Tag Archives: environmental racism

Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass            

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor           

 

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines       

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy               

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about EPA              

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate                

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency            

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peaker plants         

 

GAS UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels                 

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment              

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Weekly News Check-In 2/12/21

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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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