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. But science moves quickly — in particular, artificial intelligence, the ability to rapidly integrate multiple data sources, has advanced rapidly in recent years.

Now, a new alliance of climate research groups called the Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition has launched an effort to make the vision a reality, and they’re aiming to have it ready for COP26, the climate meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 (postponed from November 2020). If they pull it off, it could completely change the tenor and direction of international climate talks.
» Read article          

no peak for methane
Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High
Scientists expect emissions, driven by fossil fuels and agriculture, to continue rising rapidly.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 14, 2020

Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday.

And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects.

The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals, underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning.

“There’s a hint that we might be able to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions very soon. But we don’t appear to be even close to peak methane,” said Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford University who heads the Global Carbon Project, which conducted the research. “It isn’t going down in agriculture, it isn’t going down with fossil fuel use.”
» Read article          

number cooker
G.A.O.: Trump Boosts Deregulation by Undervaluing Cost of Climate Change
The Government Accountability Office has found that the Trump administration is undervaluing the cost of climate change to boost its deregulatory efforts.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 14, 2020

A federal report released on Tuesday found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates. Reducing that metric, known as the “social cost of carbon,” has helped the administration massage cost-benefit analyses, particularly for rules that allow power plants and automobiles to emit more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
» Read article          
» Obtain GAO report          

Maureen Raymo
She’s an Authority on Earth’s Past. Now, Her Focus Is the Planet’s Future.
The climate scientist Maureen Raymo is leading the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia. She has big plans for science, and diversity, too.
By John Schwartz, New York Times
July 10, 2020

Columbia University is taking new steps to make climate change, which has been studied there for decades, an even more prominent part of the school’s mission. And Maureen Raymo is a big part of that.

On July 1, Dr. Raymo, one of the world’s leading oceanographers and climate scientists, became interim director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Founded in 1949 and perched on hills overlooking the Hudson River 18 miles north of Manhattan, the observatory has been one of the world’s leading centers of scientific exploration into earth sciences and climate change. It was a Lamont researcher, Wallace Broecker, who brought the term “global warming” to public attention in a landmark 1975 paper.

And while there are more women represented at Lamont today than when Dr. Raymo was a graduate student there in the 1980s, she comes to her leadership position at a time when addressing other issues of diversity and equity in the field, and within the institution, is overdue.

Having experienced discrimination in her own career, she said an important way to address it is to “get into a position where you can change things.” She has dedicated fans among Lamont students, who value not just her scientific prowess but also her attention to social justice issues.
» Read article          

rescue debate
A Rescue Plan for the Planet? Watch Our Debate Here.
A virtual event with eight speakers and one question: Has Covid-19 created a blueprint for combating climate change?
By The New York Times
July 10, 2020

The devastation of Covid-19 has forced swift and startling change around the globe. To combat the coronavirus, governments poured money into rescue programs, companies adapted their goals and production, central banks permitted exceptional stimulus packages and many societies mobilized to shield the most vulnerable.

The New York Times hosted a debate on July 9, 2020, to explore the hard-earned lessons of Covid-19 and how to apply them to climate change. Have these dramatic actions against the coronavirus given us a blueprint for mobilization against climate change? Is this an opportunity for a new path forward that puts accelerated climate solutions at its center?
» Watch debate          

» More about climate               

CLEAN ENERGY

NERA path still open
FERC shuts down petition to upend net metering, McNamee signals issue could return
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 17, 2020

The New England Ratepayers Association’s (NERA) petition was opposed by a wide swath of industry leaders, environmentalists, bipartisan government officials, legal experts and others. In total, almost 50,000 groups and individuals issued comments in opposition, while just 21 supported it.

“NERA’s petition to attack rooftop solar investments and gut energy savings during a health and financial crisis was ill-conceived,” Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, said in a statement. Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors drove over 20,000 comments in opposition to the petition by the filing deadline.

