Tag Archives: Drax

Weekly News Check-In 2/26/21

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Welcome back.

We’re following two very positive news developments this week. First, a planned seismic survey for oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a brutal environmental assault  – was cancelled when a contractor missed a deadline for counting polar bears in the affected area. The Biden administration will not give them a second chance.

A couple days later we learned of a definitive vote by the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban fracking throughout the entire Delaware River watershed – a huge, environmentally sensitive region from the Catskills to Delaware Bay. This makes a longstanding moratorium permanent.

Meanwhile, folks in Weymouth continue to fight the compressor station. Now that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to review the controversial air quality permit, elected officials are pressing for the community’s health concerns to finally be taken seriously.

We’re showcasing another example of businesses retooling to thrive in a greener economy – a family-owned manufacturer in Virginia, now under third-generation leadership, has pivoted away from making coal mining equipment with plans to go big into battery storage.

Of course the climate is a mess, but we even found some good news here. A Maine startup called Running Tide Technologies is experimenting with carbon sequestration through free-floating kelp farms. Lots of practical and environmental questions have to be answered before the plan can be implemented and scaled up, but the core idea is simple and elegant. Our second bit of climate news will warm the hearts of our policy wonk friends: The Biden administration has reset of the social cost of carbon, and expects to raise it even further. This number, used in cost/benefit analysis around climate mitigation investments, was ridiculously undervalued by the Trump administration.

Since clean energy generation was falsely scapegoated during last week’s weather-related Texas grid failure, we’re offering a report on real lessons that can be learned from that disaster. This is also a good opportunity to consider the other side of the equation – demand for that energy – and the imperative to address energy efficiency in buildings.

We recently ran an article about Highland Electric Transportation, the Massachusetts electric school bus provider with an innovative business model that allows cash-strapped school districts to avoid the steep upfront costs associated with purchasing new electric buses. They’re gaining traction now, attracting investors and landing substantial contracts.

We’ve also been closely following the progress of Massachusetts’ landmark climate legislation as it bounces back and forth between the legislature and governor. Various industry groups lobbied heavily against parts of it, and this is reflected in Governor Charlie Baker’s initial veto and subsequent amendments. We offer a report on these industry influences, and where they’re coming from.

On biomass, we show what it takes to feed trees into Britain’s huge Drax power station. All of the bad ideas making Drax possible are alive and well in Governor Baker’s head, as he pursues the pretzel logic of changing Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to support the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

lawmakers push regulators
Lawmakers push regulators to reexamine compressor approval
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 24, 2021

Members of Weymouth’s congressional delegation want federal regulators to reconsider their decision to allow the compressor station on the banks of the Fore River to go into service. 

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren recently sent a letter to Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking that the commission rescind the in-service authorization issued for the compressor station in September.

“The site is located within a half mile of Quincy Point and Germantown – “environmental justice communities” that suffer persistent environmental health disparities due to socioeconomic and other factors – as well as nearly 1,000 homes, a water treatment plant and a public park,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “An estimated 3,100 children live or go to school within a mile of the site, and more than 13,000 children attend school within three miles of the compressor station.”

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the City of Quincy and other petitioners have also asked the commission to revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.

“We urge you to review their concerns fully and fairly, and to swiftly move to rehear the approval of the in-service certificate,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The commission last week voted to take a look at several issues associated with the compressor station, including whether the station’s expected air emissions and public safety impacts should prompt commissioners to reexamine the project.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.

Last fall, local, state and federal officials called for a halt of compressor operations when two emergency shutdowns caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.
» Read article                 

» More about Weymouth compressor station       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no frack zone
Amid lawsuits, Delaware River Basin Commission makes fracking ban permanent
The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge to the drilling moratorium.
By Andrew Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer
February 25, 2021

The Delaware River Basin Commission on Thursday approved a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells along the river, doubling down in the face of new legal challenges.

The DRBC’s vote maintains the status quo — it formally affirms a drilling moratorium imposed in 2010 by the commission, the interstate agency that manages water use in the vast Delaware watershed. But environmentalists hailed the frack ban as historic.

The commission said it had the authority to ban fracking in order to control future pollution, protect the public health, and preserve the waters in the Delaware River Basin. For more than debate, environmental activists have rallied substantial public opposition in the basin to pressure the commission to enact the ban.

The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge from landowners to the drilling moratorium, which is now a permanent ban. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, along with Damascus Township in Wayne County, also filed a separate federal legal action last month alleging that the moratorium illegally usurps state legislators’ authority to govern natural resources.

Representatives of the governors of four states that are drained by the river — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, all governed by Democrats — voted in favor of the ban. The fifth commission member, a federal government representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, abstained because he said the corps needed additional time to “coordinate” with the new Biden administration.
» Read article                
» See Delaware River Basin map      
» Read Natural Resources Defense Council blog post             

Gavin Newsom sued
Avowed Climate Champion Gavin Newsom Sued for ‘Completely Unacceptable’ Approval of Oil and Gas Projects in California
“Newsom can’t protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry. We need the courts to step in and stop this.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
February 24, 2021

Accusing California regulators of “reckless disregard” for public “health and safety,” the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.

The lawsuit (pdf) claims that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) failed to adequately analyze environmental and health risks before issuing fossil fuel extraction permits, as required by law. According to the suit, California regulators approved nearly 2,000 new oil and gas permits without proper environmental review. 

“CalGEM routinely violates its duty to conduct an initial study and further environmental review for any new oil and gas well drilling, well stimulation, or injection permits and approvals,” the suit alleges. “Instead, CalGEM repeatedly and consistently issues permits and approvals for oil and gas drilling, well stimulation, and injection projects without properly disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the significant environmental impacts of these projects.”

The center noted that “despite Gov. Newsom’s progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California’s dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production.”

“His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking,” the group said in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read the Center for Biological Diversity complaint against CalGEM                   

» More about protests and actions              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

made in Virginia
This Virginia coal-mining equipment supplier sees a future in clean energy
Under third-generation leadership, a family-owned company has pivoted to energy storage and sees opportunity for other southwest Virginia companies to follow.
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Lawrence Brothers Inc. / Courtesy
February 22, 2021

When Melanie Lawrence packed her bags for the University of Tennessee in 1998 to major in Spanish and English, she aspired — not at all maliciously — to leave Tazewell County in the dust.

The Virginian flourished in Knoxville.

Her academic aptitude was her ticket to Spain and then Brussels for a graduate degree in international law and relations. She traveled the world — including a year spent aiding refugees on the Ethiopia-Sudan border — practicing humanitarian law. By 2007, she was married to fellow globetrotter Fernando Protti and living in a Washington, D.C., suburb. 

