Tag Archives: environmental justice

Weekly News Check-In 12/3/21

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Welcome back.

We’re remembering the great climate, environment, and social justice advocate, Dr. Marty Nathan who passed away on Monday at age 70. She devoted so much of herself to so many people, through a life well lived. She’ll be sorely missed.

There’s been a lot of news in the past two weeks, so I’ll bundle the stories as they relate to broad themes. Protesters hit the streets in Peabody, MA to draw attention to the contradictions between a planned peaking power plant and the state’s emissions reduction requirements. As fossil boosters charge ahead with construction plans, gas utilities in the mid-Atlantic region are cancelling similar projects. Meanwhile, two more liquefied natural gas export terminals were either cancelled (Jordan Cove) or moved closer to cancellation (Gibbstown). All of the above is related to the increasingly unfavorable investment environment for natural gas infrastructure relative to clean renewable energy and storage.

That same economic calculus is rapidly taking the shine off a fossil industry favorite: carbon capture and sequestration.

Oil and gas pipelines are increasingly difficult to justify – that includes new construction as well as continuing to operate existing assets. Especially when those old pipelines need an infusion of new cash for upgrades. Fossil interests are getting creative with their attempts to keep these lines open. That includes false claims that shutting down pipelines amounts to environmental injustice, and suggestions that implementing climate solutions will tank the economy. But a well-funded and coordinated effort to erode the concept of Native sovereignty is downright underhanded and creepy. Protests at Standing Rock held up construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (and many others since), so industry is acknowledging the potency and moral clarity of Indigenous peoples’ protests and actions by bringing court actions that could strip away Tribes’ ability to protect their own lands.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to dig and drill its way to the finish – extracting and burning every hydrocarbon molecule it can lay hands on – opposing forces continue to gather in strength and numbers. The divestment movement now has clear support from mainstream economic players, who agree that any investment in fossils grows riskier by the day. And legislation supporting citizen rights to a healthful environment, as New York recently passed, makes new fossil pipelines and power plants nearly impossible to imagine.

So we have our eyes on the many opportunities and challenges presented by the greening economy. These include strong demand for clean energy at every scale, often constrained by material supply. The need for massive improvements in energy efficiency along with the challenge of equitable delivery of programs, incentives, and services. Transforming the transportation sector; the red hot race for affordable long-duration energy storage; and the considerable issues around where to locate all this new, clean-energy infrastructure.

Hovering over all that growth and opportunity is the question of where a lot of critical resources are going to come from. Deep-seabed mining represents a potential source of badly-needed copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese. But scientists are concerned that seabed destruction, debris in the water column, and noise all risk vast environmental and ecosystem harm. We continue to list deep-seabed mining as a VBA (Very Bad Idea). Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Other VBAs include burning woody biomass for energy, and producing lots and lots of plastics. We’ll keep you up to date on all of it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

MARTY NATHAN

Marty Nathan garden
Community recalls impact, contributions of environmental, social justice activist Dr. Marty Nathan
By BRIAN STEELE , Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 30, 2021

NORTHAMPTON — Tributes are pouring in to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Marty Nathan, a retired physician and trailblazing social justice activist who died Monday at the age of 70.

Nathan’s daughter Leah Nathan said her mother died after a recurrence of lung cancer combined with congestive heart failure. She leaves behind her husband, three children and two grandchildren.

Martha “Marty” Nathan was a co-founder of Climate Action Now, the founder of the environmental activism group 2degrees Northampton and a board member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She wrote a monthly column for the Gazette on the topic of climate change.

In June, the Gazette and the United Way of Hampshire County honored Nathan with the Frances Crowe Award, named for the legendary Northampton peace and anti-nuclear activist who died in 2019 at the age of 100. Nathan considered Crowe a friend and ally for 25 years, saying the pair “were inhabiting the same ideological and political territory.”

Leah Nathan said her mother “invested everything she had” in causes that mattered to “the people and planet she loved.”

In Nathan’s memory, loved ones should “get involved and just do something to make the change you want to see in the world,” and donate to worthy organizations.

“She was uncompromising in her beliefs, her commitment to justice, her love for her family, and doing the work that real change requires of us,” Leah Nathan said. “She was both complex and crystal clear, and the physical loss of her energy feels impossible to bear.”

Nathan’s advocacy began in the 1960s, when she protested against the Vietnam War, and it never abated. Just six weeks ago, she and three other local activists were arrested in Washington, D.C., for standing in front of the White House fence as part of a climate protest. After they were released without fines or charges, each donated money to the Indigenous Environmental Network, which organized the protest.

Russ Vernon-Jones, an organizer with Climate Action Now, was also arrested that day; he said Nathan was “an inspiration to me. She was such a model of determination and commitment and justice.”

“If she had never done this kind of activism, it would still be a huge loss,” he said, considering what a “warm, caring, generous, compassionate human being she was.”
» Read article               

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

SD no peakers
Amid the push for a cleaner future, a proposed power plant threatens to escalate the war over the region’s power grid
By David Abel, Boston Globe
November 23, 2021

PEABODY — It would cost $85 million to build, spew thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere for years to come, and perpetuate the reliance on fossil fuels in a dozen communities across Massachusetts, all while a new state law takes effect requiring drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Without state intervention, construction to build the 55 megawatt “peaker” — a power plant designed to operate during peak demand for electricity — could start in the next few weeks, making it the latest skirmish in an escalating war over the future of the region’s power grid.

Proponents of the controversial project say it’s needed to promote the grid’s reliability and to control potentially costly fluctuations in energy prices, even though its fuel — oil and gas — has become more expensive than wind, solar, and other renewable energy. Over the long term, they say, it should provide significant savings to ratepayers in Peabody and the other communities that have agreed to finance it.

Opponents say it would hinder the state’s ability to comply with the sweeping new climate law, which requires Massachusetts to reduce its carbon emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050. They add that its 90-foot smokestack would also spread harmful particulate matter in surrounding vulnerable, lower-income communities, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Opponents of the project say it’s ludicrous for the state to sanction a new fossil fuel plant, noting that construction would start less than a year after Governor Charlie Baker signed the state’s landmark climate law and just a few weeks after world leaders gathered for a global climate summit in Glasgow and vowed to reduce their emissions sharply in the coming years.

Any new source of emissions, especially one that seeks to continue the use of fossil fuels for decades to come, is detrimental to the cause of eliminating emissions as soon as possible, they contend. Moreover, the hefty cost would be better spent on energy projects that would produce emissions-free power or on plants that use batteries to store that power for peak demand, they say.

This month, concerned residents held a rally in front of Peabody District Court, where they carried signs with messages such as: “Non-Renewable Energy is Peak Stupidity” and “Stop Polluting.”
» Read article               

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

pro bono
This Land Episode 5. Pro Bono

By Rebecca Nagel, Crooked Media
September 13, 2021

The fight against the Indian Child Welfare Act is much bigger than a few custody cases, or even the entire adoption industry. We follow the money, and our investigation leads us to a powerful group of corporate lawyers and one of the biggest law firms in the country.

[Blog editor’s note: This podcast discusses, among others, the case Brackeen v. Haaland, a case of concern that may soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, with potential to undermine native sovereignty and expose Indigenous lands to further exploitation by the oil and gas industry.]

From transcript: Matthew McGill, the lawyer representing the Brackeens in that big federal lawsuit, has used the same arguments in casino cases that he’s now using in ICWA cases, specifically that state’s rights argument we talked about earlier in the season. He’s used it to stop a tribal casino from opening in Arizona, and Gibson Dunn, where Matthew McGill works, represents two of the top three casino and gaming companies in the world. Gibson Dunn also specializes in the other industry that comes up against tribes a lot: oil. You’ve probably heard about the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline because the resistance camp at Standing Rock made national headlines. Gibson Dunn represented the pipeline company. What happened at Standing Rock worried the oil industry. One study estimated indigenous resistance cost the Dakota Access Pipeline $7.5 billion. It also inspired movements against other pipelines. Industry leaders, including lobbying groups that represent Gibson Dunn clients, have talked openly about why these indigenous-led protests need to be stopped. Seven months after the resistance camp in North Dakota was shut down, Gibson Dunn filed the Brackeen’s case in federal court.
» Listen to podcast (35 min.)                                   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Marathon refiinery - Detroit
Right-Wing Group Uses ‘B.S.’ Environmental Justice Argument in Effort to Keep an Oil Pipeline Alive
A D.C.-based think tank with ties to fossil fuel money claims that shutting down the aging Line 5 pipeline would hurt Black communities in Michigan. Community activists say otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2021

A right-wing group that has a history of receiving funding from conservative foundations and ExxonMobil is trying to frame the state of Michigan’s attempts to shut down the aging Line 5 oil pipeline as an assault on the Black community.

That industry-backed spin has not gone down well with Michigan activists. “I think that’s B.S. I think it’s phoney baloney,” Theresa Landrum, a community activist in Detroit, told DeSmog. “The Black community is not benefiting. We have been suffering all along.”

Polluting industries are often located near Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, impacting the health of communities suffering from long standing problems of disenfranchisement and disinvestment. At the same time, these communities are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, hit hard by extreme heat, floods, and the breakdown of critical infrastructure. And Michigan is no exception, from Flint’s lead pipe crisis, to the urban neighborhoods of Detroit where people breathe toxic air on a daily basis.

Accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels addresses multiple problems at once by cutting carbon emissions while also reducing environmental and public health threats.

But the Washington D.C.-based Project 21 is trying to paint the continued-operation of a major oil pipeline as a crucial lifeline to the Black community in Michigan. In a November press release, the group warns against interrupting the flow of “life-sustaining fossil fuels.”
» Read article                    

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

financial time bomb
‘$22-Trillion Time Bomb’ Ahead Unless Banks Drop High-Carbon Investments, Moody’s Warns
By The Energy Mix
November 28, 2021

Financial institutions are facing a US$22-trillion time bomb due to their investments in carbon-intensive industries, Bloomberg News reports, citing a study last week by Moody’s Investment Services.

“Unless these firms make a swift shift to climate-friendly financing, they risk reporting losses,” Bloomberg writes. And “it’s not just the moral imperative—that fossil fuel use is destroying the atmosphere and life on Earth with it. It’s that their financial health requires leaving such companies behind.”

The $22-trillion calculation is based on the 20% of financial institutions’ investments that Moody sees as risky, the news agency explains. The total includes $13.8 trillion for banks, $6.6 trillion for asset managers, and $1.8 trillion for insurance companies.

Moody’s is urging institutions to shift their business models “toward lending and investing in new and developing green infrastructure projects, while supporting corporates in carbon-intensive sectors that are pivoting to low-carbon business models.”

Bloomberg connects the Moody’s report with an assessment just two days earlier, in which the European Central Bank said most of the 112 institutions it oversees have no concrete plans to shift their business strategies to take the climate emergency into account. Only about half of the institutions are “contemplating setting exclusion targets for some segments of the market,” ECB executive board member Frank Elderson wrote in a November 22 blog post, and “only a handful of them mention actively planning to steer their portfolios on a Paris-compatible trajectory.”
» Read article                    

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

right to breathe
New York’s Right to ‘a Healthful Environment’ Could Be Bad News for Fossil Fuel Interests
Coupled with the state’s landmark climate law, the provision is a “blinking red light” for new gas pipelines and other oil and gas projects.
By Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News
November 23, 2021

When New York regulators denied a key permit to the controversial Williams Pipeline in early 2020, in part because it conflicted with the state’s climate law, environmental policy experts called it a potential turning point.

No longer could developers pitch major fossil fuel projects in the state without expecting serious regulatory scrutiny or legal challenges, climate campaigners said, touting the decision as a victory for the state’s clean energy aspirations.

That forecast was reinforced in October. State regulators denied permits for two proposed natural gas power plants, again citing the landmark climate law, which requires New York to transition its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Then, on election day, New York voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that granted all residents the right “to clean air and water and a healthful environment.” That amendment, which passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote, could strengthen lawsuits against polluters and further discourage developers from proposing fossil fuel projects in the state in the future, some energy experts have said.

The state’s climate law, paired with the new constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment, could set the stage for citizens to sue the government or other entities more easily for things like polluting a river or hindering the state’s legally binding clean energy targets, said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Not only does the combustion of fossil fuels drive global warming but it emits harmful chemicals and particles into the air that have been proven to contribute to significant health risks and premature death. One recent study found that the soot commonly released by the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for more than 50,000 premature deaths in the United States every year.

“It certainly sends the message that (new) large, fossil fuel facilities are going to have major problems” in New York, Gerrard said. “I wouldn’t call those decisions a death knell, but they’re certainly a blinking red light.”
» Read article                    

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Robert BlakeMeet the unstoppable entrepreneur bringing solar, EVs and jobs to his Native community and beyond
Solar Bear owner Robert Blake on his booming business, extensive nonprofit work and the $6.6M DOE grant he just landed.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Canary Media
November 29, 2021

Robert Blake is a solar entrepreneur, a social impact innovator and Native activist — and his work weaves all three strands together.

Blake is the founder of Solar Bear, a full-service solar installation company, and Native Sun Community Power Development, a Native-led nonprofit that promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and a just energy transition through education, demonstration and workforce training. Both organizations have a mission of advancing economic opportunity and environmental justice through renewable energy.

Blake is also building an EV charging network and a solar farm to power it in the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. He hopes his work can be a model for other tribal nations to follow in pursuing energy independence and powering the clean energy transition.

We caught up with Blake to discuss his work and his motivations. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
» Blog editor’s note: Click on the link below and read the conversation with Mr. Blake – he’s inspiring, positive, practical, and visionary.
» Read article                    

cobalt mine near Kolwezi
How the U.S. Lost Ground to China in the Contest for Clean Energy
Americans failed to safeguard decades of diplomatic and financial investments in Congo, where the world’s largest supply of cobalt is controlled by Chinese companies backed by Beijing.
By Eric Lipton and Dionne Searcey, New York Times
Photographs by Ashley Gilbertson
November 21, 2021

WASHINGTON — Tom Perriello saw it coming but could do nothing to stop it. André Kapanga too. Despite urgent emails, phone calls and personal pleas, they watched helplessly as a company backed by the Chinese government took ownership from the Americans of one of the world’s largest cobalt mines.

It was 2016, and a deal had been struck by the Arizona-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan to sell the site, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which now figures prominently in China’s grip on the global cobalt supply. The metal has been among several essential raw materials needed for the production of electric car batteries — and is now critical to retiring the combustion engine and weaning the world off climate-changing fossil fuels.

Mr. Perriello, a top U.S. diplomat in Africa at the time, sounded alarms in the State Department. Mr. Kapanga, then the mine’s Congolese general manager, all but begged the American ambassador in Congo to intercede.

“This is a mistake,” Mr. Kapanga recalled warning him, suggesting the Americans were squandering generations of relationship building in Congo, the source of more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt.

Presidents starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower had sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including transport planes and other military equipment, to the mineral-rich nation. Richard Nixon intervened, as did the State Department under Hillary Clinton, to sustain the relationship. And Freeport-McMoRan had invested billions of its own — before it sold the mine to a Chinese company.

