Tag Archives: embodied carbon

Weekly News Check-In 1/8/21

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Welcome back.

The Trump administration derailed this week, arriving at what some observers might describe as its inevitable destination. But we still managed to keep at least some of our attention on the energy scene.

Opponents of Weymouth’s compressor station have vowed to keep up the fight, focusing on a petition drive and information campaign. That project was typical of the recent fossil fuel infrastructure build-out, where construction proceeded even prior to obtaining final permits. This sets up an awkward situation when, as in the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project is cancelled. Property was taken and damaged. Trees were felled and miles of pipe are in the ground – now what?

ExxonMobil is playing the victim card in an attempt to evade litigation in Massachusetts court, where it is being sued for fraud related to climate change. Ironically, the giant oil company claims that Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit amounts to a SLAPP, or “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation”. Anti-SLAPP legislation exists to protect against lawsuits aimed at quelling free speech, and it’s typically invoked by environmental groups seeking shelter from frivolous litigation brought against them by the fossil fuel industry attempting to quell protest.

Greening the economy inevitably involves building a lot of new green infrastructure, and that requires a whole lot of concrete. To help minimize the embodied carbon in all this new construction, planners are increasingly turning to a new tool: EC3, or the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator.

Our climate section looks back at 2020, which by all accounts was brutal on both an individual and global level. It was the hottest year on record, with the cost of climate-driven disasters doubling in the U.S. from the previous year. And a new study concludes that we’ve now locked in at least two degrees celsius of warming over the preindustrial benchmark.

On a happier note, deep geothermal is a source of clean energy made accessible by drilling techniques and knowledge of geological formations developed by the fracking industry. It is now technologically possible to drill miles down to hot rock, water, and steam in Earth’s mantle, and apply that energy directly to district heating systems.

Energy efficiency is a good news / bad news story this week. On the one hand, Boston is implementing zoning that requires new large buildings to be net-zero energy consumers. The bad news involves a proposed policy change by the International Code Council (ICC), to eliminate voting by municipal officials when a new base energy efficiency code is developed. We feel this is direct blow-back by the powerful building and development lobbies, in response to tremendous voter participation in 2019, which resulted in a roughly 10% improvement in building energy efficiency. We urge you to take just three minutes right now to use this template and object to this anti-democratic policy change (deadline Monday, 1/11 at 8PM).

If you top up your car in Cambridge, you’ll soon notice a sticker on the fuel pump reminding you that burning gasoline is bad for the planet. It also asks users to consider alternative clean transportation.

The big legislative news involves a major climate bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature and currently awaiting Governor Baker’s signature. There is massive public support for this, along with considerable uncertainty about whether or not the Governor will sign it.

The Environmental Protection Agency implemented a rule change that disregards scientific studies unless they fully disclose all underlying data. That sounds reasonable until you consider that any legitimate study involving the effects of pollution on human health necessarily requires vast amounts of personal medical data protected by privacy laws. This is simply another pro-industry, anti-science move by Trump’s EPA, and takes a page directly from the tobacco industry’s original self-defense playbook.

Meanwhile, Mark C. Christie was sworn in this week to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The fossil fuel industry largely shrugged off the Trump administrations offer to lease drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Countering that bit of good news is a disturbing forecast for an expected 12% investment bump in Canada’s oil industry during 2021.

And we wrap up our news with biomass. While the just-passed Massachusetts climate legislation appears to put the brakes on applying renewable energy credits for biomass-to-energy plants, there’s still considerable uncertainty about the fine print. Recently proposed changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard further complicate the situation. Opponents of the proposed biomass generating plant in East Springfield are actively seeking clarification.

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

FRRACS petition drive
Compressor opponents continue their fight
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local
January 4, 2021

WEYMOUTH- The natural gas compressor station could be fully operative sometime in January, but opponents of the facility show no signs of quitting.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the group is launching a No Compressor Weymouth  petition drive for people to state their opposition to the facility to government leaders.

“More than anything, we are trying to get people to know about the situation,” she said. “It makes you a little crazy that there are some people who literally live blocks away from the place, and they don’t know what it is about.”

The compressor station is owned by Enbridge Inc. and is managed by the company’s subsidiary, Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Enbridge received a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January 2017 to construct the facility.

