Legal actions against fossil fuel projects are more likely to carry weight when a plaintiff can convince a court that a project has caused them harm – or would in the future if it were built. An interesting and encouraging trend has been expanding the definition of who might suffer harm beyond individual persons or local communities. Recent suits have claimed that all young people, or even nature itself, have a right to protection. While these efforts have yielded mixed results, they open the possibility of addressing climate change and the extinction crisis simultaneously.
New pipeline projects in particular are facing stepped-up scrutiny in states like Massachusetts, where utility incentives that traditionally encouraged these projects are suddenly at odds with new climate laws mandating a rapid transition away from the fuels those pipelines deliver. This idea that investments in polluting fuels can still be profitable even though they must eventually fail animates the divestment movement. Right now, some of the worlds biggest banks that are still financing fossil fuels are among the sponsors of UK’s Green Investment Summit. It’s a cheeky bit of greenwashing that activists are not granting a free pass.
Almost every facet of modern human existence is currently reliant on fossil fuels, and greening the economy at the required pace to avert disaster demands political leadership on a grand scale. This makes the Canadian province of Alberta particularly interesting to watch: traditionally conservative and awash in money from its tar sands oil resources, it just elected a forward-thinking new mayor for Calgary who promises to immediately declare a climate emergency. And considerable pressure is building to create a just transition for Canadian fossil industry workers who will be displaced by the coming changes.
Closer to home, politics and politicians are less inspiring. We take a look at the climate cost of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s refusal to back President Biden’s proposed Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP) – considered key to rapidly cleaning up and modernizing the US electric grid.
A study has found significant health problems associated with burning wood for home heat. We carried this article in our Energy Efficiency section as a reminder that better insulation and air sealing, combined with heat pumps, offer a much greener and safer way to ride out the winter. Sure, keep an efficient, EPA approved wood stove for emergency backup, but avoid burning wood whenever possible.
The commercial end of the wood burning spectrum involves incinerating woody biomass for electricity. Drax, the UK’s largest biomass energy facility, claims it can make the process carbon neutral (even negative!) by capturing carbon dioxide from their smokestacks. We offer two recent studies disproving that claim.
The rapid growth of the electric vehicle market is beginning to produce what will soon be mountains of retired lithium-ion batteries. Developing a green, circular supply chain hinges on recycling plans that are already under development, but those recycled materials have to find their way into new batteries. That requires a path to high quality end products. An encouraging new study shows how recycled materials were used to create a battery cell that performs just as well as, and lasts over 50% longer than batteries made with all virgin materials.
Stay tuned on October 28th when fossil fuel executives testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, where the various Titans will be obliged to explain their decades-long disinformation and climate denial campaigns. Their statements will be judged against a trove of recently published evidence proving they were all aware of the dangers of climate change. The moment is reminiscent of another pivotal hearing in 1994, when the heads of Big Tobacco lined up and testified under oath that each had no idea nicotine was addictive. Of course it was a lie. The industry’s precipitous decline and big dollar settlements followed shortly afterward.
We’ll wrap up with a report from Beyond Plastics, showing how the predicted growth of the plastics market will give it a carbon footprint larger than US coal power by 2030 unless something is done to change the trajectory.
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
To Stop Line 3 Across Minnesota, an Indigenous Tribe Is Asserting the Legal Rights of Wild Rice
In the first “rights of nature” case filed in a U.S. tribal court, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is hoping to establish precedent in support of an unorthodox but growing legal movement.
By Katie Surma, Inside Climate News
October 22, 2021
Late last month, Enbridge Energy announced that it had completed construction of its Line 3 oil pipeline replacement across Minnesota, despite strenuous opposition from Native American tribes and environmental activists.
But a permit issued to Enbridge for construction of the pipeline is being challenged in the White Earth Nation tribal court, in an unconventional case that asserts the legal rights of Manoomin, or wild rice, to “exist, flourish, regenerate and evolve.” The plant, which “grows on water,” is the lead plaintiff in the case, joined by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and others.
The case is the first rights of nature enforcement action filed in a tribal court and is notable because the plaintiffs claim that acts taken by the state of Minnesota on non-reservation land have impinged on the rights of Manoomin, which are protected under a 2018 White Earth Nation tribal law.
Rights of nature laws have taken root in more than 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across the country in, among other states, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Globally, rights of nature legislation, judicial rulings and constitutional amendments have emerged in Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, India, New Zealand, Ecuador and Uganda, among other countries.
