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Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

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Welcome back.

Just as we were posting last week’s Check-In, news broke that the Massachusetts DEP revoked Palmer Renewable Energy’s air quality permit – effectively killing the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield. It was huge news and a victory for environmental justice, and now we’ve included some of the best articles on that important story.

The Weymouth compressor station is similar. It is a large piece of polluting infrastructure inappropriately located adjacent to vulnerable communities already burdened by long exposure to industrial toxins. It is staunchly opposed by residents of Weymouth and surrounding towns, under attack from every politician from Massachusetts’ two Senators down to local Mayors and City Councillors, and currently under review by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission newly concerned with environmental justice issues and climate change. So Tuesday’s large, unplanned gas release (3rd in eight months!) energized the opposition and raised hopes that this project, too, will be scuttled soon.

The concepts of equity, justice, and addressing the legacy of environmental racism are informing everything from suggestions on how best to build out electric vehicle infrastructure to how the Environmental Protection Agency sets enforcement priorities. These head-spinning changes have all occurred since January 20th, when a departing President Trump left behind a wasteland of hollowed out and demoralized government agencies and told us to “have a nice life”.

Something else to make corporate polluters nervous: environmental and climate advocates and a growing number of world leaders are calling for the designation of a new crime that can be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Ecocide involves the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change.

There’s been a lot of press lately touting hydrogen as the key to our clean energy future, and we’ve been cautious about accepting it as anything more than hype. New analysis from Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy concludes that batteries are much better positioned as the clean energy foundation – and hydrogen will only assume that role if batteries fail to live up to their potential.

A few weeks ago, we ran a story about how difficult it is to purchase a new refrigerator with climate-friendly refrigerant. We are pleased to offer this update, along with a link to Energy Star’s new list. It’s now possible in the U.S. to know you’re buying a non-HFC fridge!

We keep track of pipelines, and this week’s focus is on Enbridge’s Line 5. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered it shut down by May 12, and Enbridge says it will not comply. The Straits of Mackinac are set to be the scene of a complicated international showdown over fossil energy, where the stakes include the potential for catastrophic pollution of the Great Lakes.

Our own Rose Wessel addressed some of the issues and misinformation circulating about peaking power plants, and explains how these expensive, polluting relics can be replaced with clean energy alternatives. We also take a look at resistance from gas utilities to implementing new safety rules developed in the aftermath of the 2018 Merrimack Valley disaster, as necessary to protect the public.

Our Fossil Fuel Industry section includes three great articles about really bad behavior. The first is a white-knuckle thriller about October’s Hurricane Zeta and an ultra-deepwater drilling operation that nearly ended in a disaster that could have eclipsed BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill.

We close with a look at the online shopping that has sustained many of us through the pandemic, and consider Amazon’s excessive use of plastics in its packaging.

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

BIOMASS

Palmer Plant protest
Mass. Revokes Air Permit For Controversial Biomass Facility In Springfield
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 2, 2021

In a big win for public health and environmental justice advocates, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has revoked a key air permit for a controversial proposed biomass plant in Springfield.

The permit for the Palmer Renewable Energy facility — technically called the “Final Plan Approval” — was issued almost nine years ago, and according to the state, was revoked because of a lag in construction activities as well as major public health and environmental justice concerns.

Springfield City Councilor and long-time opponent of the Palmer facility, Jesse Lederman, praised the decision and called it “welcome news in the City of Springfield.”

“The days of polluters being rubber stamped in communities like ours are over,” he said in a statement. “For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out of town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities.”

First proposed in 2008, the 35 megawatt Palmer facility drew immediate public ire, but managed to receive a series of permits and green lights from local and state regulators. It got its final air permit from MassDEP in 2012 and was supposed to begin construction soon after.

In a letter accompanying the permit revocation, Michael Gorski of MassDEP explained that while there are some signs of pre-construction activities at the site, the company has not meaningfully “commenced construction.” Under state law, MassDEP can rescind a project’s final permit if it doesn’t begin construction within two years, or if it puts construction on pause for more than a year.

“The revocation of the approval for the Palmer biomass plant is a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet,” Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to celebrate this victory with the Springfield residents who fought so passionately against it. Today’s decision will save lives.”

If built, Palmer would have been the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would have burned about 1,200 tons of waste wood per day in the heart of a state-designated environmental justice community. Nearly one in five children in Springfield have asthma; the air quality is so poor that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked it the “Asthma Capital” of the country.
» Read article            

welcome to Springfield
Massachusetts Revokes Permit for Springfield Biomass Plant
By Partnership For Policy Integrity
April 5, 2021

In a major victory for Springfield residents and for environmental justice, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has revoked the permit for the long-contested Palmer Renewable Energy 42-megawatt biomass power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

While MassDEP based its April 2nd decision on a technicality – the permit is nearly a decade old and the developers have still not begun construction on the plant – the real reason behind this move is far more significant:

“MassDEP has determined to exercise this authority due to the amount of time that has elapsed since issuance of the PRE Final Plan Approval, more recent health-related information, and the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution during the intervening years.”

It took a long time for state officials to hear what the project’s opponents have been saying all along, but it’s clear they finally got the message: Stop treating Springfield as an environmental sacrifice zone.
» Read web post                

reason enough
After years of protests, state officials revoke permit for controversial biomass plant in Springfield
By David Abel, Boston Globe
April 2, 2021

After years of protests, the state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday revoked a critical air permit for a massive wood-burning power plant proposed to be built in Springfield, which opponents said would pollute the city and contribute to climate change.

In a five-page letter, state officials cited potential adverse health impacts in rejecting plans for the state’s largest commercial biomass plant, which was expected to burn nearly a ton of wood a minute and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants.

Noting the “strong opposition” from residents in Springfield, which has among the nation’s highest rates of asthma, environmental regulators said their decision was based on a “heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution.”

The link between environmental factors and heightened risk to the coronavirus also played a role in their decision.

“With COVID-19 rates particularly high in Springfield, there is increased concern, given multiple studies establishing a relationship between low-income and minority communities with elevated air pollution levels and increased severity of disease and/or mortality,” wrote Michael Gorski, director of the department’s offices in Western Massachusetts.

Officials at Palmer Renewable Energy, which proposed building the 42-megawatt incinerator, did not respond to requests for comment.

Local residents and environmental advocates, who have lobbied against the plant for years, cheered the decision.

“For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out-of-town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities,” said Jesse Lederman, a city councilor and outspoken critic of the plant who chairs the city’s sustainability and environment committee. “The days of polluters being rubber-stamped in communities like ours are over.”

Laura Haight, policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a Pelham-based advocacy group that opposes biomass, called the state’s decision “a huge victory” for environmental justice.

“Hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin for this ‘zombie’ plant,” she said, noting that it had been in the planning stages for more than a decade. She said provisions in the state’s new climate law, which Governor Charlie Baker signed last month, made it unlikely that the developer could find another way to build the plant.
» Read article           

» More about biomass            

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

strike three
Weymouth Compressor Reports Another ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release. Third Time In 8 Months
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 6, 2021

On Tuesday morning, the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station released a large quantity of gas into the air above the facility. The cause of the unplanned release remains unclear, but the company that owns and operates the facility, Enbridge, said it’s “continuing to gather information.”

Under state law, Enbridge is required to notify state and local officials if it vents more than 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas — an amount roughly equivalent to what the average U.S. home uses in two months.

According to Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron, the gas was released “in a controlled manner” through the compressor station’s tall vent stack and “the safety of the facility and surrounding area were not impacted by this occurrence.”

But opponents of the compressor like Alice Arena of the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) are skeptical. Big gas releases like this “don’t instill confidence in safety at all,” she said, adding that perhaps federal regulators should have some sort of “three-strikes rule” for problematic facilities

This is the third unplanned gas release in the last 8 months. The first — on Sept. 11, 2020 — occurred after an O-ring gasket failed and workers had to manually shut down the compressor. The second — on Sept. 30, 2020 — occurred after the emergency shutdown system loss power and automatically shut itself down. In both cases, the total amount of gas vented turned out to be much higher than initially reported
» Read article           

electrified barbed wire
Massachusetts politicians push to shutter Weymouth gas compressor station after third unplanned release of gas
By Emma Platoff, Boston Globe
April 7, 2021

Ahead of a deadline Monday evening, gas companies and industry groups rushed to tell federal regulators that a controversial Weymouth gas compressor station should be allowed to continue operating despite its rocky history, arguing the site was safe and critical to the country’s energy infrastructure.

Then, around 9:37 a.m. Tuesday morning, the site spewed at least 10,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas into the surrounding neighborhood, its third unplanned release in just eight months.

That incident comes at a crucial moment for the compressor station as federal regulators take a rare second look at its safety protocols and community impact. And it triggered a new wave of condemnations from top Massachusetts politicians, who say the only appropriate course of action is to shutter the site immediately.

“Every accident at the Weymouth Compressor Station endangers the lives and health of local residents and surrounding communities and these so-called blow outs have become a dangerous pattern of releasing harmful gas into the nearby residential neighborhood,” said US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who represents Weymouth. “It is completely unacceptable to allow Enbridge to continue their operations.”

Environmental activists and prominent politicians have been fighting the site for years, saying it brings unnecessary danger to a densely populated South Shore neighborhood.

After the latest release, and amid a federal review launched under a presidential administration that has called environmental justice a priority, activists hope this time the plant will be closed permanently.

Alice Arena, head of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has long protested the Weymouth site, said she’s “waffling between my regular pessimism and optimism.”

The timing of the incident feels less like coincidence than “karma,” she said.

“It seems as though every time they’ve had an accident it’s been at a tipping point,” Arena said. She pointed to a previous unplanned release last fall, which came just days before the facility was set to begin full operations.

“Instead, they ended up with a shutdown order,” she said wryly. The three gas releases show that operators are too reckless to continue work in the area, she said.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor           

 

PIPELINES

Line 5 - Getty
Can a pipeline company defy a governor’s orders? Gretchen Whitmer is about to find out.
The ongoing battle between North America’s largest mover of oil, Enbridge Energy, and the state of Michigan.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
April 7, 2021

As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada.

Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.    

A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirements laid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in a press release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.” 

Her order to shut down the pipeline follows years of concern from researchers, activists, and policymakers that Line 5 could seriously threaten Great Lakes fisheries and drinking water. The National Wildlife Federation found that the pipeline has spilled over 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in an estimated 30 spills to date. “Every day that pipeline lays on the lakebed, we’re a day closer to a catastrophe,” said David Holtz, an activist and coordinator for Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of Michigan organizations fighting to shut down Line 5 and support a clean energy transition.

Since Whitmer’s closure order in November, Enbridge has sued the state of Michigan on the grounds that it doesn’t have authority over the company because Enbridge is regulated federally by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Enbridge has also stated outright that it will defy the governor’s orders. “We do not plan to shut down Line 5 unless ordered by a court or PHMSA, which we view as highly unlikely,” a spokesperson for the company told Grist. Among its stated reasons for refusing to shut down are concerns over energy security for Michigan and Canada and the increased environmental impact from alternative modes of transporting propane. The pipeline supplies between 55 to 65 percent of Michigan’s propane needs.

For the shutdown to go into effect, a state or federal court would need to rule in Whitmer’s favor. If the case is sent to state court, Shroeck said, Enbridge could appeal that decision, therefore sending it to a federal court of appeals, whereafter it could be years before a decision is reached. In the meantime, Enbridge would be able to continue operating without penalty. 

The U.S. portion of the pipeline that crosses under the Mackinac straits is the worst possible location in the Great Lakes for an oil spill. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that because of the turbulent waters and switching directions of the current, a Line 5 oil spill could potentially contaminate more than 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines       

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

equity and infrastructure
States, utilities must ensure equitable investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, new report warns
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2021

Only a few states and power companies are taking steps to ensure low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color benefit from the transition to electric vehicles, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The study, published Tuesday morning, examined 36 states where utilities have filed transportation electrification plans, and concluded only six have some form of equity mandate or consideration.

“Without strong policies in place, you could see a big round of ratepayer-funded charging investments going disproportionately to communities that least need the support,” said Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior research analyst for transportation and author of the study.
» Read article            
» Read the ACEEE study          

» More about greening the economy               

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Donaldsonville LA
Exclusive: EPA reverses Trump stance in push to tackle environmental racism
Environmental Protection Agency launches crackdown on pollution that disproportionately affects people of color
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 12, 2021

Michael Regan, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has sought to revive the effort to confront environmental racism by ordering the agency to crack down on the pollution that disproportionately blights people of color.

On Wednesday, Regan issued a directive to EPA staff to “infuse equity and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs”. The memo demands the agency use the “full array of policy and legal tools at our disposal” to ensure vulnerable communities are front of mind when issuing permits for polluting facilities or cleaning up following disasters.

The directive states there should be better consultation with affected communities and indicates the EPA will be tougher on companies that violate air and water pollution mandates. Regan’s memo calls for the EPA to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution”.

Enforcement of pollution violations dropped steeply under Donald Trump’s administration, with the EPA even suspending routine inspections of facilities while the Covid-19 pandemic raged in the US last year.

A lack of federal intervention further exacerbated a longstanding inequity where poorer people and communities of color in the US are far more likely to be exposed to dangerous pollutants. The pandemic has further worsened this situation, with research showing that people with chronic exposure to air pollutants have suffered worse outcomes from Covid.

Years of discriminatory decisions over the placement of highways and industrial facilities have led to Black people being exposed to 38% more polluted air than white people, with exposure to toxins from cars and trucks in parts of the US two-thirds higher than for white people. Black children are five times more likely to be hospitalized from asthma than white children.
» Read article           

» More about EPA              

 

CLIMATE

ecocideAs the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
International lawyers, environmentalists and a growing number of world leaders say “ecocide”—widespread destruction of the environment—would serve as a “moral red line” for the planet.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Katie Surma and Yuliya Talmazan, Inside Climate News
April 7, 2021

In 1948, after Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews and other minorities during World War II, the United Nations adopted a convention establishing a new crime so heinous it demanded collective action. Genocide, the nations declared, was “condemned by the civilized world” and justified intervention in the affairs of sovereign states. 

Now, a small but growing number of world leaders including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have begun citing an offense they say poses a similar threat to humanity and remains beyond the reach of existing legal conventions: ecocide, or widespread destruction of the environment.

The Pope describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster,” and has proposed making it a sin for Catholics. 

The Pontiff has also endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. The monumental step, which faces a long road of global debate, would mean political leaders and corporate executives could face charges and imprisonment for “ecocidal” acts.
» Read article           

northern lights
Projected Surge of Lightning Spells More Wildfire Trouble for the Arctic
A major climate shift in the High North is sparking fires that can release huge amounts of greenhouse gases from tundra ecosystems, where fires have been rare until recently
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
April 5, 2021

With the Arctic warming at up to three times the pace of the global average, more lightning storms will invade the High North, igniting wildfires that release carbon dioxide and speeding the transition of flat mossy tundra to brush and forest landscapes that absorb more solar heat energy.

Yang Chen, an Earth scientist with the University of California, Irvine and lead author of a study released today in the journal Nature Climate Change that projected the increases in lightning strikes, said the findings were somewhat unexpected, and intensify wildfire concerns in the High North because lightning is the main ignition source in the Arctic.

“The size of the lightning response surprised us because expected changes at mid-latitudes are much smaller,” he said. More lightning-caused fires would speed a vicious circle of climate-warming changes already under way in vast areas of tundra and permafrost across Siberia and Alaska, he added.

A surge in the frequency of large Arctic fires in the last five years spurred the research, which is based on 20 years of NASA satellite data showing the relationship between lightning and the climate, he said. 

Linking that data with climate projections through 2100, the scientists estimated the number of lightning strikes will grow by about 40 percent for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. By late in the century, the IPCC projects the Arctic could warm by 4.5 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on emissions.

The study also shows that the region that experiences lightning will shift, with future flash rates in the far northern tundra areas equal to the current rate in boreal forests, 300 miles to the south. 

The increase may cause “a fire-vegetation feedback whereby more burning in Arctic tundra expedites the northward migration of boreal trees,” that will absorb more heat from the sun, accelerating the Arctic cycle of warming,” the authors wrote in the study.
» Read article           
» Obtain the study               

» More about climate                

 

CLEAN ENERGY

H2 uh-ohFor hydrogen to dominate the low-carbon world, batteries must fail
By James Fernyhough, Renew Economy
April 5, 2021

Hydrogen has the potential to help bring more than half of the world’s emissions down to zero, but to reach that potential it requires aggressive government support, a dramatically improved value chain – and it needs batteries to fail.

That last point is one of the most striking findings in a new series of reports by Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy, the last of which, on the “battery society”, was released last week.

The reports examine three solutions to the problem of storage in an energy system dominated by wind and solar: carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and batteries.

They conclude that battery technology is the most powerful of the three, having the potential to help reduce to zero 78 per cent of the world’s emissions. CCS could potentially help reduce 62 per cent of the world’s emissions, though it is the least practical of the three.

Hydrogen could help reduce 51 per cent of the world’s emissions, but to reach that level it would need to be used in areas where batteries currently have a big edge, such as electric vehicles and electricity grid support.

The race between hydrogen and battery technology is the latter’s to lose, the report argues. Batteries are not especially reliant on either dramatic policy changes, such as aggressive carbon pricing; or on rapid development in the value chain.

“An important advantage of the Battery Society is the fact that battery manufacturers must only rely on themselves to ramp up battery supply and bring the Battery Society to fruition,” the report says. “The CCS and Hydrogen Societies, on the other hand, are dependent on policy changes and cost developments in other parts of the value chain.

“In order to succeed, they essentially need batteries to fail,” it concludes
» Read article           

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Energy STAR refrigerant listWant to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator? Leading Manufacturers Are Finally Providing the Information You Need
The change came after I went out of my way to buy a green fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 6, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and leading appliance manufacturers have finally released key chemical refrigerant information that makes it easier for consumers to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators. 

Until the past few years, it’s been virtually impossible to buy a full-sized refrigerator in the United States that uses climate-friendly refrigerants like isobutane. The vast majority of refrigerators came with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemical refrigerants that are thousands of times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. 

For environmentally conscious consumers who wanted to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators, like me, it’s been difficult, if not impossible, to know which was which. As I found out the hard way, it seemed as if the manufacturers themselves didn’t even know.

But now, after I told the story last month of ordering an environmentally friendly fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house, two leading manufacturers have for the first time released lists of dozens of HFC-free refrigerators that they produce.

Meanwhile, the EPA’s Energy Star program has published its first concise list of all refrigerators that use climate friendly refrigerants.
» Read article           
» See the Energy Star list of products with climate-safe refrigerants                

MinneapolisMinneapolis program puts energy audits into hands of potential homebuyers
In its first year, a city ordinance requiring energy audits prior to home sales resulted in more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation, and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
April 5, 2021

Minneapolis saw near-perfect compliance and few complaints during the first year of a new ordinance requiring energy audits prior to all home sales.

The city’s residential energy benchmarking program generated more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners. The information is also publicly available online.

That’s more than six times the number of home energy audits typically conducted each year through a voluntary program.

“That’s an incredible gamechanger,” said Kim Havey, the city’s sustainability director, “but we need to be able to do that each and every year if we are going to be able to meet some of our goals for climate change.”

