Tag Archives: Brookline

Weekly News Check-In 3/4/22

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Welcome back.

The courts have become ground zero for actions that either attack or defend the fossil fuel industry and the polluting economy it supports. We found important stories describing skirmishes from both sides of the fight. On one hand, Honolulu can proceed with a lawsuit that seeks compensation for climate-related damage from the oil majors who lied and concealed the dangers for decades. Sadly, a case before the strongly conservative US Supreme Court could shield the fossil and utility industries from regulation and stymie government efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities and towns fighting hard to implement gas hookup bans are meeting stiff resistance from entrenched utilities and a sluggish regulatory apparatus. In Massachusetts, the green economic boost promised by offshore wind development can’t be taken for granted – and the state is looking at adjusting some incentives.

This week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dropped a devastating climate assessment, stating clearly that humanity has already crossed into unsafe territory, and laying out the scale of suffering we’re sleepwalking into through lack of effective action. Our second article in this section is a case in point. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, only 6% of pandemic recovery funds have been spent on “green” projects. At the same time, half that amount went to propping up fossil fuels. In light of the IPCC report, that represents a colossal failure of leadership and political will during a time when “build back better” became a ubiquitous slogan. Looking at you, G20 nations, and cutting you no slack here.

As horrible as it is, Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine and its attempt to use oil and gas to dampen European resistance, seems to have finally afforded some of those leaders a near-term threat that could result in a real, concerted move toward clean energy. Closer to home, we’re waiting to see if this urgency starts affecting decisions and policies that were already underway as the invasion unfolded. That includes a lackluster attempt by Massachusetts’ Baker administration to improve its “stretch” building energy code even as new affordable housing units are showing the way with Passive House performance. And witness the US Post Office’s clueless insistence on committing much of its huge fleet of new delivery vehicles to burning gasoline for decades to come.

Checking in on the power sector, we have a report showing that electric utilities are underestimating the cost of carbon and climate change, which makes renewables and batteries less attractive investments. Similarly, gas utilities are using pretzel logic to rationalize any moves that disrupt their traditional model of pushing fuel through pipelines to flames. It’s no secret that utilities spend lots of money on lobbying efforts to protect their perceived interests. Now fourteen states are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency to prevent them recouping those costs from ratepayers.

We’ve been watching developments in cryptocurrency because of the astonishing amount of energy “mining” it consumes. While some miners use surplus, or “stranded” renewable energy whenever possible, a new study examining the effect of China’s recent action to expel bitcoin mining concludes the net result is a heavier dependence on fossil-generated power.

We’ll wrap up with the very positive news that delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) drafted an international agreement on plastics that includes a broad definition of the problem. It would control pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal. There’s much to be done before this agreement is enforceable, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Underscoring the urgency to reduce plastics usage and waste is a warning that burning plastics in waste-to-energy facilities could be creating new and powerful greenhouse gases.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Honolulu flooded street
‘Historic First’ as Hawaii Court OKs Lawsuit Against Big Oil
“This development should send a message to communities across the country that the legal case for making polluters pay for lying about fossil-fueled damages is strong and defensible.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 3, 2022

Climate campaigners and local officials this week are celebrating a major series of victories in Hawaii state court rejecting Big Oil’s attempts to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the the City and County of Honolulu.

“This is a big and important win,” said Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters in a statement. “Not only in the sense of legal justice, but also for our local residents.”

“We are facing incredible costs to move critical infrastructure away from our coasts and out of flood zones,” he continued, “and the oil companies that deceived the public for decades should be the ones helping pick up the tab for those costs—not our taxpayers.”

Waters declared that “the reason these companies are fighting so hard to block this case is they don’t want even more evidence to come out. This is just like Big Tobacco, when they tried to take advantage of the public.”

Honolulu’s lawsuit—filed in 2020 against oil giants including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell—claims that despite knowing for decades that their products heat the planet, which “could be catastrophic,” and there was limited time to act, the companies “engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort” to deny the threats, discredit the science, and deceive the public “about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article          

Harrison power station
US supreme court signals it may restrict EPA’s ability to fight climate crisis
Roberts suggests states could claim harm from laws not yet enacted
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 28, 2022

Several conservative justices on the US supreme court signaled on Monday that they may be willing to restrict the federal government’s ability to address the climate crisis.

In a case that could have profound implications for those affected by the crisis, the supreme court considered an argument brought by West Virginia, a major coal mining state, that the US Environmental Protection Agency be limited in how it regulates planet-heating gases from the energy sector.

The Biden administration wants the court to throw out the case as baseless because it doesn’t relate to any existing regulation.

But John Roberts, the chief justice, said West Virginia and other states could still claim some “harm” from rules not yet enacted.

[…]The case has deeply worried environmental groups, stoking fear it could hobble any effort to set strict limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired plants.

“It was grotesque to hear big coal’s lawyers argue for tying EPA’s hands on cutting climate-heating pollution, even as the world’s scientists warn of a bigger, worsening swath of human suffering,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, referring to a report released on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We’re out of time and the president must act boldly now,” Rylander said.

The Biden administration is already dealing with congressional refusal to enact the climate change proposals in its Build Better Back domestic spending plan. Now the justices are taking up an appeal from 19 mostly Republican-led states and coal companies over whether the EPA has the authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

GAS BANS

not yet Brookline
Brookline wants a fossil fuel-free future. With latest ruling, the AG says: Not yet (again).
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 25, 2022

In a move widely seen as a setback for cities and towns hoping to accelerate their climate efforts, Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday ruled that the Town of Brookline’s efforts to use zoning bylaws to stop fossil fuels in new buildings violated state law.

This is the second time that Healey’s office has ruled against Brookline’s attempts to stop fossil fuels, and the latest stumbling block has climate advocates wondering: If this can’t happen here, in progressive Massachusetts, where a strong climate law is on the books, will it be able to happen at a fast enough pace anywhere to stave off the worst of climate change?

“When you say that local governments aren’t allowed to try these novel but fully lawful approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, you’re not only preventing the local government from responding to the direct needs of their residents but also from perhaps developing a new model for their neighbors to start adopting as well,” said Amy Turner, a senior fellow for the Cities Climate Law Initiative at Columbia University’s Sabin Center.

This years-long effort by Brookline has been watched all over the country, and particularly in Massachusetts, as cities and towns try to step up the pace of climate action on a local level, even as states lag behind.

In Brookline, the decision felt devastating to the town meeting members behind the effort, which had been approved at a Town Meeting in July by a margin of 206 to 6.

“It feels like I’m a child whose parents have gone out of their way not to give me permission to clean my own room,” said Jesse Gray, one of the petitioners behind Brookline’s efforts. “We need to do this to meet the state’s own climate goals, but what they have made abundantly clear is that they are not going to allow any municipality to do this, even though it’s a basic and necessary and urgent climate step.”

The decision from Healey’s office in many ways echoed what the residents of Brookline — and the many other cities and towns hoping to follow in its footsteps — have heard before: that while the office agrees with the principal of what Brookline wants to do, state law won’t allow it.

Noting that her office has “prioritized the state’s transition away from polluting fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future,” Healey said in a statement her hands were tied by state law.

[…]There are now 30 Massachusetts towns that—like Brookline—have said they want to ban fossil fuels. While Friday’s decision represents a setback for them, a few other avenues remain. Currently, Brookline and four other communities (Acton, Arlington, Concord, and Lexington) have home rule petitions being considered by the legislature, which—if passed—would allow the towns to pass fossil fuel bans for new construction.

“When you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging,” said state Representative Tommy Vitolo of Brookline. “We must find other policy mechanisms to prevent us from digging ourselves a climate change hole from which we can’t escape.”
» Read article          

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

gravity shift
In race for offshore wind jobs, Mass. is falling behind. So now what?
Lawmakers pitch changes to how the state awards wind farm leases in bid to compete with neighbors to the south.
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
March 2, 2022

If anyone should be trying to build wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts, it’s Ørsted.

The Danish energy company happens to be the world’s biggest developer of offshore wind farms. Its largest US office is here in Boston. And it controls a big stretch of the sea near Martha’s Vineyard, with high winds and relatively shallow waters that make it an ideal place to put up turbine towers.

But Ørsted and its local development partner Eversource steered clear of competing in the state’s third round of bidding for wind energy contracts last year. So did Equinor, another European energy company with a big lease area south of the Vineyard. Their big reason? A price cap baked into state law that requires each bid to be lower than the winning bids in the previous rounds. It’s a rule designed to keep prices under control for consumers. But it threatens Massachusetts’ early lead in a nascent but quickly growing sector, and the on-shore jobs and factories it could bring.

The stakes seem to get higher almost by the month. The race is on for the wind industry thanks to generous federal tax credits, a pro-wind president in the White House, and states along the East Coast putting contracts out to bid to finance these multibillion-dollar projects. Just last week, wind-farm development teams ponied up more than $4 billion, just for the rights to build in federal waters southeast of New York City. The industry’s center of gravity sure seems to be shifting — away from us.

Many lawmakers on Beacon Hill want to make sure Massachusetts doesn’t fall any further behind.

Toward that end, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Representative Jeff Roy, co-chairman of the Legislature’s energy committee, teed up a pro-wind bill for a floor debate on Thursday. The bill would establish new offshore-wind tax incentives, and rework who gets to pick the winners in these contract competitions. It gives economic development such as factories that create long-term jobs a greater weight in future bids, and allows more input from commercial fishermen concerned about the potential navigation hazards posed by these giant towers.

And, perhaps most notably, the bill would remove that controversial price cap.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hot already
IPCC Risk Analysis Shows Safe Limits Have Already Been Passed
By Tim Radford, The Energy Mix
March 2, 2022

Humankind is not just heading for a more dangerous future: for some people, the safe limits have already been passed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows in its climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability report this week.

Global supplies of food became more precarious a few years ago when the planet’s average temperature increased by 1°C: the risk of possible famine however is classed as moderate, the report states. But if the thermometer rises by 2.5°C, the risk to communities, regions, and whole nations becomes high, as harvests fail and flocks perish.

Food is inseparable from water supply. Right now, 800 million people experience chronic water scarcity. But if the temperature notches up to 2°C this figure reaches three billion, at 4°C, around four billion people will be in trouble. And that’s a calculation that factors in only the present population of the globe, and only the effects of climate change.

But of course that calculation does not and cannot incorporate the other hazards that come with a soaring mercury: the advance of tropical diseases; the chance of displaced, impoverished and malnourished people on the move; the arrival of new crop pests; and the risk of conflict fuelled by drought or heat. Not to mention the damage to natural ecosystems on which all human health and wealth ultimately depend as the insects that pollinate human crops, or dispose of waste, are winnowed at ever-higher temperatures.
» Read article         
» Read the IPCC report

SA coal power station
Only 6% of G20 pandemic recovery spending ‘green’, analysis finds
Review of G20 fiscal stimulus spending counters many countries’ pledges to ‘build back better’
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 2, 2022

Only about 6% of pandemic recovery spending has been “green”, an analysis of the $14tn that G20 countries have poured into economic stimulus.

Additionally, about 3% of the record amounts governments around the world have spent to rescue the global economy from the Covid-19 pandemic has been spent on activities that will increase carbon emissions, such as subsidies to coal, and will do little to reduce greenhouse gases or shift the world to a low-carbon footing.

The analysis of the G20 fiscal stimulus spending, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, belies claims many governments made of a “green recovery” that would “build back better” from upheavals caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.

It comes just after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued “the bleakest warning yet” of the ravages of climate breakdown already under way, warning only urgent action to cut emissions could stave off the worst outcomes.

Jonas Nahm, assistant professor in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US and lead author of the study, said governments had missed a vital opportunity, but there were still ways to improve the situation.

“The spending directed towards economic recovery could have significantly improved our chances of staying within 1.5C [of global heating] and we’ve collectively missed that opportunity,” he told the Guardian. “It’s disappointing that governments have yet to fully grasp that economic growth, prosperity and emissions reductions are actually complementary.”
» Read article          

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

coal complication
Ukraine war prompts European reappraisal of its energy supplies
Analysis: Russian invasion could speed up renewables transition – or lead to disastrous return to coal
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 4, 2022

Vladimir Putin is using Russia’s hold over fossil fuel supplies to Europe as “a political and economic weapon” in the war in Ukraine, the world’s foremost energy adviser has said, presenting western governments with crucial questions over how they face down the threat to democracy while also heading off climate disaster.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said: “Nobody is under any illusions any more. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon shows Europe needs to act quickly to be ready to face considerable uncertainty over Russian gas supplies next winter.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted European governments, including the UK’s, to make a frantic reappraisal of their energy supplies – one that arguably should have come much sooner. The first outcome has been a fresh resolve in some countries – including from the UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng – to push for more renewable energy generation and energy efficiency to cut dependence on fossil fuels.

Kwarteng’s intervention – “The long-term solution is obvious: gas is more expensive than renewable energy, so we need to move away from gas,” he tweeted – was unexpectedly firm, cheering green campaigners who had feared that rightwing voices in the Tory party who have sought to make scrapping the net zero target a “culture war” issue were in the ascendant.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “Kwasi Kwarteng has clocked it. Our dependence on gas is a problem, and warmer homes powered by renewables are the cheapest and quickest solution. Kwarteng must convince chancellor Rishi Sunak that we need a masterplan, and the money to get the UK off gas. We need to insulate our homes, roll out heat pumps and renewable power to rapidly address Putin’s grip on European gas markets, our sky-high energy bills, and the climate crisis unfolding before our eyes.”
» Read article          

renewable Europe
This is how we defeat Putin and other petrostate autocrats
After Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, America turned its industrial prowess to building tanks, bombers and destroyers. Now, we must respond with renewables
By Bill McKibben, The Guardian | Opinion
February 25, 2022

The pictures this morning of Russian tanks rolling across the Ukrainian countryside seemed both surreal – a flashback to a Europe that we’ve seen only in newsreels – and inevitable. It’s been clear for years that Vladimir Putin was both evil and driven and that eventually we might come to a moment like this.

One of the worst parts of facing today’s reality is our impotence in its face. Yes, America is imposing sanctions, and yes, that may eventually hamper Putin. But the Russian leader made his move knowing we could not actually fight him in Ukraine – and indeed knowing that his hinted willingness to use nuclear weapons will make it hard to fight him anywhere, though one supposes we will have no choice if he attacks a Nato member.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to dramatically reduce Putin’s power. One way, in particular: to get off oil and gas.

This is not a “war for oil and gas” in the sense that too many of America’s Middle East misadventures might plausibly be described. But it is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we can’t fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas.

Russia has a pathetic economy – you can verify that for yourself by looking around your house and seeing how many of the things you use were made within its borders. Today, 60% of its exports are oil and gas; they supply the money that powers the country’s military machine.

And, alongside that military machine, control of oil and gas supplies is Russia’s main weapon. They have, time and again, threatened to turn off the flow of hydrocarbons to western Europe.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

State House dome
2 senators say proposed building code comes up short
Urge Baker to allow communities to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure
By Colin A. Young, CommonWealth Magazine
March 2, 2022

AS THE DEPARTMENT of Energy Resources launches hearings on its straw proposal for a stretch code update and a new municipal opt-in specialized stretch code, two key senators made clear to Commissioner Patrick Woodcock that they expect “substantial revisions” to the proposals before they take effect later this year.