Opponents say the compressor station poses health and safety dangers to Weymouth, Quincy, East Braintree, Hull, and Hingham.

Gas leaks occurred at the facility during tests on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

According to state and local officials, both seepages collectively released 444,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the facility’s air and forced emergency shutdowns.

The leaks are under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor station          

 

PIPELINES

unwrap the ACP
Regulators get plan for undoing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By Sarah Rankin, Associated Press, on PBS News Hour
January 5, 2021

The developers of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline have laid out plans for how they want to go about unwinding the work that was done for the multistate natural gas project and restoring disturbed land.

In a filing with federal regulators made public Tuesday, the pipeline company proposed an approximately two-year timeline for efforts across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, where progress on the project ranged from uninitiated to essentially complete.

The plan outlines where the company wants to clean up felled trees and where it plans to leave them behind, and it proposes abandoning the approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) of pipe that was installed in place.

“We spent the last several months working really closely with landowners and agencies to develop the most responsible approach for closing out the project,” said Aaron Ruby, an employee of lead developer Dominion Energy who has served as a spokesman for the joint project with Duke Energy. “And ultimately our primary goal is to complete the project as efficiently as possible, and with minimal environmental disturbance.”

Ruby also confirmed for the first time that the company does not intend to voluntarily release the easement agreements it secured on landowners’ properties.

In most cases, the legal agreements were obtained through negotiations with landowners, who were paid and who the company has previously said will keep their compensation. But in other cases, in which sometimes vociferously opposed landowners fought the project, the easements were obtained through eminent domain proceedings.
» Read article             

Enbridge utility contractors
Ojibwe bands ask appeals court to stop Enbridge Line 3 construction
The Red Lake and White Earth bands filed suit, the second such filing in a week by pipeline opponents.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
December 30, 2020

Two Ojibwe bands have petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to suspend state regulators’ approval of Enbridge’s new Line 3 and stop construction of the controversial pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The petition filed late Tuesday by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is the second such filing in the past week by pipeline opponents to shut down construction on the $2.6 billion pipeline. Enbridge earlier this month started work on the replacement for the aging and corroding current Line 3 earlier this month.

In a separate filing Wednesday, Friends of the Headwaters also asked the state appellate court to halt the pipeline, citing “irreparable” environmental harm.

The two bands — plus the Sierra Club and the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth — last week sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asking for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of Line 3.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state’s primary pipeline regulator, approved Line 3 in February after nearly six years of review.

Several groups, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, challenged that decision before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing among other things that the PUC didn’t properly evaluate Enbridge’s long-term oil demand forecast.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Mobil in Saugus
Exxon Doubles Its Defense, Urges Mass. State Court to Toss Mass. Attorney General’s Climate Fraud Case with Two Motions to Dismiss

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
January 3, 2021

ExxonMobil is pushing back, and trying to play the victim card, in response to a climate change accountability lawsuit filed in October 2019 by the Massachusetts attorney general alleging investor and consumer fraud over the oil major’s statements and advertising pertaining to its fossil fuel products and their impacts on the climate system.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil on October 24, 2019 for allegedly misleading investors and consumers on climate risks of Exxon’s business and products – including systemic risks to the economy – in violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection statute. The complaint includes allegations of failing to disclose climate-related risks to Exxon’s business to investors, deceptive marketing of certain Exxon products as environmentally friendly to consumers, and ongoing misleading or greenwashed advertising of the company to obscure Exxon’s harmful environmental and climate impact. It is just one of almost two dozen lawsuits targeting Exxon and similar petroleum giants for deceptive behavior on the climate consequences of their products to protect their business interests.

The oil major is not only pushing back with a standard motion to dismiss, but is complaining that its protected speech or “petitioning rights” are unlawfully targeted by the lawsuit. In other words, Exxon is playing the victim card and demanding the court dismiss the lawsuit under an anti-SLAPP action. SLAPP refers to “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation” and anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect against lawsuits quelling free speech.

Exxon filed a special motion to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute on July 30, 2020. In its motion, Exxon argues that the Mass. AG lawsuit amounts to “lawfare,” and is an attempt to squash political opponents who do not share the Commonwealth’s views on climate change.      