Not only did the Chinese purchase of the mine, known as Tenke Fungurume, go through uninterrupted during the final months of the Obama administration, but four years later, during the twilight of the Trump presidency, so did the purchase of an even more impressive cobalt reserve that Freeport-McMoRan put on the market. The buyer was the same company, China Molybdenum.

China’s pursuit of Congo’s cobalt wealth is part of a disciplined playbook that has given it an enormous head start over the United States in the race to dominate the electrification of the auto industry, long a key driver of the global economy.
» Read article                      

» More about greening the economy                 

CLIMATE

right-wing arguments
Climate change deniers are over attacking the science. Now they attack the solutions.
A new study charts the evolution of right-wing arguments.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 18, 2021

Believe it or not, it’s nearly 2022 and some people still think we shouldn’t do anything about the climate crisis. Even though most Americans understand that carbon emissions are overheating the planet and want to take action to stop it, attacks on clean energy and policies to limit carbon emissions are on the rise.

In a study out this week in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, researchers found that outright denying the science is going out of fashion. Today, only about 10 percent of arguments from conservative think tanks in North America challenge the scientific consensus around global warming or question models and data. (For the record, 99.9 percent of scientists agree that human activity is heating up the planet.) Instead, the most common arguments are that scientists and climate advocates simply can’t be trusted, and that proposed solutions won’t work.

That came as a surprise to the researchers. Scientists get called “alarmists,” despite a history of underestimating the effects of an overheating planet. Politicians and the media are portrayed as biased, while environmentalists are painted as part of a “hysterical” climate “cult.”

“It kind of dismayed me, because I spent my career debunking the first three categories — ‘it’s not real, it’s not us, it’s not bad’ — and those were the lowest categories of misinformation,” said John Cook, a co-author of the study and a research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University in Australia. “Instead, what they were doing was trying to undermine trust in climate science and attack the actual climate movement. And there’s not much research into how to counter that or understand it.”
» Read article                      
» Read the study

Earthshine
“Earthshine” from the Moon shows our planet is dimming, intensifying global warming
By Zack Savitsky, Mongabay
November 18, 2021

For 20 years, researchers stared at the dark side of the moon to measure its faint but visible “earthshine,” a glow created by sunlight reflecting off Earth and onto the lunar surface. Their new analysis, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, revealed that this ghostly light has darkened slightly, confirming satellite measurements that our planet is getting dimmer.

As the planet reflects less light, the incoming heat gets absorbed by the seas and skies. This lingering warmth probably intensifies the rate of global warming, scientists believe.

Typically, about 30 percent of the light streaming from the sun gets redirected by Earth back to space, mostly from bright white clouds. But that percentage can vary over time. In 1998, a team from the Big Bear Solar Observatory in southern California set out to track Earth’s reflectivity, or albedo, by monitoring earthshine during the days each month the telescope could see the moon’s dark side.

“It is just so naturally appealing,” said lead author Philip Goode, a physicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which operates the observatory. “We’re using the moon as a mirror for the Earth.” The study ran for a full solar cycle—about 20 years—to account for variations in the sun’s activity.

Three years after Goode started Project Earthshine, NASA also began to measure Earth’s albedo with a string of satellites called Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, or CERES. Data from both projects has matched up neatly. Since the year 2000, the planet has reflected less energy back into space: about one-half a watt per square meter. That’s similar to the dimming effect from turning off one lightbulb on a panel of 200.

When these experiments began two decades ago, many scientists expected that water in warmer seas would evaporate more quickly and create thicker clouds—thus reflecting more sunlight back into space. But the satellite and earthshine results show just the opposite: “Somehow, the warm ocean burned a hole in the clouds and let in more sunlight,” Goode told Mongabay.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar glare
Renewables see record growth in 2021, but supply chain problems loom
High commodity and shipping prices could jeopardize future wind and solar farms
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 1, 2021

2021 is on course to break a global record for renewable energy growth, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest Renewables Market Report. That’s despite skyrocketing commodity prices, which could bog down the transition to clean energy in the future.

With 290 GW in additional capacity expected to be commissioned by the end of the year, 2021 will smash the record for renewable electricity growth that was just set last year. This year’s additions even outpace a forecast that the International Energy Agency (IEA) made in the spring.

“Exceptionally high growth” would be the “new normal” for renewable sources of electricity, the IEA said at the time. Solar energy, in particular, was on track to take the crown as the “new king of electricity,” the IEA said in its October 2020 World Energy Outlook report.

Still, there are some dark clouds in the IEA’s new forecast for renewables. Soaring prices for commodities, shipping, and energy all threaten the previously rosy outlook for renewable energy. The cost of polysilicon used to make solar panels has more than quadrupled since the start of 2020, according to the IEA. Investment costs for utility-scale onshore wind and solar farms have risen 25 percent compared to 2019. That could delay the completion of new renewable energy projects that have already been contracted.

More than half of the new utility-scale solar projects already planned for 2022 could face delays or cancellation because of larger price tags for materials and shipping, according to a separate analysis by Rystad Energy.

If commodity prices stay high over the next year, it could erase three to five years of gains solar and wind have made, respectively, when it comes to affordability. A dramatic price drop for photovoltaic modules over the past few decades has fueled solar’s success. Costs fell from $30 per watt in 1980 to $0.20 per watt for solar energy in 2020. By last year, solar was already the cheapest source of electricity in most parts of the world.
» Read article                     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

blowing cellulose
Massachusetts’ new efficiency plan puts a priority on underserved communities

The state’s latest three-year energy efficiency plan would include new provisions to increase outreach and expand program eligibility for lower-income households and residents of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
November 29, 2021

Massachusetts’ new three-year energy efficiency plan would substantially increase efforts to lower energy costs and improve health and comfort for lower-income households and residents of color.

The $668 million plan awaiting approval from the state Department of Public Utilities lays out strategies the state’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency program intends to implement from 2022 to 2024. They include provisions to increase outreach and expand eligibility in underserved communities — and pay utilities for providing more services in these neighborhoods.

“They’re saying, ‘Let’s figure out how to make sure that everyone paying into the program is able to access and benefit from the program,’” said Eugenia Gibbons, Massachusetts director of climate policy for Health Care Without Harm. “The plan is a good step forward.”

For more than a decade, Massachusetts’ energy efficiency programs have been hailed as some of the most progressive and effective in the country. The centerpiece of the state’s efforts is Mass Save, a collaborative of electric and gas utilities that provides no-cost energy audits, rebates on efficient appliances, discounts on weatherization, and other energy efficiency services, funded by a small fee on consumers’ utility bills.

Mass Save’s programming is guided by three-year energy efficiency plans, a system put in place by the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
» Read article                      

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Hydrostor Ontario plant
Inside Clean Energy: Here’s How Compressed Air Can Provide Long-Duration Energy Storage
A Canadian company wants to use compressed air to store energy in California.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 2, 2021

A grid that runs mostly on wind and solar, part of the future that clean energy advocates are working toward, will need lots of long-duration energy storage to get through the dark of night and cloudy or windless days.

Hydrostor, a Canadian company, has filed applications in the last week with California regulators to build two plants to meet some of that need using “compressed air energy storage.” The plants would pump compressed air into underground caverns and later release the air to turn a turbine and produce electricity.

The stored energy would be able to generate hundreds of megawatts of electric power for up to eight hours at a time, with no fossil fuels and no greenhouse gas emissions. Long-duration storage includes systems that can discharge electricity for eight hours or more, as opposed to lithium-ion battery storage, which typically runs for up to four hours.

This project and technology have potentially huge implications for the push to develop long-duration energy storage. But the key word is “potentially,” because there are many companies and technologies vying for a foothold in this rapidly growing part of the energy economy, and the results so far have been little more than research findings and hype.

“Their technology is not overly complicated,” said Mike Gravely, a manager of energy systems research for the California Energy Commission, speaking in general about CAES. “Compressed air is a very simple concept.”

The main challenge, as with so many clean energy technologies, is to get the costs low enough to justify building many of the plants.

Hydrostor, founded in 2010 and based in Toronto, has completed two small plants in the Toronto area, including a 1.75-megawatt storage plant that can run for about six hours at a time.
» Read article                      

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Calpine Fore River Energy
Board rejects permit for lithium battery storage
By Ed Baker, The Patriot Ledger
November 23, 2021

Calpine Fore River Energy’s request for a special permit to construct a lithium-ion battery renewable energy storage system at its facility on Bridge Street was rejected by the Board of Zoning Appeals, Nov. 17.

Board member Jonathan Moriarty said the location for a lithium-ion renewable energy storage system, “was not appropriate” because of its proximity to residences.

“The neighborhood is in an area that has the potential to be impacted by a fire or if an explosion occurred,” he said after a public hearing.

Calpine plant engineer Charles Parnell said a risk assessment by Lummis Consulting Services determined a lithium storage system would not pose serious public safety risks.

“We are now at another energy crossroad, where steps need to be taken to reduce carbon emissions by establishing renewable energy and storage,” he said during the hearing.

Parnell said the use of lithium batteries is growing as more communities seek renewable energy sources.

“In Massachusetts, three or four fossil fuel power plants shut down last year,” he said.

Several residents and town officials voiced concerns about noise pollution and hazards posed by a potential fire or explosion at the site.

Blueberry Street resident Alice Arena said many people are not opposed to the idea of a lithium-ion battery storage system.

“We are looking at its placement,” said Arena, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader.

Arena said iron flow batteries would be safer to use than lithium-ion batteries.

“They are cheaper and store more energy,” she said. “They last longer.”
» Read article                      

irreconcilable conflict
Irreconcilable conflict? Lessons from the Central Maine Power transmission corridor debacle
By Rebecca Schultz, Utility Dive | Opinion
November 30, 2021

On Nov. 2, nearly 60% of Maine voters supported a referendum to halt construction on the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile high-voltage transmission corridor through the state. Since then, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection suspended the project’s permit pending developments in NECEC’s legal challenges to the referendum and the decision by the Maine Superior Court last August that deemed a critical public lands lease illegal.

The growing possibility that the NECEC will be terminated has raised concerns by some that there is an irreconcilable conflict between environmental conservation and the infrastructure build-out needed to transition to a low-carbon grid.

But this is not the lesson we should take from the Central Maine Power (CMP) corridor debacle. The lesson is that we need to build public support for well-designed projects through strategic, long-term transmission and distribution planning.

The project, being developed by CMP and Hydro-Quebec, would deliver existing hydroelectricity from Canada to Massachusetts to help meet that state’s renewable energy requirements, while fragmenting the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America with 53 miles of new construction.

The fight over the project has been fierce, with large energy companies and environmental advocates on both sides, and a record $91 million spent on the ballot measure campaign.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is among those environmental groups that are both deeply committed to fighting climate change and stand in opposition to this project.

NRCM would enthusiastically back transmission projects were they well-sited and shown to deliver significant new climate benefits. For example, NRCM supports an effort to build a transmission line to connect new renewable projects in Northern Maine to the New England grid. This is a project that Maine lawmakers unanimously voted to support, the climate benefits of which are indisputable. But the climate benefits of the CMP corridor project are highly speculative, and it is certainly not designed to yield all the climate benefits that it might.
» Rebecca Schultz is senior advocate for climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
» Read article                      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI crossroads
With regional transportation pact stalled, what’s next for Massachusetts’ climate strategy?

Massachusetts, a chief proponent and logistical leader throughout the development of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, expected the multistate agreement to be a major part of its plan to reduce emissions. Support soon crumbled — so what now?
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 2, 2021

In the wake of Massachusetts’ decision to withdraw from a regional plan to curb transportation emissions, environmental and transit advocates see a chance to create policies and programs that could be even more equitable and effective at fighting climate change.

“Now there’s a real opportunity to really invest in infrastructure, invest in public transit, and enforce emissions reductions,” said Maria Belen Power, associate executive director of environmental justice organization GreenRoots.

The expected influx of federal infrastructure funds and bills already pending in the state legislature, advocates said, could help Massachusetts make significant advances in its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in a manner that benefits populations traditionally marginalized in conversations about environmental progress.

As Massachusetts pursues its ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, controlling transportation emissions — currently about 40% of the statewide total — is going to be essential. The regional transportation plan was expected to be a major part of the strategy.
» Read article                      

EV charging graphic
‘A long way to go’: How ConEd, Xcel and 4 other utilities are helping cities meet big EV goals
From New York City to Los Angeles, cities and utilities face cost, land and grid challenges in their efforts to electrify transportation systems.
By Robert Walton , Emma Penrod , Jason Plautz , and Scott Van Voorhis, Utility Dive
November 30, 2021

Electric vehicles (EVs) could finish 2021 as 5% of new car sales in the U.S., according to market observers, and are expected to make up a growing share in the years to come. Driven by city and state electrification goals, and now supported by federal infrastructure dollars, the years ahead will be a critical time for utilities working to drive beneficial electrification.

To get an idea of the challenges American cities will face with the rising numbers of EVs, Utility Dive is taking an in-depth look at how electric utilities in six cities are helping boost electric transportation adoption, through charging infrastructure and helping to support vehicle uptake.

Experts say EV adoption is poised to surge in the United States, potentially fueled by federal purchase credits now being debated on Capitol Hill. The proposal included in the Build Back Better legislation would knock up to $12,500  off the sticker price of a new electric car or truck, depending on where and how it is produced. Used EV buyers could get up to $4,000 back.

If lawmakers pass those credits, “you’ll see an immediate leap forward in demand for EVs,” Joel Levin, executive director of Plug in America, said.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new passenger vehicle sales in the United States to be EVs by 2030. That’s achievable, transportation experts say, but will require development of new supply chains, along with public charging infrastructure to support an equitable transition.

Are cities ready for the transition? Not yet, say experts. But some are heading that way, while others will face difficulties.
» Read article                      

» More about clean transportation

DEEP-SEABED MINING

close quarters
If marine noise pollution is bad, deep-sea mining could add to the cacophony
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
November 24, 2021

While evidence is mounting that anthropogenic noise adversely affects ocean life, regulatory measures aimed at curtailing noise pollution are generally lacking. This is certainly true in the context of deep-sea mining, a controversial activity that, if allowed to proceed, would entail corporations extracting metals like copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese from the seabed — and creating a lot of noise in the process.

Cyrill Martin, an ocean policy expert at the Swiss NGO OceanCare, said that noise pollution is currently a “wallflower issue” in the larger matter of deep-sea mining, and that more research urgently needs to be done to fill in knowledge gaps. Until more is known, he said, deep-sea mining needs to be approached with a “precautionary principle.”

“The main data we have from deep-sea mining activities stems from laboratory conditions,” Martin told Mongabay in a video interview. “So there’s a lot of data missing. Nevertheless, we do have some data that we can extrapolate from related industries.”

In a new report, “Deep-Sea Mining: A noisy affair,” released on Nov. 22 by OceanCare, Martin and colleagues draw on past studies, expert interviews and stakeholder surveys to provide an overview of the different types of noise pollution that deep-sea mining would produce — and the potential impacts of this noise. Toward the surface, noise would come from boat propellers and onboard machinery, as well as sonar and seismic airguns used to help explore the seafloor for minerals. The midwater column would be filled with the sounds of riser systems moving sediment from the seafloor to the surface, as well as the motors of robots used to monitor these activities. On the seabed itself, acoustic monitoring tools would generate additional sound. Some kinds of seabed mining would also involve drilling, dredging and scraping along the seafloor. Many of these sounds would create noise as well as vibrations that could affect marine life, according to the report.