Sens. Michael Barrett and Cynthia Creem, the chairs of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and Senate Committee on Global Warming, told Woodcock in a letter released Tuesday that the suite of state code changes the administration hopes will encourage builders to shift from fossil fuel heating in favor of electrification “comes up short” and took issue with the way DOER scheduled the five statutorily required public hearings.

“The straw proposal bars a city or town from mandating all-electric new construction, even after local officials allow for vigorous analysis and debate. For municipalities in Massachusetts and other progressive states, all-electric construction is the favored strategy for decarbonizing new buildings. Barring communities from employing it would be a significant setback,” the senators said. They added, “Bottom line: Despite its unequivocal support of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050, despite the special challenges of reducing emissions in buildings, and despite having been given a full 18 months by the Legislature to do its work, the Baker administration has proposed a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that comes up short.”

Updating the existing stretch code and creating a new net-zero specialized stretch code for cities and towns to adopt is one step lawmakers required in last year’s climate roadmap law to move Massachusetts towards net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. The law requires the new net-zero code be in place by the end of 2022.
» Read article          

Harbor Village
Incentives inform and inspire highly efficient affordable housing in Massachusetts
Passive house incentive programs from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Mass Save have sparked the growth of high-performance multifamily buildings, with thousands more units in development.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 2, 2022

A pair of statewide incentive programs in Massachusetts is driving a surge of apartment buildings designed to the highly energy-efficient passive house standard.

In the past year, families have moved into 257 affordable housing units in complexes built to the standard, and about 6,000 additional units are now in various stages of development.

Early numbers indicate that this building approach costs, on average, less than 3% more than conventional construction and can slash energy use roughly in half. Air quality is higher in these buildings and residents report the units being more comfortable to live in. Many developers who have tried passive house building have been so pleased with the benefits for residents that they are eager to pursue more projects built to the standard.

“We’re getting closer and closer to the mainstream,” said Aaron Gunderson, executive director of Passive House Massachusetts. “The incentives help people get over that initial hesitancy to change and, once they discover what passive house is, there’s no looking back.”

Passive house is a performance standard that calls for a drastic reduction of energy consumption as compared to a similar, conventionally designed structure. Buildings that meet the standard have airtight envelopes, insulating windows, and continually insulated exterior walls.
» Blog editor’s note: an airtight building envelope sounds suffocating, but these buildings are very well ventilated with fresh air, using efficient energy recovery ventilator (ERV) systems that filter, reduce heat loss, and control humidity.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS inertia
The Challenges of an Electric-Vehicle Revolution
The United States Postal Service could lead by example with its new fleet of delivery trucks. What’s standing in the way?
By Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic
February 18, 2022

Judging by the ads during last weekend’s Super Bowl, electric vehicles are poised to imminently dislodge gasoline-powered cars and trucks from their privileged place on America’s roadways.

An escalating dispute among President Joe Biden’s administration, congressional Democrats, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over modernizing the Postal Service’s vehicle fleet shows why the transition may not come quite that quickly. As soon as next week, the Postal Service may place the first order in a multibillion-dollar contract meant to ensure that it relies mostly on gas-powered vehicles until the middle of this century.

The Postal Service’s decision underscores how the transition to an electric-vehicle, or EV, future still faces powerful headwinds from inertia, the lure of the familiar, technological questions about the electric alternatives, and ideological resistance to disconnecting from fossil fuels. Though Democrats still hope to reverse the decision, the struggle with the Postal Service suggests that there are still many bumps ahead on the road to an electrified future for the nation’s cars and trucks.

[…]“All of the companies are struggling with their desire to continue making the gas-guzzling behemoths on which they know how to make money and to avoid having to make the electric vehicles, which they know are the future,” [Dan Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity] said.

The battle over modernizing the Postal Service fleet encapsulates many of these tensions between holding on to the familiar and leaping into the new.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

dome
14 states urge FERC to tighten accounting rules to prevent utilities from recouping lobbying expenses
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 23, 2022

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, FERC in December issued a “notice of inquiry” (NOI) to see if it should revise its accounting rules related to utility payments of trade association dues.

Under FERC’s accounting rules, association dues are considered “presumptively” recoverable, but the commission doesn’t allow expenses related to lobbying, influencing the public, or political activity to be recovered in rates.

In a first-ever lobbying disclosure report, EEI on Tuesday said its “core” budget for this year is $58.9 million. E9 Insight, a Boulder, Colorado-based consulting firm, estimated utility holding companies spent at least $91.6 million on trade association dues last year.

At a minimum, FERC should require utilities to substantiate their requests for recovery of industry association dues with breakdowns of the trade groups’ activities and clear connections showing how they benefit ratepayers, agencies from nine states said in joint comments.

“Showing that an industry association provides some services that benefit ratepayers should not create a presumption that all dues paid to the industry association are paid for ratepayers’ benefit,” the agencies said. They included the California Public Utilities Commission, the Connecticut attorney general and the Oregon attorney general, among others.

In their comments, the state agencies pointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in December to overturn FERC’s finding that Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) could recover about $6 million in expenses related to public relations.

“The disputed funds were paid to public relations contractors who hired ‘reliable power coalitions’ that would recruit individuals to testify before the state PUCs in support of PATH’s applications for necessary certificates; polled public opinion of the project; ran promotional advertisements; and sent lobbyists to persuade state officials that the certificates should be granted,” the state agencies said.
» Read article          

» More about FERC

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

IOUs too slow
Investor-owned utilities underestimate potential costs of carbon, climate change, Deloitte finds
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
February 24, 2022

Although most investor-owned utilities have set targets for decarbonization, many have also under-estimated the cost of failing to accelerate their decarbonization efforts, according to a new report from Deloitte.

Based on public filings, utilities anticipate a price of carbon in the range of $3-55 per metric ton by 2030, and $60-120 per metric ton by 2050. However, last March, Wood Mackenzie estimated that the price of carbon could run as high as $160 per metric ton by 2030 if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The potential costs to utilities will likely escalate if action is delayed, according to Jim Thomson, vice chair, U.S. power, utilities and renewables leader for Deloitte. Utilities will need to work with regulators to deploy needed adaptations in time, he said.

Utilities in the northeastern U.S. have made the most progress toward decarbonization, while the Midwest and the South currently face the largest gap between current plans and global climate ambitions, according to the report. These two regions also face the greatest potential costs in the event of inaction. Climate change could cost individual Midwestern utilities $2.5 billion annually, while Southern utilities face $3.6 billion in potential annual costs, according to Deloitte.

While many utilities have plans to achieve decarbonization by 2050, moving the target to 2035 could result in considerable savings for utilities by reducing risks associated with carbon taxation, penalties for emissions noncompliance and lost investment opportunities, Thomson said. It would also reduce the probability of extreme weather events, which would further reduce costs—and the savings could be rolled over into additional adaptation and grid hardening efforts, he said.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities

GAS UTILITIES

build back fossil free
Berkshire Gas sees natural gas as part of its plan to meet state climate goals. Some observers disagree
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 27, 2022

Asked how it will help meet Massachusetts climate goals, Berkshire Gas said natural gas will remain a key part of its plans.

Consultants contracted by Berkshire Gas and other Massachusetts utilities released a draft report on Feb. 15 detailing possible strategies.

Based on that report and the stakeholder process, Berkshire Gas concluded in a Feb. 15 document that “all scenarios taken together, including qualitative and feasibility considerations, envision an important role for natural gas in the energy transition.”

Observers who have followed the process continue to voice one central concern. While the changes being floated continue to rely on burning gas, they wanted the process, which Attorney General Maura Healey requested in June 2020, to look at how companies could shift to a business model built around electrification.

[…]Berkshire Gas lists its proposals as consumer education, energy efficiency, electrification, low-carbon fuel growth, renewable electricity, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, and developing technologies.

The reliance on “decarbonized” gases, which refer to synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, gives the appearance of a dog and pony show to Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

“You can’t call something ‘decarbonized’ that’s still got carbon in it,” Winn said. “It’s as bad as calling it ‘natural’ gas to make it sound good.”

[…]Climate groups have called for utilities to move toward electrification using solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower instead.

Researchers have debated the merits of synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas. William Moomaw, a former International Panel on Climate Change scientist who now lives in Williamstown, has said he believes that leaning on those gases, which all emit greenhouse gases when burned, delays an inevitable transition.

[…]Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass. program, said she wants [Attorney General] Healey or the Department of Utilities to reject the report and ask the companies to start from scratch.

“They should say, ‘Well, sorry. It didn’t hit the mark. You’re going to have to do it again,’ ” Wessel said.

Critics have argued that allowing the companies to hire and select the consultants gave them inordinate power over a process meant to change the industry.

[…]While the companies plan to file another three-year plan in 2024, Wessel said she believes the companies have delayed changes.

“This could just turn into a perpetual exercise without a lot of results, where every time they’ll look at it again, and it’ll be the same sort of stall tactic that we’re seeing here,” she said. “They really need to develop new business models, and they have failed to do that.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft report         
» Read the Berkshire Gas overview

» More about gas utilities

CRYPTOCURRENCY

bitcoin mining farm
Bitcoin mining is ‘less green than ever’ after leaving China
Miners lost a key source of renewable energy
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 28, 2022

Bitcoin’s carbon dioxide pollution has gotten even worse since China ousted Bitcoin miners last year, according to a new analysis. It’s likely the result of Bitcoin miners substituting China’s abundant hydropower with coal and gas, experts say.

“We actually see Bitcoin becoming less green than ever before,” says Alex de Vries, lead author of the analysis published last week in the journal Joule. That directly counters continued claims by industry groups that renewable energy would clean up Bitcoin’s operations.

The new report shows that the Bitcoin boom is becoming a bigger problem for the world’s efforts to eliminate fossil fuel pollution. Mining bans, like the one China put in place last year, don’t seem to be very effective in curbing emissions, de Vries points out, because miners can easily find cheap, dirty energy elsewhere.

Bitcoin currently has a carbon footprint comparable to the Czech Republic’s, according to de Vries’ estimate. The cryptocurrency generates so many greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the super energy-hungry process of mining new coins. Miners essentially race to solve ever-more-complex puzzles in order to verify transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain, receiving new coins as a reward. The hardware they use to solve those puzzles burns through vast amounts of electricity (and also adds to the world’s growing e-waste problem).

China was home to over 70 percent of the world’s Bitcoin mining operations until the country kicked them out in 2021, purportedly in part because of environmental concerns.
» Read article         
» Read the analysis

» More about crypto       

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

road hogs
Latest energy wake-up call: How long must we depend on autocratic petro-states?
By Andreas Karelas, The Hill | Opinion
March 2, 2022

As Americans navigate through politically divisive times, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted a clear area of consensus across the aisle: We need to move past our addiction to foreign oil. The only divergence seems to be how. But the “how” is not rocket science. It’s time to say goodbye to fossil fuels once and for all. Hopefully, this latest threat to global energy supply will inspire us to act, and act swiftly.

Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Dallas Goldtooth tweeted “I know the reasons for the #UkraineCrisis are complicated. But it would be remiss of us to not mention how energy is a factor in this invasion. In some ways the conflict is being driven, literally and figuratively, with hands lathered in oil and gas.”

Given the latest shock to world energy markets due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world is once again waking up to the realities of dependence on foreign despots for energy. Of course, you don’t have to look back too far to recall similar episodes.

Many have argued the Iraq war was motivated in part to keep Iraqi oil flowing to international markets. Before that, the oil shocks of the 1970s spurred President Carter to call for reduced energy usage and to put solar panels on the White House. But once the gas flowed again and the pressure at the pump eased, President Regan took the solar panels off the roof and called for more business as usual, which decades later has come back to haunt us.

All the presidents since, Republican and Democrat alike, have called for ending our addiction to foreign oil, and while some have tinkered in the margins, none of their policies have ever moved the needle.

The U.S. military alone spends $81 billion a year protecting oil shipping lanes and keeping troops in oil-producing regions. This not-too-often spoken about subsidy for giant fossil fuel companies allows them to continue doing business in, supporting and legitimizing, what are often authoritarian ruled petro-states, not friendly to the U.S. and its allies, through taxpayer dollars and tragically, American lives.
» Read article          

big gas station
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left a hole in the global energy market
Will countries fill it with more oil and gas, or with renewables?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
February 28, 2022

On Thursday, as bombs fell on major cities in Ukraine and families sheltered in homes, subway stations, and parking garages, global energy prices spiked. For the first time since 2014, crude oil prices surged to over $100. The cost of European natural gas, which has already been at record highs since last summer, increased by almost 20 percent in a single day.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a shock to a global fossil fuel system that has been on edge for the past year. Russia is the world’s largest natural gas and second-largest oil exporter, and provides 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas supply. (One expert wryly referred to the country as “one big gas station.”) If flows of oil and natural gas from the country are disrupted, the entire world could end up paying more for energy at a time when economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is increasing demand.

There are also questions about whether the war and resulting spike in energy prices will accelerate — or disrupt — the process of shifting to cleaner sources of energy. The conflict and prior energy crunch have exposed the fragility of relying on fossil fuels, especially from foreign powers. But as prices climb, will countries shore up their domestic supplies with fossil fuels or renewables?

In the U.S., some fossil fuel companies and lobbyists are seizing on the crisis to encourage expanded oil and gas production. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute — an oil and gas industry group — urged President Joe Biden to accelerate permitting for fossil fuel infrastructure and allow for more oil and gas development on public lands. “As crisis looms in Ukraine, U.S. energy leadership is more important than ever,” the group tweeted. Republicans in Congress have similarly called on the president to reverse his “war on American energy” and boost fossil fuel production in response to the situation in Ukraine. (While Biden has halted new oil and gas leasing on public lands, he has still allowed substantial drilling during his term.)
» Read article          

over a barrel
US fossil fuel industry leaps on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to argue for more drilling
Petroleum lobby calls for looser regulation and drilling on public lands to ‘ensure energy security’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 26, 2022

The US oil and gas industry is using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration to throw open more land and ocean for domestic drilling and to loosen regulations for large companies attempting to ramp up their fossil fuel extraction.

Just hours before Russian troops began their unprovoked assault on Ukraine, the American Petroleum Institute (API) posted a string of tweets calling for the White House to “ensure energy security at home and abroad” by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands, extend drilling in US waters and slash regulations faced by fossil fuel firms.

API, which represents oil giants including Exxon, Chevron and Shell, has called on Biden to allow an expansion of drilling and to drop regulations that impede new gas pipelines in order to help reduce fuel costs for Americans and support European countries that have seen gas costs spiral due to concerns over supply from Russia, which provides Europe with around a third of its gas.

“At a time of geopolitical strife, America should deploy its ample energy abundance – not restrict it,” said Mike Sommers, the chief executive of API. Sommers added that Biden was “needlessly choking our own plentiful supply” of fossil fuels.

Some leading Republicans have joined the calls. “No administration should defend a Russian pipeline instead of refilling ours,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, told her state’s legislature this week. “Every day, I remind the Biden administration of the immense benefits of Alaska production, energy and minerals alike, and every day I remind them that refusing to permit those activities can have harmful consequences.”