“Those, like ExxonMobil, who decline to parrot the Attorney General’s call for an immediate transition to renewable energy are not simply diverse viewpoints in a public debate with state, federal, and global policy implications, but targets who must be silenced through ‘lawfare,’” Exxon attorneys write.  

Exxon also alleges that the Attorney General “conspired” with private interests like environmental activists and attorneys to bring this litigation, and that the real objective is to impose the AG’s preferred “views” and policies on climate. In essence, Exxon argues that the AG’s allegations concern policy disagreements, not deceptive or fraudulent conduct. According to Exxon, the “Attorney General brought this suit to advance its preferred climate policies by silencing perceived political opponents.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

global cement productionCutting Concrete’s Carbon Footprint
New approaches could reduce the carbon-intensity of cement production and lessen concrete’s broader environmental impact.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
January 5, 2021

After years of slow headway, building design and industry professionals say sharp reductions in the climate impact of concrete are possible now. That is significant because cement, the critical glue that holds concrete together, is so carbon-intensive that if it were a country, it would rank fourth in the world as a climate polluter. 

The Global Cement and Concrete Association this year committed to zero emissions concrete by 2050. No single solution has surfaced to reach this goal. But an expanding set of data tools and departures from tradition are starting to add up. 

Take LinkedIn’s new headquarters in Mountain View, California, which eliminated 4.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been embedded in the new building, much of it by cutting back on cement. Jenny Mitchell, the company’s senior manager of design and build, works under the gun — parent company Microsoft has committed to removing all its historic carbon from the atmosphere. 

Mitchell believes concrete will actually get to net zero. “I think it is a tall task, but I think we can,” she told 200 people at the virtual Global Concrete Summit this month.

To help get there, Mitchell’s team uses a tool that’s swiftly gaining traction called EC3, for Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator. EC3 launched last year under the auspices of the Carbon Leadership Forum in Seattle.

The free calculator compares the embodied carbon of similar products. Rock aggregate that travels by barge could have a much smaller carbon footprint than aggregate that travels by truck, for example, even if it comes from farther away.

The EC3 software works by comparing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that are fed into it by suppliers. Picture a nutrition label, but instead of calories and carbohydrates, it lists carbon quantities. 

“The number of EPDs for concrete is exploding,” rising from 800 to 23,000 over the past year or so, said Don Davies, president of Magnusson Klemencic Associates, a structural and civil engineering firm in Seattle. “Embodied carbon is starting to be a differentiator as to [which firm] gets the work.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

hot 2020
2020 Ties 2016 as Earth’s Hottest Year on Record, Even Without El Niño to Supercharge It
Annual reports from European and Japanese climate agencies show that last year was yet another marked by extraordinary global heat.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
January 8, 2021

European climate scientists have tallied up millions of temperature readings from last year to conclude that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record for the planet.

It’s the first time the global temperature has peaked without El Niño, a cyclical Pacific Ocean warm phase that typically spikes the average annual global temperature to new highs, said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, who was lead author on its annual report for 2020.

That report shows the Earth’s surface temperature at 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1850 to 1890 pre-industrial average, and 1.8 degrees warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average that serves as a baseline against which annual temperature variations are measured.

In the past, the climate-warming effect of El Niño phases really stood out in the long-term record, Vamberg said. The 1998 “super” El Niño caused the largest annual increase in global temperatures recorded up to that time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

“If you look at the 1998 El Niño, it was really a spike, but now, we’re kind of well above that, simply due to the trend,” Vamberg said.
» Read article             

Silverado Fire
U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change
The $95 billion in damage came in a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires recorded in California.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
January 7, 2021

Hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters across the United States caused $95 billion in damage last year, according to new data, almost double the amount in 2019 and the third-highest losses since 2010.

The new figures, reported Thursday morning by Munich Re, a company that provides insurance to other insurance companies, are the latest signal of the growing cost of climate change. They reflect a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires ever recorded in California.

Those losses occurred during a year that was one of the warmest on record, a trend that makes extreme rainfall, wildfires, droughts and other environmental catastrophes more frequent and intense.

“Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” Ernst Rauch, the chief climate scientist at Munich Re, said in an interview. He said continued building in high-risk areas had also contributed to the growing losses.