A year later, home called. The family business, which manufactured battery trays for coal-mining equipment, was seeking leadership from the third generation. 

The oldest of four sisters, Protti-Lawrence somewhat surprised herself by saying yes, aware that the wide gap between the nation’s capital and Appalachia isn’t measured in mere mileage.

For the last dozen years, Melanie, president, and Fernando, CEO, have fearlessly focused on diversifying Lawrence Brothers Inc.’s product line beyond less-and-less-relevant coal. Now, just 10% of its business is coal-related, a severe and intentional drop from 95% in 2008.

“If we had stuck solely with coal, we would be out of business,” Protti-Lawrence said. “You can’t strategically plan or grow if you’re relying on one industry. We made an absolute effort to go beyond our wheelhouse.”

That grit and innovation inspired an “aha” energy storage moment for Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices and Vivek Shinde Patil of Ascent Virginia.

Both nonprofit thinkers have been dogged about linking an oft-forgotten slice of their state to the wealth of jobs and knowledge blooming in the booming renewable energy industry. Why couldn’t companies in Tazewell and Buchanan counties pivot to exporting advanced batteries and other components that fuel cars in Asia, light homes in California or store energy generated by wind farms in Europe?
» Read article                 

» More about greening the economy          

 

CLIMATE

Running Tide
Maine Startup Aims To Pull Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere By Growing — And Then Sinking — Kelp Farms
By Fred Bever, Maine Public Radio, on WBUR
February 16, 2021

The fight against climate change has long focused on scaling back humanity’s emissions of planet-warming carbon-dioxide. But a movement is growing to think bigger and find ways to actually pull existing CO2 out of the air and lock it up somewhere safe.

One Maine startup has an innovative approach that’s drawing attention from scientists and investors: grow massive amounts of seaweed and then bury it at the bottom of the deepest sea, where it will sequester carbon for thousands of years.

On a fishing boat a few miles out in the Gulf of Maine, Capt. Rob Odlin and Adam Rich are tossing buoys into the water. Each is tethered to a rope entwined with tiny seeds of kelp, a fast-growing seaweed.

“We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” Odlin says.

The project is experimental R&D for a company called Running Tide Technologies, based on the Portland waterfront.

Marty Odlin, the boat captain’s nephew and the CEO of Running Tide, explains the company’s mission.

“Essentially what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” he says.

Odlin wants to mimic the natural processes that turned ancient plants into carbon-storing fossil fuels — and do it in a hurry. He sees individual kelp microfarms floating hundreds of miles offshore, over the deepest parts of the world’s oceans.

The kelp soaks up carbon, via photosynthesis, and grows. After about seven months, the mature blades get too heavy for their biodegradable buoys, and sink.

“The kelp will sink to the ocean bottom in the sediment, and become, essentially, part of the ocean floor,” Odlin says. “That gets you millions of years of sequestration. So that’s when you’re making oil. That’s got to be the ultimate goal.”
» Read article            

baseline restored
How Much Does Climate Change Cost? Biden Expected to Raise Carbon’s Dollar Value
The administration is expected to temporarily increase the “social cost” of carbon, at least to the level set by Obama, but climate-concerned economists say that’s not high enough.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
February 19, 2021

In fact, it calculated that the benefits of action on climate change added up to as little as $1 per ton of carbon dioxide, and it set policy accordingly. Almost any steps to reduce greenhouse gases seemed too costly, given the paltry potential gain for society.

President Joe Biden’s White House is moving forward on a crucial first step toward building back U.S. climate policy and is expected to direct federal agencies to use a figure closer to $52 per ton as their guidance for the so-called “social cost of carbon” number on a temporary basis.

That figure, applied during the Obama administration, is likely to serve as a baseline while the Biden administration works on developing its own metric amid calls by climate-focused economists for a value that is at least twice as high.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Texas crisis debrief
Inside Clean Energy: The Right and Wrong Lessons from the Texas Crisis
The state experienced an “all-of-the-above” failure, and previewed a future of winter peaks in energy demand. The Ted Cruz scandal was also instructive.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Now that the power is back on in Texas, we are entering a phase with investigations of all the systems that failed.

But some of the biggest lessons are already apparent.

Here are some of the things I learned, or relearned:
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

five things about builng emissions
5 Things to Know About Carbon-Free Buildings and Construction
By Stuart Braun, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
February 24, 2021

We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.

But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.

To ensure that the Paris climate targets are met, the building and construction industry needs to become a climate leader by moving towards net-zero construction. Its CO2 emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 for building stock to be carbon-free by 2050, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In response, a raft of new net-zero building initiatives are focused on curbing emissions across the whole building lifecycle.

A report released by C40 in October 2019 showed that the construction industry alone could cut emissions from buildings and infrastructure by 44% by 2050. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have since committed to take a leadership role in creating a global market for low-emission construction materials and zero-emission machinery.

Oslo, for instance, aims to make all city-owned construction machinery and construction sites operate with zero emissions by 2025. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s bold plan to be climate-neutral by 2025 will draw heavily on its commitment to zero-carbon construction. This will be achieved in part through “fossils- or emission-free construction machinery in construction projects,” said Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen.

With Stockholm also part of a cross-border tender for sustainable procurement of mobile construction machinery, such unified demand is designed to send a signal to the market, according to Victoria Burrows. The end result will be to “create a ripple effect” that will help kickstart the net-zero building transition.
» Read article           
» Read the UN report on building sector emissions        

» More about energy efficiency         

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Highland kickstartHighland Electric Raises $235M, Lands Biggest Electric School Bus Contract in the U.S.
Maryland county taps startup’s all-inclusive EV fleet leasing model to break up-front electrification cost barriers.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 25, 2021

Electric school buses don’t just eliminate the carbon and pollution emissions of their diesel-fueled counterparts, they cost less to fuel and maintain over the long haul. 

Unfortunately for cash-strapped school districts, an electric school bus still costs more than twice as much as a diesel bus today. And that’s not counting the cost of new charging infrastructure, or the risk that those charging costs may drive a district’s electric bills through the roof. 

Highland Electric Transportation says it can remove those barriers to school districts and transit authorities, by taking on the financing and management of an EV school bus fleet in exchange for a fixed annual leasing fee. In the past week, the Hamilton, Mass.-based startup has won two votes of confidence in its business model. 

The first came last week, with the close of a $253 million venture capital investment led by Vision Ridge Partners with participation by previous investors and Fontinalis Partners, the venture fund co-founded by Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford.