Sellers complied with the requirement for 95% of listings, but the city doesn’t yet have data on how the audits are affecting the housing market. Real estate agents said it’s unlikely energy efficiency is a deciding factor given how quickly homes are selling, but the reports could provide a useful roadmap for future home improvements — and in at least a few cases they have already spurred projects.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency            

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

green-drinks-ppp
‘Peaker’ plants or dirty energy is a false choice
By Rosemary Wessel, Cummington, Letter to the Editor – Berkshire Eagle
April 2, 2021
The writer is a member of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team

To the editor: In response to a recent letter about Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to put “peaker” plants in the past, it’s not surprising to see a restating of the false choices frequently proposed by the fossil fuel industry (“Letter: Environmental group misguided to target Berkshire ‘peaker’ plants,” Eagle, March 26).

It’s true that the sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow, as renewable energy detractors like to point out. And while it’s true that emissions from burning natural gas are roughly two-thirds that of oil or half that of coal, the truth is also that burning gas still creates dangerous fine particulate emissions as well as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. For the five percent of the time that the Pittsfield generating plant actually runs, it generates 15 percent of Pittsfield’s total annual stationary emissions.

One of the other fallacies in the author’s statement is that renewable energy would require cutting trees. I’m not sure if his reference was to biomass, which is not renewable in any realistic time scale and produces emissions roughly equivalent to coal, or if his assumption is that the only place to put solar panels is in the middle of forested land. BEAT does not support either of those options.

Understanding why fossil fuel peaker plants are no longer a valid option in the face of climate change requires consideration of modern options. Deployment of our state’s aggressive energy efficiency programs and other peak shaving options like demand response programs have already sharply reduced peak demand events on our region’s power grid and saved program participants significant sums in reduced energy costs.

When the wind blows and sun is shining, energy can be stored in grid-scale battery installations. It can also be stored in individual buildings like schools, town offices and other key municipal locations, commercial and industrial locations, multi-unit rental properties and even individual homes. This not only allows renewables to be installed on rooftops and over already disturbed grounds like parking areas, as they should be, but allows for thousands of “virtual power plants” to supply energy during peak demand, outages or whenever customers prefer to not draw power from the grid.

Mass Save’s Connected Solutions program allows for battery storage installations to be used in all these ways, and allows customers to combine financial incentives, shortening a payback period to a matter of years rather than a decade or more. Please visit tinyurl.com/putpeakersinthepast to learn more.
» Read article           

» More about peaker plants         

 

GAS UTILITIES

extra safe
Gas industry says new rules not needed
By Christian M. Wade, Eagle Tribune
April 8, 2021
*Photo from September 14, 2018 New York Times article on the Merrimack Valley gas disaster caused by shoddy work and lax engineering oversight.

BOSTON — A gas industry official told regulators Thursday that proposed rules requiring a professional engineer’s approval of certain projects may be unnecessary because gas companies already follow heightened standards.

State regulators are hammering out rules that mandate an engineer’s stamp on plans for “complex” projects that could pose a risk to public safety. The new rules stem from a 2018 law passed in response to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

The state Department of Public Utilities, which is drafting the rules, held an online hearing Thursday where an industry representative said utilities have since adopted guidelines, known as Pipeline Safety Management Systems, that make the new regulations unneeded.

Jose Costa, vice president of operations service at the Northeast Gas Association, said those guidelines include an engineering requirement that “provides another layer of protection that was not in place prior to 2018.”

“Some of the proposed prescriptive requirements in this rule-making are already being addressed through other methods and programs,” he told the panel.

Utilities, including National Grid and Eversource, have complained that the proposed regulations will be too costly, and that they are unnecessary.

Utilities have lobbied to limit the kinds of projects that must get an engineer’s sign-off, and submitted a litany of proposed changes to the rules ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

Brendan Vaughn, an attorney representing the utilities, made no mention of those requests Thursday but told regulators his clients “look forward to working with them.”

Meanwhile, an engineering group cautioned against excluding certain types of gas projects from review.

“While there may be instances in which a licensed engineer is not needed, I urge caution in defining those instances too broadly,” Anthony Morreale, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professional Engineers, wrote to regulators.

Gas industry officials have also raised concerns about a shortage of engineers who specialize in utility work, warning that delays could result.

But Morreale noted more than 15,000 licensed professional engineers are working in Massachusetts.

“I respectfully suggest that decisions about public safety should not be made based on the purported availability or not of personnel, but rather that companies tasked with upholding public safety adjust recruitment and hiring practices to ensure they are appropriately staffed,” Morreale wrote in an April 1 letter.
» Read article           

» More about gas utilities           
» More about the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster                    

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

AsgardExclusive: 2020’s Hurricane Zeta Nearly Caused ‘Another Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe’ in Gulf of Mexico
The near-miss raises questions of corporate management in a battered oil industry, how drillers will handle increasingly volatile hurricanes, and federal oversight of the offshore drilling industry nearly 11 years after the Gulf of Mexico was coated in oil.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 5, 2021

It was Thursday, October 22, 2020, when the crew aboard the Transocean Deepwater Asgard, an ultra-deepwater rig in the Gulf of Mexico, started monitoring a weather disturbance in the nearby Caribbean Sea that bore the tell-tale signs of a forming hurricane.

But the Asgard, which was drilling an oil well in the waters about 225 miles south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had other pressing matters to deal with. That same day, the oil well it was drilling more than a mile below the water’s surface experienced a kick — an eruption of oil, gas, or other fluids from deep underground up the drill pipe. If not properly controlled, this type of incident can sometimes lead to a blowout.

Kicks aren’t necessarily all that uncommon during offshore drilling. What happened over the following week, however, not only left the crew of the Asgard in deadly peril and caused over $5 million in damages to the ship and its equipment, but also, according to experts, risked an oil spill potentially several times the size of the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.

Events out to sea on the Asgard received little or no media attention at the time. An investigation by DeSmog reveals how close the Gulf Coast may have been to a major oil industry disaster this past fall.

“This could easily have become another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and former professor at the University of Alaska whose background includes advising on the response to that spill, the Exxon Valdez, and many others worldwide. “Secretary [of the Interior Deb] Haaland should order a comprehensive independent inquiry into the Deepwater Asgard incident, the failures leading up to it, and what needs to be done to prevent another such near casualty in the future.”
» Blog editor’s note: this article is a gripping and unsettling account of what’s happening out there in the world of deep water drilling.
» Read article           

tax refund
Analysis: Fossil Fuel Tax Programs to Cut Emissions Lead to Lots of Industry Profit, Little Climate Action
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 4, 2021

The fossil fuel industry and its investors have financially benefited from tax policies and subsidies designed to reduce the emissions from oil, gas, and coal — sometimes without taking the action required to tackle climate change.

Recently, claims have been surfacing of companies taking the taxpayer money offered to incentivize these actions but not following through on reducing their emissions. In March, for example, Reuters reported that Congress has opened an investigation into problems with the government’s “clean coal” tax credit. This is after Reuters revealed that financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs, were making huge profits off the program, despite it not effectively reducing emissions.

Now, companies such as ExxonMobil are lobbying against transparency efforts when it comes to reporting their emissions for an existing carbon capture tax credit.

And the industry is also increasingly calling for a national carbon tax to be introduced. In March, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it supports efforts to put a price on carbon — this is a reversal from its position a decade ago when it was opposed to a bill that would have introduced a cap and trade program to limit carbon emissions.

Introducing a carbon tax would allow polluters to continue to produce carbon, they would just have to pay a price to do so.

These market-based approaches to limiting climate emissions, however, raise concerns about their overall effectiveness. They provide an opportunity for companies to reap the financial benefits of climate action without actually delivering the emission reductions. This makes them incredibly popular with the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s naive of us to think that all of a sudden the oil and gas industry is going to put forward policies that are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Jim Walsh, senior energy policy analyst for environmental NGO Food and Water Watch, told DeSmog.
» Read article           

foolery exposedNAACP Report: Fossil Fuel Industry Uses Deception to Conceal Damage to BIPOC Communities
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2021

The fossil fuel industry continues to use a long list of deceptive tactics to conceal environmental destruction that harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.

That’s the top finding of a newly released NAACP report titled “Fossil Fuel Foolery.” The report identifies 10 tactics that polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians often deploy to deflect accountability for the impacts of fossil fuel production and pollution on the environment and human health.

This report updates material on fossil fuel industry influence tactics that the NAACP published in 2019.

Many of the industry’s tactics are familiar, such as obscuring or denying the true effects of pollution. In one glaring instance, a firm named Mobile Gas did not report a 2008 Alabama spill of tert-butyl mercaptan, a chemical that is mixed with natural gas to give it an odor that can help with detecting leaks. The spill probably contributed to respiratory ailments and other health problems affecting nearby residents of a mostly Black and working-class community. Years later, Mobile Gas maintained that the amount spilled was “safe.”

Another top-ten industry tactic identified by the NAACP is to “co-opt community leaders and organizations and misrepresent the interests and opinions of communities,” sometimes with financial support, to “neutralize or weaken public opposition.”

Utilities have lavished donations on churches, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to obtain local community buy-in on pollution-generating projects, or to stifle the push towards renewable energy. In a situation that directly affected the NAACP itself, the utility Florida Power & Light donated roughly $225,000 to the group’s Florida state chapter between 2013 and 2017. The donations alarmed the national organization when the Florida chapter began repeating industry talking points against the growth of solar energy in the state, and helped spur the NAACP’s initial 2019 report.

Fossil fuel companies and their allies also try to shift blame onto the very communities affected by pollution to distract from the impact of industry operations, the NAACP found.
» Read article           
» Read the NAACP report                

» More about fossil fuels                 

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

air pillow
This Peeler Did Not Need to Be Wrapped in So Much Plastic
Amazon must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.
By Pamela L. Geller and Christopher Parmeter, New York Times | Opinion
April 5, 2021

The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone.

Did you need a book, disposable surgical mask, beauty product, or garden hose? Amazon was probably your online marketplace. If you wanted to purchase a Nicolas Cage pillowcase or a harness with leash for your chicken, Amazon had your back (They’re #17 and #39 on a 2019 Good Housekeeping list of the 40 ‘weirdest” products available on the website “that people actually love.”) From pandemic misery came consumer comfort and corporate profit.

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

In 2019, Amazon used an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging, according to the nonprofit environmental group Oceana. The group also estimated that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste ended up as trash in freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world. These numbers are likely to rise in 2021.

The magnitude of plastic packaging that is used and casually discarded — air pillows, Bubble Wrap, shrink wrap, envelopes, bags — portends gloomy consequences.

These single-use items are primarily made from polyethylene, though vinyl is also used. In marine environments, this plastic waste can cause disease and death for coral, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Plastic debris is often mistaken for food, and microplastics release chemical toxins as they degrade. Data suggests that plastics have infiltrated human food webs and placentas. These plastics have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the bloodstream that help control growth and development during childhood, among many other important processes.
» Read article           

» More about plastics in the environment              

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Weekly News Check-In 3/26/21

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week’s news with a toot of our own horn, thanks to Danny Jin’s excellent reporting on the growing momentum behind BEAT’s campaign to replace polluting peaking power plants with renewables and battery storage. Please join the effort by signing our petition!

The Weymouth compressor station fight appears to be developing into something of a test case at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is beginning to focus on fossil project climate impacts for the first time. We use that framework to explore a couple potential effects: the impact on the broader U.S. natural gas industry, and the tie-in with another controversial project in Canada – the Goldboro LNG export terminal.

We’re exploring the fascinating contest between Michigan’s Governor Whitmer and environmental allies, vs Enbridge, Canada, and a good chunk of the oil industry, over Michigan’s recent demand the shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline – the aging section crossing under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Amy Westervelt of Drilled News offers an excellent podcast dive into the fossil fuel industry’s continuing efforts to criminalize nonviolent civil protest. Related to all those protests, the divestment movement has taken off – but big banks are still financing polluters to a shocking degree.

We have late-breaking news that Governor Charlie Baker signed landmark climate legislation into law just before we posted. As Massachusetts moves forward, we’re also keeping an eye on broader efforts to green the economy. We found a report explaining why skepticism is in order when considering big-polluter claims to go net-zero, and also some encouraging news about the greening of some aquaculture operations – a good thing since a new climate report shows that ocean trawling for fish releases as much carbon as emitted by the global aviation industry.

As usual, we can take a breather and enjoy some good news in our clean energy section, including a report on the multiple benefits of covering open canals and aquaducts with solar panels – a huge opportunity in southern California. The news is a bit more sobering as we consider home energy efficiency and electrification, and look at the current shortage of contractors with up-to-date skills. And likewise in clean transportation, where we’re reminded that heavy future reliance on personal electric vehicles, without reducing miles driven, would still be a problem.

Springfield’s City Council has enlisted the support of the Conservation Law Foundation in its fight against Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass plant. Meanwhile, across the pond, the Dutch have signaled it’s time to end biomass subsidies, ahead of the critical review in June of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). The EU must decide whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

We wrap up with a look at plastics, health, and the environment, along with a youtube video of comedian John Oliver’s deep dive into how the plastics industry convinced us to think we could simply recycle our way out of trouble. It’s pretty rude, but to the point.

   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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


BEAT’s ‘peaker’ campaign draws local support, statewide allies
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
March 20, 2021

In its campaign to convert three local power plants to less-polluting alternatives, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has added local supporters as well as allies across the state.

The “peaker” power plants in Pittsfield and Lee burn [gas, oil, and kerosene]. They serve to meet peak electricity demand — during the hottest summer days, for instance — but rank among the oldest and most polluting plants, disproportionately impacting neighborhoods that already have experienced significant pollution.

More than 10 local groups have joined the coalition opposing the operation of the three plants, and a petition to close them has reached about 200 signatures, said Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative.

“When we put up flyers in the afternoon, you see signatures by the evening,” Wessel said.

As a plan to transition Massachusetts to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 appears set to become law, Wessel said the state’s long-term climate goals align with a move away from fossil fuel-burning plants.

“That’s another argument for us: to switch over before they’re forced to shut down and become extinct,” Wessel said. “It’s a win-win for the companies, and we would get cleaner air sooner.”

The two plants in Pittsfield are on Merrill Road and Doreen Street, and the plant in Lee is on Woodland Road.

Wessel said BEAT has contacted the owners and operators of the plants but has not received a response. The California-headquartered IHI Power Services Corp. runs the Merrill Road plant, and Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix acquired the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants in 2016.

BEAT is pushing for battery storage as a cleaner alternative for peak demand, especially if paired with solar or wind energy. Wessel said BEAT wants to have a conversation with companies to see which storage incentives they might qualify for. The Clean Peak Energy Standard and the ConnectedSolutions program, for example, aim to cut costs and reduce emissions.

The Merrill Road plant is near Allendale Elementary School and Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state has designated an “environmental justice” area. Doreen Street is by Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road is at the edge of October Mountain State Forest.
» Read article               
» Sign the petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaking power plants!

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Why A Federal Order In The Weymouth Compressor Case Has The Natural Gas World Worried
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 19, 2021

In the six years since Massachusetts residents began fighting a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, the controversial and now-operational project has mostly been an issue of local concern. Not anymore.

As a challenge to the compressor station’s permit to operate winds its way through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — the agency in charge of approving interstate energy projects — some on the five-person body have signaled that they’re no longer interested in doing business as usual.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the commission began what some FERC experts are calling “a seemingly unprecedented” review process that not only raises questions about the future of the Weymouth Compressor, but has many in the gas industry worried about the fate of their current and future projects.

At the simplest level, this case is about whether FERC should hold a hearing to relitigate the Weymouth Compressor’s license to operate, known as a “service authorization order.” This happens all the time when project opponents appeal a FERC decision.

But two things make this situation unique: the potential precedent it could set, and the fact that FERC has a new commissioner who has promised to give more weight to climate change and environmental justice concerns.

The Weymouth Compressor was designed to be the linchpin of a large interstate gas pipeline system called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The project connects two pipelines and allows fracked natural gas from western Pennsylvania to flow through New Jersey and New England, and into Maine and eastern Canada for local distribution.

Though no public opinion polling about the compressor exists, there is intense opposition to it here in Massachusetts. From activists groups like the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) and Mothers Out Front, to elected officials, the anti-compressor movement here is vocal and visible.
» Read article                

Braintree Pays $20K For Air Quality Monitors At Fore River Plant
Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the area.
By Jimmy Bentley, Patch
March 19, 2021

Braintree will contribute $20,000 to help pay for an air quality monitoring system near the controversial natural gas plant along the Fore River.

Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the river basin’s communities, including Braintree, Weymouth, Quincy and Hingham.

Residents and elected officials in Braintree, Hingham, Quincy and Weymouth have expressed concern and have opposed Enbridge’s compressor station. Elected officials, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, also came out against the plant after an emergency shut down where 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas was released at the facility. There have been numerous protests outside the plant’s [construction] site and several arrests.

But Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Katie Gronendyke said upon the final approval that the project met all state and federal safety regulations, and that the project had passed air-quality testing impact assessments. Enbridge has also maintained that safety is their priority.

With state regulators approving the plant, Braintree joined Quincy, Hingham, the Ten Persons Group and the Ten Citizens Group in appealing the plant’s approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in federal court. The motion was filed last month in the U.S. 1st District Court of Appeals.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES


Gov. Whitmer offers propane plan for Upper Peninsula after Line 5 shutdown
By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
March 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration released its plan Friday to heat Michigan homes without depending on the Line 5 oil pipeline to deliver propane.

The plan calls for millions of dollars of investment in rail infrastructure and storage to help wean propane suppliers off the pipeline, plus other programs to reduce propane demand, help low-income customers pay their propane bills, and increase the state’s ability to monitor propane supplies.

The plan was praised by environmental groups, Native American tribes and others opposing Enbridge Line 5. But an Enbridge spokesperson called the plan “wholly inadequate” and at least one propane supplier raised doubts about whether it will adequately replace the propane currently supplied by the pipeline.

Whitmer has given Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy until May 13 to stop transporting oil through the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, citing concerns that the aging underwater pipeline poses an “unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

Much of the plan to replace Line 5 relies on grant programs Whitmer has written into her 2022 budget proposal, meaning it may require legislative approval.  Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

But the plan also notes that some propane suppliers have begun to independently wean themselves off Line 5 since Whitmer made the shutdown order in November.

Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis Parisio told Bridge Michigan the governor “is looking forward to discussions with the legislature and is hopeful that we can reach bipartisan support for her budget recommendations.”

In an interview Friday, Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps said the plan will put Michigan “in a good place for next winter and for whatever market changes arise.”
» Read article               
» Read the MI Propane Security Plan               


Ohio, Louisiana argue against Line 5 shutdown in federal court
By Garret Ellison, mlive.com
March 22, 2021

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is asking a federal judge in Grand Rapids to block Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s effort to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, arguing on behalf of Ohio refineries and the state of Louisiana that closing the submerged oil line would have economic impact beyond Michigan.

Yost filed an amicus brief on Friday, March 19 in the case Enbridge brought against Whitmer last fall, which is pending before Judge Janet Neff in the Western District of Michigan. The case is scheduled to begin mediation in April.

In the brief, Yost argues that closing the pipeline segment under the Straits of Mackinac would cause economic hardship for businesses supplied by the pipeline.

In November, Whitmer announced termination of the 1953 easement that allows the pipeline to cross the lakebed where lakes Michigan and Huron connect. She gave Enbridge until May 12 to stop the oil flow, a deadline the company says it won’t comply with absent a court order.

“Ohio refineries, their employees, and key industrial stakeholders directly rely on Line 5′s crude oil supply, and its economic effects are strongly felt in the Buckeye State and beyond,” Yost wrote. “Ohio, joined by Louisiana, respectfully urges the court to carefully balance protections for both the environment and the economic health of individuals and businesses on both sides of the border by allowing Line 5 to continue to operate safely.”