The new numbers come as the insurance industry struggles to adjust to the effects of climate change. In California, officials have tried a series of rule changes designed to stop insurers from pulling out of fire-prone areas, leaving homeowners with few options for insurance.

Homeowners and governments around the United States need to do a better job of making buildings and communities more resilient to natural disasters, said Donald L. Griffin, a vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents insurance companies.

“We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way,” Mr. Griffin said in an interview. “We’ve got to place an emphasis on preventing and reducing loss.”
» Read article             

locked-in warming
More Than Two Degrees of Climate Warming Is Already Locked In, New Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 6, 2021

Existing greenhouse gases will eventually push the climate into more than two degrees of warming, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday.

That number puts the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels out of reach, says Andrew Dessler, study coauthor and Texas A&M University climate scientist. Still, he warned against “climate doomers,” The Associated Press reported.

“While I would not categorize this as good news, it is not game over for the climate,” Dessler said in a video explaining the paper.

So what exactly does the study say?

Dessler worked with colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) and Nanjing University in China to analyze what is called “committed warming,” or the amount of warming that would occur if atmospheric greenhouse gases were paused at their current concentrations.

Previous estimates had put committed warming at around 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Dessler said in the video. But those estimates were based on faulty assumptions about Earth’s climate system, the paper authors argued.

“Typically, committed warming is estimated assuming that changes in the future will pretty much follow changes in the past,” Mark Zelinka, coauthor and LLNL atmospheric scientist, said in a press release. “But we now know that this is a bad assumption.”

Specifically, the researchers pointed to the regions of the planet that have not yet warmed, such as the Southern Ocean. The temperatures of these regions cause clouds to form that reflect sunlight and further cool the planet. But eventually those regions will warm too, dispersing the clouds and further raising temperatures.

“After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates,” lead author Chen Zhou of Nanjing University said in the press release.

The researchers estimated that a likely total of 2.3 degrees Celsius of warming is now locked in, about a full degree above the previous estimate.

The good news is that this warming could take centuries to occur, provided the world acts now to reduce emissions.

“If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we currently are, then we will blow through the 1.5 and two degree Celsius limits possibly within a few decades,” Dessler said in the video. “This means that our work is consistent with the conclusion that we need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.”

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who was not involved with the research, called the study fascinating on Twitter.

“I don’t think this paper fundamentally changes our understanding of committed warming, and pattern effects are still an area of active research. But it should make us a bit cautious about being too confident in predictions of zero warming after emissions reach net-zero,” he concluded.
» Read article            
» Watch video explaining the research       
» Read article predicting less locked-in warming after net-zero achieved        

» More about climate                  

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Svartsengi geothermalCan Geothermal Power Play a Key Role in the Energy Transition?
Aided by advances in deep-drilling technology for fracking, engineers are developing new methods of tapping into the earth’s limitless underground supplies of heat and steam. But the costs of accessing deep geothermal energy are high, and initial government support will be crucial.
By Jim Robbins, Yale Environment 360
December 22, 2020

A river of hot water flows some 3,000 feet beneath Boise, Idaho. And since 1983 the city has been using that water to directly heat homes, businesses, and institutions, including the four floors of city hall — all told, about a third of the downtown. It’s the largest geothermal heating system in the country.

Boise didn’t need to drill to access the resource. The 177-degree Fahrenheit water rises to the surface in a geological fault in the foothills outside of town.

It’s a renewable energy dream. Heating the 6 million square feet in the geothermally warmed buildings costs about $1,000 a month for the electricity to pump it. (The total annual cost for depreciation, maintenance, personnel, and repair of the city’s district heating system is about $750,000.)

“We’re heating 92 of the biggest buildings in the city of Boise,” said Jon Gunnarson, the city’s geothermal coordinator. “The buildings strip heat, collect it, and run it to an injection well. We use it once and reinject it and use it again.”

The Boise district system is how geothermal energy is most often thought of — natural hot water is pumped into radiators or used to generate electricity. It is considered a local phenomenon — few places are sitting on an underground river of steaming hot water — and so geothermal has not been viewed as a major feature on the alternative energy landscape.