The second came this week, when Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded Highland a contract to supply it with what will be the country’s largest electric school bus fleet. The deal will start with 326 buses to be delivered over the next four years, along with charging systems at five bus depots. 

The cost of that service, $169 million, will be spread out over 16 years, and will fit into the existing budget structures for its existing diesel bus fleet, said Todd Watkins, the district’s transportation director. After seven years of budget neutrality, the contract will end up saving the district money compared to what it could have expected to spend on its existing bus fleet, he said.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation           

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

MA state house dome
Andrew Ahern: ‘Who’s delaying climate action in Massachusetts?’
By Andrew Ahern, Telegram & Gazette | Opinion
February 17, 2021

On Jan. 28, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a major climate change bill, sending it to Governor Baker for him to sign. The “Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” would be the first major piece of climate legislation passed into Massachusetts law since the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

That may sound surprising to some. In a state with so many progressive voters and an active climate scene, a 13-year gap on climate action seems counterintuitive. Add the fact that within those 13 years, we’ve seen accelerated global warming and record temperatures, it becomes worse than surprising, but maddening. Why such a delay?

Now, we might have some (definitive) answers. In mid-January, Brown University’s Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) released a report titled “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings.” The report, using data from over 1,187 pieces of testimony and over 4,000 lobbying records regarding clean energy, has some pretty remarkable findings.

Of the 12 findings, five discuss lobbying efforts from groups and organizations who actively fight against climate policy and clean energy.

Take our investor owned utilities as an example. In “Finding 3: On lobbying, clean energy advocates are outspent more than 3.5 to 1,” the report finds that trade associations representing real estate, fossil fuels and power generation industries are among the top 10 groups opposing climate and clean energy legislation over a six-year period (2013-2018).

National Grid and Eversource, Massachusetts’ two largest utility companies, opposed 56 and 32 climate and clean energy bills respectively, spending over a combined $3.5 million in lobbying efforts to do so. Others, like ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute add to this, with climate action obstructors outspending climate action advocates 3.5 to 1.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The report finds that Eversource and National Grid actively oppose solar energy. While the report notes that both utility companies showed some support for expanding wind energy and hydropower, both were active in opposing solar net-metering, which would allow an expansion of solar energy in the commonwealth.
» Read article           
» Read the Brown University CSSN Research Report, “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings”              

» More legislative news                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR seismic survey dead
Seismic Survey of Alaskan Arctic Refuge Won’t Move Forward
A missed deadline for flights to look for polar bears means the work to locate oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is effectively killed.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 22, 2021

An Alaska Native group failed to meet a critical deadline as part of its proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Interior Department announced. The failure effectively kills the survey, which would have determined the location of oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge in anticipation of drilling there.

A department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwarz, said that the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, had not undertaken reconnaissance flights to detect polar bear dens in the proposed survey area as a prelude to sending trucks and other survey equipment rolling across the refuge’s coastal plain this winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, had required that three flights be conducted before Feb. 13 as part of the corporation’s request for an authorization that would require extensive efforts to avoid the animals during the full seismic survey.

As a result of the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said that the corporation had been advised “that their request is no longer actionable, and the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization.”

Separately, another Interior agency, the Bureau of Land Management, has been reviewing the corporation’s application for an overall permit to conduct the survey. The decision not to act on the polar bear authorization makes the issuance of the broader permit moot, effectively killing the proposal.

The demise of the seismic survey does not have a direct effect on the oil and gas leases in the refuge that were sold in January, the last-minute culmination of the Trump administration’s efforts to open the area to development. Those leases are currently being reviewed by the Biden White House, which is opposed to drilling there.
» Read article            

gas fights backThe battle over climate change is boiling over on the home front
Municipalities want new buildings to go all electric, spurning gas-fired stoves and heating systems. The gas industry disagrees.
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post
February 23, 2021

A new front has opened in the battle over climate change: The kitchen.

Cities and towns across the country are rewriting local building codes so that new homes and offices would be blocked from using natural gas, a fossil fuel that when burned emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. New laws would force builders to install heat pumps instead of gas furnaces and electric kitchen stoves instead of gas burners.

Local leaders say reducing the carbon and methane pollution associated with buildings, the source of 12.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is the only way they can meet their 2050 zero-emission goals to curb climate change.

But the American Gas Association, a trade group, and its members are campaigning in statehouses across the country to prohibit the new local ordinances. Four states last year adopted such laws, and this year similar legislation has been introduced in 12 more.

“Logically the natural gas industry does not want to see its business end, so it’s doing what it can to keep natural gas in the utility grid mix,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “But long term, if cities are serious about their climate goals, electric buildings are inevitable.”

Most of the gas industry, however, is fighting back.
» Read article   

» More about fossil fuel               

 

BIOMASS

Drax doubles downDrax Purchase Would Implicate the United Kingdom in Loss of Canadian Forests
The operator of the world’s largest wood-burning power station is doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model.
By Elly Pepper Jennifer Skene Sasha Stashwick, NRDC | Blog
February 25, 2021

Today, Drax—which operates the world’s largest wood-burning power station—released its earnings report, continuing to greenwash with its claims that biomass is a “green” energy source.

But, in reality, Drax is simply doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model, as evidenced by its recent decision to purchase Pinnacle—Canada’s largest wood pellet manufacturer—to become the world’s third-largest manufacturer of wood pellets.

While the U.K. attempts to burnish its environmental record ahead of hosting the COP 26 and push countries toward protecting at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 (30×30) at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), its wholesale support for biomass, including £2 million per day in subsidies to Drax, smacks of hypocrisy.

Here are the top reasons this deal makes absolutely no sense:

It will worsen climate change. Biomass energy is already a climate boondoggle since it creates emissions every step of the way, from the time trees are cut down for biomass in the forest to the smokestack when trees are burned to generate electricity. On the landscape, replacing older trees with saplings after harvest reduces the amount of carbon stored in the regrowing forest (even under the best-case scenario in which trees are replanted and regrow immediately). This is a significant source of emissions, known as foregone carbon sequestration. Biomass harvest in forests also releases carbon from the soil. Next, power plants like Pinnacle’s generate emissions by burning fossil gas (or more wood) to manufacture their pellets from the cut wood. And from there, the carbon footprint only grows, with the transport of wood pellets across the globe and the massive carbon emissions from Drax’s smokestacks. Sadly, under the government’s rules, which categorize biomass as a “renewable energy,” Drax can treat its smokestack emissions as zero. With an accounting flourish, Drax’s roughly 13 million tons of CO2 emissions per year just magically disappear in the ledger. And policymakers get to take credit for delivering “low-carbon electricity.”
» Read article             

» More about biomass       

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Weekly News Check-In 12/11/20

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Welcome back.

