Tag Archives: COP26

Weekly News Check-In 7/17/20

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

OTHER PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines              

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate activists indicated the center is an initiative to watch.

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

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

» More about divestment      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate               

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage             

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation             

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels                   

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass              

PLASTIC BAG BANS

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

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

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

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

» More about plastic bans             

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment      

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Weekly News Check-In 4/3/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

Greetings from another week of lockdown and social distancing, as we continue to take steps to keep ourselves and especially others safe during the coronavirus pandemic. We take inspiration, instruction, and comfort from Daniel Matarazzo’s inspired work of public service. You’ll find important news below, but definitely start here.

Developments in climate news include a one-year delay in the next United Nations-sponsored climate conference, COP26, due to coronavirus concerns. An interesting consequence of this schedule change is that it will give participants time to react to U.S. election results.

The Trump administration finalized its rollback of automobile emissions regulations – setting back one of the most important climate change mitigation efforts underway in the United States. The move was anticipated, and immediately challenged in court. This capped a busy couple of weeks in the annals of environmental assault, which also saw the EPA suspend enforcement of important air and water pollution laws during the pandemic.

We wrap up the climate section on a positive note, with an insightful Rolling Stone profile of Greta Thunberg.

Although clean transportation was bruised by Trump’s regulatory rollback, the climate case for electric vehicles was bolstered by yet another important study. It’s now certain that EVs are the lowest emitters in nearly every part of the world, regardless of what energy mix powers the electric grid that charges them. This decisively invalidates longstanding efforts by fossil fuel interests to dismiss electric vehicles as ineffective in lowering overall transportation sector emissions.

The fossil fuel industry is experiencing an existential disruption due to falling demand and cratering oil prices. Already on shaky financial ground, the industry is lobbying hard for government bailout money, while different players across and within sectors are turning on each other – each protecting its own interests as some maneuver to profit from the demise of others. This is where capitalism’s vaunted “creative destruction” morphs into “Lord of the Flies”.

We conclude with another story about the plastics / fracking connection. A huge new plastics plant in Gramercy, Louisiana is poised to spew massive amounts of greenhouse gas while adding to the pollution load on that already-burdened community.

— The NFGiM Team

CLIMATE

Glasgow COP26 delayed
Coronavirus Delays Key Global Climate Talks
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
April 1, 2020

This year’s United Nations-sponsored climate talks, widely regarded as the most important climate meeting of the past four years, were postponed on Wednesday because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The session, known as the Conference of Parties, had been scheduled to take place in Glasgow for a week and a half in mid-November. It was postponed to 2021, the world body’s climate agency and the host government, Britain, confirmed late Wednesday.
» Read article      

COP’s Postponement Until 2021 Gives World Leaders Time to Respond to U.S. Election
The annual United Nations climate meeting in Glasgow had been scheduled for six days after the presidential contest in early November.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
April 1, 2020

resident Donald Trump announced shortly after taking office that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, but under the agreement, the earliest possible withdrawal date is Nov. 4, four years after the agreement took effect in the United States—and a day after the upcoming presidential election.

The meeting in Glasgow had been scheduled for six days after the election. That would have given leaders little time to respond to either another Trump administration—and the full withdrawal of the United States from the pact—or a new, incoming Democratic administration, which, under the agreement’s rules, could restore and revamp U.S. commitments as soon as February 2021.

“With this scenario at least you have clarity on who the president is well before the meeting,” Meyer said. “And in a Trump scenario, they would have more than six days to think through the implications of four more years of Trump and figure out their response. It provides a little more breathing space.”
» Read article      

cough it up Wheeler
Court Rules EPA Can’t Keep Secret Key Model Used in Clean Car Rule Rollback
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

A federal appeals court ruled April 1 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had no basis to withhold one key part of a computer model used by the agency to develop its less stringent greenhouse gas emission standards for new vehicles. The ruling came just one day after EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a final rule rolling back clean car standards set under the Obama administration.

The new Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, which requires vehicle fuel economy improvements of 1.5 percent annually rather than 5 percent, is expected to increase air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and consumer fuel spending.

Several environmental and public interest groups — ardent critics of the laxer standards — submitted formal comments to EPA last year noting that the agency disregarded its own modeling for the rulemaking and refused to publicly disclose information related to that modeling. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also brought a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against EPA to compel the agency to release the full components of a modeling program called the Optimization Model for Reducing Emissions of Greenhouse Gases from Automobiles (OMEGA). The computerized program forecasts how automakers could comply with certain greenhouse gas emission standards.
» Read article      

big orange and the blowTrump Admin Weakens Clean Car Standards Despite Its Analyses Showing Rule Favors Big Oil Over Health, Climate
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2020

The Trump administration today announced the final rule that rolls back Obama-era clean vehicle standards, a move that, according to the government’s own analyses, is expected to benefit the oil industry and harm consumers, public health, and the climate.