But a number of experts around the world say that notion is wrong. Thanks especially to the deep-drilling techniques and knowledge about underground formations developed by the oil and gas industry during the fracking boom, a type of geothermal energy called deep geothermal can access hot temperatures in the earth’s mantle as far down as two to three miles. At various depths up to this level, much of the planet contains extremely hot water or there is hot rock into which water can be injected and heated, a technology known as enhanced geothermal systems. In either case, the hot water is pumped out and used to directly heat buildings or to generate electricity with steam or hot water.

“Wherever we are on the surface of the planet, and certainly the continental U.S., if we drill deep enough we can get to high enough temperatures that would work like the Boise system,” said Jefferson Tester, a professor of sustainable energy systems at Cornell University and a leading expert on geothermal energy. “It’s not a question of whether it’s there — it is and it’s significant. It’s a question of getting it out of the ground economically.”
» Read article

MA State House
US solar sector welcomes tax clarity in Massachusetts climate bill
By Edith Hancock, PV Tech
January 5, 2021

A new bill that would require the state of Massachusetts to run on 40% renewable energy by 2030 has been lauded by the US solar industry for making key changes to net metering and tax incentive policies.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts have put forward a new bill that would require the state to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Called An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, it outlines a number of key policies that would accelerate the transition to renewable energy and offer tax breaks for utilities and entities that adopt small solar systems over the coming decade. If passed by Governor Charlie Baker, the conference committee bill could raise the standard requirement for utilities’ renewable energy portfolios in the state by 3% each year between 2025 and 2029.

The bill would also relax the state’s net metering thresholds for solar PV energy, allowing large businesses to sell wholesale rooftop solar power at retail rates. It also included a provision clarifying how taxes are assessed by towns and municipalities on wind, solar and energy storage systems, providing tax breaks for households and small businesses that install behind-the-meter solar systems.

In addition, it provides incentives for entities enrolled in the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) programme to serve lower income areas. Under the programme, which was introduced two years ago, solar power system owners in the state receive fixed rate payments for the energy they produce based on the kilowatt-hours of power produced. The agreements last 10 years and vary based on system size. The state’s lawmakers had issued emergency regulation for the programme last April to double its PV capacity deployment target to 3.2GW, as well as mandating the addition of energy storage on projects exceeding 500kW.
» Read article            
» Read the legislation – S2995         

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston net-zeroBoston zoning change would require net-zero emissions from new buildings
The initiative is among the most aggressive of existing or proposed strategies to cut energy consumption in buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Edward Faulkner / Flickr / Creative Commons
January 5, 2021

The city of Boston is laying plans to require newly constructed large buildings to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, a move supporters hope will help make carbon-neutral design more approachable and mainstream. 

“There are going to be folks that find this incredibly challenging — there are a lot of industry norms that are being questioned and challenged,” said John Dalzell, senior architect for sustainable development at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. “But I’m pleased to see some of these old norms starting to fall away.”

In 2019, the city released the Carbon Free Boston report, a framework for making the city carbon neutral by 2050. Reducing emissions from buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output, is a critical part of the plan. 

Other strategies for cutting building emissions are already in play or in the works. Boston has an existing energy disclosure ordinance, which requires buildings over 35,000 square feet to report their energy use each year. The city is also developing a performance standard that will require these buildings to meet targets for emissions reduction. And last year, Boston partnered with utility Eversource to launch an energy efficiency hub, a set of resources that will help the owners and operators of large buildings find ways to reduce their energy consumption.

One of the most aggressive measures the city intends to take is the plan to require new large buildings to achieve net-zero emissions. 

The details are still under development. The new requirements will modify existing green building zoning guidelines that apply to projects larger than 50,000 square feet, a threshold that includes about two-thirds of all new construction in the city. Over time, the threshold is likely to fall, encompassing more and more buildings over time, Dalzell said.
» Read article           

IECC changes
Code Development Changes Could Silence Voter Voices
By Lauren Urbanek, National Resource Defense Council
December 21, 2020

This year was a busy one when it came to defending strong building energy codes—and it looks like the work won’t be slowing down any time soon. After approving a 2021 energy code that will be more efficient than ever before, the International Code Council (ICC) is considering changes to the code development process that will eliminate local input. The ICC just announced it wants to change how the nation’s model building energy code is developed—moving it from a large, open process to having it be developed by a committee without input from the local government building officials who administer it.