Case documents indicate Michigan opposes the motion but the state has not yet filed a reply.

Enbridge allies have mounted a full-throated defense of the controversial pipeline this year. Canadian government and business officials are lobbying the Biden Administration to intercede in Whitmer’s decision and are threatening to invoke a 1977 treaty governing the operation of cross-border pipelines unless Michigan backpedals the closure order.

Seamus O’Regan, Canadian natural resources minister, told a parliament committee earlier this month that the pipeline’s operation is “non-negotiable.”

The 68-year-old, 645-mile pipeline runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan. It is a key part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network that carries light crude and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac. Its existence has caused escalating concern since another Enbridge pipeline caused a massive oil spill in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River.

Because the pipeline crosses both Michigan peninsulas and many waterways, opponents see little benefit but substantial risk for the state from its existence and dismiss economic concerns around its closure as overblown.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Another Line 3 Battleground: free speech
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
March 20, 2021

We’ve covered the ongoing, fossil fuel-backed push to criminalize protest before. In 2017, Oklahoma passed the first of these bills, specifically citing the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Then American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), the trade group for refineries and petrochemical facilities, crafted sample legislation based on the Oklahoma bill, and pushed the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) to adopt it. In 2020 , the Covid-19 pandemic slowed things down a bit, but in 2021 things are speeding up. In January, Ohio passed a bill that’s been debated for years, bringing the total number of states with so-called “critical infrastructure laws” in place to 14.

What’s defined as critical infrastructure varies a bit from state to state, but pipelines are always included; penalties range, too, but across the board these laws increase both the criminal and financial penalties of protest, potentially landing protestors in jail for years with fines up to $150,000. It’s worth noting that all of these states have trespassing and property damage laws already, it’s not as though those things have been going unpunished; the new laws merely make the consequences much tougher. They also add penalties for organizers and organizing entities. In Montana, for example, a proposed bill would fine organizations up to a million dollars for being involved in protest.

All of which comes into play in Minnesota, where the fight against Line 3 is underway. There are currently six bills under consideration in the state, packaged into four legislative packages. If any of them pass, not only could protestors be facing stiffer penalties but also the organizations involved, most of them led by Native women, could find themselves slapped with large fines too.

In this interview, researcher Connor Gibson walks us through the origin of these laws, why they’re picking up steam, and what to expect this year.
» Listen to podcast, “How the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Undermining Free Speech”

» More about protests and actions               

DIVESTMENT

Big banks’ trillion-dollar finance for fossil fuels ‘shocking’, says report
Coal, oil and gas firms have received $3.8tn in finance since the Paris climate deal in 2015
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
March 24, 2021

The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of NGOs.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking”.

Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2C, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.

US and Canadian banks make up 13 of the 60 banks analysed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.

Overall financing dipped by 9% in pandemic-hit 2020, but funding for the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest expansion plans actually rose by 10%. Citi was the biggest financier of these 100 companies in 2020.

A commitment to be net zero by 2050 has been made by 17 of the 60 banks, but the report describes the pledges as “dangerously weak, half-baked, or vague”, arguing that action is needed today. Some banks have policies that block finance for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but almost two-thirds of funding is for oil and gas companies.

The report’s authors said targeting of banks by campaigners and activist shareholders could help change bank policies but that action by governments was also needed.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

Baker intends to sign climate and emissions bill
By Chris Lisinski, WWLP
March 25, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he plans to sign into law a sweeping climate policy bill the Legislature approved last week after vetoing an earlier version in January.

Asked as he departed a press conference if he would approve the climate bill, Baker replied with one-word: “Yes.” A spokesperson for his office then confirmed his intent to sign the legislation.

The landmark proposal aims to craft a path toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions statewide by 2050 by setting interim targets for emissions reductions, establishing energy efficiency standards for appliances and addressing the needs of environmental justice communities. Baker vetoed the original version of the bill, approved at the end of the 2019-2020 lawmaking session, in January over concerns that it could limit housing production and did not do enough to help cities and towns adapt to the effects of climate change effects.

Lawmakers passed the legislation a second time and then adopted many of Baker’s sought changes, though they did not agree to some of his more substantial amendments, such as a lower emissions-reduction milestone for 2030.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides signaled after the bill’s passage that the administration was happy with the amendments. Business groups NAIOP and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce have recently announced support for the bill after previously expressing hesitation. Baker has until Sunday to act on the climate bill.
» Read article            

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Why Companies’ ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions Pledges Should Trigger a Healthy Dose of Skepticism
By Oliver Miltenberger, The University of Melbourne and Matthew D. Potts, University of California, Berkeley, The Conversation, republished in DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2021

Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?

As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.

The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper.

The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.

Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.

Environmentalists may welcome Shell’s newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
» Read article            


That Salmon on Your Plate Might Have Been a Vegetarian
Pescatarians take note: Farmed fish are eating more veggies and less wild fish, according to new research. That’s good news for nature.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
March 24, 2021

Twenty years ago, as farmed salmon and shrimp started spreading in supermarket freezers, came an influential scientific paper that warned of an environmental mess: Fish farms were gobbling up wild fish stocks, spreading disease and causing marine pollution.

This week, some of the same scientists who published that report issued a new paper concluding that fish farming, in many parts of the world, at least, is a whole lot better. The most significant improvement, they said, was that farmed fish were not being fed as much wild fish. They were being fed more plants, like soy.

In short, the paper found, farmed fish like salmon and trout had become mostly vegetarians.

Synthesizing hundreds of research papers carried out over the last 20 years across the global aquaculture industry, the latest study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The findings have real-world implications for nutrition, jobs and biodiversity. Aquaculture is a source of income for millions of small-scale fishers and revenue for fish-exporting countries. It is also vital if the world’s 7.75 billion people want to keep eating fish and shellfish without draining the ocean of wild fish stocks and marine biodiversity.

At the same time, there have long been concerns among some environmentalists about aquaculture’s effects on natural habitats.

The new paper found promising developments, but also lingering problems. And it didn’t quite inform the average fish-eater what they should eat more of — or avoid.
» Read article              
» Read the original study
» Read the new aquaculture study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE


Trawling for Fish May Unleash as Much Carbon as Air Travel, Study Says
The report also found that strategically conserving some marine areas would not only safeguard imperiled species but sequester vast amounts planet-warming carbon dioxide, too.
By Catrin Einhorn, New York Times
March 17, 2021

For the first time, scientists have calculated how much planet-warming carbon dioxide is released into the ocean by bottom trawling, the practice of dragging enormous nets along the ocean floor to catch shrimp, whiting, cod and other fish. The answer: As much as global aviation releases into the air.

While preliminary, that was one of the most surprising findings of a groundbreaking new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The study offers what is essentially a peer-reviewed, interactive road map for how nations can confront the interconnected crises of climate change and wildlife collapse at sea.

It follows similar recent research focused on protecting land, all with a goal of informing a global agreement on biodiversity to be negotiated this autumn in Kunming, China.

Protecting strategic zones of the world’s oceans from fishing, drilling and mining would not only safeguard imperiled species and sequester vast amounts of carbon, the researchers found, it would also increase overall fish catch, providing more healthy protein to people.

“It’s a triple win,” said Enric Sala, a marine biologist who directs National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. Dr. Sala led the study’s team of 26 biologists, climate scientists and economists.

How much and what parts of the ocean to protect depends on how much value is assigned to each of the three possible benefits: biodiversity, fishing and carbon storage.

Trisha Atwood, an aquatic ecologist at Utah State University who was one of the study’s authors, compared trawling to cutting down forests for agriculture.

“It’s wiping out biodiversity, it’s wiping out things like deep sea corals that take hundreds of years to grow,” Dr. Atwood said. “And now what this study shows is that it also has this other kind of unknown impact, which is that it creates a lot of CO2.”
» Read article               
» Read the study


We have turned the Amazon into a net greenhouse gas emitter: Study
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
March 19, 2021

Something is wrong in the lungs of the world. Decades of burning, logging, mining and development have tipped the scales, and now the Amazon Basin may be emitting more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

Most of the conversation about climate change is dominated by carbon dioxide. While CO2 plays a critical role in the complex climate equation, other forces such as methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and black carbon are also factors.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a group of 31 scientists calculated the balance of all natural and human-caused greenhouse gases coming in and out of the massive Amazon Basin. The team concluded that warming of the atmosphere from agents other than CO2 likely exceeds the climate benefits the Amazon provides via CO2 uptake. Or more simply: due to humans, the Amazon Basin is now a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

“I would highlight that natural greenhouse emissions from ecosystems aren’t causing climate change,” the study’s lead author, Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor at Skidmore College told Mongabay. “It’s the many human disturbances underway in the basin that are contributing to climate change.”

Earth receives constant energy from the sun. Climate-forcing factors in the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases, act like a blanket, trapping that heat energy on Earth. When there’s more energy coming in from the sun than is being reflected back out into space, the planet warms and our climate is thrown out of balance.

A healthy forest ecosystem sucks in CO2 and keeps other climate-forcing factors in relative balance. But in the Amazon, where forests have faced increased logging, mining, dam construction, and clearing for agricultural (typically using fire), the system is drying and degrading. One study found that the amount of aboveground plant tissue in the Amazon was reduced by roughly one-third over the past decade.

In short, the ability of the Amazon to absorb CO2 is declining.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Why Covering Canals With Solar Panels Is a Power Move
Covering waterways would, in a sense, make solar panels water-cooled, boosting their efficiency.
By Matt Simon, Science
March 19, 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Hall & Oates. Now there’s a duo that could literally and figuratively be even more powerful: solar panels and canals. What if instead of leaving canals open, letting the sun evaporate the water away, we covered them with panels that would both shade the precious liquid and hoover up solar energy? Maybe humanity can go for that.

Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership. Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

California’s water conveyance system is the world’s largest, serving 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland. Seventy-five percent of available water is in the northern third of the state, while the bottom two-thirds of the state accounts for 80 percent of urban and agricultural demand. Shuttling all that water around requires pumps to make it flow uphill; accordingly, the water system is the state’s largest single consumer of electricity.

Solar-paneling canals would not only produce renewable energy for use across the state, it would run the water system itself. “By covering canals with solar panels, we can reduce evaporation and avoid disturbing natural and working lands, while providing renewable energy and other co-benefits,” says environmental engineer Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Merced, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead author on the paper.
» Read article              


As early renewables near end-of-life, attention turns to recycling and disposal
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
March 24, 2021

Although only a handful of states have implemented rules related to the disposal of batteries, PV panels and other renewable assets, the time has come to consider their fate as early installations reach the end of their useful life, industry leaders concluded during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Batteries, solar panels and even wind turbines contain components that could be repurposed and recycled, panelists said, but high costs and the limited availability of these materials present barriers to scaling up recycling operations.

To create a “circular economy” in which no raw materials are wasted would reduce the lifetime environmental impact of renewable energy, but accomplishing this requires intent and funding that “starts at the design phase,” said Peter Perrault, senior manager of circular economy and sustainable solutions at Enel North America.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND ELECTRIFICATION


He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem.
Want to electrify your home? Good luck finding a contractor.
Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 18, 2021

Adam James had been casually browsing the housing market for about a year when he came across a home that seemed like the perfect fit. The 31-year-old and his wife recently had their third child, and the 1960s split-level ranch house in Ossining, New York, a village on the Hudson River with ample green space and a commuter train station, was just what they were looking for. The house had only one downside: Its oil-based heating system was 35 years old and on the brink of sputtering out.

Except that wasn’t a downside for James, who works as chief of staff at Energy Impact Partners, a sustainable energy investment firm. “I was actually excited because I was like, I’m gonna get this thing off of fuel oil and decarbonize it,” he told Grist last October.

By that he meant he wanted to switch out the heating and hot water systems in the house for appliances that run on electricity. This kind of conversion is called electrification, and it is currently the only proven way to eliminate the carbon emissions directly generated by our buildings. But even in New York state, which has a legal mandate to cut emissions 85 percent by 2050, a goal of getting 130,000 electric heat and hot water systems installed by 2025, and several public and private programs that promote and incentivize electric heating, James had an unexpected amount of trouble getting it done.

The first thing James did was call a few local contractors to ask about geothermal heat pumps, highly efficient systems that absorb heat from the near-constant temperature beneath the earth’s surface and transfer it into your home. But he quickly learned that it was going to cost a lot more than he thought — around $40,000, by one estimate. So James gave up on geothermal and began looking into air-source heat pumps, similar systems that instead absorb heat from the outdoor air, even on cold winter days. He found a list of contractors on the website for New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, a state agency tasked with promoting energy efficiency and renewables. The contractors on the list were ostensibly certified to install heat pumps, and James said he called about 10 of them just to figure out what his options were.

Several didn’t respond to his inquiry. A few told him they didn’t do heat pumps. The rest said they could install heat pumps but tried to talk him out of it, explaining that a heat pump would be more expensive than a fuel oil system or a propane furnace, and that he would still need one of those as a backup source of heat.

[Nate Adams, a home performance specialist based in Ohio who goes by the nickname the “House Whisperer,”] said some contractors are afraid of heat pumps because earlier generations of the technology were noisy and didn’t work well in colder temperatures. The technology has come a long way, and new, cold-climate heat pumps work just fine in places like New York, but contractors still perceive them as riskier than traditional systems. “We have 105,000 HVAC contractors across the U.S. that have to be convinced this is a good idea,” said Adams, using the acronym for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

There’s disagreement about heat pump effectiveness even among contractors who recommend the technology. In February, about five months after James’ ordeal, I called several contractors from the same list James consulted and reached Scott Carey, a contractor in Briarcliff, New York, who installs heat pumps for clients and even recently put them in his own house. However, he recommends that his customers keep a back-up source of heat, such as a propane furnace, for when the heat pump periodically goes into defrost mode, running the system in reverse and pumping cold air into the house.

Daphney Warrington, who runs an HVAC company called Breffni Mechanical with her husband in Yonkers, New York, and also installs heat pumps, disagreed — she said there was no need for a backup system unless the homeowner wanted to have one. When asked about James’ trouble finding a contractor, Warrington and Carey offered a similar assessment — a lot of contractors are old school and haven’t stayed up to date with the latest technology. “They still are thinking that heat pumps aren’t for this part of the country,” said Carey.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency and electrification

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Critics warn Massachusetts’ climate progress is headed for traffic jam
Climate advocates and analysts say the state will need to reduce driving if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and that current plans focus too much on vehicle electrification.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 22, 2021

Massachusetts won’t meet its climate goals without getting people to drive less.

That’s the unpopular message from climate advocates and analysts who say the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan draft places too much emphasis on vehicle electrification and all but ignores the critical need to also reduce driving miles.

The number of vehicle miles traveled in the state is on pace to increase by 21% from 2010 to 2030, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for greater Boston. This growth would cause emissions to rise unless all the vehicles in the state achieved an average — and unlikely — efficiency of 29 miles per gallon, the report concludes.

To alter this course, advocates say, state leaders will need to consider implementing congestion pricing, per-mile fees for road usage, or land use policies that make it easier and more attractive to use public transit — ideas that are not currently major parts of the climate plan.

“It leans on electrification of the vehicle fleet, which is obviously a critical pathway to pursue at the policy level,” said Conor Gately, senior land use and transportation analyst for the planning council. “There’s not as much enthusiasm for the land use side of things to reduce underlying demand.”
» Read article               
» Read the MAPC report

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick, Danly spar over gas pipeline reviews as FERC considers project’s climate impacts for first time
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
March 19, 2021

FERC’s decision to consider climate impacts when approving a pipeline certificate marks a significant compromise between Glick and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who had indicated in the weeks leading up to the meeting that he might be willing to consider such factors.

“I give [Chatterjee] a lot of credit,” said Glick. “He approached me a while back and said ‘Hey, I think we can work out some sort of compromise here on this issue.'”

Danly, in his dissent, accused the commission of a “dramatic change” inconsistent with long-standing precedent that the commission does not have the right tools to properly assess the impact of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. Further, he expressed concern that oil and gas companies were not sufficiently involved in the process.

“It appears to me that the financial gas industry and its customers are on the verge of experiencing some dramatic changes in the coming months and years, and we’ve learned that those changes can come from unexpected proceedings,” he said.

FERC’s Thursday meeting followed the commission’s first listening session of the Office of Public Participation, wherein commissioners listened to hours long testimony from landowners and others who had been negatively impacted by gas infrastructure development and, they felt, left out of FERC’s proceedings. Glick pointed out that Danly’s arguments disregard those stakeholders.

“You had suggested that everyone should intervene in all these natural gas pipeline proceedings,” he said. “Well, I would say the same for not just the pipeline companies, but for all the other people that have been screwed by the Commission,” Glick said, calling Danly’s stance “the height of hypocrisy.”

“You were the general counsel, Mr. Danly, when the Commission … without any notice, without telling landowners, without telling people that are concerned about climate change” repeatedly chose not to examine the climate impacts of infrastructure, despite a 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that found that FERC’s environmental impact assessment for pipelines was “inadequate.”

“Absolutely, if you’re a pipeline company, and you want to intervene in a proceeding, go for it … but I would say that everyone else, please you intervene too, because we need to hear your voices as well,” Glick said. “Not just the voices that can afford high-priced Washington D.C. law firms to participate in these proceedings.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


SLAPPed silly: the company promoting the Goldboro LNG plant that Premier Rankin supports is trying to bully its critics into silence
By Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner
March 22, 2021

This weekend, delegates at the Conservative Party of Canada’s national convention rejected a motion that called for the party to acknowledge that “climate change is real.”

Some of the no votes were more nuanced than others, but the gist is that party members don’t want to adopt policies — support for the Paris Accord and carbon taxes, better regulation of emissions from the oil and gas industry — that are necessary to confront the problem. If it means losing votes in the oil fields, they’re against it, the future of the planet be damned.

It’s a reprehensible attitude, but hopefully will have little real-world impact: the CPC is out of power, not even a bit player in the governing minority government, and by voting against the motion, delegates made it that much harder for the party to get back in power.

But it’s an entirely different matter when Iain Rankin, the Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, who is presiding atop a majority government that is setting energy policy for the next several decades, embraces the natural gas industry. Unlike the now powerless CPC, Rankin’s actions can contribute materially to humanity’s failure to confront climate change.

The Pieridae proposal envisions natural gas sourced in Alberta being delivered via new and enlarged pipelines to Nova Scotia, where it will be liquified at the Goldboro plant. That LNG would then be pumped into giant LNG carriers that will carry the LNG across the Atlantic to a new terminal to be built by the energy company Uniper in Wilhelmshaven, Germany; there, the gas will be regasified and distributed to German homes and businesses.

And last night, activists in the US alerted me to yet another possible gas source for the Goldboro plant — natural gas produced by fracking in Western Pennsylvania.

At issue is a now-operating natural gas compressing plant in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As WBUR, the NPR station in Boston, explained it in October:

The 7,700-horsepower Weymouth compressor [emphasis added] is part of a larger gas pipeline plan called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The purpose of the project is to make it easier for “fracked” natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of Western Pennsylvania to get to northern New England and Canada, and it does this by connecting two existing pipeline systems: the Algonquin Gas Transmission, which flows from New Jersey into Massachusetts, and the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which flows from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, Canada.
» Read article                
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 1           
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 2             

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Springfield City Council enlists Conservation Law Foundation in fight against Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
March 23, 2021


The Springfield City Council will challenge Palmer Renewable Energy’s decade-old building permit with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation of Boston.

