Tag Archives: EPA

Weekly News Check-In 7/16/21

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Welcome back.

Peabody’s planned gas peaker is drawing fire from the town’s own Board of Health, and also from nearby neighbors in Danvers. It’s nearly impossible to justify investing in new gas infrastructure – especially facilities that pollute nearby residential neighborhoods just in the course of normal operation. The beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline is on the ropes too, now that the EPA has advised the Army Corps of Engineers against issuing a critical permit related to hundreds of water crossings. Enbridge’s Line 3 is another fraught project, opposed by Native American Tribes whose protests and court actions are founded on the assertion that the project and its environmental risks violate certain treaties held with the federal government. We found a story describing those commitments.

A thread we’ve been following continues to yield new information…. Recent revelations include the extent to which fossil fuel industry lobbyists pressured federal regulators to relax rail transport safety regulations, especially for highly volatile Bakken crude carried on now-infamous bomb trains.

Pressure on Harvard to complete its fossil fuel divestment is intensifying, with frustrated climate activists wondering why the university’s endowment is stubbornly keeping around $2bn in that climate-cooking industry. Another mystery involves the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency approval, early in the fracking boom, of a slew of toxic chemicals for high-pressure injection into wells. The use of these chemicals remains legal, and ground water contamination, environmental degradation, and serious health impacts continue to this day.

Greening the economy depends on the creation of good jobs to replace those lost in the transition. While delivering enough of those jobs remains a significant challenge, the offshore wind industry is off to a good start. Meanwhile, a survey of Canadian oil and gas workers found two-thirds of respondents open to green energy work.

Climate change is leaning hard on the American west this summer, as a vast region experiences a frightening cycle of heat, drought, and fire. We cover that, along with some good news: the Biden administration has restored protections to Alaska’s huge Tongass National Forest, including old growth areas that his predecessor had attempted to open for industrial logging.

We continue to be alarmed by the industry-backed rush to promote green hydrogen to an outsized role in our carbon-free energy future. While burning it produces no carbon dioxide, its emissions include large amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which produce ground-level ozone (smog), and cause asthma and other dangerous respiratory conditions. Transporting and storing this explosive gas poses difficult and unresolved engineering challenges (embrittlement of metal pipes, valves, and containers; leaks that can’t be detected by sight or smell, etc). There is certainly a place for green hydrogen in the future energy mix – let’s limit it to applications that can’t be addressed with a combination of renewables, storage, demand management, and improved efficiency.

Which brings us to an excellent article describing how Mass Save, Massachusetts’ premier energy efficiency program, needs to retool its incentives to stop promoting gas appliances. The state’s climate goals can only be reached if the program starts incentivizing a shift away from gas – promoting heat pumps, improved building envelopes, and total building electrification. At the same time, the electric grid must rapidly deploy renewable energy and a huge amount of energy storage to replace existing fossil generators. Reducing the cost of that storage has become a national priority.

We’re spreading the word that GM still hasn’t solved the battery fire problem in 2017-19 Chevy Bolt EVs, and the company recommends charging them outside. While that’s unsettling for owners and bad press for electric vehicles, it’s encouraging to note that the problem does not appear to exist in the current generation battery module.

A pair of articles explains how Europe became a huge consumer of biomass, and how supplying those generating plants with wood pellets has increased emissions and burdened communities in the American southeast while mowing down vast tracts of forest.

And we end with an article warning about exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals through plastic food and beverage containers.

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

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stealthy
Peabody health officials ask governor to intervene
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
July 11, 2021

PEABODY — The Peabody Board of Health has sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker requesting that an environmental impact report and comprehensive health impact assessment be done for the proposed peaker plant in the city.

“There are many well-documented health concerns associated with fossil fuel-burning power plants,” the letter states. “Emissions such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other hazardous pollutants can contribute to cancer risk, birth defects, and harm to the nervous system and brain. Emissions of particulates increase risk of heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, and asthma. Emission contributions from power plants increase levels of ozone and drive climate change, which can make breathing more difficult, increase allergens and the risk of fungal diseases, and affect health through the disruption of critical infrastructure such as electrical and water and sewer systems.”
» Read article               

reverse direction
Danvers officials express concern over proposed natural gas power plant in Peabody
By Jennie Oemig, Wicked Local
July 13, 2021

DANVERS — Although efforts to bring a new power plant online in Peabody have been ongoing since 2015, officials in Danvers have been entirely left out of the planning process. 

It wasn’t until last week Friday that representatives from Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) and the Peabody Municipal Light Company, the entities behind the power plant project, appeared before Danvers Select Board members and Town Manager Steve Bartha to provide more information and answer questions.

Referred to as Project 2015A, the new power plant is to be installed on the same site as two existing Peabody Municipal Light Plant capacity resources.

Rep. Sally Kerans, who represents both Peabody and Danvers, said she heard rumblings about the proposed plant shortly after she took office in January.

“I went online and read the filings,” she said. “And I had so many questions. Where’d it come from and how come no one’s heard of it?”

After reading up on the plant, Kerans said she gave testimony to the Department of Public Utilities in late April.

“I raised the issue of Danvers and the residents who live in Danversport, the neighborhood that suffered the explosion,” she said. “We are all very concerned and we have had no information from MMWEC directed to Danvers. … It’s shocking to think that MMWEC wouldn’t think to include Danvers.”

Concerns over environmental and health impacts have been raised by several groups in the area, including Breathe Clean North Shore and Community Action Works.

“I’m grateful to the group of residents in Peabody who stepped in and started asking questions,” Kerans said. “Is this the only way to meet capacity?”

Kerans said she would be surprised if the Baker Administration ultimately signs off on the project.

“It goes in the reverse direction of what we’ve been doing,” she said, referencing the climate roadmap bill signed into law in March.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants              

 

PIPELINES

MVP stream crossingEPA Warns of Mountain Valley Pipeline Impact on Streams, Says Project Should Not Receive Water Permit
The natural gas pipeline already has hundreds of water quality violations. Opponents are hopeful the EPA’s warning brings the project’s cancelation closer.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is advising the Army Corps of Engineers not to grant a federal water permit to the Mountain Valley Pipeline due to “substantial concerns” about the project’s impact on streams and rivers. The warning is another regulatory hurdle for a pipeline that is already delayed and over budget.

The EPA’s advice brings hope to opponents of the pipeline who are growing increasingly confident that the 303-mile natural gas pipeline, which has been under construction for over three years, will never come online.

The long-distance pipeline would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. A proposed extension would take the system into North Carolina. The aim is to connect Marcellus shale gas to new markets in the U.S. Southeast.

But the pipeline has to run across hundreds of streams and rivers, up and down steep slopes prone to erosion and landslides. Its construction would result in enormous volumes of sediment dumped into water bodies, potentially threatening water quality and aquatic ecosystems.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) needs a permit in order to cross these bodies of water and discharge “fill” – dirt, rocks, sand, and other debris – into streams and rivers. The Army Corps decides whether to sign off on the so-called Section 404 permit, part of the Clean Water Act, but the EPA weighs in on the process. 

And the negative impacts associated with constructing a pipeline across waterways has caught the attention of the EPA. In a May 27 letter, Jeffrey Lapp, the head of EPA’s wetlands branch for Region 3 – which covers West Virginia and Virginia – wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the crucial permit requested by MVP.

In the letter, the EPA said it “has identified a number of substantial concerns with the project,” including “insufficient assessment of secondary and cumulative impacts and potential for significant degradation.” Lapp also said MVP has not provided adequate detail on the water bodies it will cross, and has not demonstrated that it has done everything feasible to avoid negative impacts. The letter was published on July 9 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a legal advocacy group.
» Read article              
» Read the EPA’s letter            

slope creep
Thawing Permafrost has Damaged the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Poses an Ongoing Threat
The pipeline operator is repairing damage to its supports caused by a sliding slope of permafrost, and installing chillers to keep the ground around it frozen.
By David Hasemyer, Inside Climate News
July 11, 2021

Thawing permafrost threatens to undermine the supports holding up an elevated section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, jeopardizing the structural integrity of one of the world’s largest oil pipelines and raising the potential of an oil spill in a delicate and remote landscape where it would be extremely difficult to clean up.

The slope of permafrost where an 810-foot section of pipeline is secured has started to shift as it thaws, causing several of the braces holding up the pipeline to tilt and bend, according to an analysis by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The department has permitted construction of a cooling system designed to keep the permafrost surrounding the vulnerable section of pipeline just north of Fairbanks frozen, as well as to replace the damaged portions of the support structure.

This appears to be the first instance that the pipeline supports have been damaged by “slope creep” caused by thawing permafrost, records and interviews with officials involved with managing the pipeline show.

In response, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has approved the use of about 100 thermosyphons—tubes that suck heat out of permafrost—to keep the frozen slope in place and prevent further damage to the pipeline’s support structure.

The installation of the heat pipes builds on an obvious irony. The state is heating up twice as fast as the global average, which is driving the thawing of permafrost that the oil industry must keep frozen to maintain the infrastructure that allows it to extract more of the fossil fuels that cause the warming. 

Any spill from the 48-inch diameter pipeline that flows with an average of 20 million gallons of oil a day, and the resulting clean-up activity, could accelerate the thawing of the permafrost even more, environmental experts said. 

The extent of the ecological damage would depend on the amount of oil spilled, how deep it saturated the soil and whether the plume reached water sources. But any harm from an oil spill would likely be greater than in most other landscapes because of the fragile nature of the Alaskan land and water.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Carl Weimer, a special projects advisor for Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Washington.

“The implications of this speak to the pipeline’s integrity and the effect climate change is having on pipeline safety in general.”
» Read article  

» More about pipelines  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Exxon tapes and bomb trains
What the Exxon Tapes Reveal About the American Petroleum Institute’s Lobbying Tactics on Oil Trains
The top oil trade group, which a senior Exxon lobbyist recently described as one of the company’s “whipping boys,” used similar delay tactics to push back against oil-by-rail safety rules.
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 9, 2021

Senior ExxonMobil lobbyists were recently exposed by undercover reporting from UnEarthed, an investigative journalism project of Greenpeace, which captured footage of the employees explaining how the oil giant influences policy makers using trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The undercover footage revealed Exxon lobbyists boasting about wins for the company under the Trump administration and admitting to continued efforts to sow doubt about climate change and undermine action to tackle the crisis. 

The recordings also confirmed the findings of years of DeSmog research on API’s lobbying tactics. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not,” Keith McCoy, a senior director in ExxonMobil’s Washington, D.C. government affairs team, told the undercover reporter Lawrence Carter. “Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that. You know, we were looking out for our investments; we were looking out for our shareholders.”

These revelations exposed by UnEarthed and first published by Channel 4 News help shed light on API’s lobbying strategies, particularly when it comes to transporting oil by rail. The rise of fracking in 2009 created a transportation problem in U.S. regions like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, which lacked sufficient pipelines and other infrastructure to move the sudden glut of oil. In response, the oil industry started ramping up transport of its products by train around 2012, but several high-profile fires and explosions of these oil trains also followed, starting in July 2013.