FERC dismissed the NERA petition on the grounds that the group was unable to point to a particular harm.

Instead, NERA “asked the commission to make certain jurisdictional determinations regarding energy sales from rooftop solar facilities, and other distributed generation located on the customer side of the retail meter,” said Chatterjee. “Declaratory orders to terminate a controversy, or remove uncertainty, are discretionary. We exercise that discretion today and find that the issues presented in the petition do not warrant a generic statement from the commission at this time.”

But NERA saw the commission’s order and the two commissioner’s concurrence statements as a sign the issue could be raised again.

“While we are disappointed by FERC’s decision to dismiss our [p]etition on procedural grounds this issue is far from resolved,” Marc Brown, president of NERA, said in a statement. “FERC demonstrably leaves the door open for NERA to address the concerns raised by the Commissioners in its order.”
» Read article          

scripting the endgameThe Natural Gas Divide
States are confronting the future of gas in buildings — and facing a set of high-stakes questions.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
July 15, 2020

In early June, the attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, filed a petition with state utility regulators advising them to investigate the future of natural gas in the Commonwealth. Healey described the urgent need to figure out how the gas industry, which helps heat millions of homes throughout freezing Northeastern winters, fits into the state’s plan to zero-out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — especially considering the fuels burned for indoor heating and hot water are responsible for about a third of the state’s carbon footprint.

Eliminating emissions from this sector means venturing into uncharted waters. While many states are rapidly developing wind and solar farms to cut carbon from their electric grids, few are tackling the thornier challenge of reducing the gas burned in buildings. Officials in California and New York, which both have binding economy-wide net-zero emissions laws, have recently come to the same conclusion as Healey: Meeting state climate goals is going to require changes to the way gas utilities are regulated. Earlier this year, both states opened up precisely the kind of investigation that Healey is requesting in Massachusetts.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, has long been called a “bridge” to a cleaner energy future because burning it has a much lower carbon footprint than burning coal or oil. But research has called that narrative into question by showing that methane leaking across the natural gas supply chain raises its climate impact significantly. Recent developments have called the economics of natural gas into question, too: In early July, the developers of the high-profile Atlantic Coast Pipeline decided to abandon the project after an onslaught of lawsuits made the pipeline too expensive to build.

California, Massachusetts, and New York haven’t decided whether — or to what extent — natural gas can remain in their energy mixes. But the point of these investigations is much larger than those questions. There’s no established roadmap for managing the transition to zero-emissions buildings, and there are serious consequences to getting it wrong — huge cost burdens on residents, mass layoffs and bankruptcies at utilities, and of course, climate disaster.
» Read article          

pushing 2836
Massachusetts lawmakers face pressure to pass 100% renewable bill this session
Gov. Charlie Baker supports a goal of net-zero by 2050, but a growing list of stakeholders say that’s not good enough.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Timothy Vollmer, Flickr / Creative Commons
July 15, 2020

As the end of Massachusetts’ state legislative session draws near, activists, municipal officials, businesses, and civic organizations are urging lawmakers to take action on a bill that would require a 100% renewable electricity transition by 2045 — and making plans for next steps if the measure is not passed this year.

“We want to make sure that this year does not go by without strong and decisive action on clean energy at the Statehouse,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in January committed to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Many, however, argue that this target will be impossible to hit without stronger measures to accelerate the switch to renewable energy. If current standards are not changed, the transition to clean energy would not be complete until the turn of the next century.

To address this disparity, state Rep. Marjorie Decker and state Rep. Sean Garballey sponsored a bill (H.2836) that calls for all the state’s electricity to be renewably sourced by 2035, and all energy used for transportation and heating to be renewable by 2045.
» Read article          
» Read Bill H.2836

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage second life
California Awards $10.8M to Reuse EV Batteries in Solar & Microgrid Projects
By Elisa Wood, Microgrid Knowledge
July 15, 2020

The California Energy Commission (CEC) awarded $10.8 million to four projects that will explore repurposing used batteries from electric vehicles (EV), partly to support microgrids.