Experts also warn it will result in litigation and global market inconsistency to the detriment of automakers.

The Trump administration standards require average fuel economy of only about 40 miles per gallon in 2025, with annual increases of 1.5 percent starting in 2021, as opposed to the 5 percent annual increase under the Obama standards. The laxer standards under the SAFE rule are expected to result in over a billion metric tons more climate pollution through 2040.

The move was condemned by former and some current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees.

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have for the past decade jointly set the greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards. The joint national program, first announced by Obama in 2009, came on the heels of the auto industry bailout and was welcomed by automakers.

The national program also aligned with stricter clean vehicle standards sought by California, which has authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt its own vehicle emissions standards.

Now automakers, though they had initially lobbied the Trump administration for weaker standards, could face more uncertainty especially given California’s legal challenge to the federal government’s revocation of its Clean Air Act authority. Several automakers including Ford, Honda, BMW of North America, and Volkswagen Group of America agreed last year to adhere to California’s more stringent vehicle standards, while a coalition of other automakers backed the Trump administration in the lawsuit, thus dividing the auto industry.
» Read article      

rolling with Trump
Trump to roll back Obama-era clean car rules in huge blow to climate fight

Announcement will allow vehicles to emit 1bn more tons of CO2; Experts say move will lead to more life-threatening air pollution
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
March 31, 2020

The Trump administration is rolling back the US government’s strongest attempt to combat the climate crisis, weakening rules which compel auto companies to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. Critics say the move will lead to more life-threatening air pollution and force Americans to spend more on gasoline.

The changes to Obama-era regulations will allow vehicles to emit about a billion more tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide – equivalent to roughly a fifth of annual US emissions.

The rollback is one of dozens Trump officials have ushered to completion, seeking to bolster the fossil fuel industry amid intense opposition from Democratic-led states and pushback from world leaders.
» Read article      

emitters get free ride
Trump administration allows companies to break pollution laws during coronavirus pandemic
Extraordinary move signals to US companies that they will not face any sanctions for polluting the air or water
By Oliver Milman and Emily Holden, The Guardian
March 27, 2020

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suspended its enforcement of environmental laws during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, signaling to companies they will not face any sanction for polluting the air or water of Americans.

In an extraordinary move that has stunned former EPA officials, the Trump administration said it will not expect compliance with the routine monitoring and reporting of pollution and won’t pursue penalties for breaking these rules.

Polluters will be able to ignore environmental laws as long as they can claim in some way these violations were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the event of an imminent threat to public health, the EPA will defer to the states and “consider the circumstances” over whether it should intervene.

There is no end date set for this dropping of enforcement.
» Read article      

now or never
How one Swedish teenager armed with a homemade sign ignited a crusade and became the leader of a movement

By Stephen Rodrick, Rolling Stone   
March 26, 2020

Greta’s rise was the activist version of a perfect storm. Her ascension from bullied Swedish student to global climate icon has been driven by both a loss and a regaining of hope. It is not a coincidence that her ascent happened immediately in the aftermath of the election of Trump. It’s impossible to see a Greta-like phenomena emerging during the Obama-driven run up to the Paris climate talks, when it actually looked like nations of the world were getting their shit together to deal with global warming. It became obvious after Trump and the Paris implosion that 30 years of rhetoric and meetings had created very little except more talk.
» Read article      

» More about climate          

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

buzz aroundYet Another Study Confirms: Electric Cars Reduce Climate Pollution
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 27, 2020

Electric cars are better for the climate than gas-powered vehicles in nearly every part of the world. That’s the clear, unequivocal finding of the first study that conducted a global examination of the current and future greenhouse gas emissions of electric vehicles (EVs) and gas-powered cars. This study directly refutes myths perpetuated by climate science deniers and EV antagonists, who claim that EVs are really not all that green.

The team of European researchers behind the new study build on recent similar findings by the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Each of these studies have taken a worldwide look at the life cycle emissions from EVs that are charged by a variety of forms of electricity generation, from the cleanest to the dirtiest of grids. The new study again dispels the myth that electric cars are more polluting than gas-powered cars because they are charged by coal-fired electricity.