The report suggests that deep-sea mining activities could impact species present from the surface to the seabed, with deep-sea species being particularly vulnerable since they use natural sound to perform functions like detect food, and are not accustomed to anthropogenic noise at a close range. Many deep-sea species are also sessile, which means they wouldn’t be able to evade the noise created by deep-sea mining activities, the report says. Even migratory species like whales, dolphins and turtles could be impacted, even while briefly passing through a mining area to feed or breed, according to the report.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about deep-seabed mining

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

SaskPower CCS
Cheap Wind and Solar Should Prompt ‘Rethink’ on Role of CCS, Paper Argues
Oil and gas companies should be asking themselves whether they are investing in “the right kind of CCS”, its lead author said.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
November 19, 2021

The falling cost of wind and solar power significantly reduces the need for carbon capture and storage technology to tackle climate change, a new paper has argued.

CCS, which removes emissions from the atmosphere and stores them underground, has long been presented as critical to restricting global heating to 1.5C by the end of the century.

But a paper published today by Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute finds that rapidly-falling costs in wind and solar energy could “erode” the value of CCS by up to 96 percent.

The authors suggest that targeted, rather than blanket, deployment of CCS is the best strategy for achieving the Paris Agreement goals.

Neil Grant, a PhD candidate at Imperial College who led the research, said the past decade had “seriously changed the game for CCS”.

“While CCS deployment has stagnated, renewables have surged and their costs have plummeted – and so the picture today is very different to what it was in 2010,” he told DeSmog. “Cheap, abundant renewable energy reduces the value of CCS in all areas.”

“Now that renewable electricity is so cheap, this should cause us to seriously rethink the role of CCS.”

The authors used Integrated Assessment Modelling (IAM) to explore 1.75C and 2C warming scenarios, restricting the biomass potential in the pathways to “try and limit unsustainable biomass consumption”.

They found that the rate of electrification accelerated faster in the absence of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), with a faster phase-out of unabated fossil fuels in the power sector.

“Wind and solar play a central role in electrifying end-use sectors and accelerating the phaseout of fossil fuels in the power sector if BECCS is unavailable, with deployment accelerating to provide the necessary clean electricity supply,” the authors note.

The technology has long been touted as an effective means of reducing emissions globally. A special report on CCS by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 notes that applying CCS to bioenergy could deliver “negative emissions”, while also highlighting uncertainties around cost and feasibility of the technology.

The Imperial College paper found that the biggest losers to cheap renewables were CCS applied to fossil fuels – used to generate electricity, make hydrogen and to burn in heavy industry such as blast furnaces for steel production.

Grant and co-authors argue that CCS should not be abandoned altogether, but that priority areas for CCS deployment should be to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and for capturing CO2 in industry, rather than that applied to fossil fuels.
» Read article                      
» Obtain the paper

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

terminated projects
IEEFA U.S.: Gas-fired power plant cancellations and delays signal investor anxiety, changing economics
Financial concerns are likely to affect other PJM gas projects still in the planning phase
By Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA.org
November 18, 2021

A recent decision to cancel the 1,000-megawatt Beech Hollow combined gas plant in Pennsylvania is the latest warning for investors considering funding new gas-fired power plants in the PJM Interconnection (PJM) region. According to a briefing note by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the reason is clear: The economics have changed, prompting three project cancellations this year and calling into question the future of 14 others.

“Low gas prices and high-capacity payments that helped drive a near-doubling of installed combined cycle gas capacity in the last decade have gone away,” said Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA energy analyst and the briefing note’s lead author.

Investors are facing myriad challenges, including:

  • Significant uncertainty about future capacity prices, particularly in light of the sharp drop in the region’s latest power auction.
  • A decade-long downward trend in power prices.
  • Flat regional demand growth.
  • Major projected increases in battery storage and renewable energy generation, including thousands of megawatts from offshore wind capacity.
  • Financial market concerns about climate change and the likelihood of required fossil fuel plant closures by 2050.

IEEFA has identified 17 projects that remain undeveloped, three of which have officially been cancelled this year. More are likely to follow.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Fort McMurray tar sandsCanada’s Tar Sands: Destruction So Vast and Deep It Challenges the Existence of Land and People
Oil companies have replaced Indigenous people’s traditional lands with mines that cover an area bigger than New York City, stripping away boreal forest and wetlands and rerouting waterways.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
November 21, 2021

Oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil and the Canadian giant Suncor have transformed Alberta’s tar sands—also called oil sands—into one of the world’s largest industrial developments. They have built sprawling waste ponds that leach heavy metals into groundwater, and processing plants that spew nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the air, sending a sour stench for miles.

The sands pump out more than 3 million barrels of oil per day, helping make Canada the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and the top exporter of crude to the United States. Their economic benefits are significant: Oil is the nation’s top export, and the mining and energy sector as a whole accounts for nearly a quarter of Alberta’s provincial economy. But the companies’ energy-hungry extraction has also made the oil and gas sector Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And despite the extreme environmental costs, and the growing need for countries to shift away from fossil fuels, the mines continue to expand, digging up nearly 500 Olympic swimming pools-worth of earth every day.

COP26, the global climate conference in Glasgow earlier this month, highlighted the persistent gap between what countries say they will do to cut emissions and what is actually needed to avoid dangerous warming.

Scientists say oil production must begin falling immediately. Canada’s tar sands are among the most climate-polluting sources of oil, and so are an obvious place to begin winding down. The largest oil sands companies have pledged to reduce their emissions, saying they will rely largely on government-subsidized carbon capture projects.

Yet oil companies and the government expect output will climb well into the 2030s. Even a new proposal by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cap emissions in the oil sector does not include any plan to lower production.
» Read article                      

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Energy Progress
Gibbstown Ends, Not with a Bang but with a Whimper?
By Kimberly Ong, NRDC | Expert Blog
November 30, 2021

The future of the Gibbstown liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is looking bleaker by the day. The project hit two obstacles in the past 4 weeks, and advocates, including NRDC, are wondering whether the construction of this planet-warming, water-polluting, community-endangering fossil fuel project may be dying a slow death.

If built, the Gibbstown LNG terminal would move hazardous liquefied fracked gas from an LNG terminal in Wyalusing Township, Pennsylvania, by truck and rail over 200 miles to an LNG terminal in Gibbstown, New Jersey. The gas would then be sent down the Delaware River on massive shipping vessels for sale overseas.

LNG is primarily composed of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon. As U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has noted, cutting methane emissions is “the single fastest strategy that we have to keep a safer, 1.5-degree Centigrade future within reach.” If LNG exports increase as projected, the LNG industry by itself will generate enough greenhouse gas emissions to extinguish all progress we’ve made to lower emissions during the past decade.

LNG is also extraordinarily dangerous to transport by truck and rail. LNG is highly flammable and explosive—consequently, transporting LNG can expose fence-line communities to uncontrollable fires and devastating explosions.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation provided New Fortress Energy and its subsidiaries with both the rule and a special permit. But under new leadership, the Department of Transportation has taken a different position on this deadly activity.  Earlier this month, it proposed suspending the Trump-era LNG-by-rail rule, citing uncertainties related to its safe transportation and its potential to accelerate the climate crisis.

And according to Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Fortress Energy has not applied to renew its special permit, which is set to expire today, November 30.  Without either an LNG-by rail-rule or a special permit, there’s no clear way for New Fortress Energy to ship the LNG by rail.

Without the possibility of shipping LNG by rail, Gibbstown would have to ship all of its LNG by truck—requiring more than 8,000 truck trips per day, running through communities throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So without a way to ship LNG by rail to the facility, is the Gibbstown LNG terminal dead?

Ask the Department of Transportation to stop not just this project, but any future projects like this one from going forward by restoring its ban on the transportation of LNG by rail.
» Read article                      

Jordan Cove LNG cancelled
Jordan Cove project dies. What it means for FERC, gas
By Niina H. Farah, Miranda Willson, Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
December 2, 2021

The developer of an Oregon liquefied natural gas export terminal told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the first time yesterday it would not move forward with the embattled project, putting to rest years of uncertainty for landowners.

Citing challenges in obtaining necessary permits from state agencies as the reason for abandoning the Jordan Cove project, Pembina Pipeline Corp. asked FERC to cancel authorizations for the LNG terminal and associated Pacific Connector pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from Canada to the proposed facility in Coos Bay, Ore.

“Among other considerations, Applicants remain concerned regarding their ability to obtain the necessary state permits in the immediate future in addition to other external obstacles,” Pembina said in its brief to FERC.

The announcement adds to a debate about the role of natural gas at a time of high prices and as industry groups are pressuring the Biden administration to clarify exactly how LNG exports fit into its broader climate agenda. It also may influence FERC’s ongoing review of how it approves gas projects.

Pembina’s move is a win for landowners who have been steadfastly opposing the project for years, said David Bookbinder, chief counsel for the Niskanen Center and attorney for some of the landowners affected by the pipeline. The Niskanen Center and others submitted a brief of their own yesterday, urging FERC to grant Pembina’s request to ax the certificate.

“I can say the landowners are utterly delighted that this chapter of their 15-year nightmare is over and hopefully that will truly be the end of Pembina’s hopes to build this project,” he said.

The company had put the export project on an indefinite hold in April after failing to get key state and federal approvals.
» Read article                      

» More about LNG                

BIOMASS

doubling Drax
Drax is expected to profit from UK energy crisis until 2023
Company’s shares hit seven-year high after revealing plans to invest £3bn despite questions over biomass
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 1, 2021

The owner of the Drax power station is expected to profit from Britain’s energy crisis until 2023 and will plough billions into doubling its production of wood pellets for burning by 2030 despite mounting opposition from environmentalists.

The FTSE 250 energy company’s shares hit seven-year highs on Wednesday after it told investors it aimed to invest £3bn by 2030. Part of that investment would be directed towards doubling production and sales of biomass pellets, which Drax uses at its North Yorkshire power plant as an alternative to burning coal.

Its claims that electricity produced in this way is “carbon neutral” is disputed, with green groups saying burning biomass produces emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.

Drax will fund the expansion plans using its own cash as it prepares to profit from record high energy market prices in its long-term contracts over the next two years.

Drax will also be able to hike up the price of the electricity it generates for long-term contracts for 2022 and 2023. In addition, the company will continue to benefit from subsidies worth hundreds of millions of pounds to generate biomass electricity through the government’s renewable energy scheme.

Questions about the method have also been raised within financial circles. The financial services firm Jefferies told its clients in October that bioenergy was “unlikely to make a positive contribution” towards tackling the climate crisis and was “not carbon neutral, in almost all instances”.
» Read article                      

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

floating debris
A Commonsense Proposal to Deal With Plastics Pollution: Stop Making So Much Plastic
A report from leading scientists found that the U.S. is the world’s leading generator of plastic waste, at 287 pounds per capita. It’s clogging the oceans, and poisoning plankton and whales.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 1, 2021

The United States leads the world in the generation of plastic waste and needs a comprehensive strategy by the end of next year to curb its devastating impacts on ocean health, marine wildlife and communities, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes.

A committee of academic experts who wrote the report at the request of Congress described an environmental crisis that will only get worse as plastic production, nearly all from fossil fuels, continues to soar.

In fact, the first of the study’s main recommendations is to stop making so much plastic—especially plastic materials that are not reusable or practically recyclable. It suggested a national cap on virgin plastic production among other strategies, all of which the report concluded will be needed to control pollution from plastics and all of the related health and environmental issues.

“The fundamental problem here is that plastics are accumulating in the natural environment, including the ocean,” Margaret Spring, chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, who chaired the report committee, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

She called plastics “pervasive and persistent environmental contaminants,” creating a problem that is “going to continue unless we change—we have to change. And that’s just the truth.”

The report, made public Wednesday, is historically significant, said Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and president of Beyond Plastic, an environmental group.

“It is an outstanding report that every member of Congress should read and act on,” Enck said. “It’s timely. It’s transformative and it’s based on science. It will be quoted for years to come.”

A leading industry lobby group for the plastics industry, the American Chemistry Council, agreed in a statement that a national plastics strategy is necessary.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

X-Press Pearl
Nurdles: the worst toxic waste you’ve probably never heard of
Billions of these tiny plastic pellets are floating in the ocean, causing as much damage as oil spills, yet they are still not classified as hazardous
Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
November 29, 2021

When the X-Press Pearl container ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean in May, Sri Lanka was terrified that the vessel’s 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil would spill into the ocean, causing an environmental disaster for the country’s pristine coral reefs and fishing industry.

Classified by the UN as Sri Lanka’s “worst maritime disaster”, the biggest impact was not caused by the heavy fuel oil. Nor was it the hazardous chemicals on board, which included nitric acid, caustic soda and methanol. The most “significant” harm, according to the UN, came from the spillage of 87 containers full of lentil-sized plastic pellets: nurdles.

Since the disaster, nurdles have been washing up in their billions along hundreds of miles of the country’s coastline, and are expected to make landfall across Indian Ocean coastlines from Indonesia and Malaysia to Somalia. In some places they are up to 2 metres deep. They have been found in the bodies of dead dolphins and the mouths of fish. About 1,680 tonnes of nurdles were released into the ocean. It is the largest plastic spill in history, according to the UN report.

Nurdles, the colloquial term for “pre-production plastic pellets”, are the little-known building block for all our plastic products. The tiny beads can be made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and other plastics. Released into the environment from plastic plants or when shipped around the world as raw material to factories, they will sink or float, depending on the density of the pellets and if they are in freshwater or saltwater.

They are often mistaken for food by seabirds, fish and other wildlife. In the environment, they fragment into nanoparticles whose hazards are more complex. They are the second-largest source of micropollutants in the ocean, by weight, after tyre dust. An astounding 230,000 tonnes of nurdles end up in oceans every year.

“The pellets themselves are a mixture of chemicals – they are fossil fuels,” says Tom Gammage, at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international campaign group. “But they act as toxic sponges. A lot of toxic chemicals – which in the case of Sri Lanka are already in the water – are hydrophobic [repel water], so they gather on the surface of microplastics.

“Pollutants can be a million times more concentrated on the surface of pellets than in the water,” he says. “And we know from lab studies that when a fish eats a pellet, some of those pollutants come loose.”

Yet nurdles, unlike substances such as kerosene, diesel and petrol, are not deemed hazardous under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) dangerous goods code for safe handling and storage. This is despite the threat to the environment from plastic pellets being known about for three decades, as detailed in a 1993 report from the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency on how the plastics industry could reduce spillages.

Now environmentalists are joining forces with the Sri Lankan government in an attempt to turn the X-Press Pearl disaster into a catalyst for change.
» Read article                      
» Read the UN report
» Read the 1993 EPA report

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 8/6/21

banner 19

Welcome back.

The ongoing protests and actions targeting Enbridge’s Line 3 are led primarily by indigenous groups executing all the components of a successful nonviolent campaign. Meanwhile, the aging and degraded Line 5 pipeline poses an imminent threat to the Great Lakes, and its most vocal opponent is Michigan’s Governor Whitmer. A latecomer to these battles against fossil fuel infrastructure is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which until recently seemed happy to rubber-stamp approval for nearly every new project. While still internally conflicted between the commissioners, Chair Richard Glick is getting backup from the DC Circuit Court, which has ordered FERC to conduct robust climate and environmental justice impact analyses prior to final approval of two Texas liquefied natural gas terminals. This could affect consideration of future projects.

