Tag Archives: climate science

Weekly News Check-In 6/19/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station   

COLUMBIA GAS DISASTER

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

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

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

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

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

» More about Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley disaster      

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions      

PIPELINES

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

By Lyndsey Gilpin, Grist
June 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines        

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divesting from fossil fuels        

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy     

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate             

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy                 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation          

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 3/27/20

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing most protests and actions online. Globally, environmental groups are getting creative with social media to maintain community connections and momentum.

One of this week’s biggest news stories features the Dakota Access Pipeline. Federal Judge James E. Boasberg threw out the project’s environmental permits, finding that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct an adequate environmental review. He will next consider whether flow through the pipeline must stop while proper studies are conducted over the next several years. This is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, who courageously resisted the pipeline’s construction and have continued the fight in court.

The fossil fuel divestment movement is actively targeting investment banks that are the industry’s lifeblood. We offer a recent Guardian article that calls out the biggest players.

Climate science is expected to suffer from the effects of this pandemic, as many projects have scaled back, or suffered interruptions as scientists take necessary precautions. Also on the climate front, we found another interesting article about how lingering stores of banned CFC chemicals are still affecting Earth’s ozone layer and driving climate change.

We expect the pandemic to create serious near-term challenges in the deployment of clean energy. For happier stories, check out the clean transportation and energy storage sections.

News on the fossil fuel industry includes articles about the current global oil & gas glut, which have dramatically depressed prices. The US fracking industry was already in terrible financial condition. Since fracking and plastics are directly connected, this evolving business climate has resulted in significant downgrading of plans to make Appalachia the future U.S. center for petrochemical production.

Finally, plastics bans are under assault, as boosters for single-use bags argue that reusable bags can be a source of contagion, placing grocery workers and others at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

take it online
Coronavirus Halts Street Protests, but Climate Activists Have a Plan
By Shola Lawal, New York Times
March 19, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has prompted climate activists to abandon public demonstrations, one of their most powerful tools for raising public awareness, and shift to online protests.

This week, for example, organizers of the Fridays for Future protests are advising people to stay off the streets and post photos and messages on social media in a wave of digital strikes.

“We are people who listen to the scientists and it would be hypocritical of us to not treat this as a crisis,” said Saoi O’Connor, a 17-year-old Fridays for Future organizer from Cork, Ireland.

Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish activist who inspired the Friday youth protest group, last week stayed at home and tweeted a photo of herself and her two dogs, with a message calling on protesters to “take it online.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions     

OTHER PIPELINES

honor the treaties
Dakota access pipeline: court strikes down permits in victory for Standing Rock Sioux
Army corps of engineers ordered to conduct full environmental review, which could take years
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
March 25, 2020

The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.

The US army corps of engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled that existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.
» Read article
» Read court’s decision

water is life
Federal Judge Tosses Dakota Access Pipeline Permits, Orders Full Environmental Review
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2020

Today, a federal judge tossed out federal permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), built to carry over half a million barrels of Bakken crude oil a day from North Dakota, and ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline project.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg indicated that he would next consider whether to shut down the current flows of oil through DAPL while the environmental review is in process, ordering both sides to submit briefs on the question.

Representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, plaintiffs in the lawsuit, welcomed today’s ruling.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

The Dakota Access pipeline has been in service for nearly three years, following battles over the pipeline’s environmental impacts that raged for years.
» Read article       

Standing Rock court victory
‘Huge Victory’ for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as Federal Court Rules DAPL Permits Violated Law
“This is what the tribe has been fighting for many months. Their fearless organizing continues to change the game.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
March 25, 2020

A federal judge handed down a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota on Wednesday, ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The USACE must complete a full environmental impact study of the pipeline, including full consideration of concerns presented by the Standing Rock Tribe, the judge ruled. The tribe has asked the court to ultimately shut the pipeline down.

The court chastised the USACE for moving ahead with affirming the permits in 2016 and allowing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing the Missouri River after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, without considering the expert analysis put forward by the tribe.
» Read article          

Pennsylvania’s orders to stem coronavirus outbreak pause several gas pipeline projects
By Maya Weber & Jason Lindquist, SP Global
March 25, 2020

Washington — Pennsylvania’s social-distancing orders prompted a temporary halt to construction of several natural gas pipeline projects in the state, but some developers were working to secure waivers to allow more work to continue.