DeSmog’s coverage of the years-long process of creating new oil train regulations in the wake of 2013’s deadly Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train disaster documented the tactics described by Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy — and revealed just how effective the company is at watering down efforts by regulatory agencies to protect the public and environment. 

After years of covering the regulatory process governing oil trains, one fact stood out: API was almost always leading the process. Even though the process was supposed to be about improving rail safety, the oil industry played the dominant role. Exxon representatives were rarely seen in the many public Congressional or regulatory agency hearings and did not take a public role in fighting the regulations. However, as DeSmog reported, Exxon was meeting in private with federal regulators and arguing against stronger regulations on oil trains.
» Read article               

» More about virtual pipelines                 

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

honor the treatiesWhat are the treaties being invoked by Line 3 opponents?
While the U.S. government signed a series of treaties with the Anishinaabe people, including the Ojibwe, between 1825 and 1867, the most significant are those of 1837, 1854 and 1855.
By Yasmine Askari, MinnPost
Photo: REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi
July 14, 2021

Tribal council representatives and members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe will be gathering at the Minnesota Capitol today to request a “nation-to nation” dialogue with Gov. Tim Walz and President Joe Biden in an effort to stop construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.

Last Friday, leaders of the tribe gathered in a press conference to raise concerns about the pipeline’s effects on surrounding resources and waters, most notably the treaty-protected wild rice, and said continued efforts to build the pipeline was in violation of the tribe’s treaty rights.

As the pipeline nears completion, with the project estimated to be 60% finished as of June, opponents of the pipeline have been advocating for upholding treaty rights as a means to try to halt construction.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

Harvard and Charles
The climate is boiling. Why has Harvard still not fully divested from fossil fuels yet?
At $42bn, the Harvard endowment exceeds the combined monetary value of many small countries. But it stubbornly refuses to speed up divestment
By Kim Heacox, The Guardian
July 15, 2021

On display in every corner of the Harvard University campus, carved in stone, students find a shield with three books and the inscribed school motto: “Veritas.” Latin for truth.

Ah yes, truth.

The word rolls easily off the tongue, but what does it mean? If a man believes something deeply enough, does that make it true? Yes, said the Puritan ministers who founded Harvard College – male only, of course – in 1636. Their de facto credo – I believe therefore I am right – worked just fine. For them. Two centuries later, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a transcendentalist and Harvard alum, saw things differently and wrote, “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.” That is, between reality and tranquility.

Emerson would caution us today to beware of the cozy lie and the comfortable delusion. The burning truth will exact a terrible price the more we ignore it.

Consider that after decades of disinformation, outright lies, media prating and political inaction on climate change, our home planet now sets higher temperature records every year, and could, by 2100 if not 2050, be unlivable in many places, beset by unending fires, droughts, rising seas, chaos and storms. All because of a conservative fidelity to fossil fuels; an unwillingness to acknowledge what’s true, and a selfish resistance to change.

Harvard, of course, is famous for its prestige and annual cost (up to $78,000 without financial aid), acceptance rate (3.43% this year, a new low) and excellence in higher education, given its curriculum (3,700 courses in 50 concentrations), faculty (161 Nobel laureates) and alumni (eight former US presidents and 188 living billionaires). It’s also somewhat notorious for the Harvard Corporation, a board that manages the world’s largest university endowment and, as our planet bakes and burns, refuses to divest entirely from fossil fuels.

At $42bn, the Harvard endowment exceeds the combined monetary value of many small countries. Granted, only about 2% ($838m) is invested in fossil fuels, down from 11% in 2008. But it’s symbolic. If the oldest and most prestigious school in America were to do the right thing and file for divorce from dirty energy, it would be a clarion call heard around the world.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

EPA approval
E.P.A. Approved Toxic Chemicals for Fracking a Decade Ago, New Files Show
The compounds can form PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to cancer and birth defects. The E.P.A. approvals came despite the agency’s own concerns about toxicity.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2021

For much of the past decade, oil companies engaged in drilling and fracking have been allowed to pump into the ground chemicals that, over time, can break down into toxic substances known as PFAS — a class of long-lasting compounds known to pose a threat to people and wildlife — according to internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The E.P.A. in 2011 approved the use of these chemicals, used to ease the flow of oil from the ground, despite the agency’s own grave concerns about their toxicity, according to the documents, which were reviewed by The New York Times. The E.P.A.’s approval of the three chemicals wasn’t previously publicly known.

The records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by a nonprofit group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, are among the first public indications that PFAS, long-lasting compounds also known as “forever chemicals,” may be present in the fluids used during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

In a consent order issued for the three chemicals on Oct. 26, 2011, E.P.A. scientists pointed to preliminary evidence that, under some conditions, the chemicals could “degrade in the environment” into substances akin to PFOA, a kind of PFAS chemical, and could “persist in the environment” and “be toxic to people, wild mammals, and birds.” The E.P.A. scientists recommended additional testing. Those tests were not mandatory and there is no indication that they were carried out.

“The E.P.A. identified serious health risks associated with chemicals proposed for use in oil and gas extraction, and yet allowed those chemicals to be used commercially with very lax regulation,” said Dusty Horwitt, researcher at Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Communities near drilling sites have long complained of contaminated water and health problems that they say are related. The lack of disclosure on what sort of chemicals are present has hindered diagnoses or treatment. Various peer-reviewed studies have found evidence of illnesses and other health effects among people living near oil and gas sites, a disproportionate burden of which fall on people of color and other underserved or marginalized communities.

“In areas where there’s heavy fracking, the data is starting to build to show there’s a real reason for concern,” said Linda Birnbaum, the former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and an expert on PFAS. The presence of PFAS, she said, was particularly worrisome. “These are chemicals that will be in the environment, essentially, not only for our lifetimes, but forever,” she said.
» Read article               

» More about EPA            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

turbine prototypeVineyard Wind developers sign deal with unions to build $2.8b project
Agreement would ensure at least 500 jobs go to union workers for massive offshore wind project south of Martha’s Vineyard
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
July 16, 2021

The joint venture behind the massive Vineyard Wind project has signed an agreement to ensure union workers will play a key role in building the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.

Executives from Vineyard Wind and its turbine manufacturer, General Electric, plan to join politicians and union leaders on Friday at the state-funded New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, where much of the wind-farm construction will be staged, to celebrate their new project labor agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council. The deal with the unions is seen as another key milestone in finally launching the Vineyard Wind project, and by extension the nation’s entire offshore wind industry.

Vineyard Wind chief executive Lars Pedersen said the agreement covers about 1,000 jobs over the course of the two-and-a-half-year construction project, including about 500 union jobs. The reportedly $2.8 billion project will be built in federal waters about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, with 62 giant GE wind turbines that will generate about 800 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for more than 400,000 homes.
» Read article               

upskilling
Two-Thirds of Canadian Oil and Gas Workers Want Net-Zero Jobs
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
July 14, 2021

More than two-thirds of Canadian fossil fuel workers are interested in jobs in a net-zero economy, 58% see themselves thriving in that economy, and nearly nine in 10 want training and upskilling for net-zero employment, according to a groundbreaking survey released this morning by Edmonton-based Iron & Earth.

While large majorities are worried about losing their jobs, receiving lower wages, or getting left behind in a transition to net-zero, three-quarters would sign up for up to a full year of retraining—and 84% would participate in rapid upskilling that ran 10 days or less if they were paid to attend, according to the research conducted by Abacus Data.

“Oil and gas workers are just people who have families, who need to put food on the table, put a roof over their heads, and this is the work they’ve known,” Iron & Earth Executive Director Luisa Da Silva told The Energy Mix. “This is where their jobs have been.”

But “people are quite amenable to upskilling,” she added, and “for the workers on the ground or who are more on the technical side, their skills are still transferrable.” Whether a project is a tar sands/oil sands mine or a hydrogen plant, “they don’t look that different. If you’re a welder, you’ll be using the same skills.”

“The basic fundamentals of physics and science, the technical skills underlying an energy worker’s job or a fossil fuel worker’s job, are very similar,” agreed consultant Ed Brost, a chemical engineer who spent 35 years working for Ontario Hydro, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., and Shell Canada. “A joule is a unit of energy in fossil fuels and in the electricity world. So it’s a matter of adapting, upskilling, and tuning up an existing skill set to match the 21st century instead of something from the last century.”

That means two of the essential elements of the transition are for workers to know what their next job will look like, and how their current skills will give them a pathway into a net-zero economy. Iron & Earth is calling for 10,000 fossil fuel workers to receive that training by 2030.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy                

 

CLIMATE

heat-drought-fire
American west stuck in cycle of ‘heat, drought and fire’, experts warn
Wildfires in several states are burning with worrying ferocity across a tinder-dry landscape
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
July 13, 2021

As fires propagate throughout the US west on the heels of record heatwaves, experts are warning that the region is caught in a vicious feedback cycle of extreme heat, drought and fire, all amplified by the climate crisis.

Firefighters are battling blazes from Arizona to Washington state that are burning with a worrying ferocity, while officials say California is already set to outpace last year’s record-breaking fire season.

Extreme heatwaves over the past few weeks – which have smashed records everywhere from southern California to Nevada and Oregon – are causing the region’s water reserves to evaporate at an alarming rate, said Jose Pablo Ortiz Partida, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit advocacy group. And devoid of moisture, the landscape heats up quickly, like a hot plate, desiccating the landscape and turning vegetation into kindling.

“For our most vulnerable, disadvantaged communities, this also creates compounding health effects,” Ortiz said. “First there’s the heat. Then for many families their water supplies are affected. And then it’s also the same heat and drought that are exacerbating wildfires and leading to smoky, unhealthy air quality.”

In northern California, the largest wildfire to hit the state this year broke out over the weekend and has so far consumed more than 140 sq miles (362 sq km). The Beckwourth Complex grew so fast and with such intensity that it whipped up a rare fire tornado – a swirling vortex of smoke and fire.
» Read article               

Tongass hikers
In ‘Critical Step’ for Climate, Biden to Restore Protections for Tongass National Forest
“The Tongass is not only one of the few truly wild places left on the planet, it is vital to our path forward as we deal with climate change,” said the Alaska-based group SalmonState.
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
July 15, 2021

Conservation and climate action groups on Thursday applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement of far-reaching new protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest as well as a restoration of a key rule that former President Donald Trump rescinded three months before leaving office in a bid to open millions of acres to industrial logging.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the administration would put back in place the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, also known as the Roadless Rule, which Trump exempted Alaska from in a move that outraged Indigenous communities in the region as well as environmental advocates.

With the rule back in effect, companies will again be barred from road construction and large-scale logging in more than half of the 16 million acre forest, which includes five million acres of old-growth trees such as Sitka spruce trees that date back at least 800 years. 