The ICC—which is the body that manages creation of the building code—recently announced a public comment period for a proposal to use a standards process to develop the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), rather than the code development process that has been in place for the past decade and a half. The implications are unclear about what that will mean to the efficiency of future codes, but it’s a substantial change to the process used to develop a code that is referenced in federal law and adopted by jurisdictions in every state of the country.

For years the building energy code development process has been dominated by builders and industry interests, with input from environmental groups like NRDC. Governmental members showed up in a big way to develop the 2021 IECC, with voter turnout at its highest level ever. They voted in droves to approve proposals to make the code the most efficient one ever, with improvements in insulation, lighting, and other building components that will reduce energy consumption while lowering energy bills and keeping inhabitants more comfortable.

It’s impressive progress, achieved through a process that ultimately puts the final vote in the hands of the code officials and other local government employees who are the ones using the code—not anyone with a vested financial interest in the code’s outcome. So why is the ICC proposing such a dramatic change? That’s our question, too.
» Read article          
» Public comment information – deadline for written submissions 8 PM ET, January 11, 2021 (template here – takes about 3 minutes)           

» More about energy efficiency             

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cambridge stickers fuel pumps
Massachusetts city to post climate change warning stickers at gas stations
Bright yellow stickers warn drivers burning of gasoline has ‘major consequences on human health and the environment’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 25, 2020

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has become the first US city to mandate the placing of stickers on fuel pumps to warn drivers of the resulting dangers posed by the climate crisis.

The final design of the bright yellow stickers, shared with the Guardian, includes text that warns drivers the burning of gasoline, diesel and ethanol has “major consequences on human health and the environment including contributing to climate change”.

The stickers will be placed on all fuel pumps in Cambridge, which is situated near Boston and is home to Harvard University, “fairly soon” once they are received from printers, a city spokesman confirmed.

“The city of Cambridge is working hard with our community to fight climate change,” the spokesman added. “The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation              

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Hull turbine
8 Ways The New Climate Bill Affects You, Your Washing Machine And Our Climate Goals
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 5, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker has 10 days to decide whether to sign — or kill — a massive climate bill.

The legislation, which the House and Senate approved Monday, represents the state’s first big update to the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. It writes into law the ambitious goal of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050, and could radically transform the energy sector, building codes, transportation and more.

From geothermal energy to lightbulbs, the bill covers a lot of ground, but here’s what you need to know — in plain English — about how it will affect you, if Baker signs it:
» Read article       

» More legislative news             

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

new EPA rule
A Plan Made to Shield Big Tobacco From Facts Is Now E.P.A. Policy
The E.P.A. has finalized a so-called transparency plan that it says will improve the credibility of science. Scientists say it is designed to stop new public health protections by limiting what research the agency can consider.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 4, 2021

Nearly a quarter century ago, a team of tobacco industry consultants outlined a plan to create “explicit procedural hurdles” for the Environmental Protection Agency to clear before it could use science to address the health impacts of smoking.

President Trump’s E.P.A. has now embedded parts of that strategy into federal environmental policy. On Tuesday Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., formally released a new regulation that favors certain kinds of scientific research over others in the drafting of public health rules.

A copy of the final measure, known as the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information Rule, says that “pivotal” scientific studies that make public their underlying data and models must be given more weight than studies that keep such data confidential. The agency concluded that the E.P.A. or anyone else should be able to independently validate research that impacts regulations.

“It’s sunshine, it’s transparency,” Mr. Wheeler said of the regulation on Tuesday during an online forum with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes most environmental regulation. He described the policy as an effort “to reduce misunderstanding of our regulatory decisions.”

The new rule, public health experts and medical organizations said, essentially blocks the use of population studies in which subjects offer medical histories, lifestyle information and other personal data only on the condition of privacy. Such studies have served as the scientific underpinnings of some of the most important clean air and water regulations of the past half century.

Critics say the agency’s leaders disregarded the E.P.A.’s scientific review system to create an additional layer of scrutiny designed to impede or block access to the best available science, weakening the government’s ability to create new protections against pollution, pesticides, and possibly even the coronavirus.
» Read article            
» Read the new EPA rule        

» More about the EPA                

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
Christie Sworn in as Newest FERC Commissioner
FERC press release
January 4, 2021

Mark C. Christie was sworn in today as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during a ceremony in the chambers of the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Judge G. Steven Agee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit performed the swearing-in ceremony.