The state, with its large shale deposits, also is home to a number of ongoing midstream projects meant to move gas to market.

After Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf late last week ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close, Energy Transfer was halting new construction on the Mariner East 2 project, but has since gained permission for limited activity, such as maintaining the right-of-way and work sites, and securing, stabilizing, and moving equipment.
» Read article       

» More about other pipelines         

DIVESTMENT

fossil money sources
Study: global banks ‘failing miserably’ on climate crisis by funneling trillions into fossil fuels
Analysis of 35 leading investment banks shows financing of more than $2.66tn for fossil fuel industries since the Paris agreement
By Patrick Greenfield and Kalyeena Makortoff, The Guardian
March 18, 2020

The world’s largest investment banks have funnelled more than £2.2tn ($2.66tn) into fossil fuels since the Paris agreement, new figures show, prompting warnings they are failing to respond to the climate crisis.

The US bank JP Morgan Chase, whose economists warned that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity last month, has been the largest financier of fossil fuels in the four years since the agreement, providing over £220bn of financial services to extract oil, gas and coal.

Fracking has been the focus of intense business activity by investment banks since the Paris agreement, with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America leading £241.53bn of financing, much of it linked to the Permian basin in Texas.

Johan Frijns, director of BankTrack, an NGO which monitors the activities of major financial institutions, said it was time for banks to commit to phasing out financing for all new fossil fuel projects.

“In the last year, banks have been queueing up to proclaim support for the goals of the Paris agreement. Both the Principles for Responsible Banking and the new Equator Principles, each signed by over a hundred banks, acknowledges the global climate goals. Yet the data in Banking on Climate Change 2020 show these laudable pledges making little difference, and bank financing for the fossil fuel industry continuing to lead us to the climate abyss,” he said.
» Read article       

» More about divestment       

CLIMATE

climate science disruptions
Coronavirus Already Hindering Climate Science, But the Worst Disruptions Are Likely Yet to Come
Early fallout includes canceled science missions and potential gaps in long-running climate records, while research budgets could take a hit in the long run.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
March 27, 2020

Along with temporarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions and forcing climate activists to rethink how to sustain a movement built on street protests, the global response to the coronavirus pandemic is also disrupting climate science.

Many research missions and conferences scheduled for the next few months have been canceled, while the work of scientists already in the field has been complicated by travel restrictions, quarantines and other efforts to protect field researchers and remote indigenous populations from the pandemic.
» Read article       

banked CFCs
Long Phased-Out Refrigeration and Insulation Chemicals Still Widely in Use and Warming the Climate
New study concludes that “banked” CFCs have greenhouse gas impacts equal to all registered U.S. cars and slow the shrinking of the ozone hole.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
March 17, 2020

Starting decades ago, international governments phased out a class of chemical refrigerants that harmed the ozone layer and fueled global warming. Now, a new study indicates that the remaining volume of these chemicals, and the emissions they continue to release into the atmosphere, is far larger than previously thought.

The findings point to a lost opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a par with the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the United States, but also highlight a low-cost pathway to curb future warming, researchers say.

The study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, looks at “banked” volumes of three leading chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals whose production is banned but remain in use today in older refrigeration and cooling systems and in foam insulation. CFCs were phased out of production in developed countries by 1996, and in developing countries by 2010, under the Montreal Protocol because of the leading role they played in creating the so-called “ozone hole” in the atmosphere.
» Read article
» Read study

» More about climate          

CLEAN ENERGY

coronavirus disrupts offshore wind
Inside Clean Energy: At a Critical Moment, the Coronavirus Threatens to Bring Offshore Wind to a Halt
The wind farms, in development off several East Coast states, are an essential part of how those states plan to meet emissions reduction targets.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
March 26, 2020

This was going to be the year that offshore wind energy made a giant leap in the United States. Then the coronavirus arrived.

An offshore wind trade group said its main concern is the health of its workers, but the group  also worries that the virus will slow or stop work throughout the chain of suppliers and other service providers.

This could be said for just about any industry, but offshore wind is different in that it is in a formative stage, with almost no projects up and running, and more than a dozen in various phases of development along the East Coast. As a result, the industry faces challenges much greater than simply pausing work in an established supply chain.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

virus NOx out
Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus
By Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, New York Times
March 22, 2020

In cities across the United States, traffic on roads and highways has fallen dramatically over the past week as the coronavirus outbreak forces people to stay at home and everyday life grinds to a halt.