Massachusetts’ green economy will anchor to the offshore wind industry, and the state is offering $1.6 million in grants for job training to reduce some of the barriers that would keep people of color and low-income people from participating in the coming boom. We’re also keeping an eye on the geothermal industry – not a newcomer, but not yet mainstream either.

We’ve heard “net-zero by 2050” so often that it seems both a good thing and also inevitable. We offer a climate report that warns both assumptions are dangerously off the mark. Related to this – an urgent issue within the larger climate puzzle is how to retire massive numbers of coal plants – many of them relatively new – sooner rather than later. The Asian Development Bank proposes a novel solution, and is enlisting private sector financing to help.

We’ve recently started tracking a couple of climate “solutions” that have some merit but are being co-opted by the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries, boosting them as excuses to continue with business as usual. Carbon offsets & reforestation, along with carbon capture & sequestration, are two areas drawing a lot of unhelpful industry attention lately. We’re starting to hear about plans for a vast network of pipelines to send carbon dioxide from where it’s captured at emitters to locations where it will be sequestered. It’s worth noting that CO2 is a toxic gas in anything but very small concentrations. It is odorless and heavier than air, and if leaked from a pipeline would pool in low terrain – displacing all the air and asphyxiating every living being in the area.

California is facing a looming energy crisis, with its power supply threatened by drought, heat, and fire. Their solution is to speed up the clean energy transition. And while the whole country struggles against entrenched interests (building trades, real estate industry, etc.) to improve energy efficiency in building codes, Colorado has stepped out front with a host of new laws. Of course, when you build a new, efficient building, the last thing you want is to incorporate carbon-intensive materials. Financiers are beginning pressure steel manufacturers to greatly reduce emissions associated with making their product.

This week’s energy storage news considers the promise of Form Energy’s recently revealed iron-air battery chemistry, while a report on a fire at an Australian lithium-ion battery reminds us that even green power carries some risk.

Since we’re on the cusp of a clean transportation revolution, it’s great that the Guardian just published an article looking back at the last time we did this. At the dawn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly replaced by machines and electric vehicles ruled the road.

Fossil fuel industry news includes some troubling new subsidies tucked into the bipartisan infrastructure legislation making its way though the Senate. Also, how Facebook looked the other way as the industry spread misinformation on its platform. Meanwhile, liquefied natural gas continues to face headwinds in North America, with the cancellation of an LNG export terminal in Québec’s Saguenay region. This comes just weeks after the collapse of Pieridae Energy’s scheme to build a similar facility in Nova Scotia.

Finally, it was a big week for biomass news in Massachusetts, as a hearing on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard ran straight into the state’s new climate laws and limits associated with siting polluters near environmental justice communities.

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

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Old Crossing Treaty
Everyone has a role to play in stopping the Line 3 pipeline
Indigenous water protectors and allies are effectively engaging all four roles of social change — just what’s needed to beat a company as powerful as Enbridge.   
By Eileen Flanagan, Waging Nonviolence
August 2, 2021

On Monday, July 19, in a red shirt and long black skirt, Sasha Beaulieu strode toward the Middle River in northwestern Minnesota to fulfill her official role as the Red Lake Nation Tribal Monitor. The water was incredibly low from the drought, and in parts the river bed was completely dry — all of which she would report to the Army Corps of Engineers with the hope of stopping the Canadian corporation Enbridge from drilling under Middle River to install the controversial Line 3 pipeline. Enbridge had already polluted the Willow River while trying to install the pipeline, an accident discovered by water protectors and reported to regulators. Beaulieu explained on Facebook Live that the company is supposed to stop pumping water when the river level is below a foot and a half, but Enbridge was not complying.

As Beaulieu recorded her findings, 40 people from the Red Lake Treaty Camp took up positions on the bridge, chanting and holding signs, the largest of which said, “Honor the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863,” which gives people of the Red Lake Nation the right to sustain themselves through fishing on the region’s rivers, as well as hunting and performing ceremony there. Meanwhile, at the Shell River, two hours to the southeast, a different tactic was being deployed, as famed Indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke and six other elder women sat in lawn chairs, blocking Enbridge construction in defiant civil disobedience.
» Read article            

» More about protests and actions                

 

PIPELINES

worst possible placeLine 5 pipeline between U.S. and Canada could cause ‘devastating damage’ to Great Lakes, say environmentalists
Canadian officials siding with Enbridge to keep pipeline running despite Michigan’s claims it is unsafe
By Samantha Beattie, CBC News
August 3, 2021

An aging pipeline that carries oil along the bottom of the ecologically sensitive and turbulent Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, is in such a state of disrepair it could burst at any moment and cause catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes, environmentalists warn. 

Line 5, a 1,000-kilometre-long pipeline owned by Calgary-based Enbridge, carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids a day from Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ont., where it is shipped to other refineries in Ontario and Quebec.

It’s at the centre of a politically charged dispute between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who’s ordered what she calls the “ticking time bomb” to be shut down, and Canadian officials, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who’ve sided with Enbridge in insisting it’s safe to keep running.

“Over the past year, I have both written and spoken to the Governor to express my disappointment and stress the importance of Line 5 in ensuring economic, environmental and energy security to the entire Great Lakes Region,” Ford said in a statement to CBC News.

“Our government believes pipelines are a safe way to transport essential fuels across the Great Lakes, operating in accordance with the highest pipeline safety standards.”

Enbridge says Line 5 is safe and saves the hassle of transporting huge amounts of fuel by truck or train.

But Michelle Woodhouse, water program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence, said it’s time to put politics aside and cut through Enbridge’s “manufactured narrative.” She says the danger the pipeline poses to the Great Lakes is too risky to take “a gamble.”

Line 5 was designed in 1953 to have a lifespan of 50 years, or until 2003. Eighteen years later, it’s still running, and has had its fair share of problems, said Woodhouse. 

“This is a very old, deteriorating, dangerous pipeline that has already leaked significant amounts of oil into the surrounding lands and water that it crosses through,” she said.

Since 1953, Line 5 has leaked 29 times, spilling 4.5 million litres of oil into the environment, according to media reports.

A spill would cause “devastating damage” to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan’s shorelines, compromising drinking water, fisheries, businesses and homes, said Woodhouse.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines           

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

first circuit DC
DC Circuit orders FERC to analyze climate, environmental justice more thoroughly
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
August 4, 2021

Critics have long accused FERC of “rubber stamping” projects, a criticism Glick has often agreed with. In his dissent on the commission’s 2019 approval of the Rio Grande and Texas LNG projects, he argued that FERC was not allowed under federal law to “assume away” the impacts of these projects, and that their assessment at the time was inadequate.

The Tuesday decision “clearly demonstrates that the Commission has the authority and obligation to meaningfully analyze and consider the impacts from GHG emissions and impacts to Environmental Justice communities,” Glick said in a statement. “Moreover, failure to do so puts the Commission’s decisions – and the investments made in reliance on those decisions – in legal peril.”

In the commission’s environmental analysis of the projects, it found that it could not determine what the facilities’ impacts on the climate crisis would be, because there is no universal methodology for calculating those impacts. But petitioners argued FERC could use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted metric to make that evaluation. Ultimately, the court agreed that the commission could have tried harder in 2019 to make this assessment.

“This court is saying you really do actually need to try to evaluate impacts based on whatever information is either out there in the real world, or that is based on academic or other research,” said John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Before you say you can’t do it, you need to try a lot harder.”
» Read article            

» More about FERC           

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

equity in the wind
Massachusetts grants focus on equity in offshore wind workforce development

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs aimed at reducing specific obstacles for people of color and low-income people.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 3, 2021

A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs, each of which targets a specific obstacle that might prevent people of color and low-income people from pursuing jobs in the burgeoning industry. 

“We wanted to up the game a little bit,” said Bruce Carlisle, managing director for offshore wind at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the organization that awarded the grants. “We made a conscious effort in 2021 that we were going to focus exclusively on this issue.”

The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, which is slated to become the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind installation, received its last major federal approval in May, effectively jumpstarting an industry that is expected to be a major employer and economic driver in years to come. 

The offshore wind industry could produce as many as 83,000 jobs in the United States and pump an annual $25 billion into the economy by 2030, according to an analysis by the American Wind Energy Association. With some of the country’s most wind-rich waters located off the New England coast, the region stands to reap significant financial benefits. 

In the face of this opportunity, many community and environmental groups have been pushing to ensure that people of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups have an equal chance to participate in the benefits of a promising new sector. The existing energy system has overburdened communities of color, who often face more pollution and higher rates of respiratory illness, said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts. A diverse, inclusive workforce could help redress some of this damage, she said. 

“As we are looking to a decarbonized world, we have to figure out how this new system can be equitable and not repeat the sins of the past,” Hatch said.
» Read article            

geothermal boom
A Geothermal Energy Boom May Be Coming, and Ex-Oil Workers Are Leading the Way
Start-ups see a vast opportunity to utilize heat from beneath the Earth’s surface.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
July 29, 2021

A conference last week got into a subject that is deep and superhot.

Some of the leaders in geothermal energy and energy policy gathered virtually to talk about a form of clean energy that they said is getting close to a technological leap forward.

Geothermal energy comes from harnessing heat from beneath the Earth’s surface, which can be used to run power plants, heat buildings and provide heat for industry. Some form of geothermal has been used for decades, with power plants in the West and Mountain West, and even older geothermal heating systems in cities like Boise, Idaho.

The opportunity ahead is for researchers and entrepreneurs to develop ways to affordably use geothermal energy at a larger scale and in many more places.

“One of the things that really excites me about geothermal is that every building is already sitting on this vast reservoir of renewable energy right there for the taking,” said Kathy Hannun, president and co-founder of Dandelion Energy, a company developing affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems for houses.

Her comments were part of Pivot 2021, a conference organized by the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas at Austin, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

One of the recurring themes across days of panels was the opportunity for the United States to build on the drilling technology and methods developed by the oil and gas industry and to shift people from the industry’s current workforce to work in geothermal energy.
» Read article            

» More about greening the economy               

 

CLIMATE

net zero faster
Net zero target for 2050 is too slow, and a strategy for climate failure
By Michael Mazengarb & Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
August 4, 2021

A major new research paper argues that setting “net zero by 2050” targets will fail to prompt urgent action on climate change, and won’t achieve the speed of emission reductions needed to avoid the worsening impacts of global warming.

The paper, released by the Australian-based Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, says shorter-term emission reduction targets are needed to compel action to cut fossil fuel use, including setting a more ambitious target to reach zero emissions as early as 2030.

“[Net zero by 2050] scenarios are based on models and carbon budgets generally associated with a 50 or 66 per cent chance of staying below the target, that is, a one-in-two, or one-in-three, chance of failure,” the paper says.

“We would never accept those risks of failures in our own lives. Why accept them for impacts which may destroy civilisation as we know it?”

The paper is significant because Australia’s mainstream political debate is currently dominated by Labor’s demand for a net zero target by 2050, and the federal Coalition’s commitment that net zero is nice, but it will only get there as soon as it can, or some time this century.

The Breakthrough paper is by no means the first that highlights that the Paris climate goals require much more urgent action, and that decisive action in the next 10 years is required to avoid depleting the “carbon budget.”

Last week, the Australian Energy Market Operator released a set of scenarios that observed that the only one that met the Paris stretch goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C was to reach net zero emissions, at least in the electricity supply, by 2035.
» Read article            
» Read the report: “Net zero 2050”: A dangerous illusion            

seeking early retirement
Earlier Coal Shutdowns on the Agenda as Finance Giants Develop Buyout Plan
By The Energy Mix
August 3, 2021

Some of the world’s biggest financial and investment firms are hatching a plan to speed up coal power plant closures in Asia, according to an exclusive report published yesterday by the Reuters news agency.

“The novel proposal, which is being driven by the Asian Development Bank, offers a potentially workable model, and early talks with Asian governments and multilateral banks are promising,” Reuters writes, citing five sources with knowledge of the discussions. Participating companies include BlackRock Real Assets, the Prudential insurance company, and Citi and HSBC banks.

“The group plans to create public-private partnerships to buy out the plants and wind them down within 15 years, far sooner than their usual life, giving workers time to retire or find new jobs and allowing countries to shift to renewable energy sources,” the news agency adds. “The initiative comes as commercial and development banks, under pressure from large investors, pull back from financing new power plants in order to meet climate targets.”

The group hopes to have its plan ready by the time this year’s United Nations climate conference convenes in Glasgow in early November.

“If you can come up with an orderly way to replace those plants sooner and retire them sooner, but not overnight, that opens up a more predictable, massively bigger space for renewables,” said Donald Kanak, chair of insurance growth markets at Prudential, who Reuters credits with coming up with the idea.

But the stakes couldn’t be higher, he told the BBC. “The world cannot possibly hit the Paris climate targets unless we accelerate the retirement and replacement of existing coal fired electricity, opening up much larger room in the near term for renewables and storage,” he said. “This is especially true in Asia, where existing coal fleets are big and young and will otherwise operate for decades.”

“The private sector has great ideas on how to address climate change and we are bridging the gap between them and the official-sector actors,” added ADB Vice President Ahmed M. Saeed.
» Read article            

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Morro Bay storage
California speeds up energy transition to face immediate energy crisis and long-term climate goals
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 4, 2021

California’s government has issued a roadmap for the US state to achieve its long-term goal of 100% clean energy, while an immediate State of Emergency has been declared over concerns the electric system will struggle under heat waves this summer.

Energy storage, renewables and demand response are at the heart of measures to address both. The long-term roadmap also recognises the important role long-duration energy storage will play in California’s clean energy future, putting it as one of five pillars the state’s energy system will rely on in decarbonising while delivering reliable and secure service.

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the proclamation of a State of Emergency last week, stating that it is “necessary to take immediate action to reduce the strain on the energy infrastructure, increase energy capacity, and make energy supply more resilient this year to protect the health and safety of Californians”.

The state’s residents are being put into the frontline of the climate crisis, with droughts in 50 counties, wildfires, heat waves, floods, mudslides and more affecting them directly. Hydroelectric power plants have lost nearly 1,000MW of generation capacity through droughts. Record-breaking heat waves are causing strain on the electric grid, the massive Bootleg wildfire in Oregon has reduced the amount of electricity that can be delivered by an interconnector into California by nearly 4,000MW and transmission lines in high fire threat areas within the state are vulnerable.

The state could face an energy shortfall of up to 3,500MW this summer and 5,000MW by the summer of 2022. While Newsom’s proclamation acknowledged that there is insufficient time to install enough capacity of renewables and energy storage this summer, it set out some actions that will be taken immediately such as incentivising lower energy demand from industrial customers of utility companies, as well as measures to expedite clean energy projects to give California a better opportunity to meet its 2022 challenges head-on.
» Read article            

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

SF smoke
The Fight to Change US Building Codes
In cities and states around the country, conflicts over climate-friendly standards for buildings are heating up.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, Inside Climate News
August 2, 2021

To date, more than 40 California jurisdictions have established policies that either entirely ban natural gas in new construction or encourage electrification. And in the months since San Francisco’s sky glowed orange, the California Energy Commission has proposed state building standards that require “electric ready” equipment and encourage electric heating rather than the use of natural gas.