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the renewed push for more drilling, accusing proponents of cynically using the deadly Ukrainian crisis to benefit large corporations and worsen the climate crisis.

“Expanding oil and gas production now would do nothing to impact short term prices and would only accelerate the climate crisis, which already poses a major threat to our national security,” said Lena Moffitt, chief of staff at Evergreen Action, a climate group. “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and stand opposed to actions by leaders of the fossil fuel industry that attempt to profit off of these harrowing atrocities.”
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuel

WASTE INCINERATION

seven six five four
Combustion of plastics could be creating a surge in waste-to-energy plants’ climate emissions
Incineration of plastics containing “forever chemicals” could be generating potent greenhouse gas emissions, but testing methods are not yet in place.
By Marina Schauffler, Energy News Network
February 25, 2022

How much does household waste fuel the climate crisis? Official numbers suggest a small role, but the full contribution is not yet known — even by regulators and scientists.

As New England states work to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and heating, little attention goes to landfills and municipal solid waste, or “waste-to-energy,” incinerators. Combined, those sources typically represent 5% or less of each state’s total emissions, and they get scarce mention in climate action plans.

But growing volumes of plastics in the waste stream complicate incinerator emissions accounting. Less than 9% of plastics are recycled, and global plastic production is expected to double by 2040.

Plastic combustion produces many more byproducts than the three greenhouse gases that most incinerators report annually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane.

Some chemical compounds in plastics don’t appear to degrade during incineration, while others break down partially and recombine, potentially forming potent and enduring greenhouse gases — compounds that are thousands of times more effective at trapping heat than CO2  and can linger in the atmosphere for millennia.

Scientists do not yet know the scale of the problem, but a growing body of research suggests that even small amounts of these powerful warming agents could have a significant impact.

The Northeast is home to roughly half of the nation’s 75 waste-to-energy  incinerators, most of which were constructed in the 1980s and are now passing their expected 30-year lifespans.

These facilities typically operate around the clock, feeding waste into boilers that generate steam to produce electricity and that release pollutants in the form of gaseous emissions, fly ash, bottom ash and leachate.

Far more waste is burned in the Northeast than the EPA’s national estimate of 12%. Maine, for example, burns 34% of its municipal waste, Massachusetts 71% and Connecticut 80%.
» Read article          

» More about waste incineration

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Juhu beach
For the First Time, Nations Band Together in a Move Toward Ending Plastics Pollution
A United Nations resolution embraces a broad definition of the problem that encompasses the life-cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
March 3, 2022

A United Nations gathering in Kenya on Wednesday set the world on track to forge for the first time a legally binding global agreement to curb plastic pollution.

The language in a resolution adopted, to a standing ovation, by delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) gave environmental advocates much of what they were looking for: a broad definition of the problem to include pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal.

There are still a lot of contentious details to navigate, including financial and compliance issues that are only hinted at in the resolution. And the petrochemical and plastics industries are expected to fight any efforts by governments to slow down plastics production.

But against the backdrop of what U.N. officials described as a “triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution,” the assembly’s decision marks the beginning of an official process over the next two years to negotiate a treaty aimed at ending global plastics waste. It establishes a formal negotiating committee that will begin meeting later this year, focused on plastics pollution in marine and other environments, including the tiny bits of plastics debris known as microplastics.

“We are making history today and you should all be proud,” Espen Barth Eide, the assembly’s president and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, said after declaring the adoption of the resolution without any dissent.

Moments later, Monica P. Medina of the State Department, the U.S. representative at the assembly, fought back tears as she spoke to the gathered delegates.

“It’s the beginning of the end of the scourge of plastics pollution on the planet,” Medina said. “We will look back on this as a day for our children and grandchildren.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft resolution         

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 9/17/21

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Welcome back.

Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, early in the industrial period and nearly a hundred years before the nascent fossil fuel industry launched its mind-warping climate disinformation campaign to delay meaningful and rational action to avoid the planetary catastrophe baked into their business model. While collecting articles this week, I found myself asking more than once, “How did he know?”

Let’s begin with an overview of how utilities are still selling gas burning peaking power plants as solutions to our need to cut emissions. Also, Canada claims to be reducing emissions while pushing hard to complete the Trans Mountain tar-sands oil pipeline, even as giant Chubb becomes the sixteenth insurer to drop coverage. And while a Congressional committee calls for oil majors to testify next month about their organized and sustained influence and disinformation campaigns, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin threatens to hold up meaningful climate legislation because, “What is the urgency?”.

“Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.” – L.C.

How about this for urgency… renowned climate scientist James Hansen predicts that, due to a reduction in aerosol pollution, the rate of global warming over the next 25 years could be double what we experienced in the previous 50. Again, Lewis Carroll on what that means for our climate mitigation efforts: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, efforts are underway to build out lithium battery recycling centers and diversify the green economy workforce. Australian startup SunDrive posted a power output efficiency record with its new solar PV module – using relatively abundant copper in its design instead of silver – a significant clean energy development. And energy storage company EnerVenue has found a way to bring long-duration nickel-hydrogen batteries down in price and down from space, where they have been successfully deployed for years – including on the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope.

At least as important as all that nice technology is actually leaning into the monumental task of improving the energy efficiency of our built environment. While Connecticut falls behind on this effort, the town of Brookline, Massachusetts doggedly pursues a ban on gas hookups for new construction – a key motivator for progress in this area.

We’re using our Clean Transportation section to spotlight where all the lithium for electric vehicles is likely to come from, and also launch a discussion about the biofuel “solution” to aviation emissions – too good to be true?

In the spirit of reality checks, we found some reasonable skepticism about Iceland’s big new carbon capture and sequestration project. The issue is whether it can ever be scaled up to a level that matches the need.

While much of this week’s fossil fuel industry news was just silly, we found some serious reporting on coal. The first article describes the utter environmental devastation caused by a partnership between Wall Street money and mountaintop-removal mining operations in Appalachia. The second notes that plans for most new coal plants have been cancelled in the six years since the Paris Climate Agreement.

We’ll close with a report on efforts in Massachusetts to remove renewable energy subsidies from woody biomass. And for anyone who still maintains that biomass is carbon neutral as it’s being harvested, processed, and burned, we’ll let Lewis Carroll have the last word: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

CenterPoint
Fight over ‘peaker’ plants poses grid climate test
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
August 24, 2021

A proposed natural gas power plant and pipeline project in southwestern Indiana are drawing fire out of concerns that they will add more pollution to a region saddled with fossil fuel infrastructure.

The controversy surrounding CenterPoint Energy Inc.’s plans for the site of an aging coal plant near Evansville, Ind., highlights a broader debate over natural gas “peaker” plants — backup power producers that rarely run but can be ramped up quickly when electricity demand is high.

Some electric utilities are proposing new peaker units as coal plants retire and the power grid becomes more dependent on intermittent solar and wind farms, but the gas projects face opposition from local environmental groups who say their communities are already overburdened by emissions-spewing facilities.

In addition to the fight brewing near Evansville, utilities in Peabody, Mass., and Queens, N.Y., have similarly proposed new “peaking” gas units at the sites of existing or retiring fossil fuel generators. In all three cases, activists contend that the closure of fossil fuel plants should be used as opportunities to remedy historic environmental injustices.

“The majority of peaker plants across the country are sited in low-income areas and communities of color, many of which are already overburdened by decades of pollution from fossil-fuel infrastructure, industrial processes, and heavy transportation,” Seth Mullendore, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy organization Clean Energy Group, said in an email.

Because new peaker plants are often used less than 10% of the time and release less carbon dioxide than coal plants, environmentalists don’t always challenge them. In Minnesota, for example, several clean energy groups were “encouraged” by Xcel Energy Inc.’s plan to build new solar and wind projects as well as a transmission line, even though it also included two small gas units (Energywire, June 28). The groups added that they are still reviewing the plan and the need for the gas units.

Peaker plants built today are also much more energy efficient and lower-cost than older versions, said Alex Bond, deputy general counsel for climate and clean energy at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities.

Nonetheless, clean energy groups are calling on utilities to pursue more advanced solutions to the grid reliability issues posed by renewables, such as battery storage, demand-response programs and power lines to connect to far-flung solar or wind farms. And some environmentalists in communities with a legacy of fossil fuels perceive new gas plants as half measures toward clean air.
» Read article                 

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

TMX pipe
Liberals say Trans Mountain pipeline could stay open until 2060
By Brian Hill, Global News
September 14, 2021

The Trans Mountain Pipeline could remain operational for another “30 to 40 years,” according to Liberal candidate Jonathan Wilkinson.

Wilkinson, who is also the current environment minister, made the remarks during an interview with Global News on Sept. 13 about the future of fossil fuels and pipelines in Canada.

“What you’re going to start to see is declining demand for oil over the coming 30 years — 40 years perhaps in the context of some of the developing countries,” Wilkinson said.

“And so, in that context, I would say that the utilization of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is probably in that order of 30 to 40 years.”

Wilkinson said building and operating the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, which will increase the existing pipeline’s current capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels, will ensure Canadian energy producers receive “full value” for the oil they extract by opening up foreign markets other than the United States.

Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada and an instructor of environmental studies at the University of Toronto, said expanding any pipeline at a time of decreasing demand for fossil fuels is illogical.

“When you’re supposedly moving to a zero carbon economy, that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Stewart said.

“There’s this notion that we can basically get off fossil fuels, and yet somehow continue to export them.”

A report recently published in the journal Nature said 84 per cent of Canada’s 49 billion barrels of proven oil sand reserves, and nearly two-thirds of global oil supplies, must remain “unextracted” to avoid temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That target was set at the 2015 Paris climate change summit.

“Canada’s resources are really expensive to extract, in addition to having a super high carbon intensity,” said Caroline Brouilette, domestic policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada. “In a global market, where demand has to decrease, those resources that are the most expensive and most polluting will have to be the first one to stay in the ground.”
» Read article                  
» Read the Journal Nature report

» More about pipelines                    

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

gas station damage
House Panel Expands Inquiry Into Climate Disinformation by Oil Giants
Executives from Exxon, Shell, BP and others are being called to testify in Congress next month after a secret recording this year exposed an Exxon official boasting of such efforts.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 16, 2021

The House Oversight Committee has widened its inquiry into the oil and gas industry’s role in spreading disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming, calling on top executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as the lobby groups American Petroleum Institute and the United States Chamber of Commerce, to testify before Congress next month.

The move comes as Washington is wrestling with major climate legislation intended to slash the nation’s reliance on oil and gas, and in a year of climate disasters that have affected millions of Americans. Raging wildfires in the West burned more than two million acres, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States left a path of destruction from Louisiana to New York City, and heat waves smashed records and delivered life-threatening conditions to regions unaccustomed to extreme heat.

Thursday’s demands from the powerful Oversight Committee put senior executives from some of the world’s largest oil companies at the center of an investigation into the role their industry has played in undermining the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is a root cause of global warming.

“We are deeply concerned that the fossil fuel industry has reaped massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and ravaging the natural world,” read the letter to Darren Woods, the Exxon chief executive.

“We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change,” the letter said.
» Read article                   

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

TMP - Chubb out
BREAKING: Trans Mountain Loses 16th Insurer as Industry Giant Chubb Walks Away
By The Energy Mix
September 14, 2021

The world’s biggest publicly-traded provider of property and casualty insurance, Chubb, has become the 16th insurer to declare that it won’t back the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline, a coalition of climate and Indigenous campaigners announced yesterday.

The flurry of social media activity was triggered by a single tweet from Financial Times insurance correspondent Ian Smith, with no elaborating news story as The Energy Mix went to virtual press Tuesday evening. “Chubb does not provide insurance coverage for any tar sands projects,” a spokesperson told Smith, following a protest at the U.S. Open tennis tournament earlier this month.

Chubb became the official insurance sponsor for the annual tournament last year.

At the U.S. Open last week, campaigners “erected a 15-foot inflatable of Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg to demand he act on climate change,” Insure Our Future wrote in a release. “U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) wrote to Greenberg in March asking how Chubb’s underwriting policies align with its sustainability commitments.”

That was apparently enough pressure for Chubb, which became the first U.S. insurer to withdraw investment and risk coverage from coal projects in 2019. That action made the company a leader at the time, Insure Our Future said, “but the company has not made any additional climate commitments since then. In recent months, it has been under increasing pressure for its involvement with the tar sands industry.”
» Read article                   

shift
Harvard to Divest Fossil Fuels, Sets Example for Other Institutions
By The Energy Mix
September 12, 2021

Climate activists are hailing Harvard University’s move to divest from fossil fuels as a profound shift in the status quo and a model for other institutions.

The iconic and wealthy university’s decision to go fossil-free comes after years of resisting calls to divest, writes The Washington Post, citing Harvard President Larry S. Bacow’s invocation of the climate crisis as the reason for the about-face.

“We must act now as citizens, as scholars, and as an institution to address this crisis on as many fronts as we have at our disposal,” Bacow said in an open letter explaining the shift.

The university’s a call to action “is likely to have ripple effects in higher education and beyond, given Harvard’s US$41-billion endowment and its iconic status among American institutions,” notes the Post. Along with ending all direct investment in fossil exploration or development, Harvard “also plans to allow its remaining indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry—through private equity funds—to lapse without renewal.”

That figure currently stands at about 2% of the endowment, the Post says.

“Harvard is really a very potent symbol of the status quo,” said Richard Brooks, climate finance director at San Francisco-based Stand.earth. “With this move, they have shifted the status quo. That’s where the power of this announcement and this change really lies.”
» Read article                  
» Read Harvard President Larry S. Bacow’s letter

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

urgency is obvious
In the Democrats’ Budget Package, a Billion Tons of Carbon Cuts at Stake
The package is imperiled by opposition from Joe Manchin, a coal state Democrat, who is balking at the costs, and advocates fear the chance won’t come again.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
September 17, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was explaining why he opposed his Democratic colleagues’ $3.5 trillion budget plan, but his words summed up the Congressional response on climate change for the past 30 years.

“What is the urgency?” asked Manchin in an appearance on CNN on Sunday.

With climate action advocates now in a race against both the forces of nature and the political calendar, some might say the answer is obvious.

The legislation that Manchin wants to stall contains the policies that most Democratic senators see as the best hope left to make the deep cuts in greenhouse gases necessary to curb devastating planetary warming.

With a key round of international climate talks scheduled for November in Glasgow—the first since the United States rejoined the Paris accord—Congressional action now would demonstrate the nation’s commitment to President Joe Biden’s ambitious pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030.

And with the Democrats’ slim majority in both the House and Senate in jeopardy in next year’s midterm elections, the budget package may mark the last opportunity to act.

“We have a responsibility now—while we don’t have fossil fuel-funded Republican control in the House or the Senate, and while we have President Biden in the White House—to get this done,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at a rally outside the Capitol on Monday. “If we miss this moment, it is not clear when we will have a second chance.”
» Read article                   

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

elemental
Li-ion battery recycling specialist Li-Cycle plans Alabama facility after demand exceeds expectations
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
September 13, 2021

Lithium battery recycling company Li-Cycle is planning its fourth facility in North America, the company said, as it made its first financial results release since listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in August.

The new plant will be built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which Li-Cycle co-founder and executive chairman Tim Johnston said is in response to demand for lithium-ion battery recycling exceeding the company’s expectations. Li-Cycle builds ‘Hub and Spoke’ facilities: lithium batteries are dismantled and turned into ‘black mass’ which contains all their different metals at Spokes and then the black mass is processed at Hubs.