Representative Stephen Lynch and activists are again calling for the Weymouth compressor station to be shut down, following multiple occurrences of natural gas venting as the station prepared to begin operation. Of course, venting will occur regularly as part of the compressor’s normal function. That’s why these facilities are not sited in congested communities…. Oh, except for this one.

Occasionally, the week’s news organizes around a common theme. This week, most of the stories touched on the idea that environmental regulations are nice, except when they get in the way of progress. When that happens, industry and regulators seem all too eager to re-write the rules, or simply “reinterpret” the teeth right out of them. Numerous environmental regulations should have protected Weymouth from Enbridge’s compressor.

Other pipeline projects are similarly manipulating the regs. Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) hasn’t managed to pass environmental review for a number of key permits – so compliant state and federal regulators are rewriting the rules to lower the bar. Enbridge wants to pipe tar sands oil through northern Minnesota’s environmentally sensitive lake country. Indigenous groups and environmentalists feel so marginalized and ignored by regulators that tree sitters have resorted to setting up positions along the pipeline’s path as winter locks in.

Meanwhile, the divestment movement notched another win, as New York State’s comptroller announced that the state would begin divesting its huge employee pension fund from gas and oil companies unless they submit a legitimate business plan within four years that is aligned with the goals of the Paris climate accord. And since December marks the fifth anniversary of that historic climate agreement, we take a look at how well countries are delivering on their promises.

The clean energy sector has been buzzing lately about all things hydrogen. Turns out a lot of that press is being pushed by the natural gas industry with the help of top industry public relations firm FTI Consulting. We offer extensive coverage showing how the prospect of green hydrogen is being used to extend the economy’s dependence on natural gas.

The Biden presidency is expected to focus early on energy efficiency, and that’s good news for people looking for help with building weatherization and heat pumps. But electrified homes work best when connected to a green grid, and unfortunately New England’s grid operator was just forced to cancel an important rule that would have supported faster deployment of utility scale battery storage.

There’s trouble brewing in clean transportation, too, as auto companies seek reliable sources of lithium for batteries to power the millions of electric vehicles they’ll soon build. This week’s theme of regulators bending environmental rules for industry is also an issue in so-called green sectors – and the damage can be just as profound.

We found a couple of new reports on the hazards of using natural gas indoors. This especially applies to gas ranges with inadequate ventilation. Of course, this science-based public health warning is being vigorously countered by a gas industry PR blitz touting the superiority of gas stove tops. You may have seen the ads or encountered social media influencers touting the wonders of blue flame cooking. It looks like California is preparing a regulatory update.

As expected, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency failed to strengthen limits on fine particulate pollution, even though research and our recent experience with Covid-19 implicate airborne soot as a significant health hazard. [40 days left….]

On the bright side, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week to kill offshore drilling in the Arctic. This may set a precedent that will also keep the fossil fuel industry out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The US liquefied natural gas industry faces headwinds from the Europe’s Green Deal, which accounts for emissions associated with extraction and transport when rating fuels. LNG export projects that depend on fracked gas are being re-evaluated and even scrapped.

We wrap up with a biomass story. Britain used the Kyoto Climate Agreement’s incorrect classification of woody biomass as “carbon neutral”, to convert the huge Drax power station from coal to wood pellets. Aside from the real-world emissions issues, fueling it is devastating Baltic forests.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Stephen Lynch for Weymouth
Stephen Lynch, activists call for shutdown of Weymouth natural gas compressor station
By Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald
December 5, 2020

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch called a controversial Weymouth natural gas compressor station’s decision to vent gas into the community multiple times during its first week of operations “deeply troubling” and said the station needs to be shut down.

“The fact that Enbridge describes all of this as ‘routine’ and openly dismisses the threat to the public is deeply troubling,” Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, said in a tweet. “Venting natural gas into the atmosphere has an inherent harm that cannot be completely eliminated, and due to its proximity to heavily populated areas, it poses a grave risk to Weymouth residents and surrounding communities. At this point, it is clear that as long as the Weymouth Compressor Station is active, it will threaten public health and safety and must be shut down.”

In an email Saturday, Max Bergeron, a spokesman for Enbridge, the energy company that built the facility, said: “Safety will always be our number one priority at Enbridge, and the Weymouth Compressor Station benefits from multiple safety features in place to support safe and responsible operation of the facility, in compliance with applicable environmental and safety regulations.”

He said the venting may occur intermittently between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. through Dec. 11 and said the “controlled” venting of natural gas is “a safe and routine procedure, and the gas that is vented will naturally dissipate. There is no cause for concern and there will be no danger to persons or property in the area.”

But community activists are unconvinced that the venting — and the facility itself — will be safe after accidental gas leaks this fall prompted two emergency shutdowns and a federally ordered pause in operations.

“This opens up our community to more health risks,” said Alice Arena of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station. “They say they’re going to have intermittent and planned releases. But they’re what we call a blow-down, the release of unburned methane into the air. Not only is it toxic, but it’s really driving us over the edge in terms of climate change.”
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

shifting MVP goalposts
Federal Regulators Are Rewriting Environmental Rules So a Massive Pipeline Can Be Built
Federal regulators and West Virginia agencies are rewriting environmental rules again to pave the way for construction of a major natural gas pipeline across Appalachia, even after an appeals court blocked the pipeline for the second time.
By Ken Ward Jr., ProPublica
December 8, 2020

Last month, a federal appeals court blocked one of the key permits for construction of a massive natural gas pipeline that cuts through West Virginia and that industry officials and their political allies in the state are desperate to see completed.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that environmental groups are likely to prevail in a case arguing federal and state regulators wrongly approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline through a streamlined review process for which the project isn’t eligible.

If this sounds familiar, it is. A strikingly similar thing happened two years ago.

In October 2018, the same appeals court blocked the same $5.4 billion pipeline because the developer’s plan to temporarily dam four West Virginia rivers didn’t meet special restrictions that state regulators had put on the streamlined approval process.

But rather than pausing or rethinking the project at the time, the state Department of Environmental Protection rewrote its construction standards so that the pipeline would qualify.

After their most recent court loss, West Virginia officials are once again rewriting their restrictions to help pave the way for the pipeline to qualify for that streamlined permitting process.

“Here we go again,” citizen group lawyer Derek Teaney wrote in frustration in the latest of a series of legal challenges to the government agencies that have bent environmental standards for the pipeline.