Last year, California became the first state to enact standards that encourage the installation of rooftop solar on most new homes. If regulators approve the “electric ready” code, it will be another first-in-the-nation state standard, and California will have accomplished both policies through an often-overlooked mechanism: codes that govern the design and construction of new buildings.

Though California is often seen as a trailblazer in climate policy, similar efforts are increasingly cropping up around the country. Advocates and progressive code officials are trying to push forward building codes that help drive decarbonization.

Energy consumed in buildings produced more than 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, making them a key part of the climate challenge. And the window to decarbonize them is narrowing: Analysts at organizations such as the International Energy Agency have said that new construction worldwide will need to start switching to all-electric around 2025, if nations are to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in this century.

“The place that we are working right now is to get a better code on paper,” said Kim Cheslak, director of codes at the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit that works with utilities and governments on energy efficient codes. “The place we need to work after that is to make sure that cities, states and building departments have the resources to enforce full compliance.”
» Read article            

Colorado leading
Social cost of methane changes the equation for Colorado utility policy

Colorado is believed to be the first state in the nation to apply the social cost of methane to a broad range of regulatory decisions. A batch of new laws are expected to dramatically improve the case for building energy conservation.
By Allen Best, Energy News Network
August 2, 2021

As a growing list of states pass laws aimed at curbing carbon emissions, Colorado has widened its scope, taking the groundbreaking step of requiring state officials to consider the social cost of methane in regulatory decisions.

Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, has powerful heat-trapping properties before it breaks down into water vapor and carbon dioxide after 12 years. It is 84 to 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

“By focusing on methane reduction now, it has the greatest potential to bend the curve on fighting climate change,” said state Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Democrat from Boulder County and a prime sponsor or co-sponsor of several bills passed this year that instruct state utility regulators to use the social of cost of methane when evaluating proposals. 

Other successful bills seek to reduce natural gas in buildings and other applications, and to stanch leaks in the supply chain of natural gas. Most natural gas is extracted from geological deposits by drilling.

Legislative and environmental advocates say the new laws have made Colorado the national leader in tackling emissions from buildings.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency           

 

BUILDING MATERIALS

climate needs you
Investors call for urgent action by steelmakers on carbon emissions
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 4, 2021

LONDON – Steelmakers need to take urgent action on producing less carbon in order to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change, investors managing $55 trillion in assets said on Wednesday.

Emissions from steel production account for 9% of the global total and must fall 29% by 2030 and 91% by 2050 to meet the net zero scenario laid out by the International Energy Agency in May, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change said.

The IIGCC, as part of the Climate Action 100+ initiative, said in a statement that while it was technically feasible to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, the steel industry was being too slow to act.

Steel firms needed to set short, mid and long-term targets in line with the IEA report, and align their capital expenditure plans with net zero, including not investing in new, unabated production capacity, the IIGCC added.

They also needed to demonstrate that emerging technology can work and produce reports by the end of 2022 on how carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen-based processes can be used.

In addition, they needed to be transparent about the public policy positions they will take to accelerate their transition, for example on carbon pricing and research and development.
» Read article            

» More about building materials              

 

ENERGY STORAGE

Form Energy iron-air
Is this a green-energy breakthrough, or just hype?
BY DAVID VON DREHLE, Berkshire Eagle | Opinion
August 2, 2021

The most important news story of 1903 received modest coverage, and it wasn’t very accurate.

Two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, conducted four machine- powered, heavier-than-air flights under human control on a single day in December. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, not far from the Kitty Hawk, N.C., testing ground, ran an exaggerated account of the Wright Brothers’ triumph — but in Dayton, a hometown paper, refused to mention it. “Man will never fly,” a local editor harrumphed (perhaps apocryphally). “And if he does, he won’t be from Dayton.”

Another possible milestone of technology passed quietly not long ago. It might be the beginning of the end for fossil fuels and the key to reaching the goal of a green power grid. If so, it will certainly be among the most important stories of the year — bigger than space tourism, bigger than the Arizona election audit, bigger than the discovery that amazing Simone Biles is human, not a god.

One caveat: Very few engineering breakthroughs change the world. Most end up being less than meets the eye. That said, let’s have a look.

A Boston-area company, Form Energy, announced recently that it has created a battery prototype that stores large amounts of power and releases it not over hours, but over more than four days. And that isn’t the best part. The battery’s main ingredients are iron and oxygen, both incredibly plentiful here on God’s green Earth — and therefore reliably cheap.

Put the two facts together, and you arrive at a sort of tipping point for green energy: reliable power from renewable sources at less than $20 per kilowatt-hour.
» Read article            

Greelong blaze
Crews battle Tesla battery fire at Moorabool, near Geelong

By Leanne Wong, ABC News, AU
July 30, 2021

A toxic blaze at the site of Australia’s largest Tesla battery project is set to burn throughout the night.

The fire broke out during testing of a Tesla megapack at the Victorian Big Battery site near Geelong.

A 13-tonne lithium battery was engulfed in flames, which then spread to an adjacent battery bank.

More than 150 people from Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority responded to the blaze, which has been contained and will be closely monitored until it burns itself out.

“If we try and cool them down it just prolongs the process,” the CFA’s Assistant Chief Fire Officer Ian Beswicke said.

“But we could be here anywhere from 8 to 24 hours while we wait for it to burn down.”

The Tesla battery is expected to become the largest battery in the southern hemisphere as part of a Victorian Government push to transition to renewable energy.
» Read article            

» More about energy storage                

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Detroit Electric
The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport
To every age dogged with pollution, accidents and congestion, the transport solution for the next generation seems obvious – but the same problems keep coming back
By Tom Standage, The Guardian
August 3, 2021

Much of the early enthusiasm for the automobile stemmed from its promise to solve the problems associated with horse-drawn vehicles, including noise, traffic congestion and accidents. That cars failed on each of these counts was tolerated because they offered so many other benefits, including eliminating the pollution – most notably, horse manure – that had dogged urban thoroughfares for centuries.

But in doing away with one set of environmental problems, cars introduced a whole set of new ones. The pollutants they emit are harder to see than horse manure, but are no less problematic. These include particulate matter, such as the soot in vehicle exhaust, which can penetrate deep into the lungs; volatile organic compounds that irritate the respiratory system and have been linked to several kinds of cancer; nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide; and greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change. Cars, trucks and buses collectively produce around 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Reliance on fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel has also had far-reaching geopolitical ramifications, as much of the world became dependent on oil from the Middle East during the 20th century.

None of this could have been foreseen at the dawn of the automobile age. Or could it? Some people did raise concerns about the sustainability of powering cars using non-renewable fossil fuels, and the reliability of access to such fuels. Today, electric cars, charged using renewable energy, are seen as the logical way to address these concerns. But the debate about the merits of electric cars turns out to be as old as the automobile itself.

In 1897, the bestselling car in the US was an electric vehicle: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia Motor Carriage. Electric models were outselling steam- and petrol-powered ones. By 1900, sales of steam vehicles had taken a narrow lead: that year, 1,681 steam vehicles, 1,575 electric vehicles and 936 petrol-powered vehicles were sold. Only with the launch of the Olds Motor Works’ Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1903 did petrol-powered vehicles take the lead for the first time.

Perhaps the most remarkable example, to modern eyes, of how things might have worked out differently for electric vehicles is the story of the Electrobat, an electric taxicab that briefly flourished in the late 1890s. The Electrobat had been created in Philadelphia in 1894 by Pedro Salom and Henry Morris, two scientist-inventors who were enthusiastic proponents of electric vehicles. In a speech in 1895, Salom derided “the marvelously complicated driving gear of a gasoline vehicle, with its innumerable chains, belts, pulleys, pipes, valves and stopcocks … Is it not reasonable to suppose, with so many things to get out of order, that one or another of them will always be out of order?”

The two men steadily refined their initial design, eventually producing a carriage-like vehicle that could be controlled by a driver on a high seat at the back, with a wider seat for passengers in the front. In 1897 Morris and Salom launched a taxi service in Manhattan with a dozen vehicles, serving 1,000 passengers in their first month of operation. But the cabs had limited range and their batteries took hours to recharge. So Morris and Salom merged with another firm, the Electric Battery Company. Its engineers had devised a clever battery-swapping system, based at a depot at 1684 Broadway, that could replace an empty battery with a fully charged one in seconds, allowing the Electrobats to operate all day.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation            

 

CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION

fire in the poolUS Forest Fires Threaten Carbon Offsets as Company-Linked Trees Burn
At least two forestry projects used by businesses including BP and Microsoft to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions are burning in Oregon and Washington.
By Camilla Hodgson, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
August 4, 2021

Forests in the United States that generate the carbon offsets bought by companies including BP and Microsoft are on fire as summer blazes rage in North America.

Corporate net-zero emission pledges rely on such projects to compensate for the carbon dioxide generated by companies that are unable to make sufficient cuts to their actual emissions.

In principle each offset represents a ton of carbon that has been permanently removed from the atmosphere or avoided. Offsets generated by projects that plant or protect trees, which absorb carbon, are among the most popular.

But forestry projects are vulnerable to wildfires, drought and disease—permanent threats that are being exacerbated by global warming.

“We’ve bought forest offsets that are now burning,” Elizabeth Willmott, Microsoft’s carbon program manager, told attendees at an event hosted by Carbon180, a non-profit organization that focuses on carbon removal.

In Washington and Oregon, at least two forestry projects used by companies including BP and Microsoft are ablaze.

Given the risks from fire and drought, forestry offsetting schemes contributed about 10 to 20 percent of the credits they generate to the “buffer pool.”

Critics of the unregulated offsetting system have warned that buffer pools may be too small to compensate for the damage done by major fires.

“The concern is that the pool is not large enough to cover the increased risk of [the carbon benefits being reversed] with climate change over the full set of participating projects,” said Barbara Haya, research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
» Read article            

Sand Martin Wood
Reforestation hopes threaten global food security, Oxfam warns
Over-reliance on tree-planting to offset carbon emissions could push food prices up 80% by 2050
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
August 3, 2021

Governments and businesses hoping to plant trees and restore forests in order to reach net-zero emissions must sharply limit such efforts to avoid driving up food prices in the developing world, the charity Oxfam has warned.

Planting trees has been [presented] as one of the key ways of tackling the climate crisis, but the amount of land needed for such forests would be vast, and planting even a fraction of the area needed to offset global greenhouse gas emissions would encroach on the land needed for crops to feed a growing population, according to a report entitled Tightening the net: Net zero climate targets implications for land and food equity.

At least 1.6bn hectares – an area five times the size of India, equivalent to all the land now farmed on the planet – would be required to reach net zero for the planet by 2050 via tree-planting alone. While no one is suggesting planting trees to that extent, the report’s authors said it gave an idea of the scale of planting required, and how limited offsetting should be if food price rises are to be avoided.

Nafkote Dabi, climate policy lead at Oxfam and co-author of the report, explained: “It is difficult to tell how much land would be required, as governments have not been transparent about how they plan to meet their net-zero commitments. But many countries and companies are talking about afforestation and reforestation, and the first question is: where is this land going to come from?”

Food prices could rise by 80% by 2050, according to some estimates, if offsetting emissions through forestry is over-used. About 350m hectares of land – an area roughly the size of India – could be used for offsetting without disrupting agriculture around the world, but taken together the plans for offsetting from countries and companies around the world could soon exceed this.
» Read article            
» Read the Oxfam report            

» More about carbon offsets and reforestation               

 

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

new pipelinesThe infrastructure deal could create pipelines for captured CO2
The bipartisan infrastructure package gives billions to carbon capture and removal
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 3, 2021

A new generation of pipelines could be born out of the bipartisan infrastructure deal making its way through Congress. But instead of hauling oil and gas, the pipelines would carry planet-heating carbon dioxide. The massive bill would allocate funding for new infrastructure devoted to capturing carbon dioxide, and transporting it to places where it can be buried underground or used in products like carbonated soda.

Carbon capture technology aims to scrub CO2 directly at the source of emissions — but it’s remained controversial among climate activists, with many seeing it as a false solution that distracts from emission reduction goals. But Congress’ new bipartisan infrastructure plan would invest billions of dollars into the idea, committing the US to ambitious carbon capture and removal schemes that have never been attempted at this large scale.

“The infrastructure bill has opened the floodgates for carbon capture piping. Watch out,” tweeted Alan Ramo, professor emeritus at Golden Gate University School of Law.

The new provisions focus mostly on using carbon capture and removal to tackle industrial emissions, rather than emissions from the power sector. The Biden Administration has particularly encouraged carbon capture for industries like cement and steel, which are difficult to electrify and decarbonize. (Cement alone is responsible for 8 percent of global CO2 emissions.) Focusing on those industries might keep carbon capture from being used as a way to extend the life of coal plants or other heavy-emitting power sources, a problem that’s come up with carbon capture technologies used in the power sector.
» Blog editor’s note: Adapted from BOC (Industrial Gases)…CO2 is a toxic gas. It is heavier than air and, if there is a leak from a CO2 [pipeline], it tends to accumulate [in low terrain] and pushes the oxygen-rich air upwards…. Air normally contains about 0.03% carbon dioxide, but breathing air with increased concentrations of the gas can lead to effects ranging from heavy breathing and a feeling of suffocation through loss of consciousness to asphyxiation.
» Read article             

» More about CC&S                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

documents wheeled
Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Includes $25 Billion in Potential New Subsidies for Fossil Fuels
Instead of reducing the role of fossil fuels in the economy, critics say, the bill subsidizes industry “greenwashing.”
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
August 3, 2021

The Senate’s new bipartisan infrastructure bill is being sold as a down payment on addressing the climate crisis. But environmental advocates and academics are warning the proposed spending bill is full of new fossil fuel industry subsidies masked as climate solutions. The latest draft bill would make fossil fuel companies eligible for at least $25 billion in new subsidies, according to an analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law.

“This is billions upon billions of dollars in additional fossil fuel industry subsidies in addition to the $15 billion that we already hand out to this industry to support and fund this industry,” said Jim Walsh, Food and Water Watch’s senior policy analyst. Scientists say that to meet the goals of the international Paris climate accord, the U.S would need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — and be well on the way there by 2030. With subsidies that keep fossil fuel industries going, Walsh said, “We will never be able to meet the Paris agreement if we fund these kind of programs.”

Just as concerning is the new economy the subsidies could entrench, said Walsh, through the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure. “This would support the development of four petrochemical hubs that would create profit incentives for greenhouse gas emission production and would be focused on finding new ways of integrating fossil fuels into our economy for transportation, energy, petrochemical development, and plastics.”

In short, he added, “This deal envisions a world where we will use fossil fuels into perpetuity.”

The subsidies would go toward technologies sold as dream fixes for ending the nightmare of the climate crisis without the colossal political hurdle of dislodging the fossil fuel industry from the U.S. economy. Such technologies include carbon capture and decarbonized hydrogen fuel. Both purported solutions in practice help fossil fuel companies mask the continued release of climate-warming gases. Neither of the technologies are currently commercially viable at a large scale, so the energy industry requires government help to carry out what critics see as a public relations scheme.
» Read article            

Facebook fossil influence
Facebook let fossil-fuel industry push climate misinformation, report finds
Thinktank InfluenceMap accuses petroleum giants of gaming Facebook to promote oil and gas as part of climate-crisis solution
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
August 5, 2021

Facebook failed to enforce its own rules to curb an oil and gas industry misinformation campaign over the climate crisis during last year’s presidential election, according to a new analysis released on Thursday.