The company has two Spokes already in operation in Kingston, Ontario, and Rochester in Upstate New York and then announced a further Spoke in Arizona in April to meet both supply and demand from the West Coast. Meanwhile it is still developing its first Hub, which will also be in Rochester and is expected to be its major revenue-generator.

Li-Cycle is betting, as are many in the battery industry, that recycling will become a big opportunity further down the line and has sought to enter the space early. At the moment the majority of its feedstock comes from the 5% to 10% of assembly line batteries that manufacturers reject, but it is anticipating a “tsunami” of end-of-life batteries to begin in the next couple of years.
» Read article                   

help wanted
E2: ‘The face of clean energy is predominantly White and male’
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
September 14, 2021

People of color and women are “vastly underrepresented” in clean energy jobs compared to the U.S. workforce at large, and many underrepresented groups lost ground between 2017 and 2020, according to a report released last week by BW Research Partnership, E2, and a coalition of clean energy industry groups.

Underrepresented racial and ethnic groups hold just four in ten clean energy jobs, according to the report. Black workers were the most poorly represented in the sector, composing 8% of clean energy jobs compared to 13% of the U.S. workforce as a whole.

With people of color and women now representing the majority of young students in the U.S., clean energy companies could face labor shortages in the future if they fail to recruit more diverse workers, according to Paula Glover, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. “If you’ve done nothing and know nobody, then your roadway is a lot longer than someone who has been at it a long time,” she said.
» Read article                  
» Read the E2 report

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

the devil collects
The Rate of Global Warming During Next 25 Years Could Be Double What it Was in the Previous 50, a Renowned Climate Scientist Warns
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen urged Congress decades ago to act on climate change. Now he says he expects reduced aerosol pollution to lead to a steep temperature rise.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
September 15, 2021

James Hansen, a climate scientist who shook Washington when he told Congress 33 years ago that human emissions of greenhouse gases were cooking the planet, is now warning that he expects the rate of global warming to double in the next 20 years.

While still warning that it is carbon dioxide and methane that are driving global warming, Hansen said that, in this case, warming is being accelerated by the decline of other industrial pollutants that they’ve cleaned from it.

Plunging sulfate aerosol emissions from industrial sources, particularly shipping, could lead global temperatures to surge well beyond the levels prescribed by the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as 2040 “unless appropriate countermeasures are taken,” Hansen wrote, together with Makiko Sato, in a monthly temperature analysis published in August by the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Declining sulfate aerosols makes some clouds less reflective, enabling more solar radiation to reach and warm land and ocean surfaces.

Since his Congressional testimony rattled Washington, D.C. a generation ago, Hansen’s climate warnings have grown more urgent, but they are still mostly unheeded. In 2006, when he was head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, George W. Bush’s administration tried to stop him from speaking out about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The removal of air pollution, either through air quality measures or because combustion processes are phased out to get rid of CO2, will result in an increase in the resulting rate of warming,” said climate scientist and IPCC report author Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute.

There’s a fix for at least some of this short-term increase in the rate of warming, he said.

“The only measures that can counteract this increased rate of warming over the next decades are methane reductions,” Rogelj said. “I just want to highlight that methane reductions have always been part of the portfolio of greenhouse gas emissions reductions that are necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This new evidence only further emphasizes this need.”
» Read article               

methane plume
U.S., EU pursuing global deal to slash planet-warming methane – documents
By Kate Abnett and Valerie Volcovici, Reuters
September 14, 2021

BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (Reuters) – The United States and the European Union have agreed to aim to cut emissions of the planet-warming gas methane by around a third by the end of this decade and are pushing other major economies to join them, according to documents seen by Reuters.

Their pact comes as Washington and Brussels seek to galvanize other major economies ahead of a world summit to address climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, and could have a significant impact on the energy, agriculture and waste industries responsible for the bulk of methane emissions.

The greenhouse gas methane, the biggest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide (CO2), is facing more scrutiny as governments seek solutions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, a goal of the Paris climate agreement.

In an attempt to jumpstart the action, the United States and the EU later this week will make a joint pledge to reduce human-caused methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, compared with 2020 levels, according to a draft of the Global Methane Pledge seen by Reuters.

“The short atmospheric lifetime of methane means that taking action now can rapidly reduce the rate of global warming,” the draft said.
» Read article                   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

new breed
Australia’s breakthrough solar tech has eye on rooftop and mega-project markets
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
September 15, 2021

The Australian start up that has achieved a major new benchmark for solar cell efficiency says it hopes to target the rooftop solar market first and then expand into some of the mega, multi-gigawatt scale projects proposed in the north and west of Australia.

SunDrive, a solar start-up founded six years ago in a Sydney garage by two UNSW graduates, last week claimed a world record of 25.54 per cent for commercial size silicon solar cell efficiency, from testing carried out by Germany’s Institute for Solar Energy Research at Hamelin.

The significance of this, however, was not so much the record in itself – impressive as it was – it was the fact that it was achieved using a new breed of solar cells that rely on more abundant and cheaper copper rather than the silver traditionally used in solar cells.

The switch from silver to more abundant and lower cost copper is the principal aim of SunDrive, and the goal when graduates and flatmates Vince Allen and David Hu set up operations in a Sydney suburban garage in 2015, with the backing of solar industry luminary Zhengrong Shi, the founder of Suntech.
» Read article                 

ITER magnet
Magnet milestones move distant nuclear fusion dream closer
Teams working on two continents have marked similar milestones in their respective efforts to master nuclear fusion
By FRANK JORDANS, SETH BORENSTEIN and DANIEL COLE, Associated Press, in The Berkshire Eagle
September 9, 2021

SAINT-PAUL-LES-DURANCE, France (AP) — Teams working on two continents have marked similar milestones in their respective efforts to tap an energy source key to the fight against climate change: They’ve each produced very impressive magnets.

On Thursday, scientists at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in southern France took delivery of the first part of a massive magnet so strong its American manufacturer claims it can lift an aircraft carrier.

Almost 60 feet (nearly 20 meters) tall and 14 feet (more than four meters) in diameter when fully assembled, the magnet is a crucial component in the attempt by 35 nations to master nuclear fusion.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists and a private company announced separately this week that they, too, have hit a milestone with the successful test of the world’s strongest high temperature superconducting magnet that may allow the team to leapfrog ITER in the race to build a ‘sun on earth.’
» Read article                   

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Hartcord CT
Connecticut losing ground on building emissions despite efficiency programs

Climate activists say the state’s progress on reducing building emissions has been far too slow given the pace of the climate crisis, and that it needs to end incentives for energy-efficient natural gas heating.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
September 15, 2021

Greenhouse gas emissions from heating and cooling buildings continue to rise in Connecticut despite the state’s efforts to improve energy efficiency.

An annual greenhouse gas inventory released last week for 2018 — the latest available data — showed vehicle exhaust remains the state’s largest problem, but the sharpest year-over-year increase came in the residential sector. Commercial building emissions were also higher.

The report attributes the increases to greater cold-weather heating demand, but climate activists underscore the state’s lack of progress on building emissions, which are roughly the same as they were a decade ago. They say the state lags on the adoption of electric heat pumps relative to the rest of New England, continues to expand its natural gas infrastructure, and doesn’t allow municipalities to adopt more stringent efficiency standards for new buildings.

Just one day after the emissions report was released, the state’s Energy Efficiency Board approved the next round of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency incentives, and despite pleas not to do so, included subsidies to entice homeowners to switch from oil heating to high-efficiency natural gas furnaces. Activists met the news with incredulity.

“Continuing to subsidize polluting fossil fuels defies logic,” said Shannon Laun, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, in a statement. “If Connecticut continues subsidizing gas heating, the state will not meet its climate goals and our communities will suffer.”

“I’m not seeing very much in the way of a change in the standard way of doing business in Connecticut, which is just continuing to do things they way they’ve been done for the last several decades,” said Bruce Becker, a Westport-based developer who specializes in highly efficient building projects and is converting a former office building in New Haven into what could be the country’s first net-zero-energy hotel. “Public utilities are still sending out mailers to get people to convert to natural gas, which is not helping.”
» Read article                   

gas-lit flame
Brookline Tries Again For A Fossil-Free Future
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
June 3, 2021

On June 2 Brookline voted, again, to become the first municipality in Massachusetts with an ordinance designed to keep fossil-fuel hookups out of new buildings. This was the town’s second attempt to get builders to go all-electric in future construction.

Brookline’s first attempt, which was overwhelmingly approved in Town Meeting in 2019, was declared unlawful by Attorney General Maura Healey because it superseded state authority. Healey said she supported Brookline’s clean-energy goals, however.

This time, instead of banning fossil-fuel installations in future construction, Town Meeting members proposed two carefully-worded warrant articles. Instead of a ban, the proposals require that people applying for special construction permits agree to go fossil-free in exchange for permit approval. Both proposals passed by margins of more than 200 to 3.

Brookline Town Meeting member Lisa Cunningham, one of the leaders of the effort, says municipalities must take action because the state, which is legally obligated to reduce climate emissions to net zero by 2050, has no mechanism for limiting fossil fuel use. Buildings account for 27% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Brookline’s new ordinances “won’t get us where we have to go,” Cunningham said, “but it is a first step and we really need to stop making this problem worse; we need to make it better.”

The Attorney General’s Municipal Law Unit will review Brookline’s new ordinances before they go into effect. The office has 90 days for review, which can be extended to six months.
» Read article                   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

EnerVenue
EnerVenue to use latest funding to build gigawatt-scale nickel-hydrogen battery factory in USA
By Kelly Pickerel, Solar Power World
September 15, 2021

Metal-hydrogen battery company EnerVenue announced today it has raised $100 million in Series A funding that it will use to build a gigawatt-scale factory in the United States, accelerate R&D efforts and expand its salesforce.

EnerVenue’s batteries use nickel-hydrogen technology that has been tested for decades on the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. The company formed in 2020 to bring the NASA-originated technology to grid-scale and other stationary power applications.

“With the durability, flexibility, reliability, and safety of its batteries, EnerVenue is delivering a unique and future-proof solution for grid-scale energy storage,” said Jorg Heinemann, CEO, EnerVenue. “We have proven the advantages that our next-generation nickel-hydrogen battery delivers and are excited to accelerate our journey forward with Series A backing and our agreement with Schlumberger.”

EnerVenue nickel-hydrogen batteries can work in -40° to 60°C (140°F) temperatures with projected 30,000-cycle lifespans. With no lithium, the batteries have no thermal runaway risk. Also with no toxic materials and easily separable parts, the batteries are expected to be 100% recyclable.
» Read article                   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

white gold ev boom
In Argentina’s north, a ‘white gold’ rush for EV metal lithium gathers pace
By Agustin Geist, Reuters
September 14, 2021

Beneath the South American country’s highland salt flats, reached by winding mountain roads, is buried the world’s third largest reserve of the ultra-light battery metal, which has seen a price spike over the past year on the back of a global push towards greener modes of transport.

Already the fourth top producer of lithium worldwide, Argentina’s national and local governments are now looking to speed up development, held back for years by red tape, high tax rates, rampant inflation and currency controls.

Provinces like Salta are building regional mining logistics nodes and access roads, lowering tax rates and rationalizing confusing rules for the sector to attract investment in the ‘white gold’ metal.

That has seen a flurry of new activity, deals and plans to ramp up production, which could make Argentina a key player in the electric vehicle supply chain in coming years, with demand from carmakers and buyers like China expected to gain pace.

“Argentina could become the world’s leading producer from brines in less than a decade if the flow of projects is followed and maintained,” David Guerrero Alvarado, a consultant advising Canada’s Alpha Lithium, told Reuters in Salta.

Alpha Lithium is in the investigation stage for a project in the nearby Salar Tolillar, one of many early-stage developments that – while offering promise – need an often long and costly process to be turned into a reality.

With countries around the world scrambling to reduce emissions, rising global lithium demand and surging prices have drawn increased interest in the so-called ‘lithium triangle’ that spans parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.
» Read article                   

environmental toll
Biden Outlines a Plan for Cleaner Jet Fuel. But How Clean Would It Be?
Some biofuels may contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in ways that can significantly reduce, and sometimes offset, their advantages over fossil fuels, studies have shown.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 13, 2021

At first glance, it’s a big step forward in curbing climate change. In a deal announced Thursday, the Biden administration and the airline industry agreed to an ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050, a target meant to drive down flying’s environmental toll.

As early as 2030, President Biden said, the United States will aim to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about 10 percent of current jet fuel use — from waste, plants and other organic matter, reducing aviation’s emissions of planet-warming gases by 20 percent and creating jobs.

The airline industry has set sustainable fuel targets before. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group of the world’s airlines, had pledged to replace 10 percent of the jet fuel it uses with sustainable fuels by 2017. That year has come and gone, and sustainable fuels are still stuck at far less than 1 percent of supply.

Could it be different this time?

It could. Momentum is building for action even in industries like aviation, which are particularly reliant on burning fossil fuels, because powering planes solely with batteries, especially for long-haul flights, is tricky.

But there’s a twist: Depending on the type of alternative fuel, using billions of gallons of it could hurt, not help, the climate.

Scientists’ concerns center on the complicated calculations that go into assessing the true climate-friendliness of biofuels, a major subset of sustainable fuels. Growing crops like corn and soy to be made into biofuels can significantly change how land is used, and trigger emissions increases — for example, if forests are cut down or grassland is dug up to make way for those crops.

Add in the emissions from fertilizers, and from transporting and processing the crops into fuel, and the overall climate costs become unclear. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that corn ethanol emits just 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline, and that calculation doesn’t fully take into account past land-use changes, scientists say. Scientific studies have long shown that biofuels can be as polluting as fossil fuels.
» Read article                   

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

carbfix
Critics question viability of world’s largest carbon sucking plant
By Andy Rowel, Oil Change International l Blog Post
September 13, 2021

The latest techno-fix to try and reduce carbon dioxide emissions has begun operations in a remote, bleak landscape of Iceland.

Called Orca, or Icelandic for energy, it is the first such facility to suck carbon dioxide out the air and then permanently dispose of it underground as it dissolves into rock.

Climeworks’ co-chief executive Jan Wurzbacher told the Financial Times, “this is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage.”

Most CCS projects to date try and capture carbon dioxide in a smoke stack after carbon has been burnt, where concentrations of CO2 can be as high as ten percent. However, the Orca plant extracts carbon dioxide directly out of the air, which is less than 0.05 per cent.

So although this plant is different from other CCS projects, such as Gorgon in Australia, it is easy to question whether this is another so-called solution that offers false hope at a time-scale that is unrealistic.

Firstly, it is way more expensive than other CCS projects. As Bloomberg notes: “Individuals wanting to purchase carbon offsets can pay the company up to $1,200 per ton of CO2.”

And then there is CCS’s perennial problem of scale. The new Orca facility, which is built by Swiss startup Climeworks and Iceland’s Carbfix, will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 a year, which according to Bloomberg Green, makes “it the largest direct-air capture facility in the world.”