The forest serves as a habitat for more than 400 species of wildlife and fish, ensures food sovereignty for Indigenous communities in Alaska—including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples, whose traditional territories lie within the forest—and plays a vital role in mitigating the climate crisis.

As one of the world’s largest intact temperate forests, the Tongass National Forest stores more than 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon and sequesters an additional 10 million metric tons annually, according to the Alaska Wilderness League.
» Read article               

» More about climate             

 

CLEAN ENERGY

the new greenwash
Fossil Fuel Industry Given Billions in EU Hydrogen Support, Report Finds
In Italy, fossil fuel companies met over a hundred times with ministers and civil servants, helping to quadruple financial support for the sector, a new report claims.
By Sebastian Wirth, DeSmog Blog
July 8, 2021

Over €8 billion is being invested in hydrogen and “renewable gas” projects in southern Europe using EU Covid-19 recovery funds, thanks to extensive lobbying by the fossil fuel industry, a new report has found. 

The research warns that backing for the supposedly green developments has “thrown a lifeline” to fossil fuel companies, despite pledges by the European Commission to pursue a low-carbon transition.

EU officials have said they are eager to avoid repeating the same mistakes made during the 2008 financial crisis, when billions of euros of public money was used to bail out fossil fuel companies.

But the report says the sector has managed to secure support in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal for the development of hydrogen and renewable gases such as biomethane, whose potential critics argue is being wildly exaggerated.

The European Network of Corporate Observatories and Fossil Free Politics, the campaign groups which produced the report, entitled  ‘Hijacking the recovery through hydrogen: how fossil fuel lobbying is siphoning Covid recovery funds’, put this down to fierce industry lobbying
» Read article              
» Read the report: Hijacking the Recovery Through Hydrogen          

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

MA coastline
Efforts to pursue climate goals in Mass. clash with incentives offered that promote fossil fuels
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
July 10, 2021

Massachusetts has ambitious climate goals, and not a lot of time to achieve them, which has some clean energy and climate experts questioning why a state program continues to promote fossil fuels with cash incentives for oil and gas home heating systems.

The state’s climate plan demands that 1 million households be converted from fossil fuels to electric heat by the end of the decade, part of a sweeping transition meant to help stave off the worst of climate change’s consequences. And yet the state’s only incentive program, and its best tool for helping convince businesses and homeowners to make that switch, is sticking with rebates for new carbon-emitting systems likely to remain in service long past that deadline.

The program, Mass Save, is run by utility companies with oversight by the state, and hands out between $640 million and $700 million a year in rebates that are funded by a surcharge on utility customers’ bills. It is credited with successfully reducing carbon emissions from home heating across Massachusetts since its inception in 2008. But in the past, those cuts have come largely by encouraging conversions from oil to gas, a less-dirty fossil fuel that the state plans to phase out.

However, in a set of proposed new incentives that would take effect next year, Mass Save is again planning substantial incentives to install gas systems and, in some instances, oil. And at a time when record-breaking heatwaves are scorching the country and the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is at an all-time high, experts said incentives must now move sharply in the other direction.

“This draft plan for energy efficiency still exists in the old mind-set, the old world, where we don’t actually have to do anything on climate very urgently, or where there isn’t a role in energy efficiency in helping us get to our goals,” said Caitlin Peale Sloan, a senior attorney and vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts. “And that isn’t the case.”

Ultimately, the state wants the vast majority of homes and businesses to be outfitted with electric heat pumps that plug into a power grid fueled by wind and other renewable sources. While Mass Save’s proposed new incentives include robust rebates for heat pumps, the program is planning to direct those rebates primarily toward homes currently using oil or propane, not the 52 percent of residences statewide that now use natural gas.

Heat pumps are highly efficient, and provide cooling in addition to heating, but they come with hefty up-front costs. And with the low cost of natural gas and high costs of electricity in Massachusetts, a switch from gas to electric heat pumps could cause those customers to see their energy bills increase. For that reason, some experts say, Massachusetts needs to rethink its incentive program.

Mass Save’s critics point to two big hurdles standing in the way of fast action: First, the program prioritizes financial savings over energy savings, and second, the incentives it uses to encourage customers are decided by utility companies, including gas providers. The utilities revise the program’s incentives every three years, and while the state provides input, it has limited tools to ensure its input is adopted.

“These are electric and gas companies. There is an inherent conflict in the business models at play,” said Cammy Peterson, director of clean energy at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and a member of the state’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which oversees the Mass Save program.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency                   

 

ENERGY STORAGE

rapid response
New rules to reward batteries for keeping the lights on, and make hybrids a reality
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy (Australia)
July 15, 2021

Fast responding big batteries and wind and solar projects are set to be financially rewarded for helping to avoid blackouts under new reforms signed off by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) on Thursday.

The AEMC has also approved a range of new reforms to significantly reduce the red-tape encountered by aggregators of distributed energy resources, like residential battery storage and rooftop solar PV systems, and to simplify the rules for hybrid projects that combine different technologies.

AEMC chair Anna Collyer says the package of reforms comes ahead of an anticipated ramp-up in investment in energy storage technologies, which will play an increasingly important role in the energy market as thermal generators retire.

“The changes we’re announcing today recognise that energy is no longer a one-way transaction,” Collyer said.

“The energy market is moving to a future that will be increasingly reliant on storage to firm up the expanding volume of renewable energy as well as address the growing need for critical system security services as the ageing fleet of thermal generators retire.

“Within two decades, installed storage is expected to increase by 800% − it will be central to energy flowing two ways.”

On Thursday, the AEMC published its final determination to create a new fast frequency response market that will provide a financial reward for electricity projects that have the ability to rapidly respond and balance out fluctuations in the electricity system within just a few seconds.

With no moving parts, battery technologies have demonstrated their lightning-fast ability to adjust their output in response to changes in the energy system’s supply-demand balance, and Infigen Energy had requested the creation of a new rapid response market to reward batteries for this ability.

Frequency response services have existed in the energy market for some time, but until now, the fastest timeframe has been a six-second frequency response market.

The new market announced by the AEMC will provide payment to technologies that are able to respond to fluctuations in just one to two seconds and will predominantly benefit batteries and solar photovoltaic projects.
» Read article                   

Eos energy systems
US Department of Energy: Cost reduction target of 90% by 2030 set for long-duration energy storage
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
Photo: Eos
July 14, 2021

The cost of long-duration, grid-scale energy storage should be reduced 90% within this decade in order to accommodate the “hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy” needed, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said yesterday.

Granholm’s Department of Energy has set the cost reduction goal as part of Energy Earthshots, an initiative to support breakthroughs in clean energy that make it more abundant, more affordable and more reliable. Defining long-duration energy storage as technologies that enable 10-hour duration or more, Granholm said they will be among what’s needed to meet the US’ policy target of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Taking inspiration from the DoE ‘moonshot’ programmes of several years ago that helped reduce the cost of solar PV to a level competitive with fossil fuels, the Long Duration Storage Shot and parallel Hydrogen Shot are the first two to have been launched so far from an expected six to eight Energy Earthshots the Department plans to start each year.

“We’re going to bring hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy onto the grid over the next few years, and we need to be able to use that energy wherever and whenever it’s needed,” Granholm said.
» Read article                

» More about energy storage                    

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

open spaces
Charge your 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt EV outside: GM renews caution over fire concerns
By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
July 14, 2021

Drivers of certain 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV models recently endured months of living with just 90% of their battery capacity and range—and a winter of charging outside—due to concerns over fire risk. 

As of Wednesday, they’re being advised by the automaker to go back to parking outside and not to leave their cars charging overnight, at the peak times that afford the most benefit for the environment.  

The issue goes back to a safety probe launched by NHTSA in October, followed by GM’s announcement of its own investigation and advice to owners in November. Things looked hopeful in May, when GM announced that it had developed a comprehensive remedy plan for the issue that would “utilize GM-developed diagnostic tools to identify potential battery anomalies and replace battery module assemblies as necessary.”

All of the incidents involved a fire originating around the vehicles’ battery packs, when the cars were plugged in and nearly fully charged. GM noted that none of the vehicles affected have the “design level N2.1” cells that GM transitioned to in mid-2019. Those unaffected cells were made in Holland, Michigan, rather than Ochang, South Korea, for the earlier ones. 

Now owners are being advised to go back to caution mode. The situation has some strange optics as GM prepares for first deliveries of its GMC Hummer EV, which leads its Ultium EV push with unrelated, next-generation technology, later this year. 

Hyundai faced a similar issue with some Kona Electric models, and opted in March for a quick but expensive fix: to replace the entire battery pack in up to 82,000 affected vehicles, including nearly 4,700 in the U.S.
» Read article                   

» More about clean transportation              

 

BIOMASS

needs attention
Biomass: The EU’s Great ‘Clean Energy’ Fraud
It turns out that for more than a decade, European power plants have merely been reducing their carbon footprint on paper by outsourcing their footprint to the United States.
By Alex Kimani, Oil Price
July 13, 2021

In 2009, the European Union issued a Renewable Energy Directive (RED), pledging to curb greenhouse gas emissions and urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. But the fine print provided a major loophole: the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source, on par with wind and solar power. 

Following the directive, EU governments have been incentivizing energy providers to burn biomass instead of coal, driving up huge demand for wood.

In fact, the EU has been importing so much biomass from the American South that it has emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports.

Back in 1996, the United Nations (UN) devised a method to measure global carbon emissions. In a bid to simplify the process and avoid double counting, UN scientists suggested that biomass emissions should be calculated where the trees are cut down, not where the wood pellets are burned.

The UN adopted this methodology in its Renewable Energy Directive, allowing energy companies to burn biomass produced in the United States without having to report the emissions.

The UN was clearly more concerned about the amount of carbon we are putting out into the atmosphere regardless of the source. This source-agnostic approach has, however,           been creating a lot of controversy amongst policymakers, advocates, and scientists—and now the investment community.                                     

“I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them,” William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University, has told CNN.                          

“It doesn’t change the physical reality. A law designed to reduce emissions that in reality encourages an increase in emissions … has to be flawed,” Tim Searchinger, senior research scholar at Princeton University, has told CNN, referring to Europe’s directive.
» Read article               

log loader
How marginalized communities in the South are paying the price for ‘green energy’ in Europe
By Majlie de Puy Kamp, CNN
Photographs by Will Lanzoni, CNN
Video by Matthew Gannon, Demetrius Pipkin & Nick Scott, CNN
July 9, 2021

Andrea Macklin never turns off his TV. It’s the only way to drown out the noise from the wood mill bordering his backyard, the jackhammer sound of the plant piercing his walls and windows. The 18-wheelers carrying logs rumble by less than 100 feet from his house, all day and night, shaking it as if an earthquake has taken over this tranquil corner of North Carolina. He’s been wearing masks since long before the coronavirus pandemic, just to keep the dust out of his lungs. Some nights, he only sleeps for two or three hours. Breathing is a chore.

“I haven’t had proper rest since they’ve been here,” he said.