Commissioner Christie comes to FERC from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, having served three terms totaling almost 17 years, most recently as Chairman. He is a former president of the Organization of PJM States, Inc. (OPSI), which is comprised of regulators representing the 13 states and the District of Columbia that form the PJM region. He also is a former president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (MACRUC).

A West Virginia native, Commissioner Christie earned Phi Beta Kappa honors upon graduating from Wake Forest University, and received his law degree from Georgetown University. He has taught regulatory law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia School of Law and constitutional law and government in a doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Commissioner Christie also served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
» Read article             

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

unbidden ANWR
Trump auction of oil leases in Arctic refuge attracts barely any bidders
Coastal plain was up for sale as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
January 6, 2021

The Trump administration’s last-minute attempt on Wednesday to auction off part of a long-protected Arctic refuge to oil drillers brought almost zero interest from oil companies, forcing the state of Alaska into the awkward position of leasing the lands itself.

The coastal plain of the Arctic national wildlife refuge was up for sale to drillers as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue. Conservatives argued the leases could bring in $900m, half for the federal government and half for the state.

But the lease sales fell dramatically short of that amount – with the high bids totaling about $14m on 11 tracts of land that cover about 600,000 acres of the 1.6m-acre coastal plain.

The results back up the arguments from environmental advocates and watchdog groups that leasing the public land is a bad deal for the country, particularly when oil is in such low demand and public scrutiny grows of the industry’s role in the climate crisis and damage to sensitive habitats. Drilling for new oil now, when the planet is already experiencing dangerous heating, would be irresponsible, they said.

“This lease sale was an epic failure for the Trump administration and the Alaska congressional delegation,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “After years of promising a revenue and jobs bonanza they ended up throwing a party for themselves, with the state being one of the only bidders.”
» Read article             

Exxon reports Scope 3
Exxon, under investor pressure, discloses emissions from burning its fuels
By Reuters staff
January 6, 2021

Exxon Mobil Corp, under increasing pressure from investors and climate change activists, reported for the first time the emissions that result when customers use its products such as gasoline and jet fuel.

The largest U.S. oil producer said the emissions from its product sales in 2019 were equivalent to 730 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, higher than rival oil majors. The data comes as the company has drawn the ire of an activist investor focused on its climate performance.

The so-called Scope 3 data is included in its latest Energy & Carbon Summary released Tuesday, though Exxon downplayed its significance. “Scope 3 emissions do not provide meaningful insight into the Company’s emission-reduction performance,” the report said.

“Even to get to the point of having them disclose this has been like pulling teeth,” said Andrew Grant at think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. “Quite a lot of the rest of the world has moved on from the disclosure to ‘What are we going to do about this?’”

Most major oil companies already report Scope 3 emissions and some have reduction targets, including Occidental Petroleum, which in November set a goal to offset the impact of the use of its oil and gas by 2050.
» Read article             

Alberta pumps it up
Investment In Canada’s Oil Industry Set To Grow 12% In 2021
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 5, 2021

Canada’s oil industry expects that 2021 will be the year of recovery from the downturn caused by the pandemic in 2020, with total investments in Canada’s oil sector expected to increase by 12 percent this year compared to last year.

Combined investments in oil sands operations and conventional oil and gas production are expected to rise to nearly US$21 billion (C$27 billion) in 2021, compared to US$19 billion (C$24 billion) in 2020, Calgary Herald reports, citing forecasts from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“An extra $2 billion of investment into the Western Canadian economies, relative to 2020, I’d say is a pretty significant vote of confidence there will be some stability and recovery in energy markets,” CAPP vice president Ben Brunnen told Calgary Herald’s Chris Varcoe.

According to CAPP’s November 2020 capital investment and drilling forecast, exploration and production (E&P) capital spending was US$27 billion (C$35 billion) in 2019, down by 10 percent compared to 2018. Due to the pandemic, the forecast for the 2020 investment showed an unprecedented 32-percent slump from 2019 to US$19 billion (C$24 billion).