As with much CCS technology, there is immediately a problem. 4,000 tons of CO2 is the equivalent of the annual emissions of 250 US residents or some 870 cars. As other CCS projects, it is not living up to the hype or the hope. Also to put it in perspective, 33 billions tons of CO2 will be emitted this year.
» Read article                   

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

mountaintop-removal coal mining
When Wall Street came to coal country: how a big-money gamble scarred Appalachia
Around the turn of the millennium, hedge fund investors put an audacious bet on coal mining in the US. The bet failed – but it was the workers and the environment that paid the price.
By Evan Osnos, The Guardian
September 14, 2021

Around the turn of this century, hedge funds in New York and its environs took a growing interest in coalmines. Coal never had huge appeal to Wall Street investors – mines were dirty, old-fashioned and bound up by union contracts that made them difficult to buy and sell. But in the late 1990s, the growing economies of Asia began to consume more and more energy, which investors predicted would drive up demand halfway around the world, in Appalachia. In 1997, the Hobet mine, a 25-year-old operation in rural West Virginia, was acquired for the first time by a public company, Arch Coal. It embarked on a major expansion, dynamiting mountaintops and dumping the debris into rivers and streams. As the Hobet mine grew, it consumed the ridges and communities around it. Seen from the air, the mine came to resemble a giant grey amoeba – 22 miles from end to end – eating its way across the mountains.

This was more than just the usual tradeoff between profit and pollution, another turn in the cycle of industry and cleanup. Mountaintop removal was, fundamentally, a more destructive realm of technology. It had barely existed until the 90s, and it took some time before scientists could measure the effects on the land and the people. For ecologists, the southern Appalachians was a singular domain – one of the most productive, diverse temperate hardwood forests on the planet. For aeons, the hills had contained more species of salamander than anywhere else, and a lush canopy that attracts neotropical migratory birds across thousands of miles to hatch their next generation. But a mountaintop mine altered the land from top to bottom: after blasting off the peaks – which miners call the “overburden” – bulldozers pushed the debris down the hillsides, where it blanketed the streams and rivers. Rainwater filtered down through a strange human-made stew of metal, pyrite, sulphur, silica, salts and coal, exposed to the air for the first time. The rain mingled with the chemicals and percolated down the hills, funnelling into the brooks and streams and, finally, into the rivers on the valley floor, which sustained the people of southern West Virginia.
» Read article                   

Nantong coal plant
Most plans for new coal plants scrapped since Paris agreement
Report by climate groups found more than three-quarters of projects were discarded after the deal was signed
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 14, 2021

The global pipeline of new coal power plants has collapsed since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, according to research that suggests the end of the polluting energy source is in sight.

The report found that more than three-quarters of the world’s planned plants have been scrapped since the climate deal was signed, meaning 44 countries no longer have any future coal power plans.

The climate groups behind the report – E3G, Global Energy Monitor and Ember – said those countries now have the opportunity to join the 40 countries that have already signed up to a “no new coal” commitment to help tackle global carbon emissions.

“Only five years ago, there were so many new coal power plants planned to be built, but most of these have now been either officially halted, or are paused and unlikely to ever be built,” said Dave Jones, from Ember.

“Multiple countries can add their voices to a snowball of public commitments to ‘no new coal’, collectively delivering a key milestone to sealing coal’s fate.”

The remaining coal power plants in the pipeline are spread across 31 countries, half of which have only one planned for the future.

Chris Littlecott, the associate director at E3G, said the economics of coal have become “increasingly uncompetitive in comparison to renewable energy, while the risk of stranded assets has increased”.
» Read article                   

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Pinetree power station
New bill would eliminate subsidies for biomass energy
By State House News Service
September 14, 2021

With regulations ready to take effect that effectively close about 90 percent of the state’s land area to new wood-burning power generation facilities, Springfield-area lawmakers on Monday pushed for legislation that would more permanently eliminate state clean energy program subsidies for biomass anywhere in the Bay State.

Sens. Eric Lesser and Adam Gomez, and Rep. Orlando Ramos, each of whom represent parts of the western Mass. city known as the asthma capital of the United States, were joined by Boston Rep. Jay Livingstone in calling for the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to issue favorable reports on bills (H 3333/S 2197) that would remove state incentives for facilities that burn wood products to generate power.

“The purpose of these two bills, and they are identical, is to remove woody biomass as an eligible fuel source in Massachusetts’ renewable energy portfolio standard, RPS, and the alternative energy portfolio standard, the APS standard,” Lesser, an opponent of a controversial wood-burning power plant proposed in East Springfield, said. “I want to be clear … H 3333 and S 2197 do not outright ban biomass. What they do is they eliminate the subsidy for biomass, and I feel strongly that Massachusetts ratepayers should not be subsidizing what is an inherently dirty fuel.”
» Read article                   

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 8/14/20

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Welcome back.

We start with a quick update on the Weymouth compressor station, which is nearing completion amid undiminished opposition. Separately, we’re keeping an eye on whether Canadian energy company Pieridae manages to find another reputable engineering firm willing to build its Goldboro liquefied natural gas export terminal, since KBR walked away from its contract. That proposed terminal is the only reason the Weymouth compressor exists.

While natural gas infrastructure projects continue to fall, concern is growing about the fate of 2.6 million miles of existing gas and oil pipelines. They’ll be an environmental hazard even after they’re abandoned, and communities are beginning to demand protection.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given a boost to the divestment movement. Financial data indicate that funds are moving decisively away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy projects. Unfortunately the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to throw lifelines to polluters. Their latest rule rolls back Obama administration requirements to monitor and fix methane emissions from valves, pipelines, and tanks – at a time when fugitive emissions were already on the rise.

It’s critical that any plans for greening the economy include help for communities that are currently dependent on fossil fuel production. Nowhere is this more obvious and urgent than in coal country. The $28.6 billion industry is facing certain, rapid decline – leaving thousands of miners and legions of workers in associated businesses with no local employment alternatives.

Our Climate section includes reporting about scientists’ evolving understanding of Arctic sea ice, and factors like melt ponds that could lead to its disappearance as early as 2035. This represents a globally-disruptive tipping point in Earth’s warming trend.  Meanwhile, the last decade was the warmest on record, just as each decade since 1980 was warmer than the prior ten years. With time for action rapidly running out, we offer coverage of Democratic nominee for Vice President, Senator Kamala Harris. The Biden-Harris ticket appears to be taking climate change seriously.

We continue exploring the topic of municipal fossil fuel connection bans. While some of these bylaws were successfully implemented in California, other states including Massachusetts ran afoul of existing pro-fossil-fuel laws embedded in state building codes. These laws are now drawing scrutiny, and new legislation could finally clear the way for gas hook-up bans.

The clean energy economy will rely on massive numbers of solar panels. With typical panels lasting 25 years, there’s growing urgency to solve the end-of-life issues and create a system that supports effective recycling. We also have news related to offshore wind and the European bet on clean hydrogen. But perhaps the most exciting news involves a recent energy storage breakthrough. Lithium-ion battery manufacturer Cadenza Innovation received UL certification for its new cell design, which eliminates the risk of thermal runaway events.

The electric garbage truck is the latest big thing in clean transportation. Waste disposal giant Republic Services significantly juiced the market with an initial order for 2,500 vehicles from Nikola.

Much of our fossil fuel industry news involves the growing need for the industry to clean up its mess. We found stories highlighting New England petroleum storage facilities, and also the environmental disaster known as the Bakken shale play of North Dakota and Montana. With the boom gone bust, who’s left holding the bag?

We wrap up with a story of plastics in the environment, and the difficulty of mounting cleanup action when everyone agrees it’s a problem but there’s no clear regulatory framework to initiate or manage its removal.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR

opposition continues
Weymouth: Compressor Station Construction Nearing Completion, Opposition Continues

The Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRAACS) held their monthly meeting and heard from Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund and Town Solicitor Joe Callanan.
By Lenny Rowe, WATD 95.9 News & Talk Radio, South Shore Massachusetts
August 13, 2020

Callanan says the construction on the compressor station is expected to be “substantially complete” this week.

Hedlund says the opposition continues for the project, 24 lawsuits have been filed in five years.

“We knew the deck was stacked against us at the federal level, but we were certainly let down on the actions we took with state regulators. The air quality permit obviously is the issue that is in front of us right now,” said Hedlund. “We have the full panel re-hearing in the First Circuit. We have the pending appeal of the remanded air quality plan approval that was recently approved by DEP. That decision was from last Friday.”

Callanan feels that their concerns raised with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have fallen on deaf ears.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

OTHER PIPELINES

no MVP extension
North Carolina Denies Key Water Permit to Mountain Valley Pipeline Extension
Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
August 12, 2020

It’s been a bad summer for fracked natural gas pipelines in North Carolina.

First, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have ended in the state, was canceled by its owners following years of legal challenges. Now, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) has denied a key water permit for a project that would have extended the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) 75 miles into the state.

“Today’s announcement is further evidence that the era of fracked gas pipelines is over,” Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative for the Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Joan Walker said in response. “We applaud the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality for prioritizing North Carolina’s clean water over corporate polluters’ profits. Dirty, dangerous fracked gas pipelines like Mountain Valley threaten the health of our people, climate, and communities, and aren’t even necessary at a time when clean, renewable energy sources are affordable and abundant.”
» Read article                

zombie pipelines
Even if oil and gas disappear, pipelines are here to stay
People with pipelines on their land are worried about what happens when they’re abandoned
By Justine Calma, The Verge
Photo by Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images
August 6, 2020

There are 2.6 million miles of pipelines crisscrossing the US that will one day retire. Even in their afterlives, these zombie pipelines will be able to spill toxic materials. It’s happened in the past. There’s also the risk of a pipe one day rising from its grave, exposed by floodwaters or erosion. Or, devoid of oil and gas that once coursed through them, they might accidentally drain bodies of water or do the opposite — pollute them.

The COVID-19 pandemic rattled the fossil fuel industry, which saw oil prices turn negative for the first time ever. The industry will also need to grapple with the looming climate crisis and environmental campaigns that have won recent, high-profile victories against the Dakota Access, Atlantic Coast, and Keystone XL pipelines.

All of that has more people thinking about what comes next for oil and gas companies and the pipelines they’ll ultimately leave behind. The potential risks have some communities worried about what the fate of pipelines running underneath their feet means for their homes and the environment. They’ve begun fighting for a say in what happens to those lines once they’re abandoned. Without protections, they fear they could be left with a big mess and a hefty check.
» Read article                

» More about other pipelines

DIVESTMENT

stop funding the climate crisis
Analysts Worried the Pandemic Would Stifle Climate Action from Banks. It Did the Opposite.
The risks of climate change and pressure from investors is driving the finance industry to move away from fossil fuels and improve its transparency.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
August 9, 2020

It was only back in January when Larry Fink announced that the world’s largest asset manager was making the risks associated with climate change a central tenet of how it did business and suggested that the rest of the financial world do the same.

“Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” wrote Fink, the founder and chief executive of Blackrock, which handles nearly $7 trillion in investments, in his annual letter to shareholders. “Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

For those who had long been pressing investment banks and other asset managers to address their funding of the fossil fuel industry and other industries warming the climate, Blackrock’s announcement was a long-awaited and hard-fought victory. It signaled, advocacy groups said, that Wall Street’s elite were finally taking climate change seriously after more than a decade of pressure to do so.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

fracking tower
Trump rolls back methane climate standards for oil and gas industry
Methane is a greenhouse gas that heats the planet far faster than CO2 and addressing it is critical to slowing global heating
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
August 13, 2020

The Trump administration is revoking rules that require oil and gas drillers to detect and fix leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas that heats the planet far faster than carbon dioxide.

Methane has a much more potent short-term warming effect than CO2 and addressing it is critical to slowing global heating as the world is already on track to become more than 3C hotter than before industrialization.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, will announce the rollback from Pennsylvania, which has major oil and gas operations and is also a politically important swing state. The rule change is part of what Trump calls his “energy dominance” agenda.

The Trump administration’s changes apply to new wells and those drilled since 2016, when President Barack Obama enacted the regulation in an effort to help stall climate change during a boom in fracking – a method of extracting fossil gas by injecting water and chemicals underground. The regulations required companies to regularly check for methane leaks from valves, pipelines and tanks.
» Read article            

» More about the EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

reckoning in coal country
Reckoning in coal country: How lax fiscal policy has left states flat-footed as mining declines
What happens when a $28.6 billion industry spirals into permanent decline?
By Dustin Bleizeffer and Mason Adams, Energy News Network
Photo By Dustin Bleizeffer / WyoFile
August 11, 2020

While thousands of mining jobs are being lost around the country, coal’s collapse carries ramifications that reach far beyond coal towns themselves, affecting downstream industries with larger geographic footprints. Railroads, for example, are slashing jobs along coal routes in response to declining shipments between coal mines and the power plants they serve. Manufacturers of equipment used in the coal industry have taken a hit as well.

So what happens to communities in coal-producing regions when a $28.6 billion industry spirals into permanent decline?

High-salary workers either retire earlier than planned or search for another, most likely lower-wage, job. Some move away and many become more reliant on social health services.

Businesses lose customers and healthcare providers see fewer patients with adequate insurance. Charitable giving among businesses to support local nonprofit social services dries up just as the need for such services skyrockets. Locally and regionally, revenues to support government services plummet, triggering budget cuts — often to the very programs most needed to maintain a quality of life and transition to more sustainable economies.
» Read article                

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

ice free arctic 2035
End of Arctic sea ice by 2035 possible, study finds
By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network
August 11, 2020

The northern polar ocean’s sea ice is a crucial element in the Earth system: because it is highly reflective, it sends solar radiation back out into space. Once it’s melted, there’s no longer any protection for the darker water and rock beneath, and nothing to prevent them absorbing the incoming heat.

High temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial – the warm period around 127,000 years ago – have puzzled scientists for decades.

Now the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre climate model has enabled an international research team to compare Arctic sea ice conditions during the last interglacial with the present day. Their findings are important for improving predictions of future sea ice change.
» Read article

PB crossingLast decade was Earth’s hottest on record as climate crisis accelerates
2019 was second or third hottest year ever recorded. Average global temperature up 0.39C in 10 years.
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 12, 2020

The past decade was the hottest ever recorded globally, with 2019 either the second or third warmest year on record, as the climate crisis accelerated temperatures upwards worldwide, scientists have confirmed.

Every decade since 1980 has been warmer than the preceding decade, with the period between 2010 and 2019 the hottest yet since worldwide temperature records began in the 19th century. The increase in average global temperature is rapidly gathering pace, with the last decade up to 0.39C warmer than the long-term average, compared with a 0.07C average increase per decade stretching back to 1880.

The past six years, 2014 to 2019, have been the warmest since global records began, a period that has included enormous heatwaves in the US, Europe and India, freakishly hot temperatures in the Arctic, and deadly wildfires from Australia to California to Greece.
» Read article                 

Senator Harris
What the Kamala Harris VP Pick Means for Biden’s Energy and Climate Platform
Harris highlighted environmental justice during her run for the White House and championed the issue in the Senate.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
August 11, 2020

Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign added more climate clout on Tuesday as the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.

While a moderate pick on climate compared to some of the candidates who ran in 2020, such as Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Harris framed her environmental platform around the Green New Deal — even pledging to eliminate the filibuster to get it passed — and environmental justice, before ultimately leaving the race in December.