That was eight years ago, when the world’s largest biomass producer, Enviva, opened its second North Carolina facility just west of Macklin’s property in Garysburg. The operation takes mostly hardwood trees and spits out biomass, or wood pellets, a highly processed and compressed wood product burned to generate energy. Enviva is one of nearly a dozen similar companies benefiting from a sustainability commitment made 4,000 miles away, more than a decade ago.

In 2009, the European Union (EU) pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions, urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. In its Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source — on par with wind and solar power. As a result, the directive prompted state governments to incentivize energy providers to burn biomass instead of coal — and drove up demand for wood.

So much so that the American South emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports.

Earlier this year, the EU was celebrated in headlines across the world when renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history.

But scientists and experts say it’s too early to celebrate, arguing that relying on biomass for energy has a punishing impact not only on the environment, but also on marginalized communities — perpetuating decades of environmental racism in predominantly Black communities like Northampton County, where Macklin and his family have lived for generations.
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

fluorinated containers
Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating plastic food containers
Harmful PFAS chemicals are being used to hold food, drink and cosmetics, with unknown consequences for human health
By Tom Perkins, The Guardian
July 9, 2021

Many of the world’s plastic containers and bottles are contaminated with toxic PFAS, and new data suggests that it’s probably leaching into food, drinks, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and other items at potentially high levels.

It’s difficult to say with precision how many plastic containers are contaminated and what it means for consumers’ health because regulators and industry have done very little testing or tracking until this year, when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that the chemicals were leaching into a mosquito pesticide. One US plastic company reported “fluorinating” – or effectively adding PFAS to – 300m containers in 2011.

But public health advocates say new revelations suggest that the compounds are much more ubiquitous than previously thought, and fluorinated plastic containers, especially those used with food, probably represent a major new exposure point to PFAS.

“Fluorination is being used for plastic food containers, cosmetic containers – it’s in everything,” said Tom Neltner, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “It is disturbing.”

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds that are used to make products like clothing and carpeting resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and can accumulate in humans.

The chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts, kidney disease, decreased immunity and a range of other serious health problems.
» Read article               

» More about plastics and health        

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Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

banner 03

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass            

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor           

 

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines       

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy               

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about EPA              

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate                

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency            

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peaker plants         

 

GAS UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels                 

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment              

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Weekly News Check-In 1/8/21

banner 08

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station          

 

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what exactly does the study say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate                  

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency             

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation              

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

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

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

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

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

» More legislative news             

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the EPA                

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuel          

 

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s part of a major climate change legislation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass              

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Weekly News Check-In 12/4/20

banner 04

Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station is taking another run at becoming operational. Recall that their first attempt failed because of back-to-back unplanned gas releases caused by equipment failures. They now have Federal approval to try again, beginning today, and that comes with further – planned – releases of methane into the community as part of the process of voiding air from the lines.

In news about other pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to extend the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024. The upshot is they’ll need to apply again for that extension in a year or two, while the economic and environmental arguments against new pipelines continue to harden.

Legal action against the fossil fuel industry could be less effective if cases are heard in federal court, rather than at state level. That’s why the industry is pushing a strategy to make that happen, with an eye toward the very conservative US Supreme Court. Shifting gears to a whole different type of action, we found a great article on activist trolling of fossil fuel companies – taking it to the greenwashers through social media and calling them out for their propaganda.

And the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize was awarded to six environmental activists for grassroots work all over the world. Read about them at the end of this section.

The sunsetting Trump administration is trying to make divestment more difficult, by bullying banks into financing Arctic oil extraction. This follows announcements by all the major US banks that they won’t finance expansion into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What the Trump camp apparently doesn’t understand, is that banks are backing off purely out of economic interest. They have concluded that extracting oil and gas from the Arctic is a lousy business proposition.

Nonetheless, we’re still pumping a gusher. Articles in our Climate section warn that the pandemic-related emissions drop is both minor and temporary – and that the world is on track to extract and burn increasing amounts of oil and gas well into the future. Opposing that seemingly-inevitable trend are a few court rulings, mostly in Europe, that begin to force countries to take their climate commitments seriously.

The geothermal micro-district concept is a way to provide emissions-free heating and cooling to entire neighborhoods. Two pilot projects are underway in Massachusetts. Aside from being a super-efficient use of clean energy, its deployment offers a natural transition for existing utilities – a way to leverage the electrical and pipe fitting skills of their current workforce into green jobs.

Our Energy Efficiency section gives a shout-out to Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, for her vision and persistence in launching the ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program. While it isn’t aimed directly at increasing home energy efficiency, it helps homeowners finance some of the exterior repair work that often must be done prior to insulation and sealing. Its a welcome complement to existing energy efficiency programs like Mass Save.

Energy Storage covers new residential batteries, while our Clean Transportation section considers how to recycle old ones. We also found another article on the huge problem of aftermarket emissions control defeat devices installed in diesel vehicles – especially pickup trucks. A new EPA report estimates this problem is much worse in terms of total emissions than the notorious Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal from a few years ago.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was gutted and politicized under Trump, some devoted career scientists still remain. They’re mounting a concerted effort to resist the administration’s last-ditch assault on the environment, with an eye toward clearing a path for the incoming Biden administration to quickly reverse some of the worst damage. Dissent is also bubbling up at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), where commissioners are beginning to stake out positions that seem to anticipate coming changes.

Fossil fuel industry news includes a lot of buzz about the Trump administration’s upcoming sale of extraction leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But banks have signaled a distinct lack of interest in financing future operations and environmentalists are ready with lawsuits. Meanwhile, oil refineries are showing financial stress, with many offered for sale and few interested buyers.

We close with an update on biomass. The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would reclassify energy from burning woody biomass as carbon neutral. The value of renewable energy credits resulting from that reclassification would tip the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield from the “loser” to the “winner” column. After twelve years of protest, it would finally be financed and built. A massive effort is underway to prevent this environmental and public health disaster from happening. We offer a link to a petition you can sign, in opposition.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

compressor station photoWeymouth Compressor May Vent Gas As Part Of Its Startup Week
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
December 1, 2020

Crews at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth could vent natural gas into the community several times during the first week of operations at the site set to begin on Friday.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the energy company that built the controversial facility, said Tuesday that the process to place the compressor into service will officially start on Dec. 4 after federal regulators gave the final stamp of approval last week.

That process will involve “controlled, planned venting of natural gas” to remove any air in the station’s pipes, according to the spokesperson, Max Bergeron.

“The controlled venting of natural gas may occur intermittently between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on December 4 through December 11, 2020,” Bergeron said in an email. “The controlled venting of natural gas is a safe and routine procedure, and the gas which is vented will naturally dissipate. Algonquin Gas Transmission representatives will be on site during this work, and monitors that constantly measure the levels of natural gas will be used.”

Community leaders as well as environmental and public health groups have battled the proposed facility for years, but a federally ordered pause in operations at the site following two emergency shutdowns ended after about seven weeks.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has been at the center of the opposition campaign announced it would mark the start of compressor service with an “Elf effigy” in Kings Cove Park near the facility.
» Read article             

Feds Give Compressor Station Approval to Start Up
Emergency Shutdowns Tied to O-Ring, Electrical Issues
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
November 25, 2020

Enbridge will start pumping natural gas through its Weymouth compressor station next month after federal regulators on Wednesday gave the final green light, ruling that the company sufficiently corrected any issues behind two emergency shutdowns this fall.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration signed off Wednesday on a plan to restart operations at the site with gas pressure limited to 80 percent of the levels before the most recent incident.

With the agency’s Thanksgiving eve approval, the controversial project appears set to begin operating in the next few weeks after years of opposition from community groups and elected officials.

News that the contentious project was again on the verge of completion sparked immediate criticism from opponents, including U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

“This project is a threat to public safety, health, and the environment, and I will continue to fight it,” Markey tweeted.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Not so fast - FERC
Federal agency refuses to extend construction deadline for National Fuel pipeline
By Thomas J. Prohaska, The Buffalo News
December 2, 2020

National Fuel was premature in requesting an extension of its deadline to complete a new $500 million pipeline to carry natural gas from northern Pennsylvania to Canada through Western New York.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to push the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024.

Although FERC said it was too soon for the company to ask for such an extension, it rejected National Fuel’s Oct. 16 request “without prejudice,” meaning the company is free to ask again when the question is more timely.

“We remain fully committed to this project and, as indicated in the FERC comments, we are able to file again,” National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said.

“We’re glad they denied it,” said Diana Strablow, vice chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group.

The seven-page FERC ruling noted that 64 comments, all negative, were received during a 15-day public comment period.

“I think they had an impact,” Strablow said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has tried to block the pipeline project by refusing to grant a water quality permit that would allow the 24-inch-wide pipeline to cross 192 streams in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Erie counties.
» Read article             

hands off Oregon
When Can Pipelines Take Private Land? Jordan Cove LNG Project a Test for Eminent Domain
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 24, 2020

In 2005, Deb Evans and her husband Ron Schaaf bought a piece of property in Klamath County, Oregon, where they hoped to build a house and selectively harvest timber on the land. They saw it as a long-term investment. About a month after they closed on the property, they went to walk through portions of it where they considered building a home, but they noticed orange survey tape hanging from the trees. “We had no idea who had put it there or why,” Evans said.

After calling around, they soon found out that a company wanted to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Coos Bay on the Oregon coast, and run a natural gas pipeline to California — and Evans’ land was in the way. If the company’s plans worked out, the pipeline would travel right through their property.

A decade and a half — and two White House administrations — later, there’s still no pipeline.

But the project still looms over Evans and Schaaf, limping along in a zombie-like fashion. The Jordan Cove LNG project, now overseen by Canadian company Pembina, just won’t seem to die — even after it had been rejected by federal regulators twice and had key environmental permits denied. Now, in a final attempt to stop the pipeline that would supply the LNG terminal, local residents are suing to protect their property.

Evans and a group of about two dozen landowners, represented by the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., are appealing the Trump administration’s approval of the pipeline (reversing an Obama-era rejection) in a case that will be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021. The outcome could have far-reaching ramifications for how pipelines get built in the U.S., and how pipeline companies can use eminent domain to take private land.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines     

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

SCOTUS bait and switch
Here’s How Big Oil Wants The Supreme Court to Help Delay and Derail Climate Lawsuits
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 2, 2020

On January 19, 2021 — just one day before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office — the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a climate change accountability lawsuit brought by Baltimore, Maryland, against almost two dozen fossil fuel corporations.

Like over a dozen other climate lawsuits, Baltimore’s case seeks to hold major oil and gas companies including Chevron and ExxonMobil accountable for fueling the climate crisis through the extraction and sale of their products and for spreading climate disinformation and downplaying the dangers of fossil fuels to the public and shareholders in order to boost corporate profits.

And similar to other cases brought at the municipal or state level, Baltimore’s lawsuit demands that oil majors help pay for things such as seawalls to better protect the city from the impacts of climate change like more dramatic flooding. Proving the alleged corporate deception around the reality and severity of climate change is at the heart of the lawsuits lodged by communities like Baltimore which are facing enormous costs and damages from the unfolding climate crisis.