Additionally, the researchers reveal that electric heat pumps are also less carbon-intensive than fossil fuel-based heating. The study, published March 23 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Sustainability, supports the understanding that electrification of road transport and home heating helps lower climate pollution.
» Read article      
» Read the study     

electric is cleaner
Electric cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles, study confirms
Finding will come as boost to governments seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 23, 2020

Electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits.

The finding is a boost to governments, including the UK, seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions, which will require a massive expansion of the electric car fleet. A similar benefit was found for electric heat pumps.

In the UK, transport is now the biggest contributor to the climate crisis and domestic heating has been stubbornly stuck on natural gas for much of the country.

Across the world, passenger road vehicles and household heating generate about a quarter of all emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. That makes electric vehicles essential to reducing overall emissions, but how clean an electric vehicle is also depends on how the electricity is generated, the efficiency of the supply and the efficiency of the vehicle.

That has made some individuals and governments question whether these technologies are worth expanding. The study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, produced a decisive yes.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oily infighting
Industry Infighting as Oil and Gas Seek Government Help

By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

While the U.S. government is looking for ways to prop up unprofitable drilling, the industry is not a monolith. The collapse of the oil markets appears to be leading to infighting from various factions within the fossil fuel industry. For example, the oil majors are content to let smaller shale oil drillers fail, as DeSmog has reported, which would allow them to snatch up the shattered pieces on the cheap.

But the idea of tariffs on imported crude or a more comprehensive ban on imports is creating another fissure in the industry. Refiners, many of which import from abroad, are dead set against the idea. Refiners “aren’t seeking bailout relief from the government or financial stimulus, but they do need to avoid having additional hurdles thrown their way,” Susan Grissom, Chief Industry Analyst for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), said in a post on the group’s website. AFPM is a lobby group for refineries and petrochemical producers.

AFPM’s wish list includes “keeping the energy market free and open by avoiding embargoes or tariffs that would drive up consumer costs,” Grissom said. A growing number of refineries are shutting down as oil consumption collapses.

But it isn’t just refiners that oppose the tariffs. The shale gas industry is also against restricting imported oil. The Marcellus Shale Gas Coalition, a trade association, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on March 25, opposing tariffs.

“We have watched with some concern recent advocacy … to impose tariffs on imports of crude petroleum,” the letter said. “Frankly, such remedies do little to address the condition of natural gas producers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in our region.”

The letter added that tariffs “may even do harm to natural gas producers” because it could “stimulate crude oil production which in turn would cause the production of additional incidental or ‘free’ gas to be produced out of those crude-oil plays.”
» Read article      

candle in the wind
Oil Companies on Tumbling Prices: ‘Disastrous, Devastating’
The use of gasoline and other fuels is dropping as Saudi Arabia and Russia increase production, sending oil prices to their lowest level in a generation.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 31, 2020

Global oil benchmark prices hover around $20 a barrel — levels not seen in a generation — and regional prices in West Texas and North Dakota have fallen even further, to around $10 a barrel. That is about a quarter of the price that shale operators typically need to cover the costs of pulling oil out of the ground. If these prices persist, a big wave of bankruptcies is inevitable by the end of the year, experts say.

The share prices of large companies like Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Chevron have nearly halved in recent months, while the stocks of smaller firms with less healthy balance sheets have fallen even more.
» Read article      

not funny anymoreFracking Once Lifted Pennsylvania. Now It Could Be a Drag.
Natural-gas companies operating in the state were looking shaky before the coronavirus hit. Local economies are now at risk.
By Peter Eavis, New York Times
March 31, 2020

CARMICHAELS, Pa. — The last time the global economy was in free fall, an economic savior showed up in southwestern Pennsylvania. Energy companies, which had discovered a way to get at the state’s vast natural-gas reserves, invested billions of dollars in the region, cushioning the blow of the Great Recession.

“There were just so many jobs,” Debbie Gideon, a retired community banker, recalls. “It was crazy.”

But 12 years later, as the region braces for the coronavirus recession, natural-gas companies are much more likely to weigh on the local economy than to rescue it.
» Read article

refineries shutting down
Oil Refineries Face Shutdowns as Demand Collapses
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 30, 2020

A growing number of refineries around the world are either curtailing operations or shutting down entirely as the oil market collapses.

Oil prices have fallen precipitously to their lowest levels in nearly two decades. Typically, falling oil prices are a good thing for refiners because they buy crude oil on the cheap and process it into gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel, selling those products at higher prices. The end consumer also tends to consume more when fuel is less expensive. As a result, the profit margin for refiners tends to widen when crude oil becomes oversupplied.