At issue is councilors’ contention that the 2011 permit expired because construction has not begun at the proposed $150 million, 35-megawatt power plant. They say any construction now would require a new special use permit under a 2013 city ordinance.

The appeal will be filed this week — possibly Wednesday — with the Springfield Zoning Board. Whatever side loses at the Zoning Board can appeal to one of several courts after that.

“The people of Springfield seem largely opposed (to the plant),” said Johannes Epke, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “We had a unanimous vote of the city council (Monday) night. If the city council and the people of Springfield cannot make these developers come in for a special permit and explain to the city why this is a beneficial use, there is a real problem in the operation of zoning and building enforcement.”

Building permits require construction to commence within six months, Epke said.

The appeal isn’t costing the council, or the city, anything to pursue, Epke said. The Conservation Law Foundation is “happy” to advocate on the council’s behalf, he said.
» Read article                

Dutch to limit forest biomass subsidies, possibly signaling EU sea change
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
March 9, 2021

The Dutch Parliament in February voted to disallow the issuing of new subsidies for 50 planned forest biomass-for-heat plants, a small, but potentially key victory for researchers and activists who say that the burning of forests to make energy is not only not carbon neutral, but is dirtier than burning coal and bad climate policy.

With public opinion opposing forest biomass as a climate solution now growing in the EU, the decision by the Netherlands could be a bellwether. In June, the EU will review its Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

Currently, forest biomass burning to make energy is ruled as carbon neutral in the EU, even though a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that it takes many decades until forests regrow for carbon neutrality to be achieved.

The forestry industry, which continues to see increasing demand for wood pellets, argues that biomass burning is environmentally sustainable and a viable carbon cutting solution compared to coal.
» Read article                

» More about biomass                 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

My Team Found 2,000 Plastic Bags Inside A Dead Camel
By Marcus Eriksen, Bloomberg | Opinion, in NDTV
March 24, 2021

Digging between the ribs of a dead camel buried in the sands of Dubai, I couldn’t believe what my colleagues and I found: a mass of plastic bags as big as a large suitcase. At least 2,000 plastic bags were lumped together where the animal’s stomach would have been.

We had been led to the site by Ulrich Wernery of the Dubai-based Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, who knew we were researching floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region. After two decades at sea, I thought I had seen it all. We had traveled from the Arctic to the Antarctic, publishing research on plastic pollution across all the oceans’ garbage patches. We found plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. We have seen albatrosses full of plastic on Midway Atoll, fish with microplastics in their stomachs and California sea lions with nooses of fishing line around their necks.

But the camels were a whole new level of appalling. Our team of scientists documented that more than 300 camels in the Dubai region had died because they ate humans’ trash, accounting for 1% of dead camels evaluated there since 2008. Unlike other research that might examine animals in a laboratory, this was a field study with concentrations of plastic trash that exist in the environment. It is a real-world tragedy with ecologically relevant concentrations of trash.

Imagine having 50 plastic bags in your stomach that you could not digest, causing ulcers and tremendous discomfort and the feeling that you’re full all the time. You can’t and don’t eat any food. This is what happens to camels, and it results in intestinal bleeding, blockages, dehydration, malnutrition and death.

Much of the world still perceives plastic pollution as a problem limited to the ocean. Last month, U.N. Secretary General Antnio Guterres opened the gathering of the United Nations Environmental Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making body, by warning that the “oceans are filling with plastic,” and left it at that.

This is wrong. The camels are only the latest casualties occurring in all environments on this planet due to plastic. Researchers have also observed death and suffering in animals from elephants to reindeer. They have found plastic fragments in farmland, food and drinking water. Another recent report drawing on the results of more than 30 studies calls attention to the damage that a chemical found in plastic may do to babies’ brains. Plastic has even been seen in Earth’s orbit.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING


John Oliver Takes on the Plastics Industry
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 23, 2021

In his latest deep dive for Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver took on plastic pollution and, specifically, the myth that if we all just recycled enough, the problem would go away.

Instead, Oliver argued, this is a narrative that has been intentionally pushed by the plastics industry for decades. He cited the [iconic] 1970 Keep America Beautiful ad, which showed a Native American man (really an Italian American actor) crying as a hand tossed litter from a car window. Keep America Beautiful, Oliver pointed out, was partly funded by plastics-industry trade group SPI.

“Which might seem odd until you realize that the underlying message there is, ‘It’s up to you, the consumer, to stop pollution,'” Oliver said. “And that has been a major through line in the recycling movement, a movement often bankrolled by companies that wanted to drill home the message that it is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products.”
» Read article              
» Watch ‘Last Week Tonight’ video (viewer discretion advised)

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 1/29/21

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Welcome back.

Last week, we posted a report that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), was considering reviewing the Weymouth compressor station’s permit. That’s still in the cards, but meanwhile the controversial facility has been given permission to begin operating. Their prior two attempts at startup both ended in emergency shut-downs and gas releases.

A federal appeals court ruling against Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation has the usual suspects reacting from two separate realities. Indigenous and environmental groups are delighted, while Canada – especially the political leadership and oil barons in Alberta – feel both blind-sided and unfairly treated. Once again, ordinary folks fighting for the planet’s future find themselves staring across contested ground at their frustrated and bewildered counterparts in industry and government, and saying, “we told you this would happen – what did you expect?”

Efforts to green the economy are moving into the policy phase. We expect to see a lot of reporting on this, and offer two good examples this week: The need for economic relief and redevelopment in coal country, and the potential to expand opportunities for rooftop solar into less affluent neighborhoods.

Climate was front and center this week, with President Biden signing more executive orders and demonstrating a sense of urgency to action. A couple of new reports underscored the high stakes, with dire warnings about accelerating loss of global ice, and evidence that the world’s great tropical forests are in danger of losing their ability to absorb atmospheric carbon – flipping from net carbon sinks to sources.

Biden’s executive orders played well for clean energy – especially support for offshore wind and investments in electricity transmission infrastructure necessary for a green grid. We always like to highlight news of emerging green technologies, and found that a 27-year-old electrical engineering student at Mapua University in the Philippines has won the first-ever James Dyson Award global sustainability prize. His unique solar panel is derived from waste crops, and generates electricity by the chemical processes of rotting fruits and vegetables.

Energy efficient affordable housing is both desirable and possible. According to a growing number of studies, allowing municipalities to adopt strict energy efficient building codes wouldn’t keep new housing from being built. This is a great time to call Governor Baker’s office and tell him you’d like to have the option of a net-zero stretch code in your city or town. This issue is at the forefront as Massachusetts’ legislative news continues to focus on the legislature’s attempts to pass its landmark climate roadmap bill. Recall that a strong, progressive, bill was passed at the end of December, but “pocket” vetoed by Governor Baker. Now, the legislature has re-passed the same bill by a veto-proof margin in its new session. We help you track all of the related issues, including the building lobby’s powerful influence and resistance to improved building codes.

Electric vehicles are on the cusp of an important “tipping point”, when they become cheaper to purchase than comparable internal combustion engine cars. Plunging battery prices are the reason, and this predicts rapidly accelerating EV sales. Over 90% of EV drivers, when polled, say they would not want to return to driving gas-powered cars.

The Biden administration served notice to the fossil fuel industry by pausing further leases for drilling on federal lands. While this won’t have a near-term effect on emissions, it’s an important signal and acknowledges the need to leave coal, oil, and gas in the ground. For its part, the industry responded by inflating expected job losses from the new policy – standard operating procedure from the denial and deception playbook.

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

another startupWeymouth Compressor Operator Says It’s Starting Up Facility This Weekend
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 22, 2021

After two unplanned emergency shutdowns in September delayed the startup of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth and triggered a federal safety investigation, the company behind the project, Enbridge, says it’s “identified and addressed” any problems and is ready to go into service this weekend.

“The compressor station will methodically be placed in service beginning on January 23, in accordance with applicable regulations and with oversight from PHMSA [the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration],” Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said in a statement. “We expect to have the ability to start flowing gas through the compressor station for our customers in the coming days.”

Bergeron declined to share PHMSA’s reports on the September emergency  shutdowns, saying only: “The root cause analysis reports for the September 11 and September 30 events at the Weymouth Compressor Station presented recommendations to strengthen Enbridge’s procedures for safely commissioning new facilities. We have already begun implementing the recommendations.”

A PHMSA spokesperson did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls, but WBUR obtained a letter to Enbridge from PHMSA Eastern Regional Director Robert Burrough stating that the agency “has reviewed the root cause failure analysis” and “approves the temporary operation of the compressor units in the Station.”

The news comes days after some new members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees interstate pipelines, signaled that they were concerned about the project and might be willing to reconsider its permit.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

DAPL ruled illegal crossingAppeals Court Agrees that Dakota Access Pipeline River Crossing Is Illegal
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 27, 2021

A federal appeals court has struck another blow against the contested Dakota Access Pipeline.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court of Appeals from the D.C. Circuit agreed Tuesday with a lower court ruling that the pipeline’s crossing at the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is illegal and requires an in-depth environmental review, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

“We are pleased that the D.C. Circuit affirmed the necessity of a full environmental review, and we look forward to showing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers why this pipeline is too dangerous to operate,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in an Earthjustice press release.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has long opposed the pipeline’s crossing under Lake Oahe, a drinking water source for the tribe that is located just off of their reservation, the Grand Forks Herald explained. It became the subject of massive Indigenous-led protests in 2016 and 2017, leading the Obama administration to withhold a key permit for the project.

However, the Trump administration approved the pipeline without a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the Missouri River crossing, a coalition of Sioux tribes explained in a letter to President Joe Biden. The Army Corps of Engineers began an EIS of the crossing in September based on the lower court ruling, the Grand Forks Herald reported. This is expected to take up to 13 months, but the tribes and their allies are calling on the Biden administration to shut the pipeline down entirely.

Biden has promised to focus on the climate crisis in office, and canceled the Keystone XL pipeline on day one of his administration, leading Indigenous and environmental activists to call for a shutdown of all contested fossil fuel pipelines.

“Especially after the Keystone XL decision, the pressure is increasing for the Biden administration to take action here,” Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, pipeline proponents considered Tuesday’s court decision a win because the court did not order the pipeline to shut down while the EIS is completed. A lower court had originally ordered the pipeline to shut down in July, but that has been reversed.
» Read article         

KXL protest drummer
Keystone XL decision delights tribes, dismays Canada
‘President Biden’s action is the result of the relentless work and dedication from tribes and grassroots organizers’
Indian Country Today
January 22, 2021

Tribal leaders and advocates across Indian Country are lauding President Joe Biden’s executive order rescinding the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit to cross from Canada into the United States.

“I would like to say thank you to the President of the United States for acknowledging the danger this project poses to our land and our people,” Chairman Harold Frazier wrote in a statement released by Remi Bald Eagle, head of intergovernmental affairs for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

“It is rare that a promise to our people is kept by the United States; I appreciate your honesty.”

Leaders in Canada, however, were disappointed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the past has repeatedly indicated that the Canadian government fully supported the pipeline project, which originates in Alberta. The 1,210-mile pipeline was scheduled to begin transporting Alberta oil sands to Nebraska beginning in 2023.

On Friday, Biden met via telephone with Trudeau in the new president’s first official call to a foreign leader.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Trudeau expressed his dismay with Biden’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Biden acknowledged the hardship the decision would create in Canada, CBC News reported, citing a senior government official. But the president defended the move, saying he was upholding a campaign promise and restoring a decision made by the Obama administration.

The idea of retaliatory sanctions against the United States didn’t come up during the discussion, the CBC reported. In a letter to Trudeau, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had called on the prime minister to seek “proportional economic consequences” from the U.S. for the decision.

Earlier Friday, Trudeau said in comments to the press that Biden’s administration represents the beginning of a new era of friendship. Trudeau and former President Donald Trump had a notoriously poor relationship in which Trump described Trudeau as weak and dishonest while placing tariffs on Canadian products.

“The fact that we have so much alignment, not just me and President Biden, but Canadians and President Biden, on values, creating jobs and prosperity for everyone, investing in the fight against climate change as a way of growing the economy, these are things we can dig into significantly,” Trudeau said. “It’s not always going to be a perfect alignment with the United States; that is the case with any president.”

According to the CBC, both Trudeau and Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman have said it’s time to respect Biden’s decision and move on.
» Read article

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Cumberland KY coal
Coal Communities Across the Nation Want Biden to Fund an Economic Transition to Clean Power
The president promised to create a task force on how best to help the communities. Advocates want that and new jobs, broadband internet and funding for health and education.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
January 26, 2021

Coal-state economic development groups, labor leaders and environmentalists are asking President Joe Biden’s administration to fund a “just transition” from coal to renewable energy, given his focus on climate change, environmental justice and racial and economic equity.

Thirteen groups from areas as diverse as West Virginia and Kentucky in Appalachia to the Navajo Nation in Arizona, along with their national partners, want the immediate creation of a White House Office of Economic Transition, focused on rebuilding the economies of coal communities.

They also asked the administration last week in a letter to create a task force on communities dependent for jobs on coal and power plants.

“What we are saying is we recognize the inevitable shifts in the energy economy landscape as a result of the measures we must take to address climate change,” said Peter Hille, president of the Mountain Association, a nonprofit that serves counties in the coalfield of eastern Kentucky and is working for a new economy there. “The justice we are calling for is represented by the new investments needed to help these coal-impacted communities.”

Biden entered the White House last week with the most ambitious climate agenda of any president, having put forth a $2 trillion plan that seeks to tie  curbing heat-trapping greenhouse gases with economic growth in renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

On his first day, the president moved to rejoin the Paris climate accord and directed his administration to review and begin rolling back more than 100 rules on the environment put in place by the Trump administration, many of which benefited the fossil fuel industry. Biden’s plan includes the goal of a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.”

During the campaign, Biden also promised his administration would “invest in coal and power plant communities and other communities impacted by the climate transformation.” His campaign website said he would create a task force on how best to transition such communities.

What the coal state groups are doing is reminding Biden of his promises. They say that adding a voice in the White House for coal communities alongside those advocating for climate action will help to keep the communities a priority—especially as the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the decline of the coal industry.
» Read article         

access to cheaper solar
Cheaper Solar Power Means Low-income Families Can Also Benefit — With the Right Kind of Help
By Galen Barbose Eric O’Shaughnessy, and Ryan Wiser of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in DeSmog Blog
January 21, 2021

Until recently, rooftop solar panels were a clean energy technology that only wealthy Americans could afford. But prices have dropped, thanks mostly to falling costs for hardware, as well as price declines for installation and other “soft” costs.

Today hundreds of thousands of middle-class households across the U.S. are turning to solar power. But households with incomes below the median for their areas remain less likely to go solar. These low- and moderate-income households face several roadblocks to solar adoption, including cash constraints, low rates of home ownership and language barriers.

Our team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined how various policies and business models could affect the likelihood of people at all income levels adopting solar. In a recently published study, we analyzed five common solar policies and business models to see whether they attracted lower-income households.

We found that three scenarios did: offering financial incentives to low- and moderate-income households; leasing solar panels to homeowners; and lending money to buy panels, with the loan repaid on property tax bills. All of these approaches resulted in people at a wider range of income levels trying solar energy.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

climate policy spree
Everything you need to know about Biden’s climate policy spree
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
January 27, 2021

Themes make everything more fun, according to that friend who was always making you put on a costume for their parties pre-pandemic. Our newly elected president, Joe Biden, seems to agree. Possibly thinking some fun is just what the country needs right now, Biden dedicated each day of his first full week in office to a different theme, starting with “buying American” on Monday and racial equity on Tuesday. And Wednesday, it was climate day.

“We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis,” Biden said in a speech at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. “We can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”

Through three sweeping executive orders, Biden brought to fruition all kinds of promises he made on the campaign trail to address climate change. He directed federal agencies to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and to stimulate clean energy development. He hit the pause button on issuing new oil and gas drilling leases on federally owned lands and waters and requested a review of existing leases. (To be clear, that’s not a ban on fracking generally, which Biden can’t do unilaterally.) He hit the play button on developing a plan for the U.S. to fulfill its emissions-reduction obligation under the Paris Agreement. He hit fast-forward on getting solar, wind, and power transmission projects sited, permitted, and built.

“When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs,” Biden said in his address before signing the orders.

To that end, he ordered all federal agencies to get behind the wheels of American-made electric vehicles and to procure carbon-free electricity. He kicked off research into how to pay farmers to sequester more carbon in their soils. He revived a conservation jobs program from the New Deal era under a new name — the Civilian Climate Corps — to plant trees, protect biodiversity, and restore public lands. Along those lines, he also pledged to conserve at least 30 percent of national lands and oceans by 2030, a nod to the biodiversity initiative known as 30×30 that more than 50 other countries have signed on to.

Transitioning to clean energy presents an existential threat to communities that rely on jobs and revenue from fossil fuels, and the order nodded to the idea of a “just transition.” Biden formed a new interagency group to coordinate investments in these communities and tasked it with advancing projects to clean up environmental messes, like abandoned coal mines and oil and gas wells.

The other side of a “just transition” is addressing the disproportionate health and economic burdens Black, brown, and Native American communities suffer from living near polluting infrastructure and in areas vulnerable to climate impacts, products of systemic racism. To that end, Biden took steps to put environmental justice on the agenda of every agency, including the Department of Justice. At the center of this strategy, he created an initiative called “Justice40,” which requires 40 percent of the benefits of climate-related spending to serve “disadvantaged communities.” (Which spending, which communities, and how these “benefits” will be measured have yet to be determined.)
» Read article         

sink to source
Amazon is on the brink of turning into a carbon source, study warns
By Mongabay.com
January 25, 2021

Tropical forests are guardians against runaway climate change, but their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is wearing down. The Amazon, which accounts for more than half of the world’s rainforest cover, is on the verge of turning into a carbon source.

Overall, forests remain a carbon sink, stashing away 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change. But in the last 20 years alone, forests in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, have turned into net emitters of carbon, thanks to the spread of plantations, raging fires, and loss of peatlands.

Human activities are producing record-breaking emissions — atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a 4-million-year high last year — and they are hacking into the planet’s sturdiest defenses.

Spread across 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) in nine countries in South America, the Amazon is still sucking out carbon from the air — but only just.

Most of the Amazon lies in Brazil, and between 2001 and 2019 the Brazilian Amazon acted as a net emitter of carbon, the study found.

Since Jair Bolsonaro became president at the start of 2019, Brazil has seen increased deforestation through clearing land for cattle pastures and through fires. The 2019 fire season raised concerns across the world about the health of the forests in Brazil, but deforestation has been steadily eating away into its green cover for years.

Of the three great swaths of tropical rainforest left on Earth, only those of the Congo Basin still stand strong.

Tropical forests grow quickly and absorb the most carbon of any type of forest. During photosynthesis, they use carbon dioxide to produce energy and biomass. Because trees lock away carbon dioxide, when forests are destroyed, not only is this vital function lost, but the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

rapid defrost
World’s Ice Is Melting 65 Percent Faster Than in 1990s
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 25, 2021

A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet’s ice.