Pollution has dropped too.

A satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks shows huge declines in pollution over major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
» Read article       

electrified big rigs
Big Rigs Begin to Trade Diesel for Electric Motors
Tractor-trailer fleets will take time to electrify, and start-ups and established truck makers are racing to get their models on the road.
By Susan Carpenter, New York Times
March 19, 2020

Two years ago, the [Freightliner] eCascadia was nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation — a virtual rendering to expedite a diesel stalwart into a zero-emissions future for goods movement. Now it’s one of several competing models, from start-ups as well as established truck makers, that are gearing up for production next year with real-world testing. Orders have poured in, from companies eager to shave operating costs and curb emissions, for trucks that won’t see roads for months or even years.

Volvo Trucks North America announced this year that it would test 23 of its VNR battery-electric heavy-duty trucks in and out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Washington-based truck maker Kenworth is already there, operating the beginnings of Project Portal, a 10-truck fleet of semis powered with hydrogen fuel cells. And Daimler Trucks North America is making deliveries in 20 of its preproduction eCascadias with two partner companies, Penske Truck Leasing and NFI.

“We want them quicker than the manufacturers can produce them,” said NFI’s president, Ike Brown. NFI, a freight hauler based in New Jersey, has been operating 10 eCascadias between the port complex, the country’s busiest, and its warehouse in Chino, 50 miles inland.

Mr. Brown’s company makes regional deliveries using a fleet of 4,500 mostly diesel trucks. With a defined daily route of about 250 miles, and trucks that return to the same place every night to recharge, electric trucks “just make sense,” Mr. Brown said.
» Read article       

Tesla catches fire in Europe
Tesla’s Success in Europe Catches Industry Off Guard
The Model 3 outsold some of the most popular luxury models in recent months. BMW, Mercedes and Audi risk missing the transition to electric cars.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 4, 2020

FRANKFURT — Until recently European auto executives regarded Tesla with something like bemusement. The electric car upstart from California was burning cash, struggling with production problems, and hedge funds were betting it would fail.

The car executives are not laughing anymore. Almost overnight, the Tesla Model 3 has become one of the best-selling cars in Europe. In December, only the Volkswagen Golf and Renault Clio sold more, according to data compiled by JATO Dynamics, a market research firm.

Tesla’s surge, assuming it proves sustainable, raises questions about whether traditional carmakers like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz are in danger of missing a striking shift in automotive technology. Despite plenty of warning, they are only beginning to introduce competing electric vehicles.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation       

ENERGY STORAGE

lead-acid makeover
Lead batteries make innovation push to better compete for energy storage projects
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
March 19, 2020

Lead-acid batteries are already a multi-billion-dollar industry and are widely-used in automotive and industrial applications. But for the power sector, they are a small player relative to lithium-ion batteries, which make up over 90% of the global grid battery storage market. One reason for their fast growth is cost — lithium-ion batteries have an estimated project cost of $469 per kWh, compared to $549 per kWh for lead-acid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2019 Energy Storage Technology and Cost Characterization Report.

But at $260 per kWh, lead batteries themselves already have lower capital costs than lithium-ion, which is at $271 per kWh, the DOE report found. If further research can get lead batteries to hit the goal of an average of 5,000 cycles over their lives by 2022, then the technology could be able to reach the DOE’s target of operational costs of 3 cents per cycle per kWh, Raiford said, a milestone that no battery chemistry has consistently reached.
» Read article      
» Read report

» More about energy storage        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

sloshy
A Gusher of Oil and Fewer Places to Put It
A chaotic mismatch between the supply and demand for oil is saturating the world’s ability to store it all.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 26, 2020

The world is awash in crude oil, and is slowly running out of places to put it.

Massive, round storage tanks in places like Trieste, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates are filling up. Vast caves in Louisiana and Texas that hold the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve are being topped up. Over 80 huge tankers, each holding up to 80 million gallons, are anchored off Texas, Scotland and elsewhere, with no particular place to go.

The world doesn’t need all this oil. The coronavirus pandemic has strangled the world’s economies, silenced factories and grounded airlines, cutting the need for fuel. But Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, is locked in a price war with rival Russia and is determined to keep raising production.
» Read article       

Unthinkable becomes thinkable as US shale industry ponders production cuts
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International – Blog Post
March 23, 2020

The unthinkable could soon be thinkable. For years, emboldened by a brazenly pro-Big Oil President, the US shale industry has drilled and fracked, oblivious to the climate crisis, local communities, or whether they’re even generating value.