Seeking help from the fossil fuel companies to pay for these sorts of climate adaptation efforts, however, can likely only be done by keeping the case at the local level rather than trying it in higher federal courts.

This is why fossil fuel companies and their allies are currently waging a procedural battle to punt these cases from state to federal court. The upcoming hearing in the Supreme Court — which has dismissed climate lawsuits in the past — could determine whether or not the Baltimore lawsuit can remain at the state level. A ruling in favor of the fossil fuel industry will at the very least delay Baltimore’s case and similar climate cases from advancing in state court, and could derail these cases altogether if the Supreme Court determines they must be brought in federal, rather than state, courts.

In a series of legal briefs recently filed with the Supreme Court, several trade and lobby groups, and more than a dozen government bodies, are backing Big Oil’s argument that the case should only be heard in federal court.

This includes the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (The Chamber of Commerce and NAM, whose members include fossil fuel companies, both regularly intervene on the industry’s behalf in court.)

Two conservative law organizations — the Atlantic Legal Foundation and the Washington Legal Foundation — also filed briefs, along with an organization of defense lawyers called DRI – Voice of the Defense Bar and Energy Policy Advocates, a shadowy initiative that files public records requests on behalf of fossil fuel interests.

On top of that, two retired military officers filed briefs as well as the U.S. federal government and 13 politically conservative states, including Alaska, Louisiana, and Texas. Under Trump, the Justice Department has regularly intervened on industry’s behalf in court cases — and its recent brief in the Baltimore case echoes arguments made by the fossil fuel industry.

Alyssa Johl, legal director with the Center for Climate Integrity, an initiative that supports holding polluters accountable for climate harms, described the oil companies’ Supreme Court plea as a “bait and switch.”

“Big Oil and their allies are asking the justices to bypass the narrow issue before them and instead issue a sweeping decision that would send all related climate damages cases to federal court,” she said. “Since the oil defendants have repeatedly failed to win that argument in lower courts, this really feels like a Hail Mary pass to escape accountability.”
» Read article             

greentrolling
Greentrolling: A ‘maniacal plan’ to bring down Big Oil
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 19, 2020

Mary Heglar has a “maniacal plan” to save the planet. It doesn’t involve shutting down pipelines or protesting in the streets. Heglar has simply been “trolling the shit out of fossil fuel companies” on social media.

Heglar is known for her essays about climate change and for being one half of the duo behind Hot Take, a newsletter and podcast she co-hosts with the journalist Amy Westervelt. Her strategy started taking shape after the oil giant BP shared a carbon footprint calculator on Twitter last fall.

“Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!” the oil company tweeted.

Hegar’s reply went viral. “Bitch what’s yours???”

“They can just walk out on the biggest arena in the world and pretend that they’re something that they’re not,” Heglar told Grist. “And it’s really persuasive. If I didn’t know better, I would believe that BP was on the right side of history.”

Heglar was tired of climate-conscious people turning against one other, shaming others for flying or eating meat. Instead, she wanted to direct their anger at the companies responsible for the largest share of global greenhouse gas emissions. So she started prowling the social media feeds of Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips every day to point out their hypocrisy. (She can’t see Exxon’s tweets anymore, because she got blocked.) “I’m petty like that,” she said. “I am a Scorpio and I am vindictive.”

“Greentrolling,” as Heglar describes it, is a way of letting off steam. But there’s a deeper motivation behind it. The point isn’t to convince oil companies to do better. It’s to make sure that people aren’t misled by corporate PR teams — to try and shatter the idea that they’re champions of the environment, and point out the ways they shift blame to individuals to avoid accepting responsibility for their role in the climate crisis.

Greentrolling is catching on. Earlier this month, Shell tweeted a poll asking “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?” Every corner of Climate Twitter had something to say about it. “This you?” said climate activist Jamie Margolin, sharing a photograph of a 2016 Shell oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Sunrise Movement tweeted, “omg cute!! we’re still gonna prosecute your execs for lying to the public about climate change for 30 years though!!!” Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York also chimed in.
» Read article             

Goldman Prize 20206 Grassroots Activists Win ‘Green Nobel Prize’
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
November 30, 2020

Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the “Green Nobel Prize,” this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continents.

This year’s winners include an Indigenous Mayan beekeeper who led a coalition to ban genetically modified soy in seven Mexican states, a French activist who pressured France’s three largest banks to stop financing coal, a woman who harnessed youth activism to enact a ban on single-use plastics in the Bahamas, an Indigenous Waorani woman who organized legal action preventing oil extraction in a huge expanse of Amazon rainforest, an Indigenous Karen organizer who spearheaded the formation of the world’s first peace park in an active conflict zone, and an activist who prevented the construction of what would have been the first coal-fired power plant in Ghana.

“These six environmental champions reflect the powerful impact that one person can have on many,” John Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a statement. “Even in the face of the unending onslaught and destruction upon our natural world, there are countless individuals and communities fighting every day to protect our planet. These are six of those environmental heroes, and they deserve the honor and recognition the Prize offers them — for taking a stand, risking their lives and livelihoods, and inspiring us with real, lasting environmental progress.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

forced investment
Trump Administration Accused of Trying to Bully Banks Into Financing Arctic Fossil Fuel Extraction
“Contrary to the claims of oil-backed politicians, banks don’t want to finance more drilling in the Arctic not because of some vast liberal conspiracy, but because it’s bad business,” said a Sierra Club leader.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
November 20, 2020

Responding to grassroots pressure and shareholder activism, five of the six largest U.S. banks have decided they want no part of financing fossil fuel drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—but that isn’t stopping the Trump administration from what critics on Friday called bullying banks into funding oil and gas extraction.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Friday proposed a new rule that would bar financial institutions from refusing to lend to entire categories of lawful businesses. In the name of “fair access,” the proposed rule would force banks to finance not only the fossil fuel industry that is largely responsible for the ever-worsening climate emergency, but also other highly controversial sectors such as for-profit private prisons and firearms manufacturers.

“We need to stop the weaponization of banking as a political tool,” Brian Brooks, the acting comptroller, told the Journal. “It’s creating real economic dislocations.”

Under the proposal—which came on the heels of complaints by Republican politicians that banks are discriminating against Big Oil—institutional lenders would only be permitted to decline loans if an applicant failed to meet “quantitative, impartial, risk-based standards established by the bank in advance.”

The proposal will be open for public comment until January 4, 2021 before it is subject to final approval. That would leave Brooks just over two weeks to enact the measure before President Donald Trump leaves office on January 20. The financial services industry is likely to push back against the proposal, fearing it could force banks to finance individuals, entities, or endeavors against their will.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

lost hills
UN Report: Despite Falling Energy Demand, Governments Set on Increasing Fossil Fuel Production
Top countries are projected to produce twice the limit on oil, gas and coal required to meet Paris climate agreement goals.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
December 2, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has sent global energy demand plummeting, and led many analysts and oil executives to conclude that a transition away from fossil fuels is marching nearer. But a new United Nations report says the world’s leading fossil fuel producers still appear set on expanding their output to levels that would send temperatures soaring past global climate goals.

The report, published Wednesday by the U.N. Environment Program and written by researchers from several universities, think tanks and advocacy groups, looked at national plans and projections for fossil fuel production. It found that top producing governments were set to produce twice as much oil, gas and coal by 2030 as would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious goal of the Paris climate agreement. The countries are on track to expand output by 2 percent per year, the report said, while production needs to decline by about 6 percent per year to meet the Paris goal.

The government projections that underpin the U.N.’s second annual Production Gap Report were published mostly before the pandemic transformed global energy markets and sent fossil fuel production down by about 7 percent this year. But while this sharp drop, and trillions of dollars in government stimulus programs, present an opportunity to shift the global energy system, far more money has been directed toward activities that encourage burning fossil fuels than toward reducing emissions.

“So far, all indications are that, overall, governments are planning to expand fossil fuel production at a time when climate goals require that they wind it down,” the report said. “If governments continue to direct Covid-19 recovery packages and stimulus funds to fossil fuels, these plans could become reality.”
» Read article            
» Read the report

no Covid emissions relief
Covid-19 Shutdowns Were Just a Blip in the Upward Trajectory of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Emissions will drop by 4 to 7 percent for 2020, but carbon dioxide will continue to increase, the annual World Meteorological Association bulletin finds.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
November 23, 2020

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will drop by 4 percent to 7 percent in 2020 because of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, but that decline won’t stop the continued overall buildup of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The carbon dioxide level will continue to increase, “though at a slightly reduced pace,” according to the annual greenhouse gas bulletin, published today by the World Meteorological Organization. The impact on CO2 concentrations from pandemic-related economic disruptions is no bigger than the normal year-to-year fluctuations from natural ocean or plant cycles, the report concluded.

The bulletin is based on global average figures for 2019, but 2020 data from individual stations in the greenhouse gas monitoring network show that atmospheric CO2 continued to increase this year. At sampling sites on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and Cape Grim in Australia, the average September 2020 CO2 concentrations rose by about 2 parts per million from the previous year, passing 410 parts per million for the first time on record.
» Read article             

France held accountable‘Historic’ Court Ruling Will Force France To Justify Its Climate Targets
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
November 20, 2020

A French court this week issued what climate campaigners are calling a “historic decision” in the fight to hold national governments accountable for insufficient action to address the climate crisis.

The decision finds that France in recent years has exceeded its “carbon budgets” — the upper limit of allowable carbon emissions to help keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The French government must now justify within the next three months how its refusal to take more stringent measures to curb emissions in line with the Paris Agreement puts the nation on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.

This is the first court ruling of its kind in France — and it could influence other ongoing climate lawsuits in the country. The decision is the latest in a string of successful legal challenges to European governments’ inadequate policies to tackle the climate crisis, including in Ireland and most famously in the Netherlands, which was the first time a court anywhere in the world ruled that a national government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.

While the decision this week in France does not order the French government to take more aggressive climate action (as was the case with the Dutch government), it is one step away from that. If the court finds the French government’s justification for its less-ambitious targets insufficient, it could order the nation to take action to rapidly slash emissions. France ranks among the top 20 carbon polluters in the world, according to 2018 data analyzed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

micro-district concept MA
Innovative geothermal micro-district concept moves ahead in Massachusetts
Utilities could prove useful partners in the projects, which involve drilling, trenching and laying pipe to bring underground heat into buildings.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Chris Sullivan / NREL
December 3, 2020

Two pilot projects in Massachusetts will attempt to deploy geothermal heating across entire neighborhoods — an innovative model that aims to slash fossil fuel use while providing an economic transition for gas utilities and their workers.

“The more we’ve learned, the more incredible it has seemed,” said Audrey Schulman, co-founder and co-executive director of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that developed and promoted the geothermal micro-district concept.