The answer? Quite a lot. The rate of worldwide ice loss has increased by more than 60 percent in the past three decades, a study published in The Cryosphere on Monday found.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Dr. Thomas Slater, study lead author and research fellow at Leeds’ Center for Polar Observation and Modeling, said in a University of Leeds press release. “Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

Previous studies have used satellite data to assess ice loss from individual sources, such as polar ice caps, The Guardian explained. However, this is the first one to consider all sources of ice loss. The study found that the world lost around 31 trillion U.S. tons between 1994 and 2017. During that time, the rate of ice loss also increased 65 percent, from 0.9 trillion U.S. tons a year to 1.4 trillion U.S. tons a year. Ice loss from ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland largely contributed to that number, the press release stated.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Biden exec orders on clean energyBiden order aims to double offshore wind, boost transmission, end fossil fuel subsidies
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 28, 2021

Wednesday’s executive orders are the latest sign the Biden administration will place a high priority on clean energy and the environment in the next four years.

Among other things, the climate crisis order promises to significantly build out offshore wind, an industry that has struggled to obtain permitting on the Atlantic coast, in part due to lack of funding for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which sits under the Department of Interior. Biden’s executive order directs the Secretary of the Interior to review the siting and permitting processes in order to identify ways the U.S. can double its offshore wind output in the next decade, something very feasible, according to the renewables industry.

Further, the order directs the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget to ensure federal infrastructure investments are sustainable and reduce emissions, including through accelerating transmission and clean energy. Transmission upgrades are widely considered essential to ensuring higher levels of renewable energy are able to connect to the grid, and upgrading the planning process will likely be a priority for FERC in the coming year.

“The Department of Interior has many tools it can deploy to double offshore wind generation by 2030, and the President’s clarion call for greater transmission investment is an essential component of providing reliable and affordable renewable energy to every American,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, in a statement.

The order also calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, asking the Office of Management and Budget to eliminate subsidies for oil, gas and coal from the budget request for fiscal year 2022, and every year after.
» Read article         

AuREUS
Filipino wins sustainability award for solar panel made from waste crop
Called the AuREUS system, the new material derived from rotting fruits and vegetables absorbs UV light from the sun and converts it to electricity
By Kyle Chua, rappler.com
November 20, 2020

Carvey Ehren Maigue, a 27-year-old, electrical engineering student from Mapua University, bagged the first-ever global sustainability prize at the James Dyson Award for his invention on Thursday, November 19.

Called the AuREUS system, the new material, derived from rotting fruits and vegetables, absorbs UV light from the sun and converts it to electricity. The system can be used for windows and walls of buildings, tapping it to become sources of renewable energy.

Maigue said that he got inspiration from the auroras and polar lights for the science behind his invention.

Out of 1,800 entries worldwide, Maigue’s AuREUS system was handpicked by inventor James Dyson himself to win the award.

“AuREUS is impressive in the way it makes sustainable use of waste crops, but I’m particularly impressed by Carvey’s resolve and determination,” Dyson said.

“As a farmer, I have always been concerned about covering fertile, food-producing, agricultural land in photovoltaic cells. Carvey’s invention demonstrates a convincing way to create clean energy on existing structures, like windows, within cities,” he added.
» Read article         
» Watch interview and demonstration

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

better homes
A net-zero code doesn’t need to derail affordable housing push, advocates say
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker cited the potential impact on affordable housing as a reason for his veto of a major climate bill.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
January 27, 2021

Allowing Massachusetts cities to adopt stringent energy performance standards on new construction is unlikely to slow housing creation, according to architects, energy efficiency advocates, and lawmakers pushing back on a recent climate bill veto.

“As long as there’s demand, homes are going to be built,” said Stacey Hobart, communications director for the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit focused on improving energy performance in buildings.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed an ambitious climate bill, citing among his reasons a provision that called for the creation of a “net-zero stretch code,” a building code towns and cities could choose to adopt that would require new buildings to produce as much energy as they consume.

Massachusetts has set an ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050. Buildings, which are responsible for about 27% of the state’s emissions, are a major target for action.

Announcing his veto, Baker said he’d heard from many in the construction field that such a measure could “stop in its tracks any housing development” and that “those words get my attention.” In a letter explaining his decision, he specifically argued that a net-zero code would work against his goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing and “raise costs for Massachusetts families.”

In Massachusetts, the state sets the building codes for all municipalities. In 2009, however, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to implement an optional stretch code, which requires higher levels of energy efficiency than the base code. Today, 286 municipalities — more than 80% of the towns and cities in the state — have adopted this more stringent set of requirements.

Because Massachusetts has been an early adopter of stretch codes and a leader in advancing energy efficiency requirements, there is little direct precedent to look to in assessing the potential impact of a net-zero stretch code.

However, neither the numbers nor history bear out the governor’s concern, said many with knowledge of the industry.
» Read article         

house roof - England
Government plans to turn England homes green ‘in chaos’ with debt and job losses
Exclusive: firms out of pocket and losing faith in scheme administered by US-based corporation
By Sandra Laville, The Guardian
January 26, 2021

England’s much-hyped £2bn green homes grant is in chaos, renewable energy installers say, with some owed tens of thousands of pounds and struggling to stay in business.

Members of the public have been left waiting nearly four months, in some cases, to take advantage of the scheme to fit low carbon heating systems. Some installers say customers are pulling out after losing faith in the green grants.

Boris Johnson touted the grants as one of the key programmes in his ten 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. It aims to help 600,000 households switch their energy to low carbon and help the UK meet its commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Ministers awarded the contract to run the programme to ICF, a large American consulting corporation based in Virginia. Details of the value of the government contract have not yet been published.

But renewable energy businesses say the administration of the grants is chaotic, inefficient, confused and is creating long delays for the public and installers. Emails from the administrators are being sent during US office hours; in the evening and late at night, making communication impossible, businesses say.

Companies involved in installing heat pumps and solar thermal heating say they are laying off workers and struggling to stay afloat. Some are refusing to do more work until they are paid the tens of thousands of pounds owed for work dating back to last autumn.

“It is a desperate situation from everyone’s point of view, not just the installers,” said Bryan Glendinning, chief executive officer of Engenera, based in Newcastle. “This scheme was supposed to create jobs, but it is not doing that. We were ready to go last autumn, we had set up a call centre for 40 staff, I have now got two in there.”

Glendinning says he has 300 potential customers, some of whom have been waiting since September for vouchers from the scheme to get their renewable heating systems installed.

He told the Guardian that only 61 householders had been given the vouchers to go ahead. He has installed six systems but has not been paid for any by the government, and so far is out of pocket £250,000 from the scheme.

One installer, Eddie Gammage of EDG installations, said: “Chaos is an understatement for what is going on. We haven’t received any payments at all yet for seven jobs we have completed. I have had to lay people off.”
Blog editor’s note: This kind of nightmare could happen here too. This article is a warning that home energy programs that are poorly designed and executed could easily cause more harm than good.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV tipping point
Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption
Sales increase 43% globally in 2020 as plunging battery costs mean the cars will soon be the cheapest vehicles to buy
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 22, 2021

Electric vehicles are close to the “tipping point” of rapid mass adoption thanks to the plummeting cost of batteries, experts say.

Global sales rose 43% in 2020, but even faster growth is anticipated when continuing falls in battery prices bring the price of electric cars dipping below that of equivalent petrol and diesel models, even without subsidies. The latest analyses forecast that to happen some time between 2023 and 2025.

The tipping point has already been passed in Norway, where tax breaks mean electric cars are cheaper. The market share of battery-powered cars soared to 54% in 2020 in the Nordic country, compared with less than 5% in most European nations.

Transport is a major source of carbon emissions and electric cars are vital in efforts to fight the climate crisis. But, while they are already cheaper to run, their higher purchase price is a barrier to mass uptake. The other key factor is “range anxiety”, but this week the first factory production began of batteries capable of giving a 200-mile charge in five minutes.

Government grants and tax breaks have cut the cost of electric cars in some countries, but the point when they become cheaper without subsidies is key, said James Frith, the head of energy storage at BloombergNEF: “That’s definitely an inflection point. [Then] we really see the adoption of electric vehicles taking off and real market penetration.” In 2020, 4.2% of new cars were electric.
» Read article         
» Read about new, fast-charge batteries

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

XR at MA state house
Massachusetts lawmakers quickly approve climate change bill for second time
By STEVE LeBLANC, AP, in Boston.com
January 28, 2021

Massachusetts lawmakers quickly approved a sweeping climate change bill Thursday for a second time, shipping it back to Gov. Charlie Baker just weeks after he vetoed the measure.

The Democrat-controlled House and Senate had approved the bill earlier this month in the waning hours of the last legislative session.

Baker opted to veto the bill, but time had run out on the ability of lawmakers to address the veto, so Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano — both Democrats — decided to bring the bill back before lawmakers just weeks into the new legislative session and approve it again.

“Time is of the essence and we could not let a delay hamper our efforts to protect future generations,” Spilka said in a press release following the vote. “The necessary tools included in this legislation will soon lead to lower emissions, a thriving green economy, and cleaner air and water for all.”

The Senate engrossed the bill on a voice vote before noon on Thursday, shipping it to the House, where it was engrossed on 144-14 vote. Both chambers then enacted the bill, sending it to Baker’s desk.

Rep. Thomas Golden, one of the sponsors of the bill, hailed the decision to quickly approve the proposal a second time, saying it was too urgent to delay.
» Read article         

gov-leg divide explained
Inside the divide between Legislature, Baker on climate plan
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
January 27, 2021

While Gov. Charlie Baker portrayed Massachusetts as “a national leader” on climate during his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday, Baker and the Legislature remain at odds over how the state should reach its emissions-reduction goals.

Baker vetoed a climate bill this month, but lawmakers appear unconvinced by the rebuke. The House and Senate plan to vote Thursday on the unchanged bill, which maps a plan for Massachusetts to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Baker declared his support for that goal last January. But, in a letter detailing his veto, he claimed that the Legislature’s more aggressive interim reduction goals were too costly and that a new opt-in building code could hurt housing production.

Not swayed, lawmakers and climate advocates blasted the veto for delaying climate action they see as urgent. Some have argued that fossil fuel-aligned lobbyists played an outsize role in derailing the legislation.

While the Legislature says its approach brings the ambition necessary to address the severity of climate change, Baker’s camp cites data and research as the basis of its own strategy.

Baker, in his veto letter, said that reaching the Legislature’s 50 percent interim reduction goal would cost $6 billion more than his administration’s 45 percent goal — a claim that some lawmakers and advocates have disputed.

Either target would be the most ambitious in the nation, said Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides, noting that California and New York set interim reductions goals of 40 percent by 2030.

“You don’t necessarily want to make the changes too fast, because the costs for Massachusetts residents would be much higher,” Theoharides said, claiming that the Legislature’s goal was not based in data analysis. “We believe that ambition should be backed up with data and recognizing the costs that residents across the state will have to bear.”

Lawmakers and climate advocates, though, aren’t budging.

“The bottom line is that we need to get off of fossil fuels and reduce our carbon emissions as quickly as possible,” said Ben Hellerstein, executive director of Environment Massachusetts. “What the science tells us is, the more we can do and the sooner we can do it, the better.”

“We can’t keep doing the same-old, same-old,” said state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “Lofty goals give us something to shoot for.”
» Read article         

State House domePass the climate change bill again
And governor, this time go ahead and sign it
By Eugenia Gibbons, David Gasson and Will Havemeyer, CommonWealth Magazine / Opinion
January 27, 2021

IN VETOING An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, Gov. Charlie Baker contradicted his stated commitment to climate leadership, undermined the state’s clean energy sector, and dealt a blow to environmental justice communities in the Commonwealth.

The explanation provided in a five-page letter falsely pits economic growth against climate, health, and equity in a state that has historically demonstrated an ability to support a clean energy transformation to the benefit of its residents and economy rather than to the detriment of either.

The Legislature, in refiling the bill and promising to send it back to the governor’s desk, is giving our Commonwealth another chance to take bold and necessary action to address the greatest challenge of our lifetime. It is critical that we take it.

Increasingly, extreme weather caused by climate change ravages our natural and built environments causing billions in damaged infrastructure, inaccessible or inoperable facilities, and homes left uninhabitable by flooding and eroding coastlines. In 2020, Massachusetts experienced its worst drought in four years following prolonged stretches of dry weather that induced water restrictions and increased fire risks. And warming waters are creating uninhabitable conditions for the natural resources on which our state’s multi-million-dollar seafood industry depends.

Our health is on the line, too. Vector-borne disease is on the rise and extreme heat, occurring with greater frequency, remains the number one weather-related killer in the country. Burning of fossil fuels causes climate change, but long-term exposure to higher-than-average levels of particulate matter causes some of the most severe health impacts — asthma, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases. These impacts are at their worst in low-income communities and communities of color that have been disproportionately burdened by the generational effects of discriminatory policies.

In the face of such present and indisputable consequences, it is time to confront and let go of the false narratives that have stood in the way of ambitious climate and clean energy policy to date. A climate-smart Commonwealth is a healthy Commonwealth, one whose businesses, residents, and communities thrive, economically and otherwise. We must call out decisions to block much-needed policy change for what they really are — a choice to accede to those who have used their influence to stall progress on this issue for years, and a choice to continue ignoring the mountains of evidence showing that a smart climate plan will in fact bolster our economy and protect our most vulnerable communities that are already shouldering many of the impacts of the climate crisis.
» Read article         

» More legislative news

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills pump jacks
Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels
Even with the order, most companies can continue their current level of drilling for years. Advocates hope the pause is just a first step toward a complete phase-out.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Judy Fahys, InsideClimate News
January 27, 2021

It’s hard to overstate the symbolic importance of the executive order President Biden signed Wednesday that paused new leasing of oil and gas development on federal lands, among other actions on climate change. The United States is the world’s top oil and gas producer, and the directive, which orders a wholesale review of the federal leasing and permitting program, signals a reckoning with how that production will need to fall.

Advocates hope the halt to leasing will be the first step toward developing a comprehensive path to phase out fossil fuel production in a way that also supports workers, communities and states that depend on the resources for their livelihoods.

But the order—which pauses leasing until the review is completed—will do little in itself to reduce the nation’s oil and gas production, and will not affect the number of wells being drilled for years.

Oil and gas companies are sitting on a huge cache of undeveloped federal leases: Nearly 14 million out of more than 26 million acres leased to oil companies onshore are not in use, and more than 9 million out of a total 12 million offshore acres leased are not producing, according to the Interior Department. Biden’s order will allow companies to continue to receive permits to drill on land they have already leased.

The research firm Rystad Energy estimates that in New Mexico’s Delaware Basin, one of the most active drilling areas in the country, most companies can continue their current level of drilling for more than a decade, even without acquiring new federal leases.

Wells on federal lands also account for only about 20 percent of the nation’s oil production, and even less of its gas output. The pause in new leasing will have no impact on the state and private lands that account for the rest.

Still, fossil fuel production on federal lands is responsible for nearly a quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to one government study, and those lands are the only place where the federal government can take a direct role in managing production.

“It’s a great place to start to lay out how you transition 20 percent of what we use out of the system,” said Josh Axelrod, a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Axelrod said the Trump administration’s rush to lease federal lands had created a system where energy companies could stockpile leases and permits at extremely low costs and with few environmental safeguards, and so pausing the system to review it was hardly a dramatic move.
» Read article         

made-up numbersOil Industry Inflates Job Impact From Biden’s New Pause on Drilling on Federal Lands
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 27, 2021

On Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order directing his Department of Interior to hit pause on entering new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands, the latest in a string of climate-related directives aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Joe Biden proposed a ban on new leases on public lands, a pledge the Trump campaign falsely claimed would “end fracking.” After Biden’s victory, a coalition of nearly 600 organizations from western states wrote a letter in December to the president-elect, urging him to follow through on his promise. The executive order begins that process.

About 25 percent of U.S. fossil fuel production came from federal lands over the past decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, federal lands account for roughly 24 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, stemming from the production of oil, gas, and coal, along with the methane released during the extraction process, and the combustion of those fuels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A big slice of that comes from coal, an industry that has been in decline for years. But drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. has increased dramatically in recent years, thanks in large part to fracking. While the oil industry quickly applauded the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, it was incensed that he would halt new drilling leases on federal lands.

Big Oil’s Biden-era PR strategy:

1) Act like you’re part of the solution by supporting “frameworks” like Paris and long term targets like 2050

2) Fight meaningful action — like rejecting KXL and ending drilling on public lands — by repeating lies about jobs and the economy

— Jamie Henn (@jamieclimate) January 25, 2021

When it comes to fracking on public lands, New Mexico’s portion of the Permian basin is ground zero. Much of the drilling in other shale regions, including Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and North Dakota, occurs on state or private land, and, as a result, won’t be impacted by the new policy. But New Mexico is home to a large drilling footprint on federal land, and roughly a quarter of the state’s tax revenue comes from oil and gas.

Various industry groups immediately sprang into action this week with the news that the Biden administration was gearing up to halt new leases. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute and the American Petroleum Institute, along with state chambers of commerce in New Mexico and Louisiana, hosted impromptu press calls for journalists on both Tuesday and Wednesday decrying the new policy.

The New Mexico Oil & Gas Association said that restricting drilling “risks the loss of more than 60,000 jobs and $800 million” in tax revenue for the state. The American Petroleum Institute (API) went further, saying a ban on new leases risks “hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in government revenue.”

Restricting this oil and gas activity on New Mexico’s federal lands risks the loss of more than 60,000 jobs and $800 million in support for our public schools, first responders, and healthcare services. #NMPol #NMLeg

— New Mexico Oil & Gas (@NMOilAndGas) January 25, 2021

The oil and gas industry only directly employs a little over 160,000 people, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

API is claiming that more people would lose their jobs than the industry actually employs. Even accounting for ripple effects on related industries, it is a staggering claim.

But it’s “standard bullshit fear mongering,” Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, told DeSmog in an email. “Industry still has a surplus of just under 500,000 acres of federal public lands leases they have not yet developed, 31,000+ existing federal public lands oil & gas wells, and a stockpile of ~5,000 approved-but-unused federal public lands drilling permits.”
» Read article         

gas is over for EU
Reality ‘Starting to Sink In,’ Says McKibben, After European Investment Bank Chief Admits ‘Gas Is Over’
“There’s nothing clean about gas—it’s not a ‘transition fuel’ or a ‘bridge fuel,’ it’s a dirty fossil fuel just like coal and oil,” said Greenpeace EU. “It’s time to stop bankrolling the #ClimateEmergency and stop public money back gas projects.”
By Jon Queally, Common Dreams
January 21, 2021

Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, “To put it mildly, gas is over”—an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.

Dr. Werner Hoyer, president of the EIB—the investment bank publicly owned by the European Union’s member states—made the comments while presenting a review of the institution’s 2020 operations at a press conference in Luxembourg.

Calling a future break with fracked gas “a serious departure from the past,” Hoer added that “without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets” to which the EU states—and therefore the bank—have committed.

McKibben and others responded to the comments as the most recent promising signal that the financial world is catching up with the climate science that demands a rapid and profound shift away from fossil fuels.

While many European climate groups and financial watchdogs have criticized the EU member states and the EIB itself for not moving forward fast enough with proposed reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Hoyer said Wednesday that the shift away from fossil fuels is paramount and that even the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the continent must not act as a roadblock.

“We have achieved unprecedented impact on climate, preparing the ground for much more,” Hoyer said in his remarks. “But the risk of a recovery that neglects climate and the environment remains.”

“The fight against climate change cannot wait until the pandemic is over,” he added. “The [Covid-19] crisis is not a reason to stop tackling the climate and environmental challenges facing humanity.”
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuel

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Weekly News Check-In 11/20/20

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Welcome back.