» Read article
UN Committee Denies Climate Change Petition From Greta Thunberg and World Youth Activists
By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
October 18, 2021
In a “stunning” and upsetting decision, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child refused to hear the case of 16 youth from around the world who are threatened by the climate crisis.
The international human rights body is tasked with protecting children’s rights. As such, a joint petition from youth including Greta Thunberg argued that five G20 countries — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — are violating their rights to life, health, and culture under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would keep global temperature increases below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The petition called out five countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but that continue to pollute and use fossil fuels. By doing so, they are not taking action to fulfill their obligations under the Convention to provide for the health and well-being of children as the climate crisis intensifies, Earthjustice reported.
In their petition, the youth requested action, not money. They implored the UN body to make specific recommendations to the five nations about how they can meet their treaty obligations. These included changing their laws in response to climate change and applying more diplomatic pressure on big polluters like the U.S. and China. Every country except the U.S. has ratified the Convention.
» Read article
» More about protests and actions
As state law requires steep emissions cuts, utilities face an urgent quandary: to build or not to build new gas pipelines?
By David Abel, Boston Globe
October 19, 2021
After acquiring Columbia Gas of Massachusetts last year, Eversource reviewed the safety and reliability of its new pipelines and discovered what the utility considered a significant red flag: One community in western Springfield was uniquely vulnerable to a mishap or natural disaster, with 58,000 customers reliant on just one pipeline vital to warming their homes.
Officials at Columbia Gas had been well aware of the vulnerability and spent years seeking to build backup pipelines in the area, but local protests against the proposals and other events stymied its plans.
Now, Eversource is floating a similarly controversial project that would create one of the largest new pipelines in the state in recent years, a plan that could cost ratepayers as much as $33 million and perpetuate the use of a fossil fuel that a new state law aims to eliminate.
“If there was one failure on that line, it could be a devastating situation,” said Bill Akley, president of gas operations at Eversource, the largest energy company in New England. “There’s nowhere else in the state that has this kind of reliability risk.”
But local residents and environmental advocates vigorously oppose the project.
They say this is the wrong time to be investing so much ratepayer money in a project that would violate the intentions of Massachusetts’ new climate law, which obligates the state to cut its carbon emissions in half by the end of this decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050. The project would require an expensive new substation and create as much as seven miles of an entirely new line, something rare in recent years in Massachusetts.
Instead, they say, state officials should halt any further additions to an already vast, multibillion-dollar infrastructure of gas pipes, which supports the continued use of fossil fuels and inevitably leaks methane, one of the most potent of greenhouse gases.
“It’s so short-sighted and misguided in the broader reality that it boggles my mind,” said Verne McArthur, 78, who lives near some of the potential routes of the proposed pipeline and has opposed it as a member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. “We’re at code red in climate change, and we must get off fossil fuels as rapidly as possible to avoid complete disaster. Eversource laying down infrastructure, which will last decades, is so obviously the wrong direction.”
He and others assert that officials at Eversource, which earns a valuable surcharge on all new pipes it installs, are more concerned about profits than their environmental impact. They note that the existing pipeline has served the community for decades without any significant failure, and that it should remain sufficient for a few more years, as the state makes the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“I don’t believe Eversource has Springfield’s best interests at heart in this project,” McArthur said
» Read article
» More about pipelines
Banks Due At UK’s ‘Green’ Investment Summit ‘Financed £700 Billion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Agreement’
Citi, JPMorgan and Barclays among “world’s biggest financiers” of oil, gas and coal at government summit on green future.
By Adam Barnett, DeSmog Blog
October 18, 2021
Bank bosses due to attend a green investment summit tomorrow head institutions which have provided over £700 billion of financing for the fossil fuel industry since the 2015 Paris Agreement, including £129 billion in 2020 alone.
Campaigners have criticised the expected presence of the “world’s biggest financiers” of fossil fuels at the UK government event, which drew protests by Extinction Rebellion and Biofuelwatch activists on Sunday.
The global investment summit is being held at the Science Museum in London and at Windsor Castle to “galvanise foreign investment in the UK’s green industries of the future” ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, according to the Department for International Trade.
Senior executives at Citi, JPMorgan, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, NatWest and Lloyds Banking Group are among over 200 investors expected to attend. Banks are increasingly committing to long-term targets of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but have been criticised for failing to make more concrete cuts by 2030.
Analysis of data from campaign group BankTrack finds that eight of the banks represented at the summit have continued to finance highly polluting coal, oil and gas through commercial and investment banking in the five years since the Paris Agreement was reached to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C.