“From wildfires in the West to hurricanes in the East, to floods and droughts in the heartland, we’re not gonna buy the lie. We’re gonna act, based on science fact, not science fiction,” Harris proclaimed in Oakland as she kicked off her campaign.

Since her election to the Senate in 2016, Harris co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution, and in both 2019 and 2020 introduced versions of the Climate Equity Act with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which would require the government to assess the impacts of environmental legislation on low-income communities. Her Environmental Justice for All Act, introduced with Senators Tammy Duckworth and Cory Booker this summer, similarly mandates that the government consider low-income and communities of color in federal permitting and decision-making processes.
» Read article                 

» More about climate

BETTER BUILDINGS

the lawDoes your state want to cut carbon emissions? These old laws could be standing in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
August 10, 2020

Last fall, the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, tried to solve a climate change problem that’s been put on the back burner in many state capitals: reducing emissions from fossil fuels burned in buildings. The fuels burned in boilers and furnaces, hot water heaters, and stoves account for nearly a third of the commonwealth’s greenhouse gas footprint. Following the lead of many cities in California, Brookline’s government voted overwhelmingly to pass a law restricting gas hookups in new construction. With some exceptions, the bill would force the installation of electric appliances that produce zero direct emissions.

While Brookline was the first community on the East Coast to try and limit gas systems in new buildings, similar plans were also being hatched in neighboring Cambridge and Newton, and earlier this year, New York City mayor Bill De Blasio expressed interest in a building gas ban. But all new bylaws in Massachusetts have to be reviewed by state attorney general Maura Healey before they can be enacted. In late July, Healey killed Brookline’s bill, finding that it violated state law.

The decision points to an issue that Massachusetts, New York, and California — which, unlike most states, have legally binding targets to reduce their carbon emissions to net-zero — have yet to fully grapple with: outdated policies that favor fossil fuels.
» Read article                 

» More about better buildings

CLEAN ENERGY

EoL for EV panels
Solar panels are starting to die. What will we do with the megatons of toxic trash?
By Maddie Stone, Grist
August 13, 2020

Solar panels are an increasingly important source of renewable power that will play an essential role in fighting climate change. They are also complex pieces of technology that become big, bulky sheets of electronic waste at the end of their lives — and right now, most of the world doesn’t have a plan for dealing with that.

But we’ll need to develop one soon, because the solar e-waste glut is coming. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life, and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually. While the latter number is a small fraction of the total e-waste humanity produces each year, standard electronics recycling methods don’t cut it for solar panels. Recovering the most valuable materials from one, including silver and silicon, requires bespoke recycling solutions. And if we fail to develop those solutions along with policies that support their widespread adoption, we already know what will happen.
» Read article               
» Read the IRENA report: End-of-Life Management for Solar Photovoltaic Panels

VW public comments
Vast majority support Vineyard Wind in federal comments for permit decisions
About 85% of comments at a recent series of virtual public meetings were in favor of allowing the offshore wind project.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Wind Denmark / Flickr / Creative Commons
August 12, 2020

An overwhelming majority of public comments submitted to the federal government support allowing construction of the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm in waters south of Massachusetts.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held five virtual public hearings on Vineyard Wind from mid-June until late July. Some 85% of the comments made at the public hearings were in support of the project, and the vast majority of the 13,200 comments filed online were also in favor.

The comments will become part of the record the agency considers in its permitting decision. Supporters hoped the comments would be persuasive but were still far from certain about the project’s future, in part because of President Donald Trump’s hostility toward wind turbines in general.

“My hope is that the overwhelming public support will help push it through,” said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

Scientists, activists, coastal residents, business groups, labor unions, college students, and legislators cited the potential climate and economic benefits that would result from building the project, while groups representing the fishing industry raised concerns about potential disruptions.
» Read article              
» Read the public comments

H2 across the pondEurope is going all in on hydrogen power. Why isn’t the US?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
August 6, 2020

“Hydrogen is probably the most promising” way to cut industrial emissions, said Kobad Bhavnagri, head of special projects at BloombergNEF, an independent research firm focusing on clean energy. “It’s the most versatile and the most scalable solution to getting to zero emissions.”

The European Union as a whole hasn’t announced a green hydrogen spending plan yet, but it has promised to prioritize the gas in the coming decades. The European Commission announced earlier this month that it would aim to deploy 40 gigawatts of electrolyzers (the machines that split water into hydrogen and oxygen) within its borders by 2030 and another 40 in countries that can export to the EU. That represents about 320 times the electrolyzing power currently available worldwide.

“What Europe and Germany have done, I suspect, will trigger something of an arms race or a scale-up race” for hydrogen power, Bhavnagri told Grist. “Everybody else will now have to get on board if they want to keep pace.”

The United States, however, is dragging its feet. “The U.S. at a national level has not released any hydrogen strategy,” Bhavnagri said.

According to [Thomas Koch Blank, senior principal of industry and heavy transport at the Rocky Mountain Institute], the United States’ slow progress on green hydrogen is partly due to the widespread availability of natural gas, which, although it produces fewer emissions than coal or oil, is associated with other environmental risks. “For the U.S., natural gas equals energy security,” he said. With abundant — and cheap — fossil fuels within its borders, the U.S. doesn’t have much incentive to make the leap to hydrogen. “Without carbon prices, it’s a stretch to see that hydrogen is going to be competitive on any large scale,” Blank said of the U.S. industrial sector.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

no drama jelly rolls
UL certification ‘proves’ innovative battery platform can stop thermal runaway from propagating
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 6, 2020

“Preventing a service event from becoming a catastrophic one,” is how Cadenza Innovation CEO Christina Lampe Onnerud describes the way her company’s lithium-ion ‘Supercell’ battery architecture reacts to thermal runaway.

Cadenza, founded by Onnerud in 2012, has developed a battery architecture and manufacturing platform that aims to cost-effectively eliminate one of the biggest issues facing the grid storage industry today. As seen in fires at energy storage system (ESS) facilities in South Korea, China and in Arizona, one cell catching fire can cause enormous damage as fire propagation causes it to cascade from cell to cell.

The company announced yesterday that its battery cells have been proven to stop propagation when thermal runaway is induced, having earned UL9540A certification. Under that testing, battery cells are “artificially” made to burn.

“The trick for our design is that when that happens, it doesn’t cascade,” Lampe Onnerud told Energy-Storage.news in an interview.

“We’re not saying our batteries will never fail. We’re saying if our batteries fail, it’s a service event. It is never a fire, it is never an explosion, it is never triggering sprinkler systems or any type of fire suppression.”
» Read article                

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Courtesy of Nikola
Waste giant Republic Services orders 2,500 Nikola electric trucks, sending industrywide signal

By Cole Rosengren, Utility Dive
August 12, 2020

Solid waste industry leader Republic Services recently agreed to purchase 2,500 electric collection vehicles from Nikola Corp., pending performance, with the potential for up to 5,000 orders. This has been described as the company’s largest truck order ever for its fleet of approximately 16,000 collection vehicles. Initial testing is expected to begin in Arizona and California, with wider-scale testing in 2022 and full deployment by 2023.

This year has already seen growing interest in electric refuse vehicles, but the scale of Republic’s order surpasses anything to date. Last year, Republic set a target to reduce its primary greenhouse gas emissions 35% by 2030. The company’s fleet emissions accounted for 1.34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019 and have been gradually declining since at least 2016. Landfill emissions comprise the majority of Republic’s overall greenhouse gas footprint.

According to a virtual press event on Monday, the two Arizona-based companies have been working together on this deal for about a year and Nikola is building a factory in the state. Milton’s experience with waste applications and Republic President Jon Vander Ark’s background in the automotive space were said to be helpful factors, leading to an “anchor tenant” commitment to bring Nikola’s technology into the national waste and recycling industry.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coastal hazard
Big Oil Faces Mounting Legal Battles Over Climate Threats to its New England Oil Terminals
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
August 13, 2020

A New England-based environmental law group is taking major oil companies to court, claiming the firms have failed to adapt some of their petroleum storage terminals to withstand increasingly severe storm and flooding events worsened by the climate crisis.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is currently suing both ExxonMobil and Shell in two separate lawsuits brought under federal laws regulating water pollution and hazardous waste, including the Clean Water Act. The cases center around coastal oil terminals and their vulnerability to climate change impacts like sea level rise and heightened storm surge. Exxon operates an oil terminal in Everett, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, that sits along the Mystic River. Shell’s terminal is located in Providence, Rhode Island, along the Providence River.

CLF argues that these facilities pose a grave risk not only to the waterways and environment but also the surrounding communities, given that the oil terminals currently are not designed to standards that account for climate impacts.
» Read article

Bakken mess
The Bakken Boom Goes Bust With No Money to Clean up the Mess
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 8, 2020

More than a decade ago, fracking took off in the Bakken shale of North Dakota and Montana, but the oil rush that followed has resulted in major environmental damage, risky oil transportation without regulation, pipeline permitting issues, and failure to produce profits.

Now, after all of that, the Bakken oil field appears moving toward terminal decline, with the public poised to cover the bill to clean up the mess caused by its ill-fated boom.

In 2008, the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) estimated that the Bakken region held between 3 and 4.3 billion barrels of “undiscovered, technically recoverable oil,” starting a modern-day oil rush.

The industry celebrated the discovery of oil in the middle of North America but realized it also posed a problem. A major oil boom requires infrastructure — such as housing for workers, facilities to process the oil and natural gas, and pipelines to carry the products to market — and the Bakken simply didn’t have such infrastructure. North Dakota is a long way from most U.S. refineries and deepwater ports. Its shale definitely held oil and gas, but the area was not prepared to deal with these hydrocarbons once they came out of the ground.

Most of the supporting infrastructure was never built — or was built haphazardly — resulting in risks to the public that include industry spills, air and water pollution, and dangerous trains carrying volatile oil out of the Bakken and through their communities. With industry insiders recently commenting that the Bakken region is likely past peak oil production, that infrastructure probably never will be built.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

nurdles overboard
A Plastics Spill on the Mississippi River But No Accountability in Sight
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
August 11, 2020

When I arrived on Sunday, August 9, scores of tiny plastic pellets lined the sandy bank of the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans, Louisiana, where they glistened in the sun, not far from a War of 1812 battlefield. These precursors of everyday plastic products, also known as nurdles, spilled from a shipping container that fell off a cargo ship at a port in New Orleans the previous Sunday, August 2.

After seeing photographs by New Orleans artist Michael Pajon published on NOLA.com, I went to see if a cleanup of the spilled plastic was underway. A week after the spill, I saw no signs of a cleanup when I arrived in the early afternoon, but I did watch a group of tourists disembark from a riverboat that docked along the plastic-covered riverbank. By most accounts, the translucent plastic pellets are considered pollution, but government bureaucracy and regulatory technicalities are making accountability for removing these bits of plastic from the river’s banks and waters surprisingly challenging.
» Read article              

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 7/24/20

banner 05

Welcome back.

The Ashland Select Board has requested help from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, as the town presses its opposition to the planned Eversource gas pipeline. Meanwhile, a Louisiana state appeals court ruled that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline Company “trampled” on landowner rights by starting construction without their permission. And we end the section with a recent report from Texas Public Radio on the many legal headwinds facing the Permian Highway Pipeline. This piece brought to you as an admittedly snarky counterpoint to a Kinder Morgan statement you’ll see a little farther down the page, where they claim the project is on schedule.

Greening the economy requires a plan, and Democratic lawmakers in the House Select Committee on Climate Change produced one that deserves serious consideration. We offer a good overview in podcast form, where it’s described as  effective, ambitious, and science-driven, rather than a program designed around politics. Kudos to Committee Chair Kathy Castor (D-FL) for producing a serious roadmap. Other news includes a proposal to buy out and shutter the world’s remaining coal plants – even the new ones.

Climate researches have removed some uncertainty about the extent of Earth warming related to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. A new report shows more clearly than ever what we risk by continuing with business as usual.

Massachusetts clean energy advocates suffered a setback this week, as Attorney General Maura Healey reluctantly shot down Brookline’s proposed ban on gas connections to new buildings – deferring to the building code as the ultimate authority. This illuminates the need to write gas hookup bans into the next energy efficiency stretch code – something proposed by Mass Climate Action Network’s EZ Code proposal.

Exciting news in energy storage involves long-duration “batteries” based on cooling air to its liquid state. Excess wind or solar power can drive this cooling. When electricity is needed but sun and wind aren’t cooperating, the liquid air can be expanded back to its gaseous state to spin a generating turbine. Manchester, UK will have this system soon – northern Vermont up next!

Massachusetts has completed feasibility studies of flexible community microgrids, and clean transportation is cruising along as fifteen states join California in a push to replace diesel trucks and buses.

The Great American Outdoors Act passed both chambers of Congress with broad bipartisan support and is on its way to the White House for signature. While the intent of the legislation is laudable – fully funding the Land Water Conservation Act which supports National Parks and other public lands – the money comes from the fossil fuel industry. While lawmakers congratulate themselves and news outlets gush about how wonderful it is that this involves no taxpayer money, we have to step back and wonder if there’s any real difference between locking in revenue dependence from the extraction and sale of fossil fuel, and locking in fuel dependence and emissions based on the build-out of pipelines and power plants. We can do better.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Ashland calling AG Healey
Ashland Select Board requests AG’s aid in Eversource pipeline fight
By Cesareo Contreras, Metrowest Daily News
July 20, 2020

The Select Board has sent a letter to Attorney General Maura Healey requesting that she supports the town’s efforts in opposing Eversource Energy’s plan to replace a 3.7-mile gas transfer line that runs through town.

The letter, which was sent late last week and written by board Chair Yolanda Greaves, comes a month after Healey issued a petition calling on the Department of Public Utilities to investigate how its practices and policies affect the state’s clean energy goals.
» Read article        

BBP no trespassing
Court Rules Bayou Bridge Pipeline ‘Trampled’ Rights of Louisiana Landowners
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 17, 2020

A Louisiana state appeals court has ruled that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline Company illegally “trampled” on the rights of landowners by starting pipeline construction without the landowners’ permission. The pipeline company must pay the landowners $10,000 each plus attorneys fees.

“This is a victory not only for us but for all landowners,” said Theda Larson Wright, one of the three Louisiana landowners who sued Bayou Bridge Pipeline Company (BBP) in September 2018. “All over the country, pipeline companies have destroyed people’s land, often without even attempting to get permission, and dared the landowners to speak up. Well, we did. I hope this victory will encourage many others to as well.”

The Bayou Bridge pipeline is a 163-mile pipeline through southern Louisiana carrying North Dakota crude oil to the Gulf Coast. It is the tail end of a pipeline network including the Dakota Access pipeline and is a joint venture of Energy Transfer and Phillips 66. The Bayou Bridge pipeline traverses ecologically sensitive areas such as the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest river swamp, which contains old growth trees and many endangered species.
» Read article        

wrong pipeline wrong place
‘Wrong Pipeline In The Wrong Place’ — Nationwide Litigation Could Affect Permian Highway Pipeline
By Dominic Anthony Walsh, Texas Public Radio
July 6, 2020

The Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines recently suffered major legal defeats — the construction permit for the Keystone XL was revoked in April, and the Dakota Access was ordered to stop pumping oil by early August. Kinder Morgan’s 430-mile Permian Highway Pipeline faces a maze of litigation, and the legal action against other pipelines around the U.S. could have ripple effects in Texas.