Two pending Weymouth compressor station issues include the need for more detail in the town’s emergency evacuation plan, and the town council’s desire for legal clarification of what exactly Mayor Robert Hedlund agreed to in his recent settlement with Enbridge. It’s worth jumping from here to a story about mounting international resistance to the proposed Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Nova Scotia. Recall that we expect a significant percentage of the natural gas pushed north from the Weymouth compressor station to end up at this facility, for export to Europe.

Closer to home, Eversource is attempting to cut costs on their planned Ashland pipeline upgrade, hoping to avoid removing the existing pipe by making individual easement agreements with landowners.

News about other pipelines includes a big win for the Great Lakes, as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer cancelled Enbridge’s permit to operate Line 5, a pair of oil and natural gas pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway connecting Lakes Michigan and Huron. The decades-old pipelines have posed an incalculable risk to this critical freshwater ecosystem, and will be decommissioned in 2021. We also found a revealing study showing which banks are the biggest financiers of the beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Young climate activists are turning up the heat on President-elect Biden. Recent protests were sparked by Mr. Biden’s selection of advisers with deep knowledge of climate-related agencies, but who are also past recipients of fossil fuel money. 

The divestment movement celebrated the announcement that 47 faith institutions from 21 countries are turning away from fossil fuels. This is the largest-ever joint divestment by religious leaders in history.

Mayors from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia unveiled last week the “Marshall Plan for Middle America.” The $60 billion strategy envisions a greener, more sustainable economy, and aims to expedite the transition away from that region’s reliance on coal mining and fracking.

A couple of new climate studies address the limits of solar geoengineering, and also explain why hurricanes generated over warm oceans don’t dissipate as quickly after making landfall as they used to when water surface temperatures were cooler.

In clean energy, the American west is hatching plans for a green hydrogen future in its power sector. The scheme involves solar- and wind-powered electrolyzers, underground storage for the hydrogen they produce, and co-located power plants built to run on either natural gas or hydrogen – replacing existing coal plants. The dual-fuel power plants invite some skepticism, especially those sited in arid locations, because producing hydrogen through electrolysis requires lots of water…. A cynic might see some room for long-term commitments to natural gas.

The Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), expected to boost clean transportation, is dealing with new fuel cost projections based on pandemic-related affects to that sector. Meanwhile, planners continue to address challenges related to the buildout of EV charging infrastructure, and the usual suspects are out with another bogus report claiming electric vehicles pollute as much as conventional cars.

Anticipating that Richard Glick will soon be Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman, this article describes his top priorities under the Biden administration.

We end with a reality check for anyone lulled by Mitt Romney’s recent adult-in-the-room performances calling out Trump administration lunacies. At the same time he acknowledges Biden’s electoral win, he’s out there drumming up support for the fossil fuel industry, which he apparently wants to shield from the new president and his climate plans. And of course, we have a story about the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to bidding for drilling leases.

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

school evacuation not considered
Forum urged for compressor evacuation zone plan
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
November 12, 2020

A major gas leak or explosion at the compressor station in the Fore River Basin would require an evacuation of residents within a one-mile radius of the facility, 

Weymouth District 1 Councilor Rebecca Haugh said during a Town Council meeting, Nov. 9. She said the evacuation zone would include “ a good portion of North Weymouth and Idlewell.

“We are exceptionally unique here due to the sheer volume of people who live in proximity to the site,” she said.

The evacuation zone is detailed in a 1,110-page town summary, and the area includes Wessagusset Primary School, Elden Johnson Early Childhood Center, businesses, and daycare centers.

School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Belmarsh stated an evacuation of the Johnson Early Childhood Center would be more complicated because school buses would not proceed to the building during a crisis.  

 “This school is also located on the current evacuation route for the whole area as detailed in this emergency plan making their exit even more complicated where buses will not be able to reach the school,” she stated in a letter to the council.

Belmarsh stated an evacuation plan for Johnson must consider that the school has wheelchair-bound or medically fragile students.

The School Committee reviewed the emergency response plan during a Nov. 5  meeting.

Belmarsh stated there was no mention of the schools in the evacuation plan, and committee members agreed to express their concerns in a letter to the council that will be discussed during a Nov. 19 meeting.   

Haugh said committee members indicated a need for the emergency response plan to be discussed in a virtual forum with residents to address concerns.
» Read article     

Weymouth town council seeks advice
Weymouth councilors want review of impact of compressor deal
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
November 10, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Members of town council want legal advice on whether an agreement that Mayor Robert Hedlund struck with energy giant Enbridge limits their ability to fight the newly-constructed natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

Town Council on Monday night voted to ask Attorney General Maura Healey’s office and the Office of the Inspector General for legal guidance on whether the host community agreement Hedlund signed with Enbridge legally prohibits councilors from opposing the station publicly or in court.

“The mayor made a call and it was his call to make. Whether or not we are tied by that decision, I don’t believe that we are,” At-Large Councilor Jane Hackett said.

The controversial compressor station project will help Enbridge expand its natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among neighbors and some local, state and federal officials who say it presents serious health and safety risks and has no benefit for the residents of Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, Hingham and surrounding communities.

The deal provides the town with $10 million upfront and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years. In exchange for the money, Hedlund agreed to drop any outstanding lawsuits the town has against Enbridge regarding the Atlantic Bridge project, which the compressor station is part of.
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor         

 

ASHLAND PIPELINE

Town Manager Michael Herbert
Eversource makes new pitch for Ashland pipeline replacement: easement agreements with all property owners
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
November 14, 2020

When town officials learned this summer that a Land Court judge ruled in their favor in the case of Eversource Energy’s plan to replace an old transfer line that runs through Hopkinton and Ashland, they were elated. 

At issue was whether the company was legally able to leave a decommissioned 1950s 6-inch-wide pipeline in place as it installed new 12-inch pipeline alongside it.  

The town argued — and in July, a state Land Court judge agreed — that the company could not pursue this option because an order of taking document granting Eversource rights to the easement, as well as a written agreement between previous property owners on the easement, state that only one pipeline can be in the ground at a time. 

Earlier this month, Donna Sharkey, the presiding Energy Facilities Siting Board officer on the case, reopened the case, exclusively to discuss this new development. The board, an independent state agency tasked with reviewing large-scale energy projects, has been deliberating the project behind closed doors since the summer of 2019. 

Instead of fighting the Land Court decision, Eversource is looking to come to an agreement over easement rights with more than 80 Ashland property owners (of which the town is one) in its effort to replace an old 3.7-mile transfer line. Should it get approval of the Siting Board, the company could potentially be able to continue the project without having to remove the old pipeline.
» Read article     

» More about the Ashland pipeline        

 

PIPELINES

Line 5 shut down
‘This Is a Really, Really Big Deal’: Michigan Gov. Moves to Shut Down Line 5 Pipeline to Protect Great Lakes
Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
November 13, 2020

Environmental and Indigenous activists celebrated Friday after Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took action to shut down the decades-old Enbridge Line 5 oil and natural gas pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac, narrow waterways that connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan—two of the Great Lakes.

Citing the threat to the Great Lakes as well as “persistent and incurable violations” by Enbridge, Whitmer and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger informed the Canadian fossil fuel giant that a 1953 easement allowing it to operate the pipelines is being revoked and terminated.

The move, which Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked the Ingham County Circuit Court to validate, gives Enbridge until May 2021 to stop operating the twin pipelines, “allowing for an orderly transition that protects Michigan’s energy needs over the coming months,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

The Great Lakes collectively contain about a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. As Whitmer explained Friday, “Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people.”

“Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs,” the governor said. “They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.”

“Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life,” she added. “That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and fresh water.”

MLive noted that the state attorney general’s new filing “is in addition to Nessel’s lawsuit filed in 2019 seeking the shutdown of Line 5, which remains pending in the same court.” Nessel said Friday that Whitmer and Eichinger “are making another clear statement that Line 5 poses a great risk to our state, and it must be removed from our public waterways.”

The “bombshell news,” as one Michigan reporter called it, elicited applause from environmentalists and Indigenous leaders within and beyond the state.
» Read article      

MVP money pipeline
Top US banks still propping up Mountain Valley fracked-gas pipeline boondoggle

By David Turnbull, Oil Change International
November 12, 2020

After years of delays, permit rejections, public pressure, and changing winds for energy policy with a Biden Administration in the offing, eight main street U.S. banks have substantially increased their investment in the troubled Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline project, updated analysis by Oil Change International revealed today.

Eight of the leading personal banking services in the United States continue to account for the bulk of the project’s top ten investors, and they have significantly increased their funding for the project since May of 2017. Through bonds, loans and revolving credit, these banks have more than tripled their financing from $1.25 billion to $9.5 billion, more than enough needed to cover the costs of the pipeline, including the cost of planned capacity expansion and a new proposed extension, today’s analysis finds.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project had originally been set to end construction in late 2018, but has been delayed until at least mid-2021, thanks to staunch public opposition, permit denials, and construction delays. Just this week, a federal court stayed two critical permits, stopping construction across streams and wetlands while a legal challenge is considered. Meanwhile, the cost — considered the highest per-mile of any gas pipeline in the country — continues to grow to nearly $6 billion for the original 301-mile project segment. What’s more, the project has added a new 75-mile segment — the Southgate Extension — which would cost an additional $468 million and add significant carbon impacts to the project.

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline has always been a climate disaster and a risky investment for banks at the same time. Our analysis shows that instead of listening to their customers who are demanding they get out of the fossil fuel business, these banks are doubling down on their dirty and fraught investments in a project that will either help to cook our planet if built or turn into a stranded asset if logic prevails,” said Kyle Gracey, researcher with Oil Change International and author of the updated analysis.

The key consumer banks financing the project include JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, TD, PNC, Union Bank, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and U.S. Bank.
» Read article      
» Read the analysis       

» More about pipelines            

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

twelve years
Climate activists ramp up pressure on Biden with protest outside Democratic headquarters
Climate groups plan to camp in Washington DC in protest of Biden’s hires of key staff with connections to the oil and gas industry
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
November 19, 2020

Progressive climate activists plan to occupy the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington DC today in protest of Joe Biden’s early hires of key staff with connections to the oil and gas industry.

They hope to send the president-elect the message that they helped him win and expect him to follow through with his commitments for significant and justice-focused climate action, including as he makes decisions about his cabinet, which will have a substantial role in carrying out his plan.

The groups – which include the US Climate Action Network, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, the Climate Justice Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network – will camp overnight on the sidewalks around the building, despite chilly temperatures.

They will hold a rally this afternoon with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, who co-sponsored a proposal for a Green New Deal. Other members of Congress scheduled to speak include Ilhan Omar and Ro Khanna, and recently elected Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. The participants said they will take steps to maintain distance to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The action is an early sign that environmental advocates who supported Biden and worked to oust president Donald Trump intend to keep pressure on the administration.
» Read article        

youth 4 climate
Young Climate Leaders Launch Mock COP26 To Push for Climate Ambition
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
November 19, 2020

The official 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to discuss the international response to the climate crisis has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. But young people aren’t letting that stop them from taking action.

A group of 18 student staff members and 216 volunteers from 118 countries is launching an event today called Mock COP26, a two-week, virtual conference that will conclude with a statement addressed to world leaders with suggestions for the official COP26.

“We decided we had to do something because we are in a climate emergency,” co-organizer 21-year-old Dom Jaramillo of Ecuador told BBC News. “We want to raise ambitions and show world leaders how a COP should be run. We are not the leaders of the future. We are the leaders of today.”

COP26, which was supposed to take place this November, was billed as the most important international climate crisis since the Paris agreement was reached in 2015. Each participating country was supposed to come to the table with more ambitious plans for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. However, it was pushed back a full year to November of 2021.
» Read article      
» Watch the MOCK COP launch film            

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

faith institutions divest
Dozens of Faith Institutions Announce Divestment From Fossil Fuels
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
November 17, 2020

Climate action campaigners applauded Monday after 47 faith institutions from 21 countries announced they would divest from fossil fuels, marking the largest-ever joint divestment by religious leaders in history.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, gave credit to campaigners in the fossil fuel divestment movement, who in recent years have pressured banks, universities, and other entities to cut financial ties with the fossil fuel sector in an effort to help mitigate the planetary emergency.

“While government leaders cling to the economic models of yesterday, faith leaders are looking ahead to the energy future we share,” said 350.org, noting that the G20 summit is set to begin this coming weekend under Saudi Arabia’s leadership, two months after G20 energy ministers released a statement rubber-stamping fossil fuel bailouts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“With renewables now growing at a faster pace than fossil fuels,” the group noted, “institutional investors are increasingly moving toward sustainable investments in the clean energy economy. Faith investors help lead this movement, constituting the single-largest source of divestment in the world, making up one-third of all commitments. To date, nearly 400 religious institutions have committed to divest.”

The institutions which announced their divestment include the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, Irish religious order the Sisters of Our Lady Apostles, the American Jewish World Service, and the Claretian Missionaries in Sri Lanka. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations joined the coalition.
» Read article       

» More about divestment           

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Appalachia greening
Mayors unveil $60B plan to support Midwest energy transition
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
November 16, 2020

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other mayors from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia unveiled last week the “Marshall Plan for Middle America,” a $60 billion blueprint to help the region transition away from fossil fuels toward a greener, more sustainable economy.

The nonpartisan plan from academics and policy researchers calls for federal and private funds to provide $15 billion in block grants to local governments for retrofits and conversions to make buildings more energy efficient; $15 billion in low-interest loans for clean energy production; $15 billion in tax incentives for manufacturers to develop clean energy equipment; and $15 billion in workforce development funds to help further understanding of clean energy. The plan comes as the Ohio Valley region is projected to lose 100,000 jobs in the next few years with the decline of the fossil fuel industry.

Officials involved in the plan said the affected cities have taken local action by adopting climate action plans, divesting from fossil fuels and pooling procurement of renewable energy, but federal help is needed, especially for jurisdictions in the rural and suburban parts of Appalachia that struggle economically.
» Read article       

beyond electric bugs
Ohio startup to reuse battery cells aims to spark economic growth in Appalachia
Growth of the electric vehicle market and increasing demand for battery storage are likely to propel growth.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
Photo By Robert Studzinski / Courtesy
November 16, 2020

Years ago, Roger Wilkens converted a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle to run on electricity. But eventually, the bank of lead-acid cells in the car, dubbed the Electric Blue Bugaloo, could no longer move it forward.

That problem, Wilkens said, served as inspiration for an Appalachian Ohio startup that plans to recycle lithium-ion battery cells for reuse in other applications. He expects a growing need for such recycling as more and more electric cars are on the roads. 

Wilkens is now the executive director of the Re-POWER Second Life Battery Network of the Athens Energy Institute, which aims to collect and test used lithium-ion batteries for repackaging into new battery packs. The Glouster-based project is an offshoot of the Center for the Creation of Cooperation, which he also heads and whose activities include helping consumers organize renewable energy cooperatives.

The batteries for many laptops, portable medical devices, and even electric vehicles are actually packs with anywhere from a few to hundreds of lithium-ion cells. 

“When one cell goes bad, typically the whole battery pack is discarded,” Wilkens said. But other cells in the battery pack may still be useful.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy          

 

CLIMATE

stratocumulus
Solar Geoengineering Might Not Work if We Keep Burning Fossil Fuels, Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
November 17, 2020

Now, a new study has shown that at least one popular global cooling strategy is unlikely to work if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

“I think the paper provides yet another argument for why solar geoengineering can’t be a ‘get out-of-jail-free’ card that lets us off the hook for the need to cut our CO2 emissions; we can’t just burn all the fossil fuels in the ground and solve the problem with solar geoengineering,” Cornell University senior research associate Dr. Doug MacMartin, who was not a part of the study, told The Independent.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, looked at one of the most popular solar geoengineering ideas: releasing reflective particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s light and thereby cool temperatures. The use of these particles, called aerosols, would be a way to artificially replicate the cooling that happens after volcanic eruptions.

But the solar geoengineering might not compensate for another consequence of greenhouse gas emissions — the thinning and eventual disappearance of certain clouds.
» Read article      

slow fade
In a Warming World, Hurricanes Weaken More Slowly After They Hit Land
Scientists say global warming is likely to fuel more intense storms. But earlier projections of an overall drop in the number of storms are not holding up.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
November 15, 2020

Hurricanes are not just intensifying faster and dropping more rain. Because of global warming, their destructive power persists longer after reaching land, increasing risks to communities farther inland that may be unprepared for devastating winds and flooding.

That shift was underlined last  week by an analysis of Atlantic hurricanes that made landfall between 1967 and 2018. The study, published Nov. 11 in Nature, showed that, in the second half of the study period, hurricanes weakened almost twice as slowly after hitting land. “As the world continues to warm, the destructive power of hurricanes will extend progressively farther inland,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Scientists have known for some time that, as global temperatures warm, hurricanes are intensifying, and are more likely to stall and produce rain.

But Pinaki Chakraborty, senior author of the study and a climate researcher with the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, said the new analysis found that with warming, hurricanes also take longer to decay after landfall, something researchers had not studied before. “It was thought that a warming world has had no pronounced effect on landfalling hurricanes,” Chakraborty said. “We show, not so, unfortunately.”

Tropical storms and hurricanes are the costliest climate-linked natural disasters. Since 2000, the damage from such extreme storms has added up to $831 billion, about 60 percent of the total caused by climate-related extremes tracked by a federal disaster database.
» Read article      
» Obtain the study        

» More about climate      

 

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen out west
How to Build a Green Hydrogen Economy for the US West
The Intermountain and ACES projects may be the start of a regionwide green hydrogen generation and transmission network.
Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 17, 2020

Out in Utah, a coal-fired power plant supplying electricity to Los Angeles is being outfitted with natural-gas-fired turbines that will eventually be able to run on hydrogen, created via electrolysis with wind and solar power and stored in massive underground caverns for use when that clean energy isn’t available for the grid. 

This billion-dollar-plus project could eventually expand to more renewable-powered electrolyzers, storage and generators to supply dispatchable power for the greater Western U.S. grid. It could also grow to include hydrogen pipelines to augment and replace the natural gas used for heating and industry or supply hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle fleets across the region. 

That’s the vision of the Western Green Hydrogen Initiative (WGHI), a group representing 11 Western states, two Canadian provinces and key green hydrogen industry players including Mitsubishi and utilities Dominion Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. WGHI launched Tuesday to align state and federal efforts to create “a regional green hydrogen strategy,” including “a large-scale, long-duration renewable energy storage regional reserve.”
» Read article      

UK incinerator
Net zero target impossible without waste sector overhaul, say campaigners
By Caitlin Tilley, DeSmog UK
November 17, 2020

Environmentalists are calling on the government to reassess its support for a large expansion of waste incinerators in the coming decade and bring in a law that would require the waste sector to decarbonise by 2035.

A coalition of 20 organisations, 29 MPs and councillors and 6 campaigners have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to rethink the UK’s growing reliance on “energy-from-waste” plants, which they argue is hindering the transition to a “circular economy”.

Written by Extinction Rebellion’s Zero Waste group, signatories of the letter include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Climate Coalition, as well as Labour MPs  Diane Abbott MP, John McDonnell MP and Richard Burgon MP have also signed.

Signatory Green Party Baroness Jenny Jones told DeSmog: “As restrictions have been placed on sending rubbish to landfill, our waste has been diverted into newly built incinerators, rather than creating a circular economy. The research behind this letter was a first rate demolition of the Energy from Waste industry.”

“We desperately need a moratorium on new incinerators and to work towards materials being part of a closed loop, where everything possible gets reused,” she added.