“Inviting these banks to a Green Investment Summit is like having Marlboro at a cancer summit,” Adam McGibbon, UK campaign lead at Market Forces, told DeSmog.
» Read article
» More about divestment
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Environmental and Labor Groups Urge Canada to Support Just Transition
A new report finds that half of Canada’s oil and gas jobs could disappear by 2030 as the country presses on with a clean energy transition. But the federal and provincial governments are not doing enough to prepare workers for the change
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
October 14, 2021
Canada has not provided a transition pathway for its fossil fuel workers to move into other industries, and as global demand for oil and gas wanes, tens of thousands of workers could lose their jobs, say the authors of a new report.
Roughly 167,000 people are directly employed in Canada’s oil and gas industry, but increased automation combined with the energy transition and climate policy mean that half of those jobs are slated to disappear by the end of the decade, according to a report published on October 13 by the Climate Action Network Canada and Blue Green Canada, which is a coalition of labor and environmental groups.
The report said there is potential to transition many of these workers into cleaner industries, but action is needed by the federal and provincial governments to ease the pathway.
“This current decade — the next eight years — represents the largest effort that will be required for new job creation to ensure that we have a workforce that’s well aligned with the changing energy landscape,” Teika Newton, domestic policy manager for Climate Action Network Canada, told reporters on a press call. “The good news is that nearly three in four oil and gas workers affected by the transition have direct skills to match to alternative clean industries or IT operations elsewhere.”
Around 10 percent of oil and gas workers — including heavy equipment operators, power engineers, power systems operators, and instrumentation technicians — have the relevant skills to easily transition into wind and solar, if the demand for that labor exists, according to the report.
In addition, geothermal, oil and gas decommissioning, and industrial energy efficiency are other viable careers for workers exiting fossil fuel production. More difficult careers to transition are the reservoir engineers, hydrologists, and dispatchers.
The report says that Canada could use COVID-19 recovery funds and the Canada Infrastructure Bank to create 56,000 jobs over the next five years in wind, solar, energy efficiency, oil and gas decommissioning, and chemicals. These new jobs would offset the losses expected in oil and gas.
» Read article
» Read the report
Climate Emergency Declaration is ‘First Order of Business’ for Calgary Mayor-Elect Gondek
By The Energy Mix
October 21, 2021
A climate emergency declaration will be the first order of business for Calgary Mayor-Elect Jyoti Gondek after she’s sworn in next week, Gondek said Tuesday, just hours after her decisive win over United Conservative Party-affiliated challenger Jeromy Farkas.
“We have had the opportunity to declare a climate emergency for years,” Gondek told online radio host Ryan Jespersen. “We have had various documents presented to us as a council and I think we’ve had more than enough time to review them. So let’s get serious, let’s declare this, and let’s go after some of the capital that we will see flow in once we make a bold move with that.”
Jespersen asked the mayor-elect and former city councillor whether she would have to “find a balance as the mayor of a city that’s seen itself flourish” on fossil industry revenue. “It is a bold move, and I don’t have to tell you about how even a phrase like ‘climate emergency’ can ripple through a downtown core,” he said. “Do you have to be careful about the words you use, or are we past that? Do people misunderstand where Calgary business leaders are at right now?”
“We’ve forgotten what we’re good at,” Gondek responded. “We’re very good at energy production, and we are also leaders in innovative ways to practice energy production. We became fixated on our end product being oil and gas. So let’s move past the outputs, start talking about the process again, and put ourselves on the map as a city that is the absolute leader at transitioning the economy.”
That means showing the world “that by using innovation and technology we can come up with sustainable, greener, cleaner solutions across all our business sectors,” she added. “That’s the kind of message we need to send. We don’t need to be hung up on what it is we‘re producing. Let’s talk about the ways that we get there.”
» Read article
» More about greening the economy
Manchin Seeks to Gut Key Climate Provision From Infrastructure Bill as West Virginia Suffers Worsening Floods
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
October 18, 2021
Climate change is driving increasing flooding in West Virginia, overwhelming aging infrastructure and dumping raw sewage into waterways, The New York Times reports, and West Virginians will suffer disproportionately as climate change continues to worsen.
Meanwhile, their Senator, Democrat Joe Manchin has told the White House he strongly opposes a key, though relatively inexpensive, provision of the Build Back Better Act, according to reports from numerous outlets. The Clean Energy Performance Program, to which Manchin objects, incentivizes utilities to increase the amount of clean energy they supply to their customers.
Manchin’s opposition puts the inclusion of the CEPP in the final legislation into serious jeopardy, and the reports were met with harsh condemnation from climate advocates.