When it is built, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, known as MVP, will transport natural gas from Wetzel County, near West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, crossing 200 miles in West Virginia and 100 miles in Virginia. The project is one of several large transmission pipelines in the works across Appalachia, part of the rush to market natural gas from drilling and production in the Marcellus Shale formation.
» Read article    

Enbridge line 3 construction begins
State utility regulators vote against a stay on Enbridge pipeline project
Red Lake and White Earth bands hoped to halt construction while awaiting resolution of appeals.
By Brooks Johnson Star Tribune
December 4, 2020

State regulators declined Friday to grant a stay on construction of Enbridge’s new pipeline across northern Minnesota, leaving little recourse to stop work on the $2.6 billion project while court appeals of key approvals and permits are pending.

“Operation of the existing Line 3 is more likely to cause harm than construction of the project,” said Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner Valerie Means, explaining her vote against the stay. “The commission has determined that replacing an old, aging pipeline is the safest option for protecting the environment and Minnesota communities.”

The move came on a day when about 1,000 workers were ending the first week of work and protesters gathered at two work sites.

A pair of protesters camped out in trees in Aitkin County and dozens gathered at a job site near Cloquet to disagree with that sentiment as the legal means of stopping the pipeline are now in the hands of the slow-moving Court of Appeals. It could be several weeks at a minimum before the court could intervene in the project and months before the case is decided.

“The PUC’s predictable actions today again demonstrate that the regulatory process in Minnesota is brazenly pro-oil industry,” said Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke, who joined several other self-described “water protectors” near a planned Mississippi River pipeline crossing on Friday. “Without a stay, Line 3 would be constructed before the court could determine if the PUC broke the law, making the case moot.”
» Read article     

EJAG collapse
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency advisers quit over pipeline permit
By Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune
November 18, 2020

A citizen advisory group at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has collapsed following the regulator’s decision to issue a water-quality permit to Enbridge Energy for its Line 3 oil pipeline cutting through Minnesota.

The bulk of the agency’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group has resigned in protest over the permitting decision, saying in a letter Tuesday to MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop that “we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on Black and brown people.”

A dozen of the board’s 17 members signed the letter, which called the water-quality permit the “final straw” in a series of MPCA actions that they said sidelined the advisory group. Among those resigning is Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and executive director of Honor the Earth who strongly opposes the pipeline.

In an interview, LaDuke called the decision “a slap in the face.”

“The people who are most impacted are Indigenous people, and for seven years we have tried to make the system work,” she said. “If the MPCA actually valued Indigenous people and environmental justice they would not have issued that permit.”

LaDuke called her four years on the advisory group “a waste of time.”
» Read article    
» Read the advisory board letter

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Line 3 protest begins
Indigenous groups stage first protests as Enbridge pipeline construction begins
As a set of protestors climbed trees to block workers, a second launched Friday near Cloquet.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 4, 2020

Two protesters climbed trees at a Mississippi River crossing Friday to stand in the way of Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction, which began earlier this week across northern Minnesota.

The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” mounted the protest among an Aitkin County forest set to be logged as “direct blockades to the attempt by Enbridge to drill Line 3 under the Mississippi River.”

“Water is not invincible. That’s why I am here,” said 22-year-old Liam DelMain of Minneapolis in a statement released by Giniw Collective. “I am here, putting my body on the line, because I have been left with no other choices.”

The Giniw protest is the first along the pipeline’s route since construction began this week and comes four years after the massive, months-long Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock. Several other protesters came to the site on Friday afternoon, and a live stream from Native Roots Radio showed a discussion between Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida and the handful of others at the site. The sheriff’s office did not have a comment on the situation when reached Friday afternoon.
» Read article     

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

NY calling
New York State Sends a Blunt Message to Big Oil
The comptroller’s threat to pull billions from fossil fuel investments is a big victory for climate activists.
By Bill McKibben, New York Times | Opinion
December 9, 2020
Mr. McKibben is a founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org and a leader of fossil fuel divestment efforts.

New York State’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced on Wednesday that the state would begin divesting its $226 billion employee pension fund from gas and oil companies if they can’t come up with a legitimate business plan within four years that is aligned with the goals of the Paris climate accord. Those investments have historically added up to roughly $12 billion.

The entire portfolio will be decarbonized over the next two decades. “Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 will put the fund in a strong position for the future mapped out in the Paris Agreement,” he said in a statement.

It’s a huge win, obviously, for the activists who have fought for eight years to get Albany to divest from fossil fuel companies and for the global divestment campaign. Endowments and portfolios worth more than than $14 trillion have joined the fight. This new move is the largest by a pension fund in the United States, edging the New York City pension funds under Comptroller Scott Stringer, who announced in 2018 that the fund would seek to divest $5 billion in fossil fuel investments from its nearly $200 billion pension fund over five years.

But it also represents something else: capitulations that taken together suggest that the once-dominant fossil fuel industry has reached a low in financial and political power.

The first capitulation, by investors, is to the understanding that most of Big Oil simply won’t be a serious partner for change. Mr. DiNapoli had long been an advocate of engagement with the fossil fuel companies, arguing that if big shareholders expressed their concerns, those companies would change course. This, of course, should be how the world works: He was correctly warning the companies that their strategy endangered not only the planet but also their businesses, and they should have listened.
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

emissions gap 20205 Years After Paris: How Countries’ Climate Policies Match up to Their Promises
By Morgan Bazilian and Dolf Gielen, The Conversation, in EcoWatch
December 10, 2020

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement – the commitment by almost every country to try to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.

It’s an ambitious goal, and the clock is ticking.

The planet has already warmed by about 1°C since the start of the industrial era. That might not sound like much, but that first degree is changing the planet in profound ways, from more extreme heat waves that put human health and crops at risk, to rising sea levels.

Bold visions for slowing global warming have emerged from all over the world. Less clear is how countries will meet them.

So far, countries’ individual plans for how they will lower their greenhouse gas emissions don’t come close to adding up to the Paris agreement’s goals. Even if every country meets its current commitments, the world will still be on track to warm by more than 3°C this century, according to the United Nations Environment Program’s latest Emissions Gap Report, released Dec. 9. And many of those commitments aren’t yet backed by government actions.
» Read article           
» Read the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2020

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

pro-H2 push
Major Fossil Fuel PR Group is Behind Europe Pro-Hydrogen Push
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 9, 2020

The recent deluge of pro-hydrogen stories in the media that tout hydrogen as a climate solution and clean form of energy can now be linked in part to FTI Consulting — one of the most notorious oil and gas industry public relations firms.