The first pilot is slated for the Merrimack Valley, an area in northeastern Massachusetts hit by a series of gas explosions and fires in September 2018 that federal investigators blamed on inadequate management by Columbia Gas. The $56 million settlement the company agreed to this fall included $4 million to implement a geothermal test project.

A second project is being developed by utility Eversource, which plans to spend $10.3 million constructing a district geothermal system in a densely populated, mixed-use area that has not yet been selected.

“We’re really thinking about how we can be a catalyst for clean energy in the region,” said Michael Goldman, director of energy efficiency for Eversource.

Geothermal systems — also referred to as ground-source heat pumps — are not a new concept. They work by running pipes filled with antifreeze liquid as far as 500 feet into the ground, to a depth at which the temperature is relatively stable, usually lingering in the low 50s Fahrenheit in Massachusetts. Heat is extracted from the earth and carried through the liquid-filled pipes to warm buildings.

The same principle allows for geothermal cooling as well: On hot days, a heat pump extracts heat from the air in the building and transfers it into the liquid in the pipes. The warmed liquid travels downward and its heat is released into the ground.
» Read article             

ILSR study
How Renewable Energy Could Power Your State
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in EcoWatch
November 20, 2020

How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?

According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.

The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.

And that’s just a start: The report found that there’s so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.

So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)

The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

at home in Pittsfield
‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program overcomes earlier City Council opposition
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
November 24, 2020

PITTSFIELD — Nearly two years after she proposed it, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer won support Tuesday for a plan to help residents fix up the outsides of their homes through use of potentially forgivable loans.

When Tyer’s “At Home in Pittsfield” program was defeated in April 2019 by a different City Council, opponents said Pittsfield should not be pulling money from an economic development fund that’s a legacy of the General Electric Co.’s departure from the city.

Two of those councilors, Kevin Morandi of Ward 2 and Christopher Connell of Ward 4, remained against the plan. But with two other opponents no longer on the body, the measure passed 8-2. It needed and secured a supermajority to pass. Council President Peter Marchetti recused himself due to a conflict.

After seeing her idea sidelined in 2019, Tyer vowed to try again, arguing that helping residents invest in their homes not only builds equity and family wealth for borrowers who qualify, it is good for the whole city, particularly in distressed neighborhoods.

And more than a year later, that campaign came through.

Tyer told councilors Tuesday that she would not come back to the panel seeking additional funding beyond the $500,000 approved Tuesday for the program, which will allocate loans to qualifying applicants over the next two or three years.

The program is designed to help homeowners who might not otherwise qualify for financing for repairs. Four local banks are partners. Applicants without mortgages can apply through the city.

Loans can be used for exterior improvements that prevent deterioration, such as repairs to porches, roofs, windows or chimneys.
» Blog editor’s note: This program addresses a problem that often prevents energy efficiency upgrades from happening. Many of the repairs funded by ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ are required to properly prepare a building envelope for insulation upgrades and sealing, but homeowners often struggle to pay for them. Kudos to Mayor Tyer for her leadership and persistence – this is a big win.
» Read article             

green line
Retroactive energy efficiency loans offer pandemic lifeline for some businesses

Green banks are offering businesses a chance to borrow against previous investments in energy-saving upgrades.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Green Line Pharmacy / Courtesy
November 23, 2020

The Green Line Apothecary in Rhode Island is known for its old-school flair: Both locations in Wakefield and Providence boast authentic soda fountains where customers can sit and chat over root beer floats.

“We wanted to reestablish the days when the pharmacy was more than just a place to pick up your pills,” said Ken Procaccianti, who runs Green Line with his wife Christina, a pharmacist, and is also a builder. “It used to be a community gathering place.”

But when it came to readying the space for their Providence location, which opened just last year, the couple took a decidedly forward-thinking approach. The North Main Street site was so rundown it required a gut rehab. Beyond replacing the roof, plumbing and windows, however, the couple also invested in more than $300,000 in energy-saving upgrades, including LED lighting, spray-foam insulation, and high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

It was only after the project was finished that they learned they could borrow against those energy improvements, providing their growing business with valuable liquidity. And so earlier this fall, the Procacciantis closed on a $327,584 retroactive loan through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank’s C-PACE financing program.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

sonnenCore
Sonnen launches ‘affordable’ all-in-one home battery storage system in US
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
November 23, 2020

Germany-headquartered residential battery storage manufacturer sonnen has launched an “all-in-one” system in the US which comes at a recommended retail price of US$9,500.

The company, owned by oil and gas major Shell since last year, has just brought out sonnenCore, a home energy storage system (HESS) which comes with a free 10 year or 10,000 cycle warranty to an expected lifetime throughput of 58MWh.

SonnenCore has 4.8kW of continuous AC output or 8.6kW peak output and 10kWh usable capacity to 100% depth-of-discharge (DoD). The system, which uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, has been listed to UL 9540 standards for fire safety and sonnen said it is suitable for applications including time-of-use load shifting, solar self-consumption and emergency backup power.

The company said it comes with a newly-developed sonnen inverter and includes custom energy management software (EMS) which sonnen claimed enables “comprehensive end-to-end system integration and optimisation”.
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV timebomb
The Race To Crack Battery Recycling—Before It’s Too Late
Millions of EVs will soon hit the road, but the world isn’t ready for their old batteries. A crop of startups wants to crack this billion-dollar problem.
By Daniel Oberhaus, Wired
November 30, 2020

Every day, millions of lithium-ion batteries roll off the line at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. These cells, produced on site by Panasonic, are destined to be bundled together by the thousands in the battery packs of new Teslas. But not all the batteries are cut out for a life on the road. Panasonic ships truckloads of cells that don’t pass their qualification tests to a facility in Carson City, about a half hour’s drive south. This is the home of Redwood Materials, a small company founded in 2017 with an ambition to become the anti-Gigafactory, a place where batteries are cooked down into raw materials that will serve as the grist for new cells.

Redwood is part of a wave of new startups racing to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist yet: How to recycle the mountains of batteries from electric vehicles that are past their prime. Over the past decade, the world’s lithium-ion production capacity has increased tenfold to meet the growing demand for EVs. Now vehicles from that first production wave are just beginning to reach the end of their lifespan. This marks the beginning of a tsunami of spent batteries, which will only get worse as more electric cars hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts an 800 percent increase in the number of EVs over the next decade, each car packed with thousands of cells. The dirty secret of the EV revolution is that it created an e-waste timebomb—and cracking lithium-ion recycling is the only way to defuse it.

Redwood’s CEO and founder J. B. Straubel understands the problem better than most. After all, he played a significant role in creating it. Straubel is cofounder and, until last year, was the CTO at Tesla, a company he joined when it was possible to count all of its employees on one hand. During his time there, the company grew from a scrappy startup peddling sports cars to the most valuable auto manufacturer on the planet. Along the way, Tesla also became one of the world’s largest battery producers. But the way Straubel sees it, those batteries aren’t really a problem. “The major opportunity is to think of this material for reuse and recovery,” he says. “With all these batteries in circulation, it just seems super obvious that eventually we’re going to build a remanufacturing ecosystem.”
» Read article             

diesel tuners
Illegal Tampering by Diesel Pickup Owners Is Worsening Pollution, E.P.A. Says
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 25, 2020

The owners and operators of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks have been illegally disabling their vehicles’ emissions control technology over the past decade, allowing excess emissions equivalent to 9 million extra trucks on the road, a new federal report has concluded.

The practice, described in a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Enforcement, has echoes of the Volkswagen scandal of 2015, when the automaker was found to have illegally installed devices in millions of diesel passenger cars worldwide — including about half a million in the United States — designed to trick emissions control monitors.

But in this case no single corporation is behind the subterfuge; it is the truck owners themselves who are installing illegal devices, which are typically manufactured by small companies. That makes it much more difficult to measure the full scale of the problem, which is believed to affect many more vehicles than the 500,000 or so estimated in the report.

In terms of the pollution impact in the United States, “This is far more alarming and widespread than the Volkswagen scandal,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, the research group that first alerted the E.P.A. of the illegal Volkswagen technology. “Because these are trucks, the amount of pollution is far, far higher,” he said.

The E.P.A. focused just on devices installed in heavy pickup trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado and the Dodge Ram 2500, about 15 percent of which appear to have defeat devices installed. But such devices — commercially available and marketed as a way to improve vehicle performance — almost certainly have been installed in millions of other vehicles.
» Read article            
» Read the EPA report

» More about clean transportation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

surge in resistance
E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
November 27, 2020

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.

Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.

“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”

With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.

The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.
» Read article             

» More about EPA

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC dissents
FERC Dissents Reveal Continued Political Tension on Clean Energy Policy
FERC’s sole Democrat blasts New England market and PURPA decisions, warns of legal challenges.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 20, 2020

Thursday’s meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission started off with expressions of comity between its three commissioners. It ended with another round of dissents from its sole Democrat, who warned of possible legal challenges to FERC decisions approved by its Republican majority over his objections.

Questions of political pressure on the avowedly nonpartisan agency have swirled around FERC over the past weeks after the Trump administration demoted Neil Chatterjee from his two-year tenure as FERC chairman to appoint fellow Republican James Danly to the leadership position.

But Chatterjee was gracious to Danly in welcoming him as chair and thanked Democrat Richard Glick for finding “common ground” amid “our fair share of political disagreements.” He also congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory, making him one of the few Trump-appointed federal officials to do so.

Glick, in turn, noted that he’s had a “very good and open level of discussion” with his Republican colleagues, despite their disputes.

Glick was less sparing, however, in his dissents regarding two decisions to deny pleas from states and clean energy groups to reconsider two key FERC decisions — one applying to federally regulated wholesale energy markets in New England and the other to clean-energy facilities competing in states with vertically integrated utility regulatory structures.

Glick, who is considered a likely pick to chair FERC under the incoming Biden administration, said both decisions will have a negative impact on clean energy resources and noted that Thursday’s decisions are both open to legal challenges in federal court.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR lease sale scheduled
Administration Schedules Lease Sale for Arctic Wildlife Refuge
Environmental groups blasted the move and warned that petroleum companies bidding on leases will face legal battles “fraught with high costs and reputational risks.”
By Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News
December 3, 2020

Even in the final weeks of his administration, President Donald Trump is trying to make good on his early promise to bring oil development to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, not bothering to wait for the public comments that are customary before such a move.

The Bureau of Land Management announced on Thursday that the administration plans to hold an oil leasing sale for the refuge on Jan. 6. This is far sooner than environmental organizations expected, and the announcement met with immediate criticism from groups that have been fighting to keep drilling out of what is known as the “crown jewel” of the nation’s wildlife refuge system.

Just over two weeks ago, the Bureau of Land Management issued a “call for nominations,” asking oil companies to let them know which tracts of the refuge they might want to drill on. That process typically involves a 30-day public comment period, and is usually followed by a period of analysis—often several weeks—in which the bureau decides what tracts to offer up. Based on that timeline, it seemed that the earliest a lease sale could happen would be a few days before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“This timing is highly unusual and breaks with protocol,” said Kristin Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Though Biden has said that protecting the refuge from drilling is a priority, once the leases are sold, the process of getting them back is complicated. That may be one reason the administration is rushing to get them sold before Trump’s term ends.