“This is absolutely the most important climate policy in the package,” climate and energy policy expert Leah Stokes told The New York Times. “We fundamentally need it to meet our climate goals. That’s just the reality. And now we can’t. So this is pretty sad.”
» Read article
» More about climate
The cost of cutting Biden’s key climate program
By John Engel, Renewable Energy World
October 19, 2021
Stripping the Clean Electricity Performance Program from a historic climate bill being considered by Congress would eliminate more than a third of potential emissions reductions, new analysis shows.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has informed the White House that he won’t support the CEPP — the carrot and stick mechanism designed to accelerate clean electricity generation by American utilities. The CEPP is the key piece of the broader $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, and is crucial for President Biden’s climate agenda.
Analysis by the think tank Energy Innovation determined that, without the CEPP, “emissions are likely to be 250-600 MMT higher per year in 2030, which could eliminate more than a third of the total emissions reductions in the Infrastructure Bills.”
» Read article
» Watch podcast discussion of CEPP
Woodside firms up solar thermal plans with Bill Gates-backed start-up
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
October 19, 2021
Australia’s biggest gas producer Woodside Petroluem has announced plans to jointly market the concentrated solar energy technology of Bill Gates-backed company Heliogen, starting with a 5MW commercial-scale demonstration facility in California.
Heliogen said on Monday that it had been granted a Limited Notice To Proceed (LNTP) from Woodside’s wholly-owned US subsidiary to begin procurement of key equipment for a demonstration facility of its AI-enabled concentrated solar power technology.
The modular, “nearly 24/7” power solution uses computer vision software to precisely align mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target on the top of a solar tower, enabling enabling low-cost storage in the form of high-temperature thermal energy.
Customers can then opt to build on the baseline system that provides industrial-grade heat by adding thermal energy storage systems, a turbine for power generation, and electrolysers for green hydrogen production, a statement said.
That last part of the equation is, in particular, where Woodside’s interests lie, with the gas major’s CEO Meg O’Neill citing Heliogen’s potential “key supporting role” in the development of its future renewable hydrogen and ammonia business.
» Read article
» More about clean energy
» More about energy efficiency
MODERNIZING THE GRID
Boosting transmission between East, West grids will lower costs: NREL
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
October 19, 2021
Adding transmission capacity between the Eastern and Western interconnections would reduce costs by allowing wind, solar and natural gas-fired generation to flow more freely across broad regions, according to a recently published study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Increasing transfer capacity between the two grids could produce $2.50 in benefits for every dollar spent on the new transmission facilities, NREL said Monday.
“The ability to transfer [wind and solar] across regions could be incredibly valuable — whether that’s in periods of power system stress, like extreme weather, or during a typical day when we want to take advantage of the best available resources,” Josh Novacheck, NREL senior research engineer and technical lead for the study, said.
Seven high-voltage links allow only 1,320 MW to move between the Eastern and Western interconnections, according to a pre-print version of the study published late last month in the journal IEEE Transactions on Power Systems.
The interconnection facilities are aging rapidly, so replacing and upgrading them presents an opportunity for modernizing the U.S. electric grid, according to Greg Brinkman, NREL senior research engineer and co-author of the study.
The study, first released a year ago, comes as the Biden administration, Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are considering ways to increase transmission development, which could help renewable energy facilities in remote areas reach major population centers.
» Read article
» Read the NREL study
» More about modernizing the grid
Study: Recycled Lithium Batteries as Good as Newly Mined
Cathodes made with novel direct-recycling beat commercial materials
By Prachi Patel, IEEE Spectrum
October 15, 2021
Lithium-ion batteries, with their use of riskily mined metals, tarnish the green image of EVs. Recycling to recover those valuable metals would minimize the social and environmental impact of mining, keep millions of tons of batteries from landfills, and cut the energy use and emissions created from making batteries.
But while the EV battery recycling industry is starting to take off, getting carmakers to use recycled materials remains a hard sell. “In general, people’s impression is that recycled material is not as good as virgin material,” says Yan Wang, a professor of mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “Battery companies still hesitate to use recycled material in their batteries.”
A new study by Wang and a team including researchers from the US Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), and battery company A123 Systems, shows that battery and carmakers needn’t worry. The results, published in the journal Joule, shows that batteries with recycled cathodes can be as good as, or even better than those using new state-of-the-art materials.