The report, by the London-based thinktank InfluenceMap, identified an increase in advertising on the social media site by ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel companies aimed at shaping the political debate about policies to address global heating.

InfluenceMap said its research shows the fossil-fuel industry has moved away from outright denying the climate crisis, and is now using social media to promote oil and gas as part of the solution. The report also exposed what it said was Facebook’s role in facilitating the dissemination of false claims about global heating by failing to consistently apply its own policies to stop erroneous advertising.

“Despite Facebook’s public support for climate action, it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil-fuel propaganda,” the report said. “Not only is Facebook inadequately enforcing its existing advertising policies, it’s clear that these policies are not keeping pace with the critical need for urgent climate action.”

The report found that 25 oil and gas industry organisations spent at least $9.5m to place more than 25,000 ads on Facebook’s US platforms last year, which were viewed more than 431m times. Exxon alone spent $5m.

“The industry is using a range of messaging tactics that are far more nuanced than outright statements of climate denial. Some of the most significant tactics found included tying the use of oil and gas to maintaining a high quality of life, promoting fossil gas as green, and publicizing the voluntary actions taken by the industry on climate change,” the report said.
» Read article            
» Read the InfluenceMap report          

» More about fossil fuels                  

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Quebec declines LNG terminal
Quebec Rejects $14-Billion LNG Terminal
By The Energy Mix staff
August 1, 2021

Quebec has rejected GNL Québec’s application to build a C$14-billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Saguenay region, capping years of opposition by Indigenous communities, climate campaigners, scientists, and health professionals.

The announcement comes just a week after three Innu First Nations in Quebec declared a pipeline to the Énergie Saguenay project from Western Canada would not be allowed to cross their ancestral lands. “We listened, we did our own research on the project, and following the conclusions of the BAPE report, it is clear that our position will remain the same,” said Charles-Edouard Verreault, vice-chief of Mashteuiatsh First Nation and spokesperson for the three nations. “This project won’t be happening on our territories.”

“Relief!” headlined Coalition Fjord, a campaign group that waged a three-year fight against the project.

“The end of the GNL project and pipeline is an encouraging sign for citizen mobilization,” the group said in a release. “It’s a relief for the climate, after the science was finally heard”, so that the province will dodge an increase in its greenhouse gas emissions.

“Locally, it’s a massive relief for biodiversity,” including beluga whale populations that were threatened by the project. And “above all, it’s a relief to see the end of division and the beginning of a constructive dialogue,” the coalition said. “To many people, this project looked like a chance to create jobs and boost the local economy, but that was just a mirage” that masked the project’s “irreversible negative impacts”. 

Previously, Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) had issued a 500-page report concluding that the risks from the 750-kilometre-long gas pipeline would “far outweigh” the benefits. The project drew the widest response ever to a BAPE review with more than 2,500 briefs presented, 91% of them opposing the development.
» Read article            

no smoking LNG
DC Circuit faults FERC’s environmental analysis in two LNG project orders
By Maya Weber, S&P Global
August 3, 2021


The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has found fault with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s climate and environmental justice reviews for the Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG projects, planned in the Brownsville, Texas, area, and has remanded to FERC the orders authorizing the projects.

The Aug. 3 decision, marking the second blow the court delivered to FERC’s gas project orders, could have broader implications going forward for the commission’s approach to considering climate impacts. It arrives as FERC has remained split on the extent of its legal requirements to assess climate impacts of projects.

The orders remanded by the court Aug. 3 include applications for the 7 million mt/year Rio Grande project and the 4 million mt/year Texas LNG project. FERC first approved the projects in 2019, with rehearing orders issued in early 2020.

In one benefit for the projects, the court agreed not to vacate the FERC authorizations, acknowledging the LNG developers’ concerns that such a remedy could “imperil the intervenors’ ability to obtained funding necessary to complete the projects in a timely fashion.”

The three-judge panel of the DC Circuit agreed with petitioners that FERC failed to adequately assess the impact of the projects’ greenhouse gas emissions because it neglected to respond to the argument that it was required to use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted method to assess the GHG emissions’ effects.

FERC did not discuss or even cite the relevant Council on Environmental Quality regulation in its rehearing order that would have seemed to require it to evaluate the impacts based on theoretical approaches or research methods generally accepted by the scientific community, said the ruling Judge Robert Wilkins filed.

While the court did not rule on what method FERC should have applied on GHGs, it held that FERC was required to address the petitioners’ argument concerning the significance of a CEQ regulation and that its failure to do so rendered its analysis of the projects’ GHG emissions deficient.

The panel also found FERC’s environmental justice analysis for the two projects to be flawed. It agreed with petitioners that the decision to analyze the impact on environmental justice communities only in census blocks within two miles of the projects was arbitrary, given FERC’s determination that environmental effects would extend well beyond two miles. FERC determined air quality impacts could occur within 31 miles, the court said.

“The commission has offered no explanation as to why, in light of that finding, it chose to delineate the area potentially affected by the projects to include only those census blocks within two miles of the project sites for the purposes of its environmental justice analyses,” it said.

In deciding to remand, rather than vacate, the FERC orders, the decision called it “reasonably likely” that, on remand, FERC could address its failures to explain its approach on climate change and environmental justice while reaching the same result. [emphasis added]
» Blog editor’s note: once FERC performs the required climate impact and environmental justice studies, their rigor and validity can be scrutinized by environmental and legal experts. Should FERC reach the “same result” based on shoddy or flawed analysis, we expect further litigation to follow.
» Read article                    

» More about liquefied natural gas      

 

BIOMASS

smoke and pollutants
Environmental justice designation coming under scrutiny
Is Lexington really environmentally overburdened?
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
August 3, 2021

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE communities, marginalized areas of the state overburdened with pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, and highways, are turning out to be more commonplace in Massachusetts than you might think.

Earlier this year, when the Legislature passed a sweeping climate change bill containing language defining an environmental justice, or EJ community, advocates said the measure was needed to protect areas of the state with high populations of people of color, low-income residents, and other marginalized groups that face disproportionate environmental burdens.

But as the definition is being applied, the number of EJ communities is turning out to be larger than expected. According to a state analysis of Census data, close to 200 of the state’s 351 cities and towns contain some EJ neighborhoods. 

There were municipalities containing EJ neighborhoods you would expect, including Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, and Randolph, where the entire city was an EJ community. Others high on the list included Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lowell, Malden, New Bedford, North Adams, Quincy, Springfield, and Worcester.

But there were also cities and towns containing fairly high concentrations of EJ neighborhoods that one would hardly describe as environmentally overburdened, including Acton, Amherst, Arlington, Avon, Brookline, Lexington, Waltham, Watertown, and Westborough.

Last week, state environmental officials showed just how powerful the EJ designation could be. In setting regulations for the construction of wood-burning power plants, the officials said the facilities would not qualify for essential ratepayer subsidies if they were located in an EJ community or within five miles of one. That ruling meant that 89 percent of the state was essentially off-limits to biomass plants and someone looking to build such a facility in Massachusetts could only locate it in 35 of the state’s 351 cities and towns.
» Read article            

EJ-5
Biomass power rules leave 35 towns in industry ‘crosshairs’
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in Berkshire Eagle
July 31, 2021

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have let the Baker administration know that they are not happy with proposed regulations that would effectively protect environmental justice communities and surrounding areas from new wood-burning power generation facilities while singling out just 35 towns as possible plant hosts.

In April, the Baker administration announced that its proposed updates to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard regulations would prohibit biomass projects from qualifying for the RPS program if they are located within an environmental justice community or within five miles of an environmental justice community.

The latest version of that plan got a hearing before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Friday, with Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock detailing the proposed changes for lawmakers.

The RPS governs the increasing amount of clean energy that utilities and municipal light plants must purchase each year. State law requires that DOER make biomass facilities eligible for the RPS program and rules that have been in place since 2012 make only efficient combined-heat-and-power biomass plants eligible to sell renewable energy credits into the RPS market.

But once each environmental justice community and its corresponding five-mile buffer was mapped out, about 90 percent of the state’s land area was excluded.

That leaves just 10 percent of the state — a stretch of communities west of the Connecticut River and along the Connecticut border, a strip of coastline that runs through Cohasset, Scituate and Marshfield, and small shreds of various other towns — where future biomass facilities could be located and be eligible for incentives under the Baker administration’s policy.

“It doesn’t matter where a facility is sited in Massachusetts or elsewhere, the science still says no,” Sen. Jo Comerford said, referring to the fact that biomass generation pollutes more than other sources like solar. “The logic here in these regulations is tortured. A biomass plant cited more than five miles away from the nearest environmental justice community is not any greener than a biomass plant in Springfield. The location of the facility has never been a factor in RPS class one eligibility. Class one should be reserved for the cleanest energy sources.”
» Read article            

biomass pretzel logic
Proposed biomass limits restrict new plants in 90 percent of state
Remaining 35 communities worried about pollution
By Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine
July 30, 2021

MONTHS AFTER THE Baker administration pulled the plug on plans for a controversial new biomass plant in Springfield, state environmental officials proposed new regulations that would drastically limit where biomass plants can be located.

The rules promulgated by the Department of Energy Resources in April say new biomass plants located in or within five miles of an environmental justice community will not qualify as a renewable energy source under a state program, the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, or RPS, that requires energy producers to obtain a certain amount of energy from renewable sources. Financially, that would likely make it impossible for a company to locate a plant there. Environmental justice communities are generally poor communities of color that are disproportionately affected by pollution.

Practically, Massachusetts has adopted an expansive definition of environmental justice communities, which means that about 90 percent of the state is within five miles of one of these communities. Most of the remaining places where biomass would be eligible for the incentive are in rural Western Massachusetts.

The restrictions, which will be the subject of a legislative hearing on Friday, are angering representatives of the few communities that could still be targeted to host biomass plants.

 “If we’re going to regulate biomass out of 90 percent of the Commonwealth, we might as well make it ineligible for [incentive programs] across the entire Commonwealth,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat who represents 17 towns where biomass would remain eligible. Hinds worries that the towns in his district will be aggressively pursued by biomass companies, and he worries about pollution.

Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat who represents three eligible communities, said she has long believed biomass should not be eligible as a renewable energy source because of the pollution it creates – which makes it less “green” than wind or solar power. Comerford said she agrees with DOER’s decision to keep biomass out of environmental justice communities. But she said retaining eligibility in 10 percent of the state puts DOER “in a pretzel-like argument.”

“It’s saying biomass in environmental justice communities is bad, but biomass in Leyden is good,” Comerford said.
» Read article          
» Watch TUE hearing video           

» More about biomass                

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Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

banner 03

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 2/12/21

banner 14

Welcome back.

Even as the fossil fuel industry pushes out ever more pipelines, a new report from the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor predicts they’re building what will amount to a trillion dollars worth of stranded pipeline assets worldwide. Meanwhile, we’re watching the strong push to shut down the Dakota Access and stop Enbridge’s Line 5.

In a significant climate action, the Paris administrative court found that France has “failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.”  This decision is impactful, and should put other governments on notice that emissions goals must actually be met.

We offer two reports on greening the economy that highlight some of the damage and inequities caused by the current, fossil-based model. Taken together, these stories underscore the need to address environmental and economic justice during the clean energy transition, while they also debunk industry claims of potential job losses as we move away from fuels.

In legislative news, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has sent the climate roadmap bill back to the legislature with suggested amendments. Senator Barrett and Representative Golden report that they see some common ground.

Worldwide efforts to mitigate climate change are falling far short of what’s needed. A new study warns that pledges to cut emissions must be scaled up by 80% to keep warming below the dangerous 2°C threshold. Meanwhile, a planned Swedish balloon flight in June has alarmed environmental groups, who think this may be a trial-run for a future planet-cooling geoengineering experiment – releasing reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to mimic the effect of large volcanic eruptions.

Danny Jin, ace reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, posted an excellent article explaining what “peaker” power plants are, and highlighting Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to replace these polluting plants with clean energy alternatives. We offer a second article in this section describing a new study on achieving carbon-free America by 2050, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

One of Governor Baker’s amendments to the climate roadmap bill involves energy efficiency requirements for buildings, and a proposed net-zero stretch code that municipalities could opt into. This is a contentious issue, with climate and social activists, architects, building efficiency experts, and many municipal leaders lined up on one side, and building industry trade groups dug in on the other. We’ve spotted a lot of industry-generated misinformation in the press, and offer this well-researched editorial as a helpful explainer.

We’re always happy to post reports on new energy efficient building materials – ones that can be more sustainably sourced, have superior insulating or vapor sealing properties, or carry less embodied carbon from their manufacture. This week, we consider bricks made from mushrooms!

Our energy storage news lines up nicely with BEAT’s campaign to retire polluting fossil peaker power plants. San Fransisco battery storage company Plus Power has won two bids on the ISO-New England electricity capacity market, and will build very large batteries to provide clean power during peak demand periods – eliminating the need for some of those polluting fossil peakers. This is big news because it’s the first win for large-scale battery storage in New England, and shows that clean power is now economically competitive.

The electric vehicle revolution is coming to big rigs, but deployment of these heavy haulers will be slowed by an initial shortage of batteries. Meanwhile, Tesla and others are gearing up a range of products that should be fleet-ready when battery production catches up.

Today, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, who opposed the expansion of a compressor station in Agawam. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in 2019 without considering the climate impact of emissions from the additional natural gas conveyed by the “improvement”. FERC has new leadership under the Biden administration, and has expressed interest in accounting for upstream/downstream emissions from fossil infrastructure projects. In a related story, FERC is reckoning with the legacy of environmental racism that underpinned so many of its past decisions.

The fossil fuel industry is having difficulty addressing the climate emergency in ways that rise to the actual transformative challenge before them. With few exceptions, most industry efforts look more like rebranding exercises than serious attempts to change the business model. Meanwhile, Big Gas has settled on your gas range as the ideal emotional hook to keep you from disconnecting that pipe.

We’re waiting to see if President Biden’s new EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, will continue his opposition to biomass. In 2019, when he served as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, he said, “I don’t see a future in wood pellets.” With Governor Baker wobbling on whether to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard – which would green-light construction of the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield – we hope Administrator Regan makes his point loud and clear and soon.

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

PIPELINES

DAPL loses surety bond
$1 Trillion in Oil and Gas Pipelines Worldwide Could Become Stranded Assets, New Report Warns
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
February 4, 2021

On January 7, 2021, Energy Transfer was notified by its insurer, Westchester Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that it had lost a $250,000 surety bond for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) — a bond that Iowa, one of the four states it passes through, required the pipeline to maintain.

That loss of insurance coverage comes as the Biden administration and a federal court each must confront a decision about whether to order DAPL to shut down, after a federal appeals court last week upheld a lower court’s finding that the oil pipeline still lacks a completed environmental review. Financial observers have been watching DAPL closely — and a new report warns that DAPL is hardly alone in the oil and gas pipeline industry in facing major financial risks linked to projects’ environmental impacts.