The awards approved in meetings in June and July stemmed from a solicitation for research and development projects showing how used batteries could cost-effectively integrate solar at small-to-medium commercial buildings.

With a goal of having 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, the commission is looking for ways to give degraded car batteries a second life. Typically, EV batteries are retired when they lose 70 percent to 80 percent of their capacity. However, they can be used for other applications like energy storage.
» Read article          

841 upheld
‘Enormous Step’ for Energy Storage as Court Upholds FERC Order 841, Opening Wholesale Markets
Federal regulators — not utilities and states — get to decide how batteries engage in transmission-scale power markets, the appeals court rules.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
July 10, 2020

In a victory for the energy storage industry, a federal appeals court has upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841, clearing the way for transmission grid operators across the country to open their markets to energy storage, including aggregated batteries connected at the distribution grid or behind customers’ meters.

Friday’s court opinion (PDF) declared that FERC has jurisdiction over how energy storage interacts with the interstate transmission markets it regulates, even if those systems are interconnected to the grid under regulations set by the states.

The court also rejected arguments by utility groups and state utility regulators seeking to opt out of allowing energy storage resources (ESRs) to participate under Order 841, which allows for units as small as 100 kilowatts to access wholesale markets.

Instead, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with FERC’s contention that “[k]eeping the gates open to all types of ESRs — regardless of their interconnection points in the electric energy systems — ensures that technological advances in energy storage are fully realized in the marketplace, and efficient energy storage leads to greater competition, thereby reducing wholesale rates.”
» Read article          
» Read the Circuit Court opinion

» More about energy storage             

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

dig this
Next Up for Electrification: Heavy-Duty Trucks and Construction Machinery
Electrified transport is not just about cars anymore, as California’s landmark Advanced Clean Trucks regulation shows.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
July 13, 2020

Electric models of work trucks, commercial vehicles, and construction machinery are hitting the market in greater numbers than ever before, and policymakers are growing increasingly optimistic about the sector. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s powerful air quality regulator, voted last month to require that every new truck sold in the state by 2045 be zero-emission, with truck makers forced to begin the transition in 2024.

Part of the challenge in electrifying transportation is simply getting enough good models on the market to attract customers and foster competition. In that realm, things are advancing: By 2023, there will be 19 all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell versions of heavy-duty trucks in production in North America, up from five Class 8 models available today, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

In Europe, meanwhile, there are early signs of progress on electrifying off-road construction equipment, with electric versions of excavators, loads and dumpers now available from a range of manufacturers including Hitachi, Komatsu and Volvo. Oslo launched the world’s first zero-emission construction site last year, and Norway’s capital city has mandated that by 2025 all public construction sites will operate only zero-emission construction machinery.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation             

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

greenwashing RNG
Report: Push for Renewable Natural Gas Is More Gas Industry ‘Greenwashing’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2020

“Renewable natural gas,” or RNG, is an alternative gas fuel that comes from landfills, manure, or synthetic processes. That’s opposed to the fossil gas that drillers traditionally pump out of underground reserves in oil and gas fields.

With “renewable” in the name, it may sound like a promising alternative to the fossil-based “natural” gas commonly used for heating and cooking in buildings. According to a new report from Earthjustice and Sierra Club, however, these fuels pitched as “renewable ” and environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil gas amount to a PR campaign meant to distract from efforts to convert the building sector to all electric power.

The report, published July 14, argues that RNG is an example of fossil fuel industry greenwashing and is not a viable solution for simply replacing fossil gas in buildings. According to the report, RNG is touted by gas utilities for the purpose of countering building electrification policies that restrict the use of gas in buildings for uses like heating, hot water, and cooking. Converting buildings to all-electric usage is recognized as a key climate strategy to shift away from fossil fuels, because electricity can be generated from a variety of sources that do not produce globe-warming emissions.
» Read article          
» Read the report

MDC methane leak
Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears
Oil and gas companies are hurtling toward bankruptcy, raising fears that wells will be left leaking planet-warming pollutants, with cleanup cost left to taxpayers.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2020

Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up.

Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.

The industry’s decline may be just beginning. Almost 250 oil and gas companies could file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next year, more than the previous five years combined, according to Rystad Energy, an analytics company. Rystad analysts now expect oil demand will begin falling permanently by decade’s end as renewable energy costs decline, energy efficiency improves, and efforts to fight climate change diminish an industry that has spent the past decade drilling thousands of wells, transforming the United States into the biggest oil producer in the world.

The environmental consequences of the industry’s collapse would be severe.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels                   

BIOMASS

pellet boom
The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.
Trump’s EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring burning biomass to be carbon neutral, as industry looks to expand its domestic markets.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
July 13, 2020

In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them.

On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia.

While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it’s still boom time.

The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of the U.S. Congress, is expected to propose securing that loophole with a new rule that details how burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, at least in the United States.

The industry wants to see regulations that will keep their businesses growing, including expanding U.S. energy markets that now barely exist. But some scientists and environmental groups argue that new EPA rules that are favorable to the industry would put the climate at further risk, along with forest ecosystems across biologically rich landscapes.
» Read article        

» More about biomass              

PLASTIC BAG BANS

reusable bags OK again in MA
Environmental groups hail Baker’s lift on reusable bags, and plastic bag ban suspension
By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
July 11, 2020

Shoppers once again can bring their own reusable bags to grocery stores and pharmacies and no longer will have the option to use single-use plastic bags in places with municipal bans on them.

Environmental groups are thrilled. They have been wary of what they say is an opportunistic plastics industry that, early on, used the coronavirus pandemic to stoke fear about the safety of reusable bags in an attempt to kill plastic bag bans.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday rescinded his March 10 emergency order that temporarily lifted the ban on plastic bags supplied in stores to protect the public and essential workers from infection with the coronavirus, back when there was less certainty about the risk of catching the virus from touching surfaces.
» Read article       

» More about plastic bans             

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

serious situation
‘Our life is plasticized’: New research shows microplastics in our food, water, air
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
July 15, 2020

In 1997, Charles Moore was sailing a catamaran from Hawaii to California when he and his crew got stuck in windless waters in the North Pacific Ocean. As they motored along, searching for a breeze to fill their sails, Moore noticed that the ocean was speckled with “odd bits and flakes,” as he describes it in his book, Plastic Ocean. It was plastic: drinking bottles, fishing nets, and countless pieces of broken-down objects.

“It wasn’t an eureka moment … I didn’t come across a mountain of trash,” Moore told Mongabay. “But there was this feeling of unease that this material had got [as] far from human civilization as it possibly could.”

Moore, credited as the person who discovered what’s now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, returned to the same spot two years later on a citizen science mission. When he and his crew collected water samples, they found that, along with larger “macroplastics,” the seawater was swirling with tiny plastic particles: microplastics, which are defined as anything smaller than 5 millimeters but bigger than 1 micron, which is 1/1000th of a millimeter. Microplastics can form when larger pieces of plastics break down into small particles, or when tiny, microscopic fibers detach from polyester clothing or synthetic fishing gear. Other microplastics are deliberately manufactured, such as the tiny plastic beads in exfoliating cleaners.

“That’s when we really had the eureka moment,” Moore said. “When we pulled in that first trawl, which was outside of what we thought was going to be the center [of the gyre], and found it was full of plastic. Then we realized, ‘Wow, this is a serious situation.’”

Plastic waste isn’t just leaking into the ocean; it’s also polluting freshwater systems and even raining or snowing down from the sky after getting absorbed into the atmosphere, according to another study led by Steve and Deonie Allen. With microplastics being so ubiquitous, it should come as no surprise that they are also present in the food and water we drink.
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