But the world is in the midst of dual supply and demand shock — too much drilling has produced a substantial surplus, and the global coronavirus pandemic has led to a historic drop in consumption. Oil demand could fall by as much as 20 percent, according to the International Energy Agency, by far the largest decline in consumption ever recorded.
» Read article      

open license for polluters
Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry
The American Petroleum Institute sought the EPA’s help for companies hurt by COVID-19. One former EPA official called the suspension “an open license to pollute.”
By By Marianne Lavelle, Phil McKenna, David Hasemyer, Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
March 27, 2020

The Trump administration’s unprecedented decision to suspend enforcement of U.S. environmental laws amid the COVID-19 crisis throws a lifeline to the oil industry as it copes with the greatest threat to its business in a generation.

The decision, announced late Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency, comes after a detailed call for help from the industry’s largest trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, five days earlier.

The EPA went further than meeting the oil industry’s request—announcing a blanket policy suspending enforcement and civil penalties for any regulated entity that can show COVID-19 was the cause of a failure to comply with the law. But it is clear that a primary beneficiary will be the oil industry, which sought suspension of its obligations under consent decrees over past air and water pollution violations at its refineries, deferral of requirements on handling of fracking wastewater and a pause in reporting its greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
» Read article      

shale wreckage
Exxon May Crush Bailout Hopes for Suffering Fracking Companies
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 27, 2020

Presumably, Exxon and other companies who can outlast this crisis will gladly pick up the “ghosts and zombies.” This would seem like ruthless behavior from Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute, who constantly tout the jobs created by the oil industry. Wiping out those smaller companies will result in huge job losses in an industry already threatened by increasing automation.

However, in another rare moment of honesty from an oil company CEO years earlier, former ExxonMobil head Lee Raymond made clear why helping Americans wasn’t a concern of his when he was running the international oil major.

According to Steve Coll’s book Private Empire, when Raymond was asked if Exxon would build more refineries in the U.S. to help America, he replied, “I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”

Raymond is now on the board of JPMorgan Chase, the bank, which according to The Washington Post, is one of the biggest lenders to the fossil fuel industry. That’s probably not good news for shale firms either. Raymond’s successor was Rex Tillerson who left Exxon to head the Trump State Department for a period.

The shale industry, on the other hand, is only a decade old and simply does not have the political power of Exxon and its apparent surrogate, the American Petroleum Institute. Exxon may be likely to get its bailouts while making sure that smaller, less stable shale companies fail.
» Read article      

Breaking: Rights of Nature Law Forces Pennsylvania to Revoke Industry Permit
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection enforces local Grant Township law in revoking permit for dangerous frack waste injection well
By CELDF, Press Release
March 25, 2020

GRANT TOWNSHIP, INDIANA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: In an extraordinary reversal, last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoked a permit for a frack waste injection well in Grant Township. DEP officials cited Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter banning injection wells as grounds for their reversal.

Injection wells are toxic sewers for the fracking industry that cause earthquakes, receive radioactive waste, and threaten drinking water and ecosystems.

Township residents popularly adopted a Home Rule Charter (local constitution) in 2015 that contains a “Community Bill of Rights.” The Charter bans injection wells as a violation of the rights of those living in the township and recognizes rights of nature. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the Charter.
» Read article      
» Read the decision

» More about the fossil fuel industry  

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

stop killing us Formosa
In the most polluted part of America, residents now battle the US’s biggest plastic plant
Plastics factory will not only contribute to pollution in Louisiana town of Gramercy, but will also be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions
Oliver Laughland and Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 1, 2020

Named the Sunshine Project, the sprawling plastics facility owned by the Taiwanese plastics giant Formosa, has become a focal point in the fight against industrial pollution in the region. St James parish neighbours St John the Baptist parish, home to the most toxic air in America and the subject of a year-long Guardian series, Cancer Town.

The Sunshine Project will not only be a major contributor to local toxic pollution, but will also be a significant source of greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions. LDEQ has permitted Formosa to release an astonishing 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, the equivalent of three and a half coal fired power stations.

This boom in plastic production is fueled by cheap oil and gas released by fracking. The industry is planning 157 new or expanded plants and more drilling over the next five years, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project. These projects will release up to 227m tons of additional greenhouse gases by the end of 2025 – a 30% rise from the industry’s footprint in 2018.
 » Read article      

» More about the plastics / fracking connection     

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