The team tested batteries with recycled NMC111 cathodes, the most common flavor of cathode containing a third each of nickel, manganese, and cobalt. The cathodes were made using a patented recycling technique that Battery Resources, a startup Wang co-founded, is now commercializing.
The recycled material showed a more porous microscopic structure that is better for lithium ions to slip in and out of. The result: batteries with an energy density similar to those made with commercial cathodes, but which also showed up to 53% longer cycle life.
» Read article
» Obtain the study
Ford and BMW partner Solid Power demonstrates the safety of its solid-state battery tech
By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
October 14, 2021
Colorado-based Solid Power, the solid-state battery firm backed by Ford and BMW, claims that third-party safety tests show its battery tech to be safer than current lithium-ion chemistry.
The tests, with results released Wednesday, aimed to simulate abuse and damage to its prototype solid-state battery cells. Those cells use a sulfide-based solid electrolyte in place of the liquid or gel used in conventional lithium-ion cells.
When fully-charged test cells were punctured by a conductive nail, the only change was a slight increase in temperature, Soild Power said in a press release. The nail penetration test produced no flames or venting of material from the cells, the company claims.
In other tests, cells were overcharged to 200%, and were also caused to short circuit, again with no serious issues, according to Solid Power.
» Read article
» Read the test results
» More about clean transportation
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
» More about fossil fuels
Forest biomass-burning supply chain is producing major carbon emissions: Studies
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
October 15, 2021
Two new studies released this week — both aimed at influencing U.S., U.K. and E.U. policymakers in the runup to the November COP26 Scotland climate summit — conclude that the harvesting of trees to produce wood pellets in the United States and burning them for energy overseas is undermining the promised carbon emissions reduction targets urgently needed to slow the rate of global warming and prevent worsening climate change.
Amid myriad research over the past decade warning of the harm burning wood pellets is doing to forests and the atmosphere, the new studies are unique in that they take a transatlantic view of the issue.
Both evaluate not only the smokestack emissions from burning wood pellets, but also add up carbon emissions generated in the U.S. Southeast and oceanic shipping. The summation includes emissions produced during the harvesting of live trees, emissions released by pellet manufacturing plants located in Virginia south to Texas, as well as emissions from shipping pellets overseas. Counted too was the lost carbon-sequestration capacity of logged forests.
The studies, one produced by London policy institute Chatham House in tandem with the Woodwell Climate Research Center in the U.S., and the other created by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), make clear that national policy decisions in the U.S., U.K. and E.U. have resulted in biomass emissions not being recorded and counted all along the supply chain and at smokestacks in any of the parties’ annual greenhouse gas emission inventories reported under the Paris Agreement.
The result is an appearance that forest biomass production and burning is carbon neutral, which allows for an erroneous accounting by the U.S., U.K. and E.U. that will help them to hit their Net Zero emissions goals.
The Chatham/Woodwell authors note that “the mislabeling of woody biomass as a zero-carbon energy source threatens to push government climate change targets further off track.” Their study estimated that wood pellets produced in the U.S. and burned in the U.K. led to 13-16 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019 alone — equal to the emissions of up to 7 million cars.
» Read article
» Read the Chatham House study
» Read the NRDC study
» More about biomass
PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change
By Beyond Plastics, Report
The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change is a comprehensive account of the United States plastics industry’s significant, yet rarely acknowledged contributions to the climate crisis. Using coal-fired power plants as a benchmark, the report examines ten stages in the creation, usage, and disposal of plastics: fracking for plastics, transporting and processing fossil fuels, gas crackers, other plastics feedstock manufacturing, polymers and additives production, exports and imports, foamed plastic insulation, “chemical recycling”, municipal waste incineration, and plastics in the water.
The U.S. plastics industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power in this country by 2030. At least 42 plastics facilities have opened since 2019, are under construction, or are in the permitting process. If they become fully operational, these new plastics plants could release an additional 55 million tons of greenhouse gases—the equivalent of another 27 average-sized coal plants. The health impacts of these emissions are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color, making this a major environmental justice issue.
Although the plastics industry has long touted plastic’s recyclability, in truth, less than 9% of plastics are recycled, and new proposals for “chemical recycling” or “advanced recycling” actually have more in common with incineration—a major source of both climate emissions and harmful air pollutants. Most of these facilities spend vast amounts of energy catalyzing chemical changes designed to turn plastics into more burnable fuel. The burning of plastics made in the U.S. already releases an estimated 15 million tons of greenhouse gases each year. If we turn to these processes to handle plastic waste, the emissions impacts would be even greater.
» Read the report
» More about plastics, health, and the environment
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» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
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