“Dakota Access Pipeline has no federal easement. It’s now losing insurance coverage on the state-level which is a requirement for Iowa’s state permit,” the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a January 29 statement. “It’s time to end this saga and do what’s right.”

Environmentalists predicted that the lost insurance coverage could be difficult for Energy Transfer to replace, particularly given DAPL’s incomplete federal review. “It will be difficult because the bond holder will require the pipeline to comply with all legal requirements,” attorney Carolyn Raffensperger, director of the Science and Health Network, told DeSmog. “If it is operating without a permit, any spill would be a big, big legal problem.”

But as consequential as the DAPL fight — which has raged for roughly a half-decade — might be, Dakota Access is just one of hundreds of pipelines worldwide that a new report finds are at risk of early abandonment because they’re “on a collision course” with climate agreements.

The report, titled “Pipeline Bubble 2021” and published by the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor, warns that pipeline construction projects worldwide have put $1 trillion worth of pipeline investment at risk of being rendered obsolete by the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             
» Read “Pipeline Bubble 2021” report 

request for more time
Biden administration asks for more time to decide whether to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
February 9, 2021

The Biden administration is asking for more time to decide the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In a filing late Monday, the government asked a court to postpone a conference on the status of the pipeline for 58 days while it gets new officials up to speed on the case.

“Department of Justice personnel require time to brief the new administration officials and those officials will need sufficient time to learn the background of and familiarize themselves with this lengthy and detailed litigation,” the government said.

It asked for the Feb. 10 conference to be moved to April 9.

The government’s motion was opposed by Dakota Access LLC, but was not opposed by the tribes who sued over the pipeline.

Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government should have conducted an environmental impact statement before going forward with the pipeline and vacated easements granted for its construction to cross federally owned land.

However, it did not go as far as a lower court, which had previously ordered the pipeline shut down, leaving that decision up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

The court also left room for additional litigation to potentially shut down the pipeline if the USACE decides against it.

The pipeline, which carries oil from North Dakota to Illinois, has drawn significant opposition from environmentalists and tribes over the years who have cited threats to drinking water and sacred sites. It has spurred massive protests.
» Read article
» Read related article

select alternate route
In pushing for Line 5 shutdown, Bad River Band points to alternative route
The Chippewa tribe in northern Wisconsin says Enbridge could reduce the risk to the Great Lakes by diverting Line 5 oil to another line that runs south to Illinois.
By Patrick Shea, Energy News Network
Photo By U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
February 4, 2021

As legal battles continue over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, tribal leaders in Wisconsin say the company is ignoring a safer alternative that’s already in the ground — though the company disagrees.

“The notion that Enbridge is somehow going to be stranded without Line 5 is ludicrous,” said Mike Wiggins, tribal chair for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation on the south shore of Lake Superior is crossed by Line 5.

The 30-inch pipeline originates in Superior, Wisconsin, and carries crude oil 645 miles across Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently ordered Enbridge to shut down the pipeline where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac, citing risk to the Great Lakes.

As the company seeks permits for its proposed reroute south of the reservation, Bad River Band leaders say the company is failing to acknowledge the potential to decommission the 67-year-old pipeline altogether and divert its contents through other routes.

Line 5 is part of a network of Enbridge pipelines called the Lakehead System. As Line 5 cuts east and then south around Lake Michigan, Line 61 runs south from Superior into Illinois before connecting with smaller lines that cross Indiana and Michigan and ultimately reach the same destination: Sarnia, Ontario.

Line 61 is newer and larger — the 42-inch pipeline was completed in 2009 and has already undergone multiple upgrades and expansions. The line carries about 996,000 barrels per day to Pontiac, Illinois — about 75% of its capacity.

“The elephant in the room is that Enbridge has invested heavily in their route from Superior down through Chicago,” Wiggins said, in contrast with Line 5, which he calls “the forgotten pipe.”

The environmental risk posed by the pipeline was highlighted in August 2019 when tribal officials discovered 49 feet of Line 5 unearthed less than 5 miles from Lake Superior. The pipeline itself has contributed to the erosion of a steep bank as an oxbow is forming, according to a February 2020 report from the Bad River Natural Resources Department.

The report also cited major storm events in recent years as a cause for concern, which climatologists project to increase in frequency and severity. “We know that the next massive storm system could potentially shear Enbridge’s pipe right in the Bad River, pumping oil into Lake Superior,” Wiggins said. “We’re concerned every day.”

Shutting down Line 5 and relying exclusively on Line 61 would keep the pipeline far away from the Bad River Reservation, and would reduce the risk of a spill in the Great Lakes or anywhere by retiring Line 5’s aging pipes.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

France found guilty
Campaigners Claim ‘Historic Win’ as France Found Guilty of Climate Inaction
By Isabella Kaminski, DeSmog Blog
February 3, 2021

The French state has been found guilty of climate inaction in what campaigners have dubbed “the case of the century”.

Today the Paris administrative court concluded France has failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.

France is the third European country where legal action by campaigners has highlighted significant failings in state action on climate change and forced politicians to act, after the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands in 2019 and the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in the national Climate Case last year.

Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of Greenpeace France – one of the four NGOs bringing the case – described the ruling as a “historic win for climate justice”.

“This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts,” she said.

“For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts.”

LAffaire du Siècle (case of the century), as it was described by NGOs was brought by Greenpeace France, together with Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire à Tous, in December 2018.

The groups filed a legal complaint, saying France was not on track to meet its then target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, its minimum commitment as an EU member. Since then, this target has been raised to 55 percent for all EU member states, but it is not yet clear how President Emmanuel Macron will deliver this given France’s track record on cutting emissions.

France’s own High Council on Climate has analysed the country’s progress and found it lacking, with emissions substantially exceeding the first two carbon budgets. France had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 percent each year, but they fell by only 0.9 percent from 2018 to 2019. The Climate Change Performance Index also shows France’s climate progress slowing, with limited advances in increasing the share of renewables and in decarbonising transport.

The court judgment ruled that: “Consequently, the state must be regarded as having ignored the first carbon budget and did not carry out the actions that it itself had recognised as being necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

dirty divide
America’s dirty divide: how environmental racism leaves the vulnerable behind
The health effects caused by decades of systemic racism are staggering. The Guardian is launching a year-long series to investigate
By Frida Garza, The Guardian
February 11, 2021

The climate crisis has forced many people to consider what they would do if the places they call home became unlivable in their lifetimes. But in the US, certain vulnerable communities – especially Black and Indigenous populations – have been fighting for the right to clean, safe, healthy environments for generations.

Decades of systemic racism mean that in the richest country in the world, access to clean air, clean water, and proper sanitation are not a given.

The health effects of these inequalities are staggering. Black Americans are 75% more likely to live in close proximity to oil and gas facilities, which emit toxic air pollutants; as a result, these communities often suffer from higher rates of cancer and asthma. Researchers have found that Black children are twice as likely to develop asthma as their peers.

There has long been a lack of political will to protect the communities most harmed by pollution – and the climate crisis could exacerbate these inequalities, as well as create new ones.

That is why today the Guardian is launching America’s Dirty Divide, a year-long series that will delve into US environmental racism and its history. And we are partnering with Nexus Media, a non-profit news service that focuses on climate change, to produce video documentaries about environmental justice issues.

America’s Dirty Divide will examine environmental justice issues in three areas: pollution and waste; the uneven impacts of a warming planet; and climate events such as hurricanes and flooding, and the often inequitable recovery efforts that follow.
» Read article               

fracking jobs bust
Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 11, 2021

The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region’s extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry’s promise of prosperity has “turned into almost nothing,” according to a new report.

The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.

The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region’s natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.

Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region’s share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country.

Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.

“What’s really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region’s natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better,” said Sean O’Leary, the report’s author.
» Read article           
» Read the report             

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

suggested S9 amendments
Baker takes more conciliatory tone on climate change bill
Sends it back with amendments, drops objection on offshore wind
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 7, 2021

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER sent the Legislature’s twice-passed climate change bill back on Sunday with new, compromise language that strikes a more conciliatory tone and dials back some of his earlier objections.

When the Legislature first passed the bill in early January at the end of the last legislative session, the governor could only approve or reject it. He rejected it, raising concerns about its costly emissions target for 2030, its separate emission targets for six industry subsectors, its offshore wind procurements, its support for community energy codes that could deter the production of affordable housing, and the narrowness of its environmental justice provisions.

Lawmakers, irked by the administration’s attitude, responded by passing the same bill again and sending it back to Baker. But administration officials and legislative leaders over the last three weeks also began talking, trying to sort out their differences. “We did try to find areas of common ground,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

Baker on Sunday returned the bill to the Legislature with an accompanying letter that was much less strident in tone than his earlier veto message. In the letter, Baker withdrew some of his earlier objections and proposed amendments that compromised on others.

The initial reception from legislative leaders was cautious optimism. They indicated they would likely not agree with the governor on everything, but would accept some of his amendments.

Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the House’s point person on the legislation, said the governor’s amendments will get a fair shot. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on the legislation, seemed receptive. He said a number of Baker’s technical amendments improved the bill and welcomed the fact that the critical tone of last session’s veto letter was missing from Sunday’s letter outlining proposed amendments.

“There will be disagreements there, but I liked the new theme,” Barrett said.
» Read article             
» Read Gov. Baker’s letter and suggested amendments

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

current trends inadequate
Study Warns Emissions Cuts Must Be 80% More Ambitious to Meet Even the Dangerously Inadequate 2°C Target
“And as if 2°C rather than 1.5°C was acceptable,” responded Greta Thunberg, calling the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 11, 2021

A new study warns that countries’ pledges to reduce planet-heating emissions as part of the global effort to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement must be dramatically scaled up to align with even the deal’s less ambitious target of keeping temperature rise below 2°C—though preferably 1.5°C—by the end of the century.

A pair of researchers at the University of Washington found that the country-based rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts should increase by 80% beyond current nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—the term for each nation’s pledge under the Paris agreement—to meet the 2°C target.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, adds to the mountain of evidence that since the Paris agreement—which also has a bolder 1.5°C target—was adopted in late 2015, countries around the world have not done enough to limit human-caused global heating.

“On current trends, the probability of staying below 2°C of warming is only 5%, but if all countries meet their nationally determined contributions and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, it rises to 26%,” the study says. “If the USA alone does not meet its nationally determined contribution, it declines to 18%.”

“To have an even chance of staying below 2°C,” the study continues, “the average rate of decline in emissions would need to increase from the 1% per year needed to meet the nationally determined contributions, to 1.8% per year.”

Greta Thunberg of the youth-led climate movement Fridays for Future called the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
» Read article             

trial balloonBalloon test flight plan under fire over solar geoengineering fears
Swedish environmental groups warn test flight could be first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology
By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
February 8, 2021

A proposed scientific balloon flight in northern Sweden has attracted opposition from environmental groups over fears it could lead to the use of solar geoengineering to cool the Earth and combat the climate crisis by mimicking the effect of a large volcanic eruption.

In June, a team of Harvard scientists is planning to launch a high-altitude balloon from Kiruna in Lapland to test whether it can carry equipment for a future small-scale experiment on radiation-reflecting particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

An independent advisory committee will rule on whether to approve the balloon test flight by 15 February. Swedish environmental groups have written to the government and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) to voice their opposition.

In the letters, seen by the Guardian, organisations including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Greenpeace Sweden and Friends of the Earth Sweden said that while the balloon flight scheduled for June does not involve the release of particles, it could be the first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology.

Stratospheric aerosols are a key component of solar geoengineering technology that some have proposed as a plan B for controlling the Earth’s temperature if the climate crisis makes conditions intolerable and governments do not take sufficient action.

Studies have found that widespread adoption of solar geoengineering could be inexpensive and safer than some fear. But critics argue the consequences of its use are not well understood and stratospheric aerosol injections (SAI) on a large scale could damage the ozone layer, cause heating in the stratosphere and disrupt ecosystems.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar clean peak
When power most needed, ‘peaker’ polluters fire up in Berkshires. Should that continue?
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 7, 2021

When electricity demand peaks, dirtier fuels enter the power grid.

Though they run just a small fraction of the time, “peaker” power plants often fire up on the hottest days of summer or the coldest days of winter. And when they are on, they typically are among the worst polluters.

Local climate advocates have started a push to convert three Berkshire peakers to cleaner alternatives.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team wants the plants to switch to using renewable energy and battery storage. To make that pitch, it’s seeking to build a coalition that already includes the Berkshire NAACP branch’s environmental justice committee, Masspirg Students, Indivisible Pittsfield and a number of local climate action groups.

“We want to create a large community of opposition to these plants and build this movement together,” said Berkshire Environmental Action Team Executive Director Jane Winn, who said at a recent online presentation that people can sign on to the petition through tinyurl.com/PeakerPetition.

Peakers tend to be located where relatively more people of color and low-income residents live, Winn said. The plants emit greenhouse gases that increase risks for respiratory ailments and contribute to climate change.

Pittsfield Generating, on Merrill Road, runs primarily on natural gas. In 2019, it emitted 39,176.89 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 6.65 metric tons of nitrous oxide while operating just under 6 percent of the time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plant is adjacent to Allendale Elementary School and is near Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state considers an “environmental justice” neighborhood.

Peakers on Doreen Street in Pittsfield and Woodland Road in Lee run on kerosene. While they each run just 0.1 percent of the time, the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants emitted 152.77 metric tons and 54.03 metric tons of carbon dioxide, respectively, in 2019, according to the EPA.

The Doreen Street site is near Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road borders October Mountain State Forest.

The peakers on Doreen and Woodland once were owned by Essential Power, which was acquired in 2016 by Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix, which includes Doreen in its list of projects but not Woodland.

Cogentrix did not respond to an inquiry regarding the two plants.

Pittsfield Generating is operated by PurEnergy LLC, a subsidiary of NAES and Japanese company Itochu. PurEnergy did not respond to an inquiry.

With Pittsfield Generating’s air permit set to expire this year (Doreen and Woodland are so old that the Clean Air Act does not apply to them), now is the time for the community to reckon with the plant’s impacts, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team said.

Six New York peakers recently began a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and storage, and advancements in battery technology might allow more peakers to do so.
» Read article             
» Sign petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaker plants

big switch
Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050
America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
February 11, 2021

The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.
» Read article             
» Read the study              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

condos under construction
Will developers block clean energy standards?
State must not allow builders off the hook
By Joan Fitzgerald and Greg Coppola, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 11, 2021

LATE IN THE last session, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a landmark climate bill targeting zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandating several mechanisms to achieve the goal. Gov. Baker vetoed the bill on the ground that it would make construction too expensive, echoing concerns raised by contractors and developers. The Legislature then passed the identical bill in late January and Baker has sent it back with amendments that will let developers off the hook on moving quickly to high-efficiency building standards. Although the language in the bill could use some clarification, these standards should be non-negotiable.

The legislation would require the state to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This goal would be achieved by increasing energy-efficiency requirements in transportation, buildings, and appliances; and increased reliance on offshore wind and solar power. A key provision would allow cities and towns to adopt net zero codes—meaning that a building is very energy efficient and completely powered by renewable energy produced either on- or off-site. But this aroused the opposition of real estate interests. Both NAIOP (the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, came out against the legislation. (On an array of issues, including rent control, the strategy of developers and landlords has been to use state law to block home rule.)