According to a new report, titled The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?, released by a coalition of groups in Europe including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Food and Water Action Europe, details the work of FTI to push hydrogen as a clean climate solution in Europe. So far it appears FTI is being quite successful in this endeavor. As the report notes, the “European Commission is most definitely onboard” with the idea of a hydrogen-based economy.

FTI Consulting’s previous and ongoing work promoting the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to sell natural gas as a climate solution were recently featured in an article by the New York Times.

Among FTI’s misleading claims it defended to the New York Times was that the Permian region in Texas — the epicenter of the U.S. shale oil industry’s fracking efforts — was reducing methane emissions. This claim, however, was based on government data that did not include emissions for actual oil and gas wells, which are major emitters of methane emissions. FTI’s argument is easily disproved as methane emissions in Texas continued to break records in 2019.

And now FTI is taking the same approach for hydrogen as it has for natural gas — promoting it as a climate solution despite the evidence to the contrary.

One of the main goals of the lobbying efforts to create a “hydrogen economy” in Europe to sell the idea of utilizing existing gas infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) for hydrogen. Hydrogen gas can currently be mixed with methane and be transported by existing pipelines — which is a major selling point for hydrogen’s supporters.

However, there is a potential fatal flaw with this idea that has not been addressed. Hydrogen can react with steel to make it brittle. A 2018 paper published in the journal Procedia Structural Integrity, found that “using pipelines designed for natural gas conduction to transport hydrogen is a risky choice” as doing so “may cause fatigue and damage the structure.” This is a widely known and researched issue with hydrogen and pipelines but is a fact that is being left out of the current public relations efforts.

The methane industry already has a pipeline explosion problem and hydrogen will increase those risks because it can make steel pipelines more brittle and susceptible to failure and gas leaks.

The concept of hydrogen being a clean fuel is also dependent on the idea that the unproven and costly technologies being touted for carbon capture for fossil fuels can be effective in producing low carbon and affordable blue hydrogen.

Perhaps the biggest reason green hydrogen isn’t a good choice to decarbonize the economy when compared to electrification is that producing green hydrogen would take enormous amounts of electricity — which can just as easily be used directly to electrify transportation and heating.
» Read article           
» Read “The Hydrogen Hype” report
» Read NY Times article about FTI Consulting
» Read NY Times article excerpt in Weekly News Check-In 11/13/20

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Biden to push green buildings
Green buildings ‘unheralded hero’ in emissions fight, experts say

By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
December 10, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to upgrade the buildings sector and make it more energy efficient could be critical to help fight the effects of climate change, elected officials said Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Biden’s Clean Energy Plan says it would create 1 million jobs to upgrade 4 million buildings across the United States and weatherize 2 million homes, all within four years. Such energy efficient upgrades is something that should receive bipartisan support as it saves money in the long run and creates jobs, while also bringing down emissions, Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, said during the webinar.

A strong federal partner will also be needed in a national building strategy, with cities and states having led the way previously, speakers said. The federal government can play a leading role in strengthening building codes, streamlining the permitting process and pushing through approvals, with financial incentives and technical support as two key ways for national leaders to help, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-FL, said.

Biden’s plan would make a variety of upgrades to areas like lighting systems, HVAC systems and other appliances to improve their cost and energy efficiency. For homes, the plan would include direct cash rebates and financing to upgrade household appliances and install more energy efficient windows. The administration also plans to push legislation that would set new net-zero standards for all new commercial buildings for 2030.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
New England energy storage advocates say FERC ruling is a setback for industry

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered New England’s grid operator to end a rule that let new resources lock in prices for up to seven years.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Ryan McKnight / Flickr / Creative Commons
December 8, 2020

A decision by federal regulators to throw out a rule that has helped emerging technologies gain a foothold on New England’s electric grid will put the region’s energy storage industry in jeopardy, according to advocates.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week ordered New England’s grid operator to end a rule that has allowed new bidders in its capacity market to lock in their prices for up to seven years.

The annual capacity auction is meant to ensure the region will have enough electricity to meet peak demand three years in the future. Developers bid resources, often yet to be built, into an auction, and those accepted are paid to be available to meet demand.

The rule has allowed owners of new resources to avoid potential fluctuations in future auctions. That means the developer has a guaranteed revenue stream, something that can help them gain investor confidence when they’re trying to capitalize the project.

Several groups, led by the New England Power Generators Association, asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to overturn the rule. (The association’s members include fossil and renewable developers.) They said the rule suppresses prices in the market and hurts competition. ISO-New England has said the rule is no longer clearly necessary, given that it was enacted to address a capacity shortage that’s been mitigated.

On Thursday, FERC agreed, saying the rule distorts prices and is no longer needed to attract new entrants into the market. The decision comes as states in New England and other regional transmission organizations reconsider their future in the markets as they move toward a cleaner energy mix.

Renewable and storage advocates, led by Renew Northeast and the Energy Storage Association, have said the rule is necessary, especially for storage.

Very few battery resources have actually bid into the capacity market or secured the price lock. But developers say that just as the market was important for new gas generators to get built in past years, it should now allow for the same development of new storage projects. Storage is still a new technology, and investors often aren’t yet willing to commit to funding it.

“We’re at a point … where I would say the last thing New England needs is another gas plant, and so I would argue that the seven-year price lock for gas plants has served its term,” said Liz Delaney, director of wholesale market development at Borrego Solar. “It’s done a great job. It’s probably not necessary because the region does not need new ways to incent fossil generation. What we need are ways to incentivize the resources of the future.”
» Read article            

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

lithium curse
The curse of ‘white oil’: electric vehicles’ dirty secret
The race is on to find a steady source of lithium, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale
By Oliver Balch, The Guardian
December 8, 2020

Electrifying transport has become a top priority in the move to a lower-carbon future. In Europe, car travel accounts for around 12% of all the continent’s carbon emissions. To keep in line with the Paris agreement, emissions from cars and vans will need to drop by more than a third (37.5%) by 2030. The EU has set an ambitious goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the same date. To that end, Brussels and individual member states are pouring millions of euros into incentivising car owners to switch to electric. Some countries are going even further, proposing to ban sales of diesel and petrol vehicles in the near future (as early as 2025 in the case of Norway). If all goes to plan, European electric vehicle ownership could jump from around 2m today to 40m by 2030.