In the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a judge ruled the multi-billion dollar pipeline, partially owned by Texas-based company Energy Transfers, must complete a more thorough environmental impact study in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

Jim Blackburn is an environmental lawyer and a professor at Rice University. He’s also the president of the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA), which is suing Kinder Morgan for spilling 36,000 gallons of drilling fluid while constructing the Permian Highway Pipeline.

He believes Kinder Morgan — a multibillion dollar company — and the Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA during the permitting process for the Permian Highway Pipeline.

“NEPA requires full consideration of the impacts of the action you’re undertaking, as well as looking at the alternatives,” Blackburn said.

According to him, if Kinder Morgan and the Corps had considered the environmental impact of the pipeline and possible alternatives, the planned route would be different.
» Read article        

» More about other pipelines       

GREENING THE ECONOMY

comprehensive climate plan
Did Congressional Lawmakers Create the Most Complete Climate Policy Plan Ever?
This week on The Energy Gang: how Democratic lawmakers would govern toward net-zero carbon emissions.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
July 20, 2020

A group of House lawmakers recently released a 547-page report on climate change. Reporters at E&E News called it “arguably the most comprehensive climate policy plan in American politics.”

The report spells out in great detail how to use congressional policy to decarbonize the economy. It was the result of nearly a year of input from hundreds of experts, 17 hearings and thousands of meetings.

This week, we’ll discuss why this report is so significant. We’ll also look at a companion infrastructure bill from House Democrats that makes clean energy a centerpiece. Can it become a reality after the election?

Then, we’ll take a look at the drama surrounding pipelines and batteries. There has been a slew of legal decisions pertaining to pipelines in just the last two weeks, and we’ll consider what they mean for the future of fossil fuel infrastructure.
» Listen to podcast       

cash for coal clunkers
The World Needs a Cash-for-Coal-Clunkers Program
The drumbeat of coal bankruptcies makes it seem like the job is nearly done. Nothing could be further from the truth, the author writes.
Justin Guay, GreenTech Media – opinion
July 16, 2020

For just 5 percent of what the U.S. has spent on its COVID-19 recovery package, it could have bought out and retired every coal plant in the world.

Instead, the U.S. coal industry is benefiting from recovery programs while the world continues to subsidize old, uneconomic coal plants rather than retire them. As we debate a green recovery, now is the time to add an important approach to our tool kit, a cash-for-coal-clunkers program, to help buy the only thing we can’t make more of: time

In the U.S. and Europe, we’ve grown far too accustomed to the coal industry deathwatch. Nearly every day, articles appear announcing new record lows in coal generation, coal retirements and the generalized economic train wreck that is the coal industry. It’s enough to make the average person think the job is done, the transition beyond coal over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that for the world to be on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals, every coal unit across the 37 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) must be offline by 2030; the same must happen in Asia and the rest of the world by 2040. The problem is, despite hitting global peak coal several years ago, we are not heading toward a steep decline; instead, we seem to be on a long, flat plateau.

Justin Guay is director for global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project.
» Read article        

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

way too hot
Scientists Revise Predicted Warming Range to Between 2.6 and 4.1 Degrees Celsius
Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
July 23, 2020

Just how hot the earth will get if carbon dioxide doubles from pre-industrial times is a question scientists have wondered about for the past 40 years.

They have generally agreed that the planet will warm 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Now, a major new study has narrowed that range, revealing we are already past any hope of a 1.5-degree increase. They have tightened their range to between 2.6 and 4.1 degrees Celsius, or 4.1 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Science Magazine.

The comprehensive international study released Wednesday and published in Reviews of Geophysics relies on three strands of evidence: trends indicated by contemporary warming, the latest understanding of the feedback effects that can slow or accelerate climate change, and lessons from ancient climates, as Science Magazine reported.
» Read article       
» Read the study

» More about climate        

CLEAN ENERGY

AG Healey planning ahead
Healey reluctantly rejects Brookline bylaw
Measure banned most oil, gas pipes in new buildings
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 21, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY’S office on Tuesday reluctantly shot down a bylaw approved by the town of Brookline that would have barred the installation of most fossil fuel infrastructure in any new buildings or significant rehabs of existing buildings.

In a 12-page ruling, Healey applauded the town’s bid to start addressing greenhouse gas emissions but said the bylaw approved overwhelmingly by town meeting members in November is preempted by the state building code, gas code, and a law giving the Department of Public Utilities oversight of the sale and distribution of natural gas in Massachusetts.

“If we were permitted to base our determination on policy considerations, we would approve the bylaw,” Healey said in her opinion. “Much of the work of this office reflects the Attorney General’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other dangerous pollution from fossil fuels, in the Commonwealth and beyond. The Brookline bylaw is clearly consistent with this policy goal.”

But Healey said she was forced to disapprove the bylaw because it conflicts with existing state laws and codes.
» Read article        

Florida green H2
NextEra Energy to Build Its First Green Hydrogen Plant in Florida
The largest U.S. renewables generator says it’s “really excited” about green hydrogen, revealing a $65 million pilot for Florida Power & Light.
Karl-Erik Stromsta, GreenTech Media
July 24, 2020

NextEra Energy is closing its last coal-fired power unit and investing in its first green hydrogen facility.

Through its Florida Power & Light utility, NextEra will propose a $65 million pilot in the Sunshine State that will use a 20-megawatt electrolyzer to produce 100 percent green hydrogen from solar power, the company revealed on Friday.

The project, which could be online by 2023 if it receives approval from state regulators, would represent the first step into green hydrogen for NextEra Energy, by far the largest developer and operator of wind, solar and battery plants in North America.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

super cool Manchester
Climate emission killer: construction begins on world’s biggest liquid air battery
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
June 18, 2020

Construction is beginning on the world’s largest liquid air battery, which will store renewable electricity and reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power plants.

The project near Manchester, UK, will use spare green energy to compress air into a liquid and store it. When demand is higher, the liquid air is released back into a gas, powering a turbine that puts the green energy back into the grid.

The new liquid air battery, being developed by Highview Power, is due to be operational in 2022 and will be able to power up to 200,000 homes for five hours, and store power for many weeks.

The Highview battery will store 250MWh of energy, almost double the amount stored by the biggest chemical battery, built by Tesla in South Australia. The new project is sited at the Trafford Energy Park, also home to the Carrington gas-powered energy plant and a closed coal power station.

Highview is developing other sites in the UK, continental Europe and the US, including in Vermont, but the Manchester project will be the first.
» Read article        

» More about energy storage               

MICROGRIDS

community microgrid
Massachusetts sees shared microgrids as way to boost resilience, cut emissions
A state grant program funded feasibility studies for 14 community microgrid projects to pool energy resources.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Protophobic / Wikimedia Commons
July 24, 2020

A state program has helped dozens of Massachusetts organizations explore the potential costs and benefits of pooling energy resources with their neighbors.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center awarded grants to study the feasibility of 14 community microgrid projects. Unlike standard microgrids that tend to serve just one property owner, community microgrids incorporate multiple stakeholders and as a result are far more complicated to plan and build.

The goal is to power critical local facilities in a way that improves community resilience in case of disaster and promises substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Each project received up to $75,000 to investigate the logistics and cost of building a community microgrid. The grantees can also take advantage of technical advice from industry experts.

“Microgrids really provide a sneak preview of our future electric grid,” said Galen Nelson, chief program officer at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. “We’re funding feasibility studies to figure out what role they’ll play and how to make them function well.”
» Read article       

» More about microgrids        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

big zippy
15 states will follow California’s push to electrify trucks and buses
A big step forward in reducing harmful emissions from diesel engines
By Sean O’Kane, The Verge
July 14, 2020

Fifteen states and Washington, DC have announced that they will follow California’s lead in switching all heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses over to running on electricity, in what could be one of the most significant efforts to reduce harmful diesel engine pollution in the United States. It could also be a big development in the fight for environmental justice because emissions from diesel-powered commercial vehicles disproportionately harm Black, Asian, and Latinx communities.

The states that signed the agreement along with Washington, DC are: California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) announced in late June that all commercial trucks and vans must be zero-emission by 2045, with milestones along the way. The state previously announced a rule in 2018 that says transit agencies must purchase all-electric buses starting in 2029.

The phalanx of states and the District of Columbia are agreeing to similar goals, making it so that “100 percent of all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales be zero emission vehicles by 2050, with an interim target of 30 percent zero-emission vehicle sales in these categories of vehicles by 2030,” according to the New York Governor’s Office.
» Read article        

post-diesel tech
Preparing the maintenance workforce for electric trucks
The labor pool of experienced technicians has always been small, and now trucking firms must train or hire workers with an understanding of high voltage environments.
By Jen A. Miller, Utility Dive
July 20, 2020

A shortage of trained mechanics and technicians in the trucking world is nothing new. What’s about to throw a wrench — or battery — into the problem: electric trucks.

“The population of experienced technicians has always been small,” Rick Mihelic, director of future technologies studies at the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, told Transport Dive in an interview. “And now it’s much more complicated because it’s not just hiring a qualified diesel technician. You’re going to have to hire somebody who’s willing to also be an electric technician.”

From training existing mechanics to work on two kinds of engines, to tapping a new generation of technicians attracted to newer, cleaner, software-heavy vehicles, the trucking industry is working to create a workforce ready to fix electric trucks for when they start taking over the road.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation              

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

 

Table Rock
Great American Outdoors Act Passes House With Bipartisan Support
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
July 23, 2020

On Wednesday, the House passed the Great American Outdoors Act, a sweeping and historic conservation and public lands bill that President Donald Trump has pledged to sign into law, as CNN reported.

As EcoWatch reported, the Senate approved the bill in June in a 73-25 vote. The bill, which is being hailed as one of the most important environmental bills to pass in decades, secures permanent funding for the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). It passed the house in a 310-107 vote and now moves to Trump’s desk.

The Land Water Conservation Fund, which was established in the 1960s, is a little-known bill that produces substantial public benefit. It uses revenue from the oil and gas industry to finance national parks and federal historic sites. A major portion of the fund is also allocated to local and state parks and playgrounds, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).

The LWCF has been chronically underfunded, but the Great American Outdoors Act will require mandatory funding of $900 million annually, without using a penny of taxpayer dollars, as CNN reported.
Blog editor’s note: It’s wonderful to fully fund the LWCF and support our national parks, but the funding source is highly problematic. Locking in reliance on the fossil fuel industry to fund popular programs hands its promoters “greenwashing” talking points, while recruiting supporters among park-adjacent communities because of received benefits from a source they might otherwise oppose on environmental grounds.
» Read article        

Kinder Morgan posts financial loss as virus-related demand drop hits pipeline volumes
By Harry Weber, S&P Global
July 22, 2020

Kinder Morgan reported a loss in the second quarter versus a year-ago profit as demand destruction due to the coronavirus pandemic significantly reduced throughput on some of its pipelines.

The company expects the sharp declines in crude oil and natural gas production along with reduced demand for refined products to continue in the near term. Feedgas deliveries via its pipelines to liquefaction terminals were down compared with the first quarter amid cancellations of cargoes scheduled to be loaded at the facilities.

Kinder Morgan has cut its expansion capital budget for this year by $660 million, slightly less than the $700 million reduction that it previously estimated. Major projects are continuing and remain on schedule, including Permian Highway Pipeline, the company said.
Blog editor’s note: Describing the Permian Highway Pipeline as “on schedule”, may be what is known in Texas as a “tall tale”.
» Read article       
» Read about Permian Highway Pipeline troubles

race card
Fossil Fuel Advocates’ New Tactic: Calling Opposition to Arctic Drilling ‘Racist’
Some say oil and gas exploration is essential as a source of jobs and revenue for Alaska Native communities, but activists argue it is simply exploitation.
By Ilana Cohen, InsideClimate News
July 21, 2020

When Alaska’s all-white Congressional delegation branded opposition to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge as a form of discrimination last month, they may have hoped to play into a national dialogue about systemic racism—not necessarily to spark it.

In a letter to the Federal Reserve on June 16, Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowsi and Rep. Don Young, all Alaska Republicans, called on federal regulators to investigate whether the refusal of several banks to fund Arctic oil and gas projects discriminated against Alaska Natives, depriving them of social and economic benefits. The politicians had previously called the banks’ refusal a discriminatory tactic “against America’s energy sector.”

But controversy followed quickly. In the weeks following the letter, Native organizers penned op-eds and climate activists posted on social media, blasting the three members of Congress for what they viewed as a hypocritical and misleading narrative.

Oil and gas advocates have for years maintained that opposition to fossil fuel companies equals “green racism,” and have portrayed the industry as providing economic aid to marginalized communities by supporting economic development, sponsoring local programs and promising reliable and affordable electricity.

Some in Indigenous communities also argue in favor of fossil fuel development, given the opportunities it promises. But in Alaska and elsewhere, Indigenous activists concerned about the future of their communities and the planet are opposing drilling and spearheading a movement to end investment in fossil fuels.
» Read article        

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 1/17/20

WNCI-6

Welcome back.

More Weymouth compressor station protesters have been arrested. They’re drawing attention to the documented failure of Enbridge contractors to follow required steps to avoid spreading soil contaminants through the community.

For those seeking effective actions in support of climate, we offer a report on the biggest banks supporting the fossil fuel industry. Bill McKibben has suggestions about how to deal with them.

The climate includes oceans, and new reports show their life support systems are highly stressed from all the heat they’ve absorbed. Meanwhile in the fact-free alternative universe, the Trump administration gutted NEPA, the 50 year old National Environmental Policy Act – dropping many requirements for environmental review of gas pipelines and other projects.

We found some good news about clean energy alternatives, including a forecast for strong growth in US wind and solar in 2020. Also an interesting story about how gas utilities might transform their business model to provide infrastructure services supporting networked geothermal heating and cooling.

Articles about the fossil fuel industry ping-pong between energy producers pitching their polluting products into their vision of a bright future, and warnings from the financial industry that those investments are looking more and more risky.

We close with three articles from a 6-part series on the biomass-to-energy industry. The reporting shows how European “clean energy” climate goals are leading to massive deforestation in the American southeast and actually increasing carbon emissions. This is a cautionary tale for Massachusetts, given the Baker administration’s attempts to reclassify biomass as a clean renewable energy source.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no trespassing - Weymouth
Nine more arrested in Weymouth compressor station protest
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
January 16, 2020

It was the third time protesters have been arrested at the construction site since work started in early December and brings the number of people arrested there to 19. In the past, protesters were either released without being charged or had their charges reduced from criminal trespassing to civil infractions.

The compressor station is being built by Algonquin, a subsidiary of Enbridge, and is part of the Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the Houston company’s pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Algonquin got the final go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November after a series of health, safety and environmental reviews.

The protestors said they were responding to the failure of Gov. Charlie Baker and the state Department of Environmental Protection to respond to the community’s advocacy to prevent more industrial environmental hazards from moving to the Fore River Basin.
» Read article

traffic plan
Weymouth council steers for safe compressor truck traffic
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
January 16, 2020

WEYMOUTH- Trucks leaving the construction site of a compressor station in the Fore River Basin often make illegal left turns onto Route 3A, according to a town council letter sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Since the beginning of construction, residents have appeared before the town council to discuss traffic issues,” stated the council in a Jan. 14 letter to FERC. “It has come to our attention that several sub-contractors have not used the designated routes on the traffic plan.”