The irony of the veto is that the climate bill builds on existing policies enacted under Baker, though it does add more teeth. The Commonwealth’s current three-year energy efficiency plan, governing measures from 2019-2021includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing to build to passive house standards.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which is now open for public comment, will be adopted soon. It calls for the Department of Energy Resources to develop a high-performance stretch energy code in 2021 for submission to the Board of Building Review and Standards for cities and towns to adopt in 2022.

Many state and city programs are supporting these policies. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, has subsidized several successful projects to acquaint developers with the techniques of highly efficient buildings. Currently, Mass Save offers certification and performance incentives to builders and developers of residential buildings of five or more units and offers 50 percent registration reimbursements for certification courses on construction techniques for achieving the passive house standard. Last year, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development added bonus points into its scoring system for developers in its Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program if they build projects to passive house standard. Cambridge’s 2015 Net Zero Action Plan provides a 25-year roadmap to achieving a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2040.

The terminology of green buildings can be confusing for those not engaged in the policy. It all started with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Although its various levels of certification prevail in many cities, it is not the standard to get us to net-zero carbon by 2050. For that, cities and states need to move to passive house, net zero emissions, or zero net energy (ZNE), which are complementary standards. Buildings meeting these standards produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and save their owners money on utilities over time.

The passive house standard can reduce the need for heating by up to 90 percent, while increasing construction costs by no more than 3 percent, on average.

Net zero emission standards require buildings to offset any emissions they produce through carbon removal processes, such as investing in forest restoration projects or direct air capture and storage. A zero-net energy building produces enough renewable energy onsite or offsite to equal to the annual energy consumption of the building. These buildings can produce surplus renewable energy that feeds back to regional electrical grid.

Massachusetts developers are finding all three standards cost efficient. In Fall River, the 50,600-square foot Bristol Community College John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building was constructed in 2016 to ZNE standards without impacting its $31.5 million construction budget. The Commonwealth’s largest net-zero emissions building is the 273,000 square foot complex of the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge. The complex, comprising two school buildings, a library, and two outdoor swimming pools generates 60 percent of its energy onsite from solar and geothermal sources.

These are not just one-off examples. Nationwide, all three standards are becoming more common.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency             

ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDING MATERIALS

mushroom brickOne day, your home could be made with mushrooms
Mushrooms bricks could replace concrete
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 2, 2021

Mushrooms are helping architects and engineers solve one the world’s biggest crises: climate change. These fungi are durable, biodegradable, and are proving to be a good alternative to more polluting materials.

“Our built environment needs these kinds of materials,” says David Benjamin, founding principal architect at the firm The Living. “Different countries have really ambitious climate change goals, and this material could really help jump-start some of that progress.”

Building materials and construction make up about a tenth of global carbon dioxide emissions. That’s way more than the global shipping and aviation industries combined. And the problem is getting worse.

Materials made with mycelium, the fungal network from which mushrooms grow, might be able to help turn that around. They produce far less planet-heating carbon dioxide than traditional materials like cement. An added bonus is that mushrooms are biodegradable, so they leave behind less harmful waste than traditional building materials. Mushrooms can even help with clean-up efforts, feeding off things that might have otherwise ended up in a landfill, like sawdust or agricultural waste.
» Watch video          

» More about energy efficient building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

NE big storage arrivesPlus Power Breaks Open Market for Massive Batteries in New England
Large standalone battery plants had not succeeded in New England’s capacity market. Until now.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 11, 2021

Battery plants have established themselves in the sunny Southwest, but this week was the first time they won big in New England.

San Francisco-based developer Plus Power won two bids in the latest capacity auction held by the New England ISO, which operates the transmission grid and competitive power markets in six Northeastern states. That means that these two battery plants offered a compelling enough price to edge out some fossil fuel plants for delivering power on demand. And they did it without any help from federal tax credits because none of them apply to standalone batteries.

Plus Power now needs to build the plants: a 150-megawatt/300-megawatt-hour system near a cranberry bog south of Boston, Massachusetts and a 175-megawatt/350-megawatt-hour battery in Gorham, Maine. The seven-year capacity contracts start in June 2024.

New England has seen a build-out of smaller batteries. Some have been acquired by municipal utilities willing to get out in front of a grid trend. Others are supported by the Massachusetts SMART program, which incentivizes the addition of batteries at distributed solar projects.

But until now, no standalone battery had won in the competitive capacity auctions opened to energy storage by ISO-NE’s implementation of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 841, and no batteries above the 100-megawatt threshold had been built in the region.

“There’s no mandate, there’s no emergency procurement, there’s no grant program,” Plus Power General Manager Brandon Keefe said. In that light, the company’s capacity market wins represent “the market working and storage winning.”
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

e-trucks trickle in
2021: When electric trucks trickle in
Political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The question is whether manufacturers, fleets and infrastructure are ready for the change.
By Jim Stinson, Utility Dive
February 8, 2021

Electric trucks will accelerate on delivery, research and absorption into fleets in 2021, even though experts doubt more than a few Class 8 trucks will be delivered to carriers.

The electric truck is a crucial part of government and fleet plans to help decrease emissions. But implementation in the United States has been slow. In August, Wood Mackenzie estimated just over 2,000 electric trucks were in service at the end of 2019. The research firm said by 2025, the electric truck fleet will grow to 54,000.

The political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The new administration seems eager to help make the transition, and President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise of net-zero emissions in the U.S. no later than 2050.

Analysts said they don’t believe 2021 will be the year a notable percentage — say, 5% or 10% — of Class 8 trucks become electric, but some predict this will be the year the change begins.

“I think 2020, last year, was the year of commitments,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. “If everybody says they will do what they say will do, this will happen pretty fast.”

Roeth noted the pipeline for new electric trucks is slow in providing what fleets may want. That means what 2021 sees in the implementation of commercial electric vehicles won’t be a flood — more like a trickle. But that will allow fleets to begin gaining experience with electric trucks: How to charge them, and learning the logistics of charging and range limits.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC in the dock
Environmental Groups Sue Federal Regulators Over Western Mass. Pipeline Plan
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
February 12, 2021

Environmental groups are challenging a federal agency’s decision to allow natural gas expansion in central Massachusetts, arguing legal precedent — and a change in regulatory leadership — is on their side.

On Friday, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from two groups opposed to the proposed expansion of a compressor station in Agawam, which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved in 2019.

The project in question is a proposal from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC — a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan — to build 2.1 miles of new natural gas pipeline and replace two small compressors with a larger unit at its Agawam site. The company says these upgrades will allow it to deliver more natural gas for distribution in the greater Springfield area, and as such, “alleviate capacity-constrained New England gas markets.”

Opponents of the project, meanwhile, want the panel of appellate judges to nullify the permit issued by FERC, saying the project will contribute to climate change,  prolong our dependence of fossil fuels, and harm local residents by increasing pollution in an area already known for poor air quality and pose public safety risks. They also argue that FERC violated federal law and disregarded legal precedent by allowing the project to move forward.

“The National Environmental Policy Act requires FERC to meaningfully evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production and transportation projects,” wrote petitioners, Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, in court documents.
» Read article       

EJ arrives at FERC
FERC Chairman Acts to Ensure Prominent FERC Role for Environmental Justice
By FERC
February 11, 2021

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick today announced plans to better incorporate environmental justice and equity concerns into the Commission’s decision-making process by creating a new senior position to coordinate that work.

“I believe that the Commission should more aggressively fulfill its responsibilities to ensure our decisions don’t unfairly impact historically marginalized communities,” Glick said.

Glick said he will have more details about the new environmental justice position at a future date. But he stressed that this will be a cross-cutting position, and that the person who fills the job will be charged with working with the experts in all FERC program offices to integrate environmental justice and equity matters into Commission decisions.

“This position is not just a title,” Glick said. “I intend to do what it takes to empower this new position to ensure that environmental justice and equity concerns finally get the attention they deserve.”
» Read article       
» Read E&E News background article from 7/31/20         

» More about FERC

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Total rebrand
Oil companies don’t want to be known for oil anymore
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 12, 2021

In a speech to his board of directors on Monday, Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of French oil giant Total, announced that the company planned to change its name to TotalEnergies. He said the new name would anchor the company’s transformation into a “broad energy company,” and went on to describe the renewable energy assets Total added to its portfolio over the last year, including a stake in the largest solar developer in the world.

If approved by the company’s investors, Total’s name change would be the latest in a round of oil company makeovers that have accompanied a flurry of climate pledges over the past year. Last February, when BP announced its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, it said its new purpose was “reimagining energy.” It later claimed it was pivoting from “international oil company” to “integrated energy company.” In December, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, which also set a net-zero target, said in an interview that it was transitioning toward becoming a “carbon management company,” in reference to its investment in a facility that will suck CO2 out of the air.

Oil companies have been trying to rebrand themselves as cleaner and greener for years. BP famously changed its tagline to Beyond Petroleum in 2000 to advertise its move into solar and wind energy — then it caused the most disastrous oil spill in American history in 2010 and shed many of its renewable energy assets in the aftermath. In 2010, Chevron launched a campaign called “We Agree,” with advertisements that said things like “It’s time oil companies get behind renewable energy,” followed by the words “We agree” in red letters. Then it sold off its renewable energy subsidiary four years later. Exxon has been advertising its research into algae-based fuel since 2009, but over the past decade has only spent around $300 million on said research, or the equivalent of about 1 percent of its capital budget for 2020.

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Brown University who has studied the industry’s disinformation campaigns for years, told Grist that these greenwashing efforts come in cycles, with companies increasing this kind of promotion in response to political shifts. “By running this sort of campaign, they hope to convince policy makers and the general public that there is no need for legislation,” he said in an email.

Is anything different this time? “It’s certainly a reflection of an enormous amount of pressure on these companies,” said Kathy Mulvey, the climate accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, citing pressure from shareholders, the divestment movement, lawsuits, and the prospect of new policies under the Biden administration.
» Read article              
» Obtain the Brown University study on fossil fuel corporate greenwashing

breaking up is hard to do
How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves
And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones
February 11, 2021

In early 2020, Wilson Truong posted on the NextDoor social media platform—where users can send messages to a group in their neighborhood—in a Culver City, California, community. Writing as if he were a resident of the Fox Hills neighborhood, Truong warned the group members that their city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage natural gas lines in newly built homes and businesses. In a message with the subject line “Culver City banning gas stoves?” Truong wrote: “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote about the glass stovetop, which uses a magnetic field to heat pans. Another user, Laura, was nearly incoherent in her outrage. “No way,” she wrote, “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

What these commenters didn’t know was that Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all. He was writing in his role as account manager for the public relations firm Imprenta Communications Group. Imprenta’s client was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES), a front group for SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, working to fend off state initiatives to limit the future use of gas in buildings. C4BES had tasked Imprenta with exploring how social media platforms, including NextDoor, could be used to foment community opposition to electrification.

The NextDoor incident is just one of many examples of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to garner public support for their fuel. As more municipalities have moved to phase gas lines out of new buildings to cut down on methane emissions, gas utilities have gone on the defensive, launching anti-electrification campaigns across the country.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Michael S Regan
Will new US EPA head continue his opposition to burning forests for energy?
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
February 4, 2021

“I don’t see a future in wood pellets,” Michael S. Regan told me when we spoke late in 2019 while he was serving as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Today, Regan is President Joe Biden’s choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator; he’s very likely to be confirmed this week by the Senate with bipartisan support. And his words, if put into practice, could have a profound impact on the future of forest biomass — the burning of trees, turned into wood pellets, to make energy on a vast industrial scale — bringing about a major shift in U.S. and potentially international energy policy.

With his administration not even a month old, President Biden is moving swiftly to regain a global leadership role for the United States in climate change mitigation. A portion of that effort could revolve around the U.S. ability to influence international and United Nations policy regarding biomass-for-energy.

Under Donald Trump, biomass burning got favorable treatment. But now, under Biden and Regan, it seems plausible that the nation will follow the lead of current science, which has clearly debunked an earlier mistaken claim of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.

This is what Michael Regan, 44 and an eastern North Carolina native, said on the topic in a late 2019 interview, long before his EPA appointment (parts of that interview were featured in a series of articles in the Raleigh News & Observer): “I am not shy about saying [that Democratic N.C.] Gov. [Roy] Cooper and I believe in a clean energy, renewable energy future for the state that has the lowest emissions profile,” he said. “That’s going to be driven by technology, business models, new ways of thinking about things. I don’t see a future in wood pellets.”

At the time, Cooper set a goal to reduce North Carolina’s emissions by 70% by 2030 over a 2005 baseline, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Regan added that he saw no role for biomass in North Carolina’s energy future, even though his state is among the nation’s largest producers of wood pellets, exporting some 2.5 million tons annually, mostly to the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU). There the pellets are burned in former coal-fired power stations to make electricity; biomass accounts for nearly 60% of the EU’s “renewable” energy mix.
» Read article             

RMLD GM O’Brien defends Palmer plant energy purchase
By BOB HOLMES, Daily Times Chronicle
February 9, 2021

READING – For Coleen O’Brien, it was much like a trip to the grocery store. As the Reading Municipal Light Department’s General Manager, she was shopping for renewable energy for the four towns RMLD serves. She had her list, and biomass was on it, right there in RMLD Policy 30.

On this shopping trip last February, she came home with a 20-year commitment to buy power from a wood-burning biomass facility in Springfield. What seemed like a good idea to O’Brien at the time, has gone south fast.

Since entering into the agreement with the Palmer plant, and especially in recent months, the plant and RMLD’s connection to it has been a growing source of controversy. Protest over the proposed plant goes back years, most of it focused on the air pollution it would bring to an area already dealing with asthma brought on by poor air quality.

The purchase wasn’t the only problem. The process was as well because the RMLD Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) were left out of the decision to buy power from the Palmer plant.

When the Board of Commissioners was informed of the commitment in October, protest followed. That protest has grown recently after the Department of Energy Resources proposed amendments in December that relaxed state regulations. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Senator Jason Lewis, and the Reading Select Board all have expressed opposition to the plant and asked for a public hearing on the DOER amendments. RMLD is taking heat for supporting the plant by purchasing 25 percent of its energy over a 20-year span.

Wednesday night the Climate Advisory Committee re-stated their opposition to RMLD’s use of power from the Palmer plant. The committee voted to bring their objections to the Reading Select Board at a future meeting.

O’Brien defended her decision Wednesday but pledged to do whatever the Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board tells her to do. That means potential changes to RMLD’s energy shopping list, better known as Policy 30.

“I was instructed to keep buying renewable,” said O’Brien. “We were instructed to buy renewable, meet the goals, make sure it meets the renewable criteria. At that time, Palmer met that criteria. That’s why it’s so important going forward that Policy 30 provides us instruction about what they would want the portfolio to look like. What do they want us to buy?”

When it comes to tweaking Policy 30, she’s open for any discussion.

Regarding Palmer, can RMLD walk away from [the] February agreement?

“No, you wouldn’t be able to just back out of it but you could assign it or sell it,” said O’Brien. “Power is traded like a commodity. You would have to look to taking your power commitment and having someone else pick it up.
» Read article       
» Related article                   

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 1/29/21

banner 11

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         

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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         

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