Lithium is key to this energy transition. Lithium-ion batteries are used to power electric cars, as well as to store grid-scale electricity. (They are also used in smartphones and laptops.) But Europe has a problem. At present, almost every ounce of battery-grade lithium is imported. More than half (55%) of global lithium production last year originated in just one country: Australia. Other principal suppliers, such as Chile (23%), China (10%) and Argentina (8%), are equally far-flung.

Lithium deposits have been discovered in Austria, Serbia and Finland, but it is in Portugal that Europe’s largest lithium hopes lie. The Portuguese government is preparing to offer licences for lithium mining to international companies in a bid to exploit its “white oil” reserves. Sourcing lithium in its own back yard not only offers Europe simpler logistics and lower prices, but fewer transport-related emissions. It also promises Europe security of supply – an issue given greater urgency by the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption of global trade.

Even before the pandemic, alarm was mounting about sourcing lithium. Dr Thea Riofrancos, a political economist at Providence College in Rhode Island, pointed to growing trade protectionism and the recent US-China trade spat. (And that was before the trade row between China and Australia.) Whatever worries EU policymakers might have had before the pandemic, she said, “now they must be a million times higher”.

The urgency in getting a lithium supply has unleashed a mining boom, and the race for “white oil” threatens to cause damage to the natural environment wherever it is found. But because they are helping to drive down emissions, the mining companies have EU environmental policy on their side.

“There’s a fundamental question behind all this about the model of consumption and production that we now have, which is simply not sustainable,” said Riofrancos. “Everyone having an electric vehicle means an enormous amount of mining, refining and all the polluting activities that come with it.”
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation

HEALTH RISKS OF INDOOR NATURAL GAS

gas alarm
Why experts are sounding the alarm about the hidden dangers of gas stoves
By Jonathan Mingle, Quartz
December 4, 2020

Since the publication of two new reports on the subject from the nonprofit research group the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, this past spring, the existence of these gas-fired health hazards has garnered increasing media scrutiny. But less discussed has been how the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the risks of this pollution, especially for low-income and vulnerable populations, and how key regulatory agencies have lagged decades behind the science in acting to protect them.

Despite such calls—and despite compelling evidence that gas appliances can produce levels of air pollution inside homes that would be illegal outdoors in the US—indoor air quality remains entirely unregulated in the US today, and gas appliances largely maintain their industry-manufactured reputation as “clean.” The Environmental Protection Agency only monitors pollutants in outdoor air. And while building codes typically require natural gas furnaces and water heaters to be vented outside, many states lack requirements that natural gas cooking stoves be vented to the outdoors.

Still, recent signs suggest that some measure of regulatory action reflecting the current understanding of the health risks of gas cooking and heating devices might finally be forthcoming. At the end of September, the California Energy Commission held a day-long workshop on indoor air quality and cooking to inform its triennial update to its building energy efficiency standards. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which regulates air pollution in the state, presented evidence that gas stoves harm health, and that a statewide transition to electric appliances would result in substantial health benefits. These obscure energy code deliberations have generated an unprecedented number of public comments—testament, advocates say, to mounting concern about greenhouse gas emissions, and to growing awareness of the health impacts of residential fossil fuel use.

Last month, the 16 members of CARB unanimously adopted a resolution in support of updating building codes to improve ventilation standards and move toward electrification of appliances—making California the first state to issue official guidance addressing the health impacts of gas stoves and other appliances.
» Read article           
» Read the RMI report
» Read the UCLA report

» More about the health risks of using natural gas indoors

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

eat soot
Trump Administration Declines to Tighten Soot Rules, Despite Link to Covid Deaths
Health experts say the E.P.A. decision defies scientific research showing that particulate pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
December 7, 2020

The Trump administration on Monday declined to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates.

In one of the final policy moves of an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a regulation that keeps in place, rather than tightening, rules on tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, even though the agency’s own scientists have warned of the links between the pollutants and respiratory illness.

E.P.A. administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to announce the rule Monday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Public health experts say that the rule defies scientific research, including the work of the E.P.A.’s own public health experts, which indicates that PM 2.5 pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually, and that even a slight tightening of controls on fine soot could save thousands of American lives.
» Read article            

» More about EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ninth circuit
Downstream Emissions
A new court ruling could doom the Trump Administration’s ANWR plan.
By Dan Farber, Legal Planet
December 8, 2020

A Ninth Circuit ruling yesterday overturned approval of offshore drilling in the Arctic. The ruling may directly impact the Trump Administration’s plans for oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). By requiring agencies to consider emissions when fossil fuels are ultimately burned, the Court of Appeal’s decision may also change the way that agencies consider other fossil fuel projects such as gas pipelines.

In Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, environmental groups challenged the Interior Department’s approval of an  offshore drilling and production facility on the north coast of Alaska.  In its environmental impact statement, the agency refused to consider the effects of the project on carbon emissions outside the United States.

On its face, as the court was quick to point out, the agency’s position makes no sense. It’s like assuming that if you pour water in one end of the bathtub it won’t rise on the other end. There’s a world market for oil, so increased supply anywhere means that prices go down and world demand goes up.   The Interior Department also said that the effect on emissions was too uncertain to quantify, but the court pointed out that Interior had failed to provide support to back up this assertion.

The greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are called “downstream” emissions in terms of the production, processing, and transportation of those fuels.  The Republican majority on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has taken a position similar to Interior’s.  Despite prodding from the D.C. Circuit and strong dissent from one commissioner , FERC has refused to take downstream emissions into account when approving gas pipelines and LNG export facilities.  That refusal was always questionable and has become even less tenable given this additional precedent. [emphasis added]

In its environmental impact statement for oil leasing in ANWR, the agency seems to have followed the same course as it did for offshore drilling — the same path that the Ninth Circuit found unacceptable.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling today seems to invalidate this part of the ANWR EIS. Unless reversed by the Supreme Court, this ruling will be a serious obstacle to the Trump Administration’s hurried effort to begin leasing before the end of Trump’s term.  (Another part of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, involving the Endangered Species Act, may also be a barrier.) More broadly, yesterday’s ruling should reinforce the trend in other courts requiring agencies to consider downstream emissions from coal, oil, and gas projects. That’s a win for rational decision making, as well as a win for the environment.
» Read article            

polar bear greetingCourt Rejects Trump’s Arctic Drilling Proposal in ‘Huge Victory for Polar Bears and Our Climate’
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
December 8, 2020

Climate action advocates and wildlife defenders celebrated Monday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration’s approval of Liberty, a proposed offshore oil-drilling project in federal Arctic waters that opponents warned would endanger local communities, animals, and the environment.

eans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “This project was a disaster waiting to happen that should never have been approved. I’m thrilled the court saw through the Trump administration’s attempt to push this project through without carefully studying its risks.”

Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, similarly applauded the ruling, saying that “thankfully, the court put the health of our children and our planet over oil company profits.”

Both groups joined with fellow advocacy organizations Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, and Pacific Environment for a lawsuit challenging the Hilcorp Alaska project, which was approved in 2018. The energy company planned to construct an artificial island, wells, and a pipeline along the Alaska coast in the Beaufort Sea.
» Read article            

porkchopAs the Livestock Industry Touts Manure-to-Energy Projects, Environmentalists Cry ‘Greenwashing’
Corporate pork and dairy producers are producing “biogas” to reduce methane emissions. But the actual climate benefits are unclear, and often overstated.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
December 7, 2020

When the world’s largest pork producer and a major public utility announced they would team up to turn hog manure from North Carolina swine farms into energy, they billed their new partnership as a win-win for both the companies and the climate.

With a $500 million commitment and a recently minted joint venture called Align RNG, Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy set out to capture the methane emitted from giant hog manure “lagoons,” convert it into biogas—what the industries dub “renewable natural gas”—and inject that biogas into pipelines to heat homes and buildings.

The partnership, the companies said, would create the biggest manure-to-energy project in North Carolina, a state with the potential to become the largest producer of livestock biogas in the country.  At the same time, the project would help the companies meet their goals of reducing climate-warming emissions, they said.

Similar alliances are emerging around the country as the livestock industry comes under increasingly critical scrutiny for its greenhouse gas emissions, and utilities and power companies attempt to meet climate-related commitments. To name only two recent examples, Duke Energy announced in July that it will collaborate with dairy farmers in the Southeast. In September, Chevron announced a project with California Biogas and the state’s dairy farmers.

But as utilities, oil companies and livestock companies pitch biogas as an emissions-reducing solution, critics say it simply locks in systems that allow two highly polluting industries to continue unchecked and without truly tackling their climate impact. These industrial farms, like oil and gas infrastructure, are disproportionately located in lower income and minority communities, where pollution plagues waterways, air and quality of life.

“It’s absolute greenwashing,” said Sherri White-Williamson,  environmental justice policy director with the North Carolina Conservation Network. “If you think about it, there’s nothing renewable about biogas, because in order to make it, you have to grow the hogs in large quantities in huge facilities.”

She added, “It only continues to ingrain that system.”
» Read article            

Denmark to stop exploration
Denmark to end new oil and gas exploration in North Sea
Decision as part of plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050 will put pressure on UK
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 4, 2020

Denmark has brought an immediate end to new oil and gas exploration in the Danish North Sea as part of a plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050.

On Thursday night the Danish government voted in favour of the plans to cancel the country’s next North Sea oil and gas licensing round, 80 years after it first began exploring its hydrocarbon reserves.

Denmark’s 55 existing oil and gas platforms, scattered across 20 oil and gas fields, will be allowed to continue extracting fossil fuels but the milestone decision to end the hunt for new reserves in the ageing basin will guarantee an end to Denmark’s fossil fuel production.

“We’re the European Union’s biggest oil producer and this decision will therefore resonate around the world,” Denmark’s climate minister, Dan Jørgensen, said. “We are now putting a final end to the fossil era.”

Helene Hagel from Greenpeace Denmark described the parliamentary vote as “a watershed moment” that will allow the country to “assert itself as a green frontrunner and inspire other countries to end our dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels”.

She said: “This is a huge victory for the climate movement and all the people who have pushed for many years to make it happen.”
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

EU Green Deal threat to US LNGEurope’s Green Deal Is Bad News For U.S. LNG
By Irina Slav, Oil Price
November 14, 2020

U.S. LNG producers have had a tough few months, what with the pandemic and plunging prices because of an oversupplied market. Now, prices have improved substantially as production declines while exports have been rising for three consecutive months. The future, however, contains some storm clouds. French utility Engie recently pulled out of a major long-term deal with NextDecade that would have seen it import millions of tons of U.S. liquefied natural gas. The Wall Street Journal cited earlier media reports naming the French government as the power behind the decision, which was reportedly motivated by concerns about fracking: according to the reports, Paris considered fracking an emission-heavy way of extracting natural gas.

The Engie deal could be a harbinger for U.S. LNG in Europe. Bloomberg recently reported that environmental legislation in Brussels could throw a wrench in the works of U.S. LNG expansion as it pursues its ambitious net-zero agenda.

The Green Deal formulated by the European Commission is based on three main goals: eliminating net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; decoupling economic growth from resource use; and leaving no person and no place behind. Whether the latter two are achievable is arguable. The first goal, however, is what has been drawing the most attention anyway: net-zero greenhouse emissions.

The EU is very serious about it. Member countries are being encouraged to spend heavily on solar and wind generation capacity development, and even Poland, a country heavily dependent on coal, recently announced plans to boost its renewable energy capacity at the expense of fossil fuel.

In this context, it was only a matter of time before policymakers set their sights on natural gas. Although hailed as a bridge fuel between the fossil fuel era and the future of renewable energy, now natural gas has been attracting not-so-positive attention because of methane leaks. On top of that, there is the issue of hydraulic fracturing, which appears to worry euro-bureaucrats.
» Read article           

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

serving DRAX
Drax Wood Pellets Have Devastating Impact On Baltic Forests, Report Shows
By Caitlin Tilley, DeSmog UK
December 4, 2020

Drax’s “insatiable” demand for wood is harming Baltic forests, campaigners have claimed following the publication of a damning report.

Compiled by NGOs in Estonia and Latvia, the report reveals that together the two countries exported more than three million tonnes of wood pellets last year – equivalent to at least 200 square kilometres of clearcut forest.

The authors argue that the intensification of logging is reinforced by biomass demand from foreign bioenergy companies such as Orsted, RWE and Drax.

Kelsey Perlman, a climate campaigner for forests NGO Fern, said the report exposed “a glaring paradox at the heart of the EU’s environmental policies”.

“This report reveals the intolerable pressure facing some of the most valuable habitats in Estonia and Latvia,” she told DeSmog.

“The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which allows Member States to subsidise burning woody biomass under the banner of ‘green energy’, has a clear role in the destruction of forests and wildlife, which are meant to be protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 policy.”

Almuth Ernsting, a campaigner from NGO Biofuelwatch, said the report showed how forests in the Baltic States are being “harmed by Drax’s insatiable demand for wood”.

“Stopping and redirecting subsidies for burning wood in power stations will help protect forests in each of those regions,” he added.
» Read article          
» Read the report

» More about biomass

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