“This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
» Read article             

With Bank of America Announcement, Every Major US Bank Has Ruled out Funding for Arctic Drilling
By Gabby Brown, Sierra Club
November 30, 2020

Bank of America has reportedly joined its peers and ruled out funding for new drilling in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi have all announced similar policies this year. Bank of America has faced mounting pressure in recent months from Indigenous communities, environmental advocates, and shareholders to follow suit.

The Trump administration is racing ahead with plans to hold a lease sale in the delicate coastal plain of the refuge in the final days before President-Elect Biden’s inauguration, but industry analysts have raised questions about whether oil companies, or the financial institutions that fund them, will be interested in making such a risky investment. Biden has pledged to protect the Arctic Refuge from drilling.

“It has long been clear that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would trample Indigenous rights, threaten vulnerable wildlife, and worsen the climate crisis. Now that every major American bank has stated unequivocally that they will not finance this destructive activity, it should be clearer than ever that any oil company considering participating in Trump’s ill-advised lease sale should stay away,” said Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Ben Cushing.
» Read article             

no refinery buyers
Oil Companies Can’t Find Any Buyers For Refineries Struggling Amid Pandemic Crisis
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2020

Major players in the U.S. petroleum refining industry — which is experiencing a historic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic — are attempting to sell refineries, with little luck. Unable to find any buyers, several refineries are becoming stranded assets as they are permanently shut down.

The pandemic continues to set new records in the U.S. almost daily — more than 250,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since February. This mounting crisis is leading to a second round of shutdowns and measures that will limit economic activity and slow the consumption of fuel. Amid this, the refining industry is expected to face a prolonged downturn.

In the second week of November 2019, U.S. refinery inputs totaled 16.0 million barrels per day (mbpd). In the same week in 2020, the total was 13.6 mbpd — a 15 percent decrease.

Expectations are for the economy and fuel consumption to return to 2019 levels at some point in the future, with one caveat: The demand for very profitable jet fuel (which accounted for 9 percent of total U.S. refinery output last year) may never return. This change poses a major threat to the basic business model of many refineries.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

Palmer RE rendering
Activists Look To Beacon Hill To Stop Biomass Power Plant Project
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
December 2, 2020

Environmental activists are keeping up their efforts to block construction of a long-proposed wood-burning power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

With the end of the legislative session on Beacon Hill a month away, opponents of a biomass power plant proposed more than a decade ago are lobbying furiously to get language stricken from a climate bill that would provide valuable financial incentives to the project’s developer.

The efforts include phone calls to the offices of legislators, letter-writing, and an online petition with close to 3,000 signatures, so far, requesting removal of language from the climate bill labeling biomass a “non-carbon emitting” energy source.

Plans to build a 35-megawatt plant that would burn woody biomass to generate electricity in an industrial section of East Springfield were first disclosed about 12 years ago.  From the start it faced stiff resistance from nearby residents, local activists, and statewide environmental organizations.

“We call it the zombie project because it keeps coming back to life,” said  Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

He said the plant would cause air pollution not just from the wood that would be burned, but also from the trucks that would drive to and from the site daily.

“Its destructive to the local residents sound and air quality,” said McArthur.
» Read article
» Sign the petition

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 10/23/20

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Welcome back.

We lead off this week with the story of young climate activists taking a page from the abolitionist playbook, when anti-slavery actions included waking politicians up in the middle of the night in hopes of also waking them up to the important issue at hand. Grab a nice big pan and a stout wooden spoon and set your alarm – there’s plenty of work to be done!

The Dakota Access Pipeline seems to run through dueling realities. In one, it just received a permit to double its flow. In a second, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed another injunction in Federal District Court to have it shut down altogether, citing the grave threat it poses to the Tribe’s critical water supply. The strangeness of that situation creates a good segue into the topic of virtual pipelines, especially now that the Trump administration is approving new rules for hauling liquefied natural gas by rail. If oil-carrying trains are bombs, then LNG trains are nukes. 

A new study in the journal Science concludes that the planet could retool its economies to fully comply with the Paris Climate Agreement target of 1.5 degree C of warming by spending just 10% of what Covid-19 has cost the global economy. That moves the concept of greening the economy from being a good idea, to also seeming like quite a bargain. And the climate keeps sending signals that we’re running out of time to make this transition, even as far too many political leaders remain in denial about the crisis.

In our good news section, we look at the clean energy impact of virtual power plants, tidal power, and floating offshore wind turbines. For a real lift, check out the work of BlocPower, a group bringing zero emissions energy efficiency retrofits to mid-sized buildings. Our featured article is an NPR report, and includes a link to the audio content – worth hearing simply to soak up some of CEO Donnel Baird’s immense optimism.

Green Mountain Power’s pilot distributed energy storage program – subsidizing a network of thousands of Tesla Powerwall batteries in people’s homes – has been a huge success. Declared a decisive win for both homeowners and the utility, the program will continue to expand. There’s also encouraging news in clean transportation, as the twelve states participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) are hearing from environmental justice advocates demanding less polluting and more accessible public transportation as priority concerns.

What we call the regional energy chess game currently includes a move by New England governors to assert more control over their grid operator ISO-NE. This is prompted by dissatisfaction with the pace of renewable energy integration and rate structures that continue to promote fossil fuel.

Our coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency (coal ash ponds) and fossil fuel industry (Texas, in general) both highlight regulatory agencies failing to function in the public interest.

A proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Gibbstown Logistics Center on the Delaware River is raising concern for its unconventional and risky siting and supply chain plans – including bringing LNG by rail from sources in the Marcellus shale play. See virtual pipelines, above.

The Boston Globe ran an excellent article on the proposed biomass incinerator in Springfield. It’s a must-read and represents an issue well worth contacting state legislators about.

We close with the good news that New York’s plastic bag ban, after weathering industry-supported lawsuits and a brief pandemic-related freakout, is now in effect.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

wake up
‘We don’t have any choice’: the young climate activists naming and shaming US politicians
As the election nears, young Americans are calling on US politicians to take action on climate, police brutality and immigration
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
October 16, 2020

It was a Saturday night in September when 160 or so middle and high school students logged on to a Zoom call about how to confront American politicians using tactics inspired by young civil rights activists fighting for the abolition of slavery.

The teenagers were online with the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide youth-led climate justice collective, to learn about organizing Wide Awake actions – noisy night-time protests – to force lawmakers accused of ignoring the climate emergency and racial injustice to listen to their demands.

It’s a civil disobedience tactic devised by the Wide Awakes – a radical youth abolitionist organization who confronted anti-abolitionists at night by banging pots and pans outside their homes in the run-up to the civil war.

Now, in the run-up to one of the most momentous elections in modern history, a new generation of young Americans who say they are tired of asking nicely and being ignored, are naming and shaming US politicians in an effort to get their concerns about the planet, police brutality, inequalities and immigration heard.

The first one targeted the Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell after details emerged about the police killing of Breonna Taylor. In the days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sunrise activists woke up key Republican senators including McConnell and Lindsey Graham, demanding that they delay the vote on Trump’s supreme court nominee until a new president is sworn in.

“Even though we can’t vote, we can show up on the streets and wake up politicians. It’s our future on the line not theirs,” said 17-year-old Abby DiNardo, a senior from Delaware county. The high school senior recently coordinated a Wide Awake action outside the home of the Republican senator Pat Toomey, a former Wall Street banker who has repeatedly voted against climate action measures.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions            

 

PIPELINES

new DAPL injunction
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Files Request to Stop Dakota Access Pipeline
By Native News Online
October 22, 2020

A request for injunction was filed in Federal District Court of the District of Columbia last week by Earthjustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as an effort to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline.

The brief was filed to have U.S. District Judge James Boasberg clarify his ruling from July 6 that ordered Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, to shut down the flow of oil on Aug. 6. That ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

“The Tribes are irreparably harmed by the ongoing operation of the pipeline, through the exposure to catastrophic risk, through the ongoing trauma of the government’s refusal to comply with the law, and through undermining the Tribes’ sovereign governmental role to protect their members and respond to potential disasters,” attorneys Jan Hasselman and Nicole Ducheneaux wrote in a Friday filing.
» Read article          
» Read the brief          

double DAPL
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Clears Hurdle To Doubling Capacity
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 16, 2020

Illinois approved this week the plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline to double its capacity from 570,000 bpd to 1.1 million bpd, thus becoming the last state along the pipeline’s route to give its consent to the expansion.

Dakota Access, which has seen a lot of controversy since its inception and initial start-up in 2017, now has the approval of all four states through which it passes—North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois—to expand its capacity.

While the approval of the Illinois Commerce Commission is seen as a win for the oil industry, the pipeline’s operator Energy Transfer, and the North Dakota oil producers, environmentalists see the expansion of the pipeline – whose operation they still oppose – as unnecessary with the decreased oil demand in the coronavirus pandemic.

“This vital project will bring an additional half a million barrels a day of domestic energy from North Dakota that will be used to fuel our farms, communities and lives in Illinois and across the Midwest. It’s critical we continue to support and expand our nation’s pipeline infrastructure like DAPL to help family budgets and keep our economy moving – especially in this time of recovery from COVID-19,” Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) Midwest Director Chris Ventura said in a statement, welcoming the decision.

“It’s wildly inappropriate to be talking about expansion when the real conversation is about shutting it down,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney for EarthJustice who represents the Standing Rock Tribe against DAPL in the federal lawsuit, told Grand Forks Herald.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines                  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Cleveland LNG disaster
What You Should Know About Liquefied Natural Gas and Rail Cars
Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars. The Trump administration is attempting to change that.
By EarthJustice
August 18, 2020

The explosion risk of transporting volatile liquefied natural gas in vulnerable tank cars through major population centers is off the charts.

Yet the Trump administration is finalizing a rule that would allow trains to travel the country filled with an unprecedented amount of explosive liquefied natural gas. The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Association of State Fire Marshals have objected to the proposed rule.

Earthjustice has filed a legal challenge to stop these “bomb trains.”

Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars.

Liquefied natural gas can only be transported by ships, truck, and — with special approval by the Federal Railroad Administration — by rail in approved United Nations portable tanks.

UN portable tanks are relatively small tanks that can be mounted on top of semi-truck trailer beds or on railcars.

By contrast, tanker rail cars can hold roughly three times the volume of the UN portable tanks.

Here’s what you should know:
» Read article           

» More about virtual pipelines          

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Covid happenedTackling climate change seemed expensive. Then COVID happened.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 20, 2020

Climate deniers and opponents of aggressive climate action have long argued that governments can’t afford comprehensive measures to confront the climate crisis. The Green New Deal, for example, has been ridiculed as a “crazy, expensive mess” by the Republican Policy Committee.