But as the global public health emergency worsens – Covid-19 – it appears to be reshaping energy policy in a way that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago. As travel and commercial activity slowed, oil demand has plummeted, and so has the oil price. The ensuing price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has created the perfect storm for the already fragile US oil industry.
» Read article       

Project Tundra
North Dakota’s Carbon Capture Project Tundra Another “Expensive Greenwashing” Attempt to Bail Out Coal Power
By Laura Peterson, DeSmog Blog
March 21, 2020

Carbon capture technology has generated a lot of controversy–but little private investment–due to its lack of profitability and efficiency. So why is a proposal to retrofit an aging coal-powered plant in North Dakota with smokestack scrubbers receiving millions of federal taxpayer dollars?

Ask Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who has directed more than $30 million in Department of Energy funding to Project Tundra.

The project would install a carbon capture system at the Milton R. Young Station, a two-unit plant that has run on lignite coal from the nearby Center Mine since it began operating in 1970. The captured carbon would then be piped to the Bakken region for injection into oil wells in a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery.
» Read article      

drilling for C-19
American Oil Drillers Were Hanging On by a Thread. Then Came the Virus.
Energy companies were major issuers of junk bonds to finance expansion. But now they are in trouble as capital has dried up and oil prices have cratered.
By Matt Phillips and Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 20, 2020

Wall Street supercharged America’s energy boom of the past decade by making it easy for oil companies to finance growth with cheap, borrowed money. Now, that partnership is in tatters as the coronavirus pandemic has driven the fastest collapse of oil prices in more than a generation.

The energy sector has buckled in recent weeks as the global demand for oil suddenly shriveled and oil prices plunged, setting off a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Oil prices are now one-third their most recent high, trading as low as $24 a barrel, and could fall further.

The crisis has been a body blow to the American oil and gas industry. Already heavily indebted, many companies are now struggling to make interest payments on the debt they carry and are finding it challenging to raise new financing, which has gotten more expensive as traditional buyers of debt have vanished and risks to the oil industry have grown.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels       

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

Belmont Cty Nevermind
Market Headwinds Buffet Appalachia’s Future as a Center for Petrochemicals
A proposed $5.7 billion ethane plant in Belmont County, Ohio, was seen as a likely casualty even before coronavirus cratered oil prices and collapsed the economy.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
March 21, 2020

And in a new study, analysts at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a nonprofit think tank that works toward a sustainable energy economy, have found that the plant faces a damaging, cumulative set of risks, all raising doubts about whether it will ever be financed.

The plant’s fate is seen by both the IEEFA and IHS Markit as a harbinger of trouble for the broader vision of Appalachia as a major petrochemical hub.  A string of significant setbacks and delays now seem more important amid the coronavirus pandemic, a crashing economy, cratering oil prices, slowing demand for plastics and what could be the final months of a fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration.

Activists who have been fighting fracking and the planned petrochemical boom say they hope the industry’s mounting woes, which are sure to be worsened by a coronavirus-related economic stall, will lead to a long enough pause for leaders to decide whether the nation’s former steel belt should continue to embrace another heavily polluting and fossil-fuel dependent industry.
» Read article      
» Read IEEFA study    

» More about the plastics / fracking connection   

PLASTICS BANS

bag the ban
In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans

By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 26, 2020

They are “petri dishes for bacteria and carriers of harmful pathogens,” read one warning from a plastics industry group. They are “virus-laden.”

The group’s target? The reusable shopping bags that countless of Americans increasingly use instead of disposable plastic bags.

The plastic bag industry, battered by a wave of bans nationwide, is using the coronavirus crisis to try to block laws prohibiting single-use plastic. “We simply don’t want millions of Americans bringing germ-filled reusable bags into retail establishments putting the public and workers at risk,” an industry campaign that goes by the name Bag the Ban warned on Tuesday, quoting a Boston Herald column outlining some of the group’s talking points.

The Plastics Industry Association is also lobbying to quash plastic bag bans. Last week, it sent a letter to the United States Department of Health and Human Services requesting that the department publicly declare that banning single-use plastics during a pandemic is a health threat.
» Read article       

» More about plastics bans and alternatives      

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