The letter, addressed to FERC Secretary Kimberly Rose, was written in response to truck movement from the compressor station site by Alice Arena, leader of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station during a Dec. 16 council meeting.
» Read article    

Weymouth assaultedWeymouth and Quincy communities assaulted by Enbridge’s reckless construction practices
By Peter Nightingale, Uprise RI
January 12, 2020

Construction of a fracked gas compressor station in Weymouth, MA, started after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Notice to Proceed with Construction on November 27, the day before Thanksgiving. A spokesman for the energy company Enbridge at the time wrote in an email: “We remain committed to ensuring construction activities are conducted in compliance with all applicable requirements, with public health and safety as our priority.”

This January 9, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) held an action in which residents called upon the Massachusetts Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup, because “Enbridge is exposing the community to additional toxins by digging up soil that is saturated with arsenic, oil, coal ash, and asbestos. They are not following any of the steps necessary to limit the exposure of toxins into the air, such as washing off tires before trucks leave the site.”

Construction of the Weymouth compressor station started after five years of protests and in despite numerous pending court appeals. To allow construction to start under these circumstances is standard procedure of FERC. Indeed the same happened in 2015 when Spectra Energy (since then taken over by Enbridge) expanded the compressor station on Wallum Road in Burrillville. Construction in both locations is part of Enbridge’s project to transport fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania via Canada to the world market.
» Read article    

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Want to Do Something About Climate Change? Follow the Money
Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America are the worst offenders.
By Lennox Yearwood Jr. and Bill McKibben, New York Times Opinion
January 11, 2020

JPMorgan Chase isn’t the only offender, but it is among the worst. In the last three years, according to data compiled in a recently released “fossil fuel finance report card” by a group of environmental organizations, JPMorgan Chase lent over $195 billion to gas and oil companies.

For comparison, Wells Fargo lent over $151 billion, Citibank lent over $129 billion and Bank of America lent over $106 billion. Since the Paris climate accord, which 195 countries agreed to in 2015, JPMorgan Chase has been the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels by a 29 percent margin.

This investment sends a message that’s as clear as President Trump’s shameful decision to pull America out of that pact: Short-term profits are more important than the long-term health of the planet.

Mr. Yearwood and Mr. McKibben are part of the organizing team at StopTheMoneyPipeline.Com.
» Read article    
» Read “Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019”

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE

blob victims
‘Scale of This Failure Has No Precedent’: Scientists Say Hot Ocean ‘Blob’ Killed One Million Seabirds
The lead author called the mass die-off “a red-flag warning about the tremendous impact sustained ocean warming can have on the marine ecosystem.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
January 16, 2020


On the heels of new research showing that the world’s oceans are rapidly warming, scientists revealed Wednesday that a huge patch of hot water in the northeast Pacific Ocean dubbed “the blob” was to blame for killing about one million seabirds.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was conducted by a team of researchers at federal and state agencies, conservation groups, and universities. They tied the mass die-off to “the blob,” a marine heatwave that began forming in 2013 and grew more intense in 2015 because of the weather phenomenon known as El Niño.
» Read article     

bleached coral
2019 Was a Record Year for Ocean Temperatures, Data Show
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times
January 13, 2020

The past 10 years have been the warmest 10 on record for global ocean temperatures. The increase between 2018 and 2019 was the largest single-year increase since the early 2000s, according to Dr. Hausfather.

Increasing ocean temperatures have harmed marine life and contributed to mass coral reef bleaching, the loss of critical ecosystems, and threatened livelihoods like fishing as species have moved in search of cooler waters.

But the impacts of warming oceans don’t remain at sea.

“The heavy rains in Jakarta just recently resulted, in part, from very warm sea temperatures in that region,” said Dr. Trenberth, who also drew connections between warming ocean temperatures to weather over Australia. The recent drought there has helped to propel what many are calling the worst wildfire season in the nation’s history.
» Read article

sixth extinction 2030
UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit
By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
January 13, 2020

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010.
» Read article

rogue's gallery
Fossil Fuel Interests Applaud Trump Admin’s Weakening of Major Environmental Law
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
January 10, 2020

Industry groups including oil and gas trade associations were quick to pile on the praise following President Trump’s announcement Thursday, January 9 of major overhauls to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The 50-year-old bedrock environmental statute requires federal agencies to review the environmental impacts of major actions or projects, and has been a key tool for advocacy groups to challenge harmful infrastructure, from fossil fuel pipelines to chemical plants.

And in the Trump administration’s hasty efforts to assert “energy dominance,” judges have halted fossil fuel projects on grounds that the government did not adequately consider how those projects contribute to climate change.

For the fossil fuel industry, these court rulings, and the environmental law underpinning them, are an annoying setback. The industry has long been irked by NEPA, especially when it is used to delay petroleum-related projects because of climate concerns.

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced major revisions to the NEPA statute that shrink the scope and timeline of environmental review. Under new regulations proposed by the Center for Environmental Quality, the White House agency that implements NEPA, “cumulative effects” — such as how fossil fuel expansion contributes to climate change — would not need to be considered.
» Read article     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

big wind parts
Three-Quarters of New US Generating Capacity in 2020 Will Be Renewable, EIA Says
2020 will be a record year for U.S. renewables construction as 6 gigawatts of coal capacity goes offline, according to new government figures.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
January 14, 2020

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has confirmed what it and industry watchers predicted a year ago — that wind and solar power will expand on their already-large share of new U.S. generation capacity in 2020.

According to EIA data released Tuesday, wind and solar will make up 32 of the 42 gigawatts of new capacity additions expected to start commercial operation in 2020, respectively, dwarfing the 9.3 gigawatts of natural-gas-fired plants to come online this year.

EIA’s numbers also break records for both wind and solar in terms of annual capacity additions. The 18.5 gigawatts of wind power capacity set to come online in 2020 surpasses 2012’s record of 13.2 gigawatts and pushes total U.S. production well past the 100-gigawatt milestone set in the third quarter of 2019.
» Read article

networked geothermal
How A Climate Change Nonprofit Got Eversource Thinking About A Geothermal Future
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
January 13, 2020

“Geothermal ground source heating has been around a long time, and it has usually been installed one house by one house individually,” she said. “It works. However, it is a fairly high up-front cost, and you have to have the means and motivation to be able to do it.”

Magavi, a clean energy advocate, said she asked herself: Who already digs holes and puts pipes in the ground, has big money and is motivated to find a new business model? Her answer: natural gas distribution companies.

“The idea is that a gas utility takes out its leaky gas pipe and, instead of putting in new gas pipe, we put in a hot water loop,” Magavi said. “If we’re going to invest in infrastructure, let’s invest in infrastructure for the next century. Let’s not invest in infrastructure that was hot in 1850.”

HEET commissioned a study to investigate if there were a way to make geothermal energy appealing to both utilities and environmentalists.

Under a networked system, homes and businesses would own the geothermal heat pumps, while Eversource would own and manage the system of pipes, sensors and pressure regulators, Conner said. That would convert the gas utility into a networked, thermal management company.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

business as usual
U.S. Energy Industry Looks for Clarity in China Trade Deal
Oil and gas companies may see an export revival from the accord, but they seek commitments that tariffs will be dropped.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
January 15, 2020

On paper, China and the United States should fit nicely as energy trading partners. China is a fast-growing energy market, while the United States is a fast-growing energy exporter. China is trying to clean up the air of its polluted cities by burning less coal, and the United States is producing an enormous surplus of cleaner-burning natural gas. So any sign of an improvement in trade relations was viewed positively by executives.

Jack Fusco, chief executive of Cheniere Energy, the liquefied natural gas exporter with perhaps the most to gain from the deal, characterized it as “a step in the right direction that will hopefully restore the burgeoning U.S. L.N.G. trade with China.”
» Blog editor’s note: this is a window into the gas industry’s world – one that ignores the climate effects of continued natural gas production and consumption. To Big Gas, the object is to displace Big Coal. Decarbonization can wait until the gas runs out.
» Read article

boiler Bob2020 outlook: Natural gas faces regulatory, environmental scrutiny but still wants role in carbon-free grid
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 15, 2020

“We see a really strong role for natural gas now and in the future,” Natural Gas Supply Association Executive Vice President Patricia Jagtiani told Utility Dive. “Not only through the way it currently has contributed to reducing carbon emissions, but through its partnership with renewable energy, and how we work together to make each other more reliable and affordable.”

But an increased push on climate and clean energy goals means more states, cities and utilities are aiming for carbon-free power mixes in the next few decades, and some industry observers worry utilities are over-purchasing on natural gas — and will soon be left with the same stranded asset burdens that now plague the coal industry.

There are $70 billion worth of planned natural gas plants in the pipeline through 2025 and 90% of those investments are more expensive than clean energy portfolios, which include a combination of demand response, energy efficiency, storage and renewables, according to a September 2019 report from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Seventy percent of those investments will be rendered uneconomic by 2035, posing a serious question for investors and utilities about the prudence of some of those buildouts, and that question will only grow more urgent in 2020, according to the report’s authors.
» Read article

BlackRock C.E.O. Larry Fink: Climate Crisis Will Reshape Finance
In his influential annual letter to chief executives, Mr. Fink said his firm would avoid investments in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.”
By Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times
January 14, 2020

Laurence D. Fink, the founder and chief executive of BlackRock, announced Tuesday that his firm would make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal.

BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager with nearly $7 trillion in investments, and this move will fundamentally shift its investing policy — and could reshape how corporate America does business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit.

“Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” Mr. Fink wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times. “The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.”

The firm, he wrote, would also introduce new funds that shun fossil fuel-oriented stocks, move more aggressively to vote against management teams that are not making progress on sustainability, and press companies to disclose plans “for operating under a scenario where the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees is fully realized.”
» Read article

pipeline stop-ped
Editorial: Vir. gas pipeline ruling reverberates in Bay State
Greenfield Recorder Editorial
January 14, 2020

Many in Franklin County think the prospect of a natural gas pipeline through our towns is not dead, but only resting until the price of natural gas goes up enough to make it look profitable to a utility. Indeed, with heightened tension in the Middle East, the price of crude oil has already risen — and with it the renewed specter of a natural gas pipeline through our area. That’s why a court ruling in Virginia against Dominion Energy for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline is reverberating through the Bay State.

Last week’s court ruling vacating a permit for a natural gas compressor station in Virginia, as reported by State House News Service, is being analyzed in Weymouth, where a natural gas compressor station has been opposed by residents. In a ruling issued last Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board did not sufficiently consider the consequences a proposed natural gas compressor station would have on the predominantly African-American community near its site.

Whether the case in Virginia relies more on Virginia law than Federal law remains to be seen. But any ruling on behalf of local factors and environmental justice is good news for Franklin County in the event that a natural gas pipeline should arise, vampire-like, from its defunct state.
» Read article

DoJ on industry team
Emails Reveal U.S. Justice Dept. Working Closely with Oil Industry to Oppose Climate Lawsuits

DOJ attorneys describe working with industry lawyers as a ‘team,’ raising questions about whether government was representing the American people.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
January 13, 2020

In early 2018, a few months after the cities of Oakland and San Francisco sued several major oil companies over climate change, attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice began a series of email exchanges and meetings with lawyers for the oil companies targeted in the litigation.

Legal experts say the conversations raise questions about the federal government’s objectivity and whether the Department of Justice, in these cases, was acting in the best interest of the country’s people.
» Read article

the price of coalAustralia’s Fires Test Its Winning Growth Formula
The country’s vulnerable environment and growing dependence on China have raised questions about the sustainability of its economic success.
By Keith Bradsher and Isabella Kwai, New York Times
January 13, 2020

Australia’s leaders face growing pressure to address climate change, as scientists blame the country’s increasingly hot and dry conditions for the disastrous blazes. That would mean reckoning with Australia’s dependence on providing China and other countries with coal.

The fossil fuel, used to fire many of the world’s power plants and steel mills, is one of Australia’s biggest exports. Coal is also one of the biggest sources of climate change gases, and produces most of Australia’s own electricity.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

NC to Drax
SLOW BURN (Part 3): World’s largest wood pellet maker both welcomed and condemned in NC
By Richard Stradling, The News & Observer
January 03, 2020

Tractor-trailer trucks carrying timber arrive one after another at a factory in Northampton County, where logs are piled up to 35 feet high in rows as long as two football fields. Still more trucks come, carrying sawdust and wood chips from lumber mills or from shredded limbs and small trees those mills won’t buy.

The logs and chips will be ground up, dried and turned into cylindrical pellets about as big around as a pencil. Every day of the year, barring any breakdowns at the plant, a truckload of these pellets leaves about every 24 minutes for the Port of Chesapeake in Virginia, where they’re loaded onto ships bound for Europe to be burned for heat and electricity.

John Keppler, the CEO of the mill’s owner, Enviva, calls this an environmentally friendly solution to climate change, and he’s not alone. Ten years ago, the European Commission directed its member countries to derive 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020 and said the burning of biomass such as wood pellets was one way to meet that goal.
» Read article

SLOW BURN (Part 2): From Poland to NC, activists plea for reduced carbon dioxide
By Justin Catanoso, The News & Observer
January 03, 2020

Just over a year ago, people from 196 countries were gathering in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Climate scientists and environmental activists approached the meeting with something close to desperation. They viewed it as perhaps their last best chance to repair what they saw as an obvious policy flaw that allows nations to greatly underreport their emissions of carbon dioxide — the gas most responsible for climate change.

Peg Putt, a former member of Tazmania’s parliament and now a carbon emissions expert with the international Climate Action Network, was one of the activists in Katowice. She pleaded with delegates from around the world to consider her research.

“We’ve published a new report,” Putt said, brandishing a six-page, full-color pamphlet titled, “Are Forests the New Coal?”

“Countries are going from burning coal to burning wood pellets in their power plants,” Putt said. They say that by doing so they are eliminating all of the carbon dioxide that would have come from the coal. They don’t have to measure the carbon dioxide they are adding when they burn wood pellets because the European Union has declared wood pellets to be “carbon neutral” — as if they gave off no gas at all.

That decision, Putt said, is “not doing anything for the environment. It’s actually making things worse.”
» Read article

SLOW BURN: Europe uses tons of NC trees as fuel. Will this solve climate change?
By Saul Elbein, The News & Observer
January 03, 2020

From the outskirts of Selby, a 1,200-year-old former coal-mining town in northern England, you can see the smokestack and the dozen cooling towers of the Drax Power Station, the largest power plant in the United Kingdom.

For much of its 45-year-history, Drax burned coal mined from the nearby Selby coalfield. But the last coal mine closed in 2004 and now Drax says it has gone green — with help from the trees of North Carolina.

Thousands of acres’ worth of North Carolina trees have been felled, shredded and baked into wood pellets, which have mostly replaced coal as Drax’s fuel.

In 2009, members of the European Union agreed to obtain 20% of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

About half of those “renewables” are the familiar ones: wind, solar, tidal, hydropower. But the other half is biomass: energy derived, ultimately, from plants. In the case of Drax and other converted coal plants in Denmark and the Netherlands, biomass means energy that comes from trees.
» Read article

» More about biomass

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