The letter claims the UK’s energy-from-waste (EfW) capacity is set to expand by 20 million tonnes by 2030, “more than doubling current capacity and locking the country into an additional 10 million tonnes of fossil-derived CO2 emissions per year, primarily from burning plastics”. This development involves a proposed new EfW plant in Edmonton, London, which has been criticised by Extinction Rebellion.

It argues for an overhaul of the waste and resource sector, to facilitate the transition towards a circular economy and the achievement of the Paris Agreement commitments.
» Read article      
» Read the letter       

» More about clean energy           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI tradeoff
Study points to greater gas price impacts from transportation pact

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service, in Berkshire Eagle
November 19, 2020

A new study of the cap-and-trade program under development by Northeast states to reduce carbon emissions from cars and trucks found that the program could be more than twice as expensive for drivers than previously estimated, with the pandemic potentially playing a major role in how effective the Transportation Climate Initiative will be.

The Center for State Policy Analysis (CSPA) at Tufts University concluded that TCI would help reduce carbon emissions across the region and generate significant revenue for participating states to invest in clean energy alternatives and public health.

The tradeoff, however, would be increases in gasoline and diesel prices from as little at 3 cents to as much as 47 cents per gallon in 2022, according to the report released Thursday. The wide range takes in account a variety of factors, including how aggressively states try to reduce emissions and the health of the economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been leading the push to establish the regional TCI program, said this week that cooperating states were taking a new look at the framework of the program in light of the pandemic and how business restrictions have impacted travel.

“I’m still very much a fan, but as I said yesterday in answer to another question, there’s a lot that’s changed about transportation generally over the course of the past eight months, and that stuff’s got to get baked into the way people model what this would mean and how it would work going forward for them,” Baker said Wednesday.

In December 2019, TCI states released their own study that estimated the cap-and-trade program would add between 5 cents and 17 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline depending on whether the coalition set a target of a 20 percent, 22 percent or 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2032.
» Read article      

total cost of electrification
Cutting the Total Cost of Electrification for EV Bus and Truck Fleets
New funding, strategies for charging, operations and risk management, are needed to hit multi-billion dollar EV fleet goals, report says.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 18, 2020

Electric trucks and buses may be approaching cost parity with their fossil-fueled counterparts, and they’re certainly cheaper to fuel over the long run — and that’s not counting their carbon and pollution emissions benefits. 

But that’s just a slice of the costs of switching bus and truck fleets from fossil fuels to batteries. Unexpected costs and bottlenecks in charging infrastructure, fleet operations and maintenance, and permitting and financing weigh on cities and states mandating electric bus fleets, or private companies with large-scale delivery truck electrification goals. 

Solving for this “total cost of electrification” equation will be a critical step in pushing EV trucks and buses from the margins to the mainstream in the coming decade, according to a report released Wednesday by Environmental Defense Fund, MJ Bradley and Vivid Economics. 

“We’re seeing the technology increasingly ready, and capital increasingly eager to invest in sustainability” via fleet electrification, Andy Darrell, EDF’s chief of global energy and finance strategy, said in an interview. “And yet the deployment, especially in the medium and heavy-duty sector, might not be moving as quickly as we’d like to achieve big climate goals.”
» Read article      
» Read the Environmental Defense Fund report     

CEI attack on EVs
Climate Deniers Are Claiming EVs Are Bad for the Environment — Again. Here’s Why They’re Wrong.
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
November 17, 2020

A new paper published Tuesday, November 17, by the conservative think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), raises environmental concerns with electric vehicles in what appears to be the latest attempt by organizations associated with fossil fuel funding to pump the brakes on the transportation sector’s transition away from petroleum and towards cleaner electricity.

In the U.S., the transportation sector is the largest contributor to planet-warming emissions. Climate and energy policy experts say electrifying vehicles is necessary to mitigate these emissions.

In fact, scientists recently warned that if the country has any hope of reaching the Paris climate targets of limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), 90 percent of all light-duty cars on the road must be electric by 2050.

But the Competitive Enterprise Institute — a longtime disseminator of disinformation on climate science and supported by petroleum funding sources including the oil giant ExxonMobil and petrochemical billionaire Koch foundations — dismisses this imperative and instead tries to portray electrified transport as environmentally problematic in a paper titled, “Would More Electric Vehicles Be Good for the Environment?”

“This is a grab bag of old and misleading claims about EVs [electric vehicles],” said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the clean transportation program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If you want to answer this question [posed by the report’s title], you have to also look at the question of what are the impacts of the current gasoline and diesel transport system, and this report just ignores that.”
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation            

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Richard Glick prioritiesGlick vows to prioritize transmission, reassess capacity markets if named FERC Chair
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
November 18, 2020

Glick has been a vocal opponent of many of the commission’s actions over the past few years, particularly rules like the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) expansion in the PJM Interconnection, which he sees as directly impeding on state resource decisions. The rule effectively raises the floor price for all state-subsidized resources bidding into the grid operator’s capacity market, a change that was roundly criticized by the renewables industry as well as some states within the market.

“I just don’t think it’s sustainable,” said Glick. Though he believes regional transmission organizations provide “significant benefits, especially in terms of integrating massive amounts of new renewable resources at a relatively cost effective basis,” he fears policies like the MOPR could continue to drive states away from organized markets. Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland have all threatened to exit the PJM capacity market because of their frustration with the MOPR rule.

“The last thing we all want to see is … RTOs be pulled apart,” he said. “But that’s what’s going to happen if we continue to block the state programs. The states are going to say ‘Why should I allow my utilities to participate?'”

For him, the solution is reassessing what the organized wholesale markets need in order to prevent further conflict between state clean energy policies and RTO operations.
» Read article       

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal MittPoliticians Try to Rally Support for Coal Despite Economics and Biden Presidential Win
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
November 12, 2020

The election results are a stark reminder of just how divided the country remains on many issues. However, in the days since the results were announced November 7, two senators from both parties are finding common ground in a familiar space: opposition to the Green New Deal and support for a dying coal industry.

Both Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) immediately took to CNN and Fox News in the days after the election was called to try and rally support for the fossil fuel industry in the wake of Joe Biden’s election as president — a success which brings with it the promise of strong climate action.

But their comments also come on the heels of yet another coal plant closure in the U.S. and as the world’s largest coal producer, Peabody Energy, warns of going bankrupt for the second time in five years.

Romney told CNN on November 8 that “I want to make sure that we conservatives keep on fighting to make sure we don’t have a Green New Deal, we don’t get rid of gas and coal.”

Meanwhile, Manchin went on Fox News on November 9 to also criticize the Green New Deal, saying, “That’s not who we are as a Democratic Party.” 

“We’re going to use fossil in its cleanest fashion,” he added. Manchin’s unwavering support for the coal industry is well documented and unsurprising as he ran a coal company prior to being elected to the Senate.

Manchin in his comments also echoed Romney’s call to not get rid of gas and coal, telling Fox News, “You have to have energy independence in this country. You can’t eliminate certain things.”

The Green New Deal does not mention coal specifically but it does call for the elimination of carbon emissions in the U.S. power sector by 2030, which would effectively require the elimination of coal. International climate scientists agree that global coal use must effectively be phased out by mid-century to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown. The move by Manchin and Romney to immediately attack the Green New Deal after the election, however, is disingenuous. President-elect Biden has been clear throughout his campaign that “The Green New Deal is not my plan.”

That said, Biden’s own climate plan is widely considered the most ambitious offered by any elected president. It also stands in dramatic contrast to the lack of any climate plan from the Trump administration.
» Read article        

call for nominations
Trump Administration, in Late Push, Moves to Sell Oil Rights in Arctic Refuge
The lease sales could occur just before Inauguration Day, leaving the administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. to try to reverse them after the fact.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
November 16, 2020

In a last-minute push to achieve its long-sought goal of allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies.

That sets up a potential sale of leases just before Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, leaving the new administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has opposed drilling in the refuge, to try to stop the them after the fact.

“The Trump administration is trying a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group in Washington. “They know that what they’ve put out there is rushed and legally dubious.”

The Federal Register on Monday posted a “call for nominations” from the Bureau of Land Management, to be officially published Tuesday, relating to lease sales in about 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. A call for nominations is essentially a request to oil companies to specify which tracts of land they would be interested in exploring and potentially drilling for oil and gas.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it welcomed the move. In a statement, the organization said that development in the refuge was “long overdue and will create good-paying jobs and provide a new revenue stream for the state — which is why a majority of Alaskans support it.”

The call for nominations will allow 30 days for comments, after which the bureau, part of the Interior Department, could issue a final notice of sales to occur as soon as 30 days later. That means the sales could be held a few days before Inauguration Day.

Normally the bureau would take time to review the comments and determine which tracts to sell before issuing the final notice of sale, a process that can take several months. In this case, however, the bureau could decide to offer all of the acreage and issue the notice immediately.

There was no immediate response to emailed requests for comment from the Interior Department or the Bureau of Land Management office in Alaska.

Any sales would then be subject to review by agencies in the Biden administration, including the bureau and the Justice Department, a process that could take a month or two. That could allow the Biden White House to refuse to issue the leases, perhaps by claiming that the scientific underpinnings of the plan to allow drilling in the refuge were flawed, as environmental groups have claimed.
» Read article        

» More about fossil fuel       

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro LNG opposed
Proposed $10B liquefied natural gas project in Guysborough County pressing forward

Project faces opposition from international group of environmentalists
By Tom Ayers, CBC News
October 2, 2020

An estimated $10-billion liquefied natural gas project proposed for Guysborough County is slowly pressing ahead, despite opposition from an international group of environmentalists.

This week, Pieridae Energy said it expects to have detailed design and costs for the Goldboro LNG plant by next spring, and it awarded a contract to Black Diamond Group of Calgary for construction of a camp that would house up to 5,000 workers who will build the Goldboro LNG plant, if it goes ahead.

That deal includes hiring Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw companies to provide catering and cleaning services at the camp.

However, also this week, a gathering of international environmental groups asked the German government to withdraw a loan guarantee backing the plant.

Ken Summers of the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition said the proposal should be scrapped because LNG plants are notoriously large polluters.

“If this project were to go ahead, Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emission targets would be gone out the window,” he said.

Nova Scotia’s emission targets have been met since they were first set a decade ago, Summers said, but an LNG plant would reverse any gains in greenhouse gas emissions.

“If this project were to come online, we would vastly increase them,” he said. 

The province’s cap-and-trade system allows large emitters to acquire emission capacity from other companies that are below their targets, but Summers said he doesn’t know how an LNG plant would fit into Nova Scotia’s plans.

“There are no offsets available for a company the size of Pieridae, as a new emitter,” he said. “It’s just not possible.
» Blog editor’s note: Goldboro LNG is expected to be a major destination for fracked gas from the controversial Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article        

» More about liquefied natural gas       

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Weekly News Check-In 10/2/20

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Welcome back.

This week, the Weymouth compressor station suffered its second unplanned gas blowout and emergency shutdown since September 11. The Feds are investigating, and the facility’s planned opening is now on hold until these mishaps are understood. Meanwhile, activists emphasize – as they have all along – that this compressor poses a health and safety hazard by its very existence on this too-small and too-populated site.

News about other pipelines includes a report exposing a $10 million donation to a Trump super PAC by Kelcy Warren, CEO of the company that owns the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline. The donation was made on August 31, just two weeks before the Trump administration proposed regulations that could “make the federal pipeline permitting process more secretive and create a fast track for Big Oil.”

The organization Law Students for Climate Accountability has taken action against top law firms representing the oil and gas industry. The story includes access to their 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard. According to the accompanying analysis, the top 100 firms “worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change.” We’re also following major climate cases in the courts.

The divestment movement works by exposing financial support for the fossil fuel industry in both obvious (banking) and unlikely places. In the “unlikely” category, it’s surprising that the retirement fund covering many fire fighters battling California’s blazes continues to invest in coal. That almost seems like arson.

Lots of climate news because of just-published studies covering Antarctic ice loss, Amazon rain forest collapse, and the increasing depth of ocean heating. All of these add to the understanding that we’re in serious trouble and our window of opportunity is swinging rapidly closed. But we end on the very positive note that 94-year-old international treasure Sir David Attenborough lauched a climate-focused Instagram account last Thursday, and racked up his first million followers in just 44 minutes. With that accumulation rate, he now holds the Guinness world record previously belonging to Jennifer Aniston.

The clean energy debate in the power sector is moving to a question of when, not whether, net zero will happen. The year 2050 has become the default target of most major U.S. utilities, while activists declare a need to move faster (see everything in the Climate section, above). Meanwhile, energy efficiency in the building sector benefits from efforts to adjust aspects of state programs to better meet the needs of lower income communities, and also to reduce the carbon embodied in construction materials. And Massachusetts has awarded $1.4 million in clean transportation grants that pair promising electrification solutions with organizations to deploy them.

The fossil fuel industry is facing a massive amount of litigation. We found a story exploring this trend and the industry’s vulnerabilities. Another report explains the abrupt departure of the industry-friendly head of the Bureau of Land Management, and we wrap with an investigation of Exxon’s carbon capture greenwash program.

Residents of Springfield have fought a proposed biomass-to-energy plant for a decade, and the outcome hangs in the balance as the legislature considers a bill that would classify woody biomass as carbon neutral and make it eligible for clean energy credits. Burning woody biomass is far from carbon neutral, and emits fine particulate pollution – something the asthma capital of the country shouldn’t have to absorb. This is an important local story with broader implications as the biomass industry presses everywhere for growth opportunities.

The state of Maryland is the first to ban foam food containers, and it may soon be possible to truly recycle some plastics using newly-developed super-enzymes that break polymers down to chemical building blocks that can be reformulated into virgin plastic. This opens the possibility of a “circular” plastic container economy that relies much less on oil and gas for new stock – and provides value to materials currently discarded or burned as trash.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

feds investigating Weymouth compressor blowoutsFeds Investigating Unplanned Gas Releases At Weymouth Compressor
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 1, 2020

The federal government is investigating what caused an emergency shutdown and unplanned gas release at the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station on Wednesday, and whether it’s related to the station’s Sept. 11 shutdown and gas release.

The announcement by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency in the U.S. Department of Transportation, comes on the same day the facility was slated to start sending gas northward to Maine and Canada.

According to PHMSA, Enbridge — the Canadian company behind the project — cannot restart the facility until the federal investigation is complete and a series of mechanical “corrective actions” have been met. Just hours earlier on Thursday, Enbridge announced it was “temporarily” pausing all operations at the compressor.
» Read article        

Weymouth hits pause
Gas company delays Weymouth compressor station startup after yet another ‘blowout’
The area’s congressional representatives want it shut down for good.
By Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com
October 1, 2020

Following two emergency shutdowns in less than three weeks, the energy company Enbridge says it will delay the start of service at its controversial gas compressor station in Weymouth.

The decision — first reported by the State House News Service — comes after the energy company disclosed that an unspecified incident triggered the station’s automatic shutdown system Wednesday morning and resulted in an “unplanned release” of at least 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the area, as WBUR reported. In a separate incident on Sept. 11, a gasket failure caused a similar shutdown and venting of gas at the unfinished station, which had won approval from federal regulators last month to begin shipping gas as soon as Thursday.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s larger “Atlantic Bridge” plan to connect two existing interstate pipelines in order to increase its capacity to ship gas to New England and eastern Canada. However,  the project has faced vocal protests from local South Shore residents and environmental advocates over safety concerns and opposition to the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who has deferred to federal regulators on the project, told reporters Thursday that he supports the decision to press pause.

“We believe that until these issues are completely and thoroughly investigated, and signed off on by the feds, it shouldn’t open,” the Republican governor said. “And my understanding is the feds made an unqualified statement earlier today saying just that, which we agree with, and support.”

But local Democratic delegation members, who have opposed the project’s location for roughly a year, are now calling on federal officials to pull the station’s permit.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Stephen Lynch said the second “dangerous blowout event” shows the danger of operating in “such a densely residential area.”

“While additional details on this latest safety incident are still under investigation, these accidents endangered the lives of local residents and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington and Braintree residents, as well as surrounding communities,” Lynch said, adding that he was “extremely concerned for the public’s safety.”
» Read article        

MA delegation reacts
Mass. members of Congress seek to block opening of Weymouth Compressor Station
By Jeremy C. Fox, Boston Globe
September 30, 2020

The state’s two Democratic senators and a South Shore congressman called for the federal government to block the planned opening Thursday of a controversial gas compression station in Weymouth after equipment failures led to emergency shutdowns of the facility.

The Weymouth Compressor Station had a “dangerous blowout event” Wednesday morning involving its emergency shutdown system — the second safety incident at the facility this month, according to Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who represents Weymouth.

Lynch said Wednesday afternoon that officials at the facility were “in the process of ordering a temporary emergency shutdown of the station.”

Separately Wednesday, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey asked a federal regulator to block the opening of the station and “conduct a thorough review of [an earlier] natural gas leak and the station’s ongoing activities.”

Opponents have argued for years that the Weymouth site, located on a peninsula, is too small, too polluted, and too close to too many dangers to safely accommodate the compressor.

Lynch said he has asked that an official from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration join him for a walk-through of the facility when he returns to Boston later this week.

“I have already asked the Secretary of Transportation to suspend the opening of the compressor station pending a comprehensive review,” Lynch said, “and I am now demanding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission … revoke the certificate of approval for the site and suspend operations due to the repetitive occurrence of these extremely dangerous events.”
» Read article        

second leak at Weymouth
Second ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release At Weymouth Compressor This Month
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
September 30, 2020

For the second time this month, something triggered the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station’s emergency shutdown system and caused an “unplanned release” of at least 10,000 standard cubic feet (scf) of natural gas into the nearby area.

The venting happened around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and occurred in a “controlled manner,” according to the company that operates the compressor, Enbridge.

In a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the company said it would “follow up with more information in 3 business days, including an estimate of the actual volume of gas released.” It is legally required to notify MassDEP and the towns around the compressor about any unplanned gas releases that exceed 10,000 scf.

But while Enbridge says it’s “proceeding with safety as our priority,” opponents of the project are furious about the lack of details and terrified about what a second shutdown before the facility even goes into operation portends for the future.

Less than three weeks ago, a gasket failure at the facility caused a shutdown that forced operators to vent the entire contents of the station — about 265,000 scf of gas, which includes about 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds. It remains unclear how much of that gas was vented through a tall stack and how much was released at ground level, a distinction opponents of the project say is important because gas at ground level is more likely to ignite and explode.

“We still don’t know how much they released at ground level from the first accident, and now we have a second accident?” said Alice Arena of the Fore River Residents Against The Compressor (FRRACS).
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

greasing the DAPL skids
After Dakota Access CEO gave $10M, Trump pushed secret pipeline permits

By Steve Horn, Real News Network
September 29, 2020

On Sept. 15, the Trump administration proposed regulations that could make the federal pipeline permitting process more secretive and create a fast track for Big Oil. Just two weeks earlier on Aug. 31, one of the potential beneficiaries of that proposal, the CEO of the company that owns Dakota Access pipeline—Energy Transfer Equity’s Kelcy Warren—gave a Trump super PAC $10 million.

“It wouldn’t be the first time he’s given Trump cash shortly before getting lucky with his pipelines,” Hopkins told The Real News. “He donated to Trump’s presidential campaign, and one of the first executive orders Trump signed after being inaugurated was to push through Dakota Access and Keystone XL.”