The association expected that around 3,000 oil and gas wells would have been drilled in 2020, while the number would increase to around 3,300 oil and gas wells drilled in 2021.

Oil companies have plans to ramp up their production after the Alberta government said it would remove oil production limits at the end of last year.
» Read article           

» More about fossil fuel          

 

BIOMASS

Baker is wrong
Baker is wrong to subsidize wood burning
4 scientists say using wood to generate electricity will worsen climate change
By William Moomaw, John Sterman, Juliette Rooney-Varga and Richard Birdsey, CommonWealth Magazine
January 4, 2021

GOVS. CHARLIE BAKER of Massachusetts and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan were featured US officials at the fifth anniversary celebration of the Paris Climate Agreement. Their presence demonstrated that state leaders, from both political parties, are actively battling the climate emergency.

It is therefore baffling that the Baker administration just released new regulations that directly undermine the governor’s and Legislature’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The regulations allow wood-burning electric power plants that currently fail to meet Massachusetts’ environmental standards to receive subsidies from ratepayers. But burning wood to generate heat or electricity is unnecessary, will increase carbon emissions, and worsen climate change.

By removing trees from our forests, the proposed regulations also reduce the ability of our forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This undermines the governor’s net zero emissions plan that relies on our forests to soak up carbon emitted by any fossil fuels we still use in 2050.  As Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides has noted, “The conservation of the Commonwealth’s forests is critical to meet our ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050.”

The Department of Energy Resources justifies weakening the existing standards by falsely arguing that burning wood instead of natural gas will reduce carbon emissions.  Wood burning releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than any fossil fuel – 75 percent more than natural gas. Therefore, generating heat or electricity with wood immediately increases greenhouse gas emissions more than fossil fuels, worsening climate change.

Eventually, regrowth might remove enough carbon to equal the additional carbon emitted when the wood is burned. But regrowth takes time. New England forests take upwards of a century or more for additional growth to capture enough carbon to breakeven with fossil fuels. Break-even times are far longer for wood bioenergy compared to wind and solar, even after counting  the emissions from making and installing the turbines and panels.

Under the Baker administration’s proposed regulations, utilities will be charging electricity users – all of us – to burn more of our forests, worsen climate change, harm our health, and erode social justice. We urge Baker to preserve his reputation as a champion for climate, health, and justice by withdrawing these flawed regulations. The legislature should also eliminate wood bioenergy from the energy sources eligible for subsidies in the climate legislation they are now considering, and support climate-friendly energy instead.
» Read article            
» Read the proposed regulations           

Palmer Paving Corp
Massachusetts lawmakers deal blow to Springfield biomass project
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
January 4, 2021

Power from wood-to-energy plants — like the long-proposed Palmer Renewable Energy in East Springfield — won’t qualify as “green power” for municipal power utilities for at least five years under new rules announced over the weekend by state lawmakers.

A conference committee of state senators and representatives also called on Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration to complete a new study examining the impact of these biomass plants on greenhouse emissions, global climate change and public health. The conference report – meant to hammer out differences between the Senate and House bills passed in 2020 – will go to lawmakers for a vote before the term ends Tuesday.

It’s part of a major climate change legislation.

The five-year moratorium removes one incentive utilities would have had to buy power from Palmer Renewable Energy.

State. Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, praised the conference report Sunday, calling it “a major win for environmental justice.”

But Laura Haight, a biomass opponent and U.S. Policy Director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said another subsidy that could benefit the Palmer Renewable Energy plant is still alive.

“However, this bill may not have any impact on the proposed biomass plant in Springfield,” she said.

Also winding its way through the statehouse in Boston is a different set of regulations – ones introduced in December by the Baker administration – that would make the Springfield biomass project eligible for green energy credits.

Those regulations, now sitting in front of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, would grant the Palmer Renewables project as much as $13 million a year in green energy subsidies paid for by the state’s electricity customers through the Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards program, also called RPS.

Haight’s group and others have been speaking out against Baker’s proposed rule changes since they came out in December.
» Read article             

» More about biomass              

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Weekly News Check-In 10/2/20

banner 16

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.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

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.
» Read article         

» 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         

» More about biomass

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.
» Read article         

» More about plastics bans

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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