The Army Corps of Engineers proposal calls for a reauthorization of the Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) oil and gas pipeline permitting program, the same expedited permit Dakota Access got in the months leading up to the standoff at Standing Rock Sioux tribal land in North Dakota in 2016. NWP 12 is also the subject of ongoing high-profile federal litigation because of that expedited permit. The legal news website Law360 noted that the new NWP 12 proposal could be an attempt to make that litigation moot, because it pertains to the 2017 NWP 12 regulation and not the new proposed rule.

The proposal comes two years before NWP 12 expires and appears to tie the hands legally of a prospective Biden administration if Trump loses the election in November. If it advances, the proposal could make even more opaque a regulatory regime already slammed by climate justice activists as circumventing transparency and democracy. It would add to the list of the 100 proposed or enacted environmental regulation rollbacks put in place by Trump.
» Read article        

State legislators update Westborough officials on Eversource project
By By Jennifer L. Grybowski, Community Advocate
September 24, 2020

Westborough – Town officials heard an update on the Eversource project from State Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston), State Rep. Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough), State Rep. Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury), and Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) at the Board of Selectmen meeting Sept. 22.

Dykema noted that the town has had a number of contacts with Eversource since January regarding the Worcester Feed Line Improvement Project, and that because it’s such a large project involving permitting processes from both the state and several communities it is important to maintain effective partnerships. Westborough town officials were not pleased with Eversource’s last presentation to the board, citing a real lack of effort on Eversource’s part to provide answers to questions the town has.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

law firm climate scorecardTop Law Firms Called Out for Serving Fossil Fuel Industry Clients in New Climate ‘Scorecard’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 1, 2020

With lawsuits against major fossil fuel producers over climate damages on the rise, a new report and initiative examines how prestigious law firms are enabling climate breakdown. The student-led initiative, Law Students for Climate Accountability, calls for holding the legal industry accountable for profiting from work defending and lobbying for fossil fuel clients as the world faces what scientists say is a climate emergency. This campaign is emerging as industries ranging from finance to insurance are facing greater scrutiny in a rapidly warming world.

“Law firms write the contracts for fossil fuel projects, lobby to weaken environmental regulations, and help fossil fuel companies evade accountability in court. Our research is the first to expose the broad extent of firms’ role in driving the climate crisis,” Alisa White, a student at Yale Law School and a lead author on the report, said in a press release.

The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, as the report is titled, looks at the top 100 most prestigious law firms in the U.S. (known as the Vault 100) and grades them according to their work in service of the fossil fuel industry. According to the analysis, the top 100 firms “worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change; were the legal advisors on five times more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than the renewable energy industry;” and “lobbied five times more for fossil fuel companies than renewable energy companies.”

Overall, per this scorecard, only four firms received an “A” grade while 41 firms scored a “D,” and 26 received an “F.”
» Read article       
» Read the scorecard and report          

youth climate plaintiffs CanadaCourt Set to Hear Arguments in Youth Climate Lawsuit Against Canadian Federal Government
By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 30, 2020

A landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 15 young Canadians against Canada’s federal government will come before a court this week for two days of hearings to determine if the case will advance to trial. Should the case go to trial, it would be one of the first courtroom trials anywhere in the world in litigation brought by youth against their national government over the climate crisis.

The Canadian lawsuit La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, filed almost exactly a year ago in October 2019, argues that Canada is contributing to dangerous climate change – such as by permitting fossil fuel projects – despite knowing the risks and that this amounts to violations of young people’s rights under a part of Canada’s constitution called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The youth also say the Canadian government is violating its legal obligations to protect life-sustaining natural resources under a legal doctrine known as the public trust doctrine. The claims are essentially the same as ones brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. federal government in the groundbreaking case Juliana v. United States. The La Rose lawsuit is the Canadian equivalent of the Juliana climate case.
» Read article       

as the world burns
‘As the World Burns’: Q&A With Author Lee van der Voo on Her New Book About a Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
September 29, 2020

Earlier this year a pair of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to dismiss the groundbreaking American youth climate change lawsuit Juliana v. United States. But the case is not yet over — while the 21 young people who sued the U.S. government await a decision on whether the full appeals court will review the ruling to toss the lawsuit, a brand-new book by award-winning environmental journalist Lee van der Voo takes a behind-the-scenes look at this landmark legal case and the youth plaintiffs known collectively as the Juliana 21.

The book, AS THE WORLD BURNS: The New Generation of Activists and the Legal Fight Against Climate Change, tells the stories of these young people who are part of a generation of youth fighting for their lives and their rights amidst the unfolding climate crisis. “AS THE WORLD BURNS is climate breakdown like you’ve never seen it — through the eyes of the young,” the book’s description notes.

DeSmog reporter Dana Drugmand recently chatted with author Lee van der Voo about this new book on the Juliana youth climate lawsuit. The interview, which has been edited slightly for brevity, explores why the book is so timely, how the Juliana lawsuit is part of a broader youth movement, and how the mainstream media “is in danger of being on the wrong side of history” when it comes to covering the climate crisis.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

CalPERS in coal
Retirement Fund for Many California Firefighters Battling Wildfires Puts Money in Coal
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
September 27, 2020

This week, the Creek Fire in California officially became the largest single wildfire in the state’s history — and the blaze remained just 32 percent contained. Already this year, more than 3.6 million acres have burned in nearly 8,000 separate fires.

Five of the six largest fires to strike California since reliable record-keeping began are currently burning according to Cal Fire. Smoke from the fires has already reached the Atlantic coast and turned skies along the West coast eerie shades of orange and red. The fires have killed at least 26 people — and the smoke may have already caused the deaths of an additional 1,200 people, researchers from Stanford University estimated earlier this month.

Meanwhile, a new report finds that California’s largest pension fund has continued to invest in fossil fuel companies, whose products are the biggest driver of climate change. CalPERS, the nation’s largest pension fund, still invests in, for example, a South African mining firm that calls itself a “leading coal producer” — despite the sector’s massive downturn over the last several years and a state law that directed CalPERS to divest from coal.
» Read article         

» More about divestment             

CLIMATE

Antarctic ice loss modeled
Antarctica’s ice loss could soon be irreversible
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
October 2, 2020

The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

Amazon collapseFire and drought could trigger Amazon collapse
Amazon collapse could soon mean the end of one of Earth’s richest habitats, leaving the rainforest destroyed by humans.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
September 30th, 2020

Within one human lifetime, Amazon collapse could have turned the rainforest into open savannah.

The combined devastation of human-induced global warming, rapidly increasing degradation or destruction of the forest, natural climate cycles and catastrophic wildfires could be enough to bring the world’s biggest, richest and most vital forest to a tipping point: towards a new kind of habitat.

“The risk that our generation will preside over the irreversible collapse of Amazonian and Andean biodiversity is huge, literally existential,” warns Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology, in the latest Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Professor Bush bases his argument on the evidence of history: painstaking study of fossil pollen and charcoal in the sediments of Andean lakes confirms that the profligate biodiversity of the Amazon has been disturbed many times in the past, as global climate has varied with the retreat and advance of the glaciers.

It has, however, never reached a tipping point towards collapse, if only because it has never before had to face the hazard of fire on the present scale.

There is another factor: ever-greater human intrusion into, degradation of, or conversion of forest into plantation or ranch land heightens the hazard of a dramatic shift from moist tropical canopy to open and wooded grasslands.

And then, the argument goes, there are the ever-higher temperatures driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions from human investment in fossil fuel energy, and ever more extensive destruction of the natural habitats that in the past have absorbed atmospheric carbon. And with higher temperatures, there arrives the risk of ever more catastrophic drought.
» Read article         
» Read the AMBG article

ocean stratification study
New Study Shows a Vicious Circle of Climate Change Building on Thickening Layers of Warm Ocean Water
Global warming is deepening blankets of warmer water that alter ocean currents, hinder absorption of carbon, intensify storms and disrupt biological cycles.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
September 28, 2020

Near the surface of the ocean, global warming is creating increasingly distinct layers of warm water that stifle seawater circulations critical for regulating climate and sustaining marine life. The sheets of warm water block flows of heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients within the water column, and between the oceans and atmosphere.

A new study shows more heat is building up in the upper 600 feet of the ocean than deeper down. That increasingly distinct warm layer on the surface can intensify tropical storms, disrupt fisheries, interfere with the ocean absorption of carbon and deplete oxygen, Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State, said.

The intensified layering, called ocean stratification, is happening faster than scientists expected, an international team of researchers reported in the study, published Sept. 28 in the journal Nature Climate Change. And that means the negative impacts will arrive faster and also be greater than expected, said Mann, a co-author of the study.

The research suggests that some of the worst-case global warming scenarios outlined in major international climate reports can’t be ruled out, he said. If the ocean surface warms faster and less carbon is carried to the depths, those processes along with other climate feedbacks could lead atmospheric CO2 to triple and the global average temperature could increase 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, he added.
» Read article         
» Read the study

Sir David goes social
Climate Champion David Attenborough Breaks Jennifer Aniston’s Instagram Record
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

Sir David Attenborough wants to share a message about the climate crisis. And it looks like his fellow Earthlings are ready to listen.

The beloved 94-year-old nature broadcaster joined Instagram Thursday, and quickly broke the world record for the shortest amount of time to reach one million followers, Guinness World Records announced. He reached the milestone in just two hours and 44 minutes.

“I’ve been appearing on radio and television for the past 60 years,” Attenborough said in a video accompanying his first post, “but this is my first time on Instagram.”

In the video, Attenborough said he was trying the new (to him) form of communication in order to spread awareness about the threats facing life on Earth.

“As we all know, the world is in trouble,” he said. “Continents are on fire. Glaciers are melting. Coral reefs are dying. Fish are disappearing from our oceans. The list goes on and on. But we know what to do about it.”

Attenborough said he would be recording video messages over the next few weeks explaining both the problems facing our planet and possible solutions.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

net-zero 2050 new norm
Inside Clean Energy: Net Zero by 2050 Has Quickly Become the New Normal for the Largest U.S. Utilities
New plans from Ameren and Entergy show the trend to renewables is accelerating because coal just can’t compete. Some activists want it to go even faster.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
October 1, 2020

In 2018, when Xcel Energy became the first large U.S. utility to pledge to get to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, I wondered how long it would take for those kinds of commitments to become the industry standard.

The answer, as we learned in recent days, is “less than two years.”

Ameren and Entergy each issued plans to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, joining a list of some of their largest peers like Duke Energy and Dominion Energy.

Also, Vistra Energy, the country’s largest independent power company that is not a utility, released a plan this week to get to net-zero by 2050 and said it would close all seven of its Midwestern coal-fired power plants by 2027.

Each of the corporate announcements demonstrate that the transition to clean energy is accelerating. Taken together, they make clear that we are in the middle of great change in the energy economy in which electricity producers have concluded that they can save money and reduce risks by investing in wind, solar and energy storage, and by closing fossil fuel plants.

But this is not a quick shift from coal to renewables. Ameren says it will gradually reduce its use of coal, starting with a plant closing in 2022 and continuing until the final plant closes in 2042.

The slow timetable is a problem for environmental advocates who otherwise are excited to see Ameren commit to net-zero emissions.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Fall River MA liquor and lotto
Massachusetts seeks solutions to expand access to energy efficiency dollars
A recent report shows that renters, lower-income residents and non-English speakers are less likely to benefit from the state’s widely praised energy conservation program.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons
October 1, 2020

As cold weather approaches and COVID-19 continues to hit harder in disadvantaged neighborhoods, advocates in Massachusetts are pushing the state and its utilities to do more to ensure everyone has equal access to the energy efficiency services that could help them stay warmer and healthier throughout the winter.

This latest surge of activism has been driven, at least in part, by a recent report by the major utility companies that concludes residents use energy efficiency services at significantly lower rates in communities with lower median incomes, more renters, or higher populations of non-English speakers.

“There are real barriers that need to be addressed here,” said Cindy Luppi, New England director for environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action. “There is a big disconnect here that needs to be a priority for the program.”
» Read article         
» Read the report

addressing embodied carbonBuilding Industry Gets Serious About Its Embodied Carbon Problem
Wringing carbon out of buildings, including the materials, is a major climate challenge. Industry veterans see changes stirring.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
September 30, 2020

In the not-too-distant past, a small group of architects and people in the building industry, saddened and motivated by the urgent arc of climate change, set out to discover just how much their own profession was to blame.

They began by summing all the emissions released at power plants to keep buildings cool and electricity flowing to wall outlets. Then they added the invisible gases drifting out of roof vent pipes from heaters and hot water heaters that burn fuel inside of buildings. The picture was already sobering: Just keeping buildings running this way amounted to 28 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

But there was another, still more intractable series of smokestacks: for the glass, vinyl, drywall, and especially steel and concrete that go into buildings.

In the case of cement, the very chemical reaction at its heart generates massive carbon dioxide. Since carbon dioxide is so lasting in our air, the furnace roar of material creation reverberates for generations.

When the clean building advocates added in this embodied carbon, buildings turned out to be directly and indirectly responsible for nearly 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

This growing cadre of change makers has now set in motion a transition in the building industry that is as hopeful and may be as important as the better-known transition sweeping our electrical sector. They are trying to change the way materials are made. And they are trying to do it now, to preserve the delicate blanket of gases enveloping Earth, and with it, any hope of a recognizable climate.

As the professionals who specify or “spec” materials for buildings, they are powerful, and it is that power they are wielding.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

CEC grants announced
Massachusetts transportation grants emphasize partnerships to cut emissions
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center this month awarded $1.4 million in grants that pair promising electrification solutions with organizations to deploy them.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 29, 2020

A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $1.4 million in grants to nine transportation projects that promise to speed the spread of electric vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center earlier this month announced the recipients of its Accelerating Clean Transportation Now (ACTNow) program grants, awarding between $37,000 and $200,000 to a range of projects including school bus electrification, a car-sharing program using electric vehicles, training and certification programs for car dealers selling electric vehicles, and the creation of a fleet electrification planning tool.

“This is our first large-scale banner effort on clean transportation,” said Ariel Horowitz, senior program director at the center. “This is an area of key importance for greenhouse gas reductions in the commonwealth.”

As Massachusetts pursues its goal of slashing carbon emissions 85% by 2020, the transportation sector is a major target for reductions. As of 2016, transportation was responsible for 43% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

tidal wave
Why a Tidal Wave of Climate Lawsuits Looms Over the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Karen Savage, The Climate Docket, in DeSmog Blog
September 28, 2020

Amid a summer rife with climate-related disasters, the liability lawsuits came like an advancing flood, first Minnesota and Washington D.C. within days of each other in June, followed by Hoboken, Charleston, Delaware and Connecticut in rapid succession in September. Their suits have turned a summer of unrest into a quest to make fossil fuel companies pay for the damages caused by the burning of their products, joining a trend that began three years ago but evolving to match the circumstances of today.

The latest round of lawsuits draws from the dozens filed across the country since 2017, but with a few new twists. They continue to charge fossil fuel companies with public nuisance for producing and marketing a dangerous product, but they increasingly allege the companies acted together to also violate state consumer fraud statutes. And for the first time, they have begun to include the industry’s largest trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), among the alleged culprits in deceiving the public.

“There is a very strong evidentiary basis for showing that these companies knew about the impacts of climate change and colluded to prevent the dissemination of that information,” said Jessica Wentz, a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
» Read article         

trespassing at BLMTrump’s Bureau of Land Management Chief Forced Out After Judge Says He’s Serving Unlawfully
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

A federal judge in Montana ordered William Perry Pendley, the head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to quit immediately after finding that the Trump administration official had served in the post unlawfully for 14 months, according to CNN.

The ruling may reverse an entire year of decisions that Pendley made to open up the American West to oil and gas drilling, as The Washington Post reported. The judge in the case, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, said that Pendley had been appointed to the post, but his name had never been submitted to the Senate for confirmation.

“Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director,” wrote Morris in a 34-page ruling he issued on Friday, as The New York Times reported. He added that Pendley’s authority “did not follow any of the permissible paths set forth by the U.S. Constitution.”
» Read article         

not actually sequestered
Exxon Touts Carbon Capture as a Climate Fix, but Uses It to Maximize Profit and Keep Oil Flowing
The company sells the CO2 to other companies that use it to revive depleted oil fields and has relentlessly fought EPA oversight of the practice.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
September 27, 2020

Sprawled across the arid expanse of southwestern Wyoming is one of the world’s largest carbon capture plants, a hulking jumble of pipes, compressors and exhaust flues operated by ExxonMobil.

The oil giant has long promoted its investments in carbon capture technology—a method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions—as evidence that it is addressing climate change, but it rarely discusses what happens to the carbon captured at the Shute Creek Treating Facility.

The plant’s main function is to process natural gas from a nearby deposit. But in order to purify and sell the gas, Exxon must first strip out carbon dioxide, which comprises about two-thirds of the mix of gases extracted from nearby wells.

The company found a revenue stream for this otherwise useless, climate-warming byproduct: It began capturing the CO2 and selling it to other companies, which injected it into depleted oil fields to help produce more oil.
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» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

welcome to Springfield
Activists Continue 10-Year Fight Over Biomass Project
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
September 29, 2020

Environmental activists fear a climate bill in the Massachusetts legislature will breathe new life into a long-proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

The House version of a climate bill currently in a conference committee on Beacon Hill would define commercial grade wood-burning biomass as non-carbon emitting sources of energy. Unless that language is taken out, a long-stalled biomass power plant in Springfield could get financing, according to Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman.

“There should not be any green energy subsidy given to these types of incinerators,” said Lederman.

Lederman, who chairs the council’s Sustainability and Environment Committee recently forwarded to the co-chairs of the legislative conference committee an online petition with over 2,500 signatures opposing state incentives for biomass energy projects.   Ten Springfield City Councilors also signed a letter urging the state legislature to eliminate the language in the climate bill they say would provide a boost to the controversial local project.
» Read article         

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PLASTICS BANS

foam clam
Maryland Will Be First State to Ban Foam Food Containers
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

Maryland will become the first state in the nation Thursday to implement a ban on foam takeout containers.

The law, which was passed in 2019, prohibits restaurants and other institutions that serve food, such as schools, from using polystyrene containers, The Baltimore Sun reported.

“Single-use plastics are overrunning our oceans and bays and neighborhoods,” chief bill sponsor Democratic Delegate Brooke Lierman told CNN when it passed. “We need to take dramatic steps to start stemming our use and reliance on them … to leave future generations a planet full of wildlife and green space.”

Lierman said she had tried twice before to pass the bill, but a shift in public opinion against plastic pollution finally pushed it over the finish line.
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PLASTICS RECYCLING

super-enzymes
New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster
Breakthrough that builds on plastic-eating bugs first discovered by Japan in 2016 promises to enable full recycling
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
September 28, 2020

A super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before has been created by scientists and could be used for recycling within a year or two.

The super-enzyme, derived from bacteria that naturally evolved the ability to eat plastic, enables the full recycling of the bottles. Scientists believe combining it with enzymes that break down cotton could also allow mixed-fabric clothing to be recycled. Today, millions of tonnes of such clothing is either dumped in landfill or incinerated.

Plastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from the Arctic to the deepest oceans, and people are now known to consume and breathe microplastic particles. It is currently very difficult to break down plastic bottles into their chemical constituents in order to make new ones from old, meaning more new plastic is being created from oil each year.

The super-enzyme was engineered by linking two separate enzymes, both of which were found in the plastic-eating bug discovered at a Japanese waste site in 2016. The researchers revealed an engineered version of the first enzyme in 2018, which started breaking down the plastic in a few days. But the super-enzyme gets to work six times faster.
» Read article         

» More about plastics recycling

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