But then COVID-19 challenged preconceived notions about the limits of government spending. Since August, world governments have pledged more than $12 trillion in stimulus spending to dig their way out of the coronavirus-caused economic downturn — a truly mind-boggling amount of cash that represents three times the public money spent after the Great Recession. How does that compare with the money that would be needed to fight climate change?

That’s the question behind a new paper published last week in the journal Science. According to the analysis, the money countries have put on the table to address COVID-19 far outstrips the low-carbon investments that scientists say are needed in the next five years to avoid climate catastrophe — by about an order of magnitude.

If just 12 percent of currently pledged COVID-19 stimulus funding were spent every year through 2024 on low-carbon energy investments and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the researchers said, that would be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate target. At present, countries’ voluntary commitments put the world on track to warm 3.2 degrees C (5.8 degrees F) or more by the end of the century.

Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change and the environment at Imperial College London and one of the study’s authors, said the findings illustrated a “win-win” opportunity for governments to not only address the acute impacts of the pandemic and its associated economic crisis, but to also put their economies on a more sustainable, prosperous, and resilient long-term trajectory.

“This crisis is not the only crisis looming over people’s heads,” Rogelj said, referring to the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the journal Science paper        

» More about greening the economy             

 

CLIMATE

driving while dismissive
Polling Shows Growing Climate Concern Among Americans. But Outsized Influence of Deniers Remains a Roadblock
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 22, 2020

More Americans than ever before — 54 percent, recent polling data shows — are alarmed or concerned about climate change, which scientists warn is a planetary emergency unfolding in the form of searing heat, prolonged drought, massive wildfires, monstrous storms, and other extremes.

These kinds of disasters are becoming increasingly costly and impossible to ignore. Yet even as the American public becomes progressively more worried about the climate crisis, a shrinking but vocal slice of the country continues to dismiss these concerns, impeding efforts to address the monumental global challenge.

“Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which leads the “Six Americas” research, said in an email describing the updated polling numbers.

Despite this growing awareness of the climate problem among the public, Americans who fall into the Dismissive category continue to have outsized influence in the public discourse, especially on the political right.

“However, because conservative media organizations prominently feature Dismissive politicians, pundits, and industry officials, most Americans overestimate the prevalence of Dismissive beliefs among other Americans,” Leiserowitz explained by email.

The “Dismissive” viewpoint is not only overrepresented in conservative media, but it has infiltrated the highest levels of the federal government, particularly under the Trump administration and among many Republican lawmakers. It has become part of the conservative orthodoxy to question human influence on the climate and downplay the seriousness of the threat.
» Read article           

melting permafrost
New Climate Warnings in Old Permafrost: ‘It’s a Little Scary Because it’s Happening Under Our Feet.’
A new study shows a few degrees of warming can trigger abrupt thaws of vast frozen lands, releasing huge stores of greenhouse gases and collapsing landscapes.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
October 16, 2020

A dive deep into 27,000 years worth of muck piled up on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean has spurred researchers to renew warnings about a potential surge of greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost.

By tracking chemical and organic fingerprints in long-buried layers of sediments remaining from previously frozen ground, the scientists showed that ancient phases of rapid warming in the Arctic, such as occurred near the end of the last ice age, released carbon on a massive scale. Vast frozen landscapes collapsed, turned to mud and flowed into the sea, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere along the way.

The study, published today in Science Advances, shows that only a few degrees of warming in the Arctic is enough “to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing,” suggesting a “sensitive trigger” for greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost. The results also support climate models that have shown “large injections of CO2 into the atmosphere” when glaciers, and the frozen lands beneath them, melted.
» Read article          
» Read the study               

not a scientist
Amy Coney Barrett’s Remarks on Climate Change Raise Alarm That a Climate Denier Is About to Join the Supreme Court
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 14, 2020

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, October 13, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett trotted out a tired and dismissive refrain from climate deniers, saying, “I’m certainly not a scientist” when Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) asked specifically about her views on climate change.

After Barrett said she doesn’t have “firm views” on the subject, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed her on those views during the hearing Wednesday, where she continued to dodge the question. “I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge,” Barrett said, adding, “I haven’t studied scientific data. I’m not really in a position to offer any informed opinion on what I think causes global warming.”

Her use of the “not a scientist” line, and her subsequent doubling down on the idea, drew swift criticism from activists, journalists, politicians, and other professionals engaged with the issue of climate change.

Whether Barrett is truly a climate science denier herself remains unclear, though the president nominating her has left no doubt about his own stance on climate change. Despite President Trump’s history of calling climate change a hoax and brushing aside the extensive scientific expertise of federal agencies on the subject, Barrett claimed she was unaware of the President’s views when Sen. Blumenthal asked point-blank whether she agreed with Trump.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen the president’s expression of his views on climate change,” she said.
» Read article           

» More about climate        

 

CLEAN ENERGY

VPP explainedSo, What Exactly Are Virtual Power Plants?
GTM helps explain a growing grid resource that can mimic power plants without dominating the landscape.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 22, 2020

We live in an increasingly virtual world. You can hold virtual meetings with virtual friends using virtual reality systems hosted on virtual servers. And in energy circles, one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years is the virtual power plant, or VPP.  

The term first started to be bandied about in the 1990s. But VPPs have really taken off in the last 10 years, not just as a concept but as something that a growing number of energy companies are creating, using and commercializing. Here’s the real deal on this virtual energy phenomenon.

According to Germany’s Next Kraftwerke, one of the pioneers of modern VPPs, it’s “a network of decentralized, medium-scale power generating units such as wind farms, solar parks and combined heat and power units, as well as flexible power consumers and storage systems.”

In practice, a VPP can be made up of multiple units of a single type of asset, such as a battery or a device in a demand response program, or a heterogeneous mix of assets.

These units “are dispatched through the central control room of the virtual power plant but nonetheless remain independent in their operation and ownership,” adds Next Kraftwerke.

In other words, a VPP is to a traditional power plant what a bunch of Internet-connected desktop computers is to a mainframe computer. Both can do complex computing tasks, but one makes use of the distributed IT infrastructure that’s already out there. 

A key feature of VPPs is that they can aggregate flexible capacity to address peaks in electricity demand. In this respect, they can emulate or replace natural gas-fired peakers and help address distribution network bottlenecks—but usually without the same capital outlay.
» Read article          

NY tidal power
New York City Is About to Get an Injection of Tidal Power. Is This Time Different?
A tidal energy startup plans to install a small generator in New York’s East River over the coming weeks.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 20, 2020

New York City may be weeks away from seeing tidal power injected onto its local grid.

Verdant Power, a 20-year-old tidal energy startup, plans to install a half-scale generator in the East River tidal strait this autumn, adding a small but novel source of generation for a city hungry for renewable energy but with limited means to generate it locally. The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) installation will feature three underwater 35-kilowatt turbines on a single triangular base called a TriFrame.

The RITE project may have bigger implications than the Big Apple’s renewables goals. 

If the RITE generator is successful, Verdant hopes to get its technology certified by the European Marine Energy Centre, the world’s leading tidal testing facility. Subject to certification, the startup then plans to deploy two full-size arrays, equipped with 10-meter-diameter blades instead of the current 5-meter models, off the coast of Wales, U.K., by sometime in 2023, in what it hopes will be the first step in the development of a 30-megawatt tidal farm.

Back in New York, meanwhile, Verdant hopes the RITE project could form the basis for a half-scale tidal demonstration center in the East River. For nearly a decade, the New York-based startup has held a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to install up to a megawatt of tidal power in New York City, enough for thirty of its 35 kW turbines mounted on ten TriFrames.

Still, the path toward bigger tidal arrays, and even more demonstration projects, looks challenging.
» Read article           

floating offshore wind explained
So, What Exactly Is Floating Offshore Wind?
Floating wind turbines atop the ocean could be the next big renewables market. GTM helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 19, 2020

Onshore wind turbines can be found everywhere from the tropics to the Arctic. Three decades ago, developers started putting them on fixed foundations out at sea, sparking the rise of the offshore wind market, which built 6.1 gigawatts of new capacity in 2019.

More recently, the wind industry embarked on an even more ambitious endeavor: putting turbines on floating platforms in the water, rather than fixed foundations. Now on the verge of commercial maturity, floating wind has the potential to become one of the most important new renewable energy markets.

So, what is floating offshore wind?

It’s pretty much as it sounds. Instead of putting a wind turbine on a fixed foundation in the sea, you attach it to a structure that floats in the water. The structure is tethered to the seabed to stop it from drifting off into a beach or shipping lane.

Today’s floating wind designs envision using standard offshore turbines, export cables and balance of plant. The key difference between floating and fixed-foundation offshore wind is that the latter is limited to water depths of up to around 165 feet.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy          

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Donnel Baird
Fighting Climate Change, One Building At A Time
By Dan Charles, NPR
October 18, 2020

When Donnel Baird was in his twenties, he had twin passions, and he didn’t want to choose between them. “I vowed that I was going to try to combine my passion for Black civil rights with trying to do something about climate change,” he says.

He’s doing it now, with a company that he founded called BlocPower. He’s attacking one of the seemingly intractable sources of America’s greenhouse emissions: old residential buildings. And he’s focusing on neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of money to invest.

Baird wants to show me how it’s done. So we meet in New York City, in front of a classic Brooklyn brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood. “It’s still largely African American, West Indian,” Baird says of the building’s residents.

The building is four stories tall, with two apartments on each floor. It’s a cooperative that’s legally designated as affordable housing. BlocPower looked at this building and saw a business opportunity.

“We thought that they were wasting a lot of money paying for natural gas, which whey were using for heating; also to heat their hot water,” he says.

Baird’s company went to the people who live here, the coop owners, with a proposal. BlocPower offered to manage the building’s heating and cooling. The company would install new equipment, and put solar panels on the roof. “Solar panels aren’t just for rich people, or for White people. They’re for everybody,” Baird says.

The best part: The residents wouldn’t have to pay anything up-front. In fact, BlocPower promised that their bills would go down. And they’d be helping the planet, with lower greenhouse emissions.

Shaughn Dolcy, who lives in this building, was sold. “It’s the only way to go,” he says. “There’s no other way.” He says most of his neighbors liked it, too. “I would say 90 percent” of them, he says. “You maybe had, like, one particular family, they weren’t really interested in getting anything progressive or new. They were on-board at the end of the day, though.”

So BlocPower went to work. The company tore out the gas-burning boiler in the basement and installed a set of efficient electric-powered heat pumps instead. Heat pumps capture heat and move it from one space to another, in either direction: during winter they heat a home, and in summer they cool it. BlocPower put up the solar panels, elevated high enough that people still can gather for parties underneath them.

“The result is, they save tens of thousands of dollars a year on their energy costs,” Baird says. Yet they’re still paying enough that BlocPower can earn back its investment. The new equipment saves that much money.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency         

 

ENERGY STORAGE

performance confirmedFrom Pilot to Permanent: Green Mountain Power’s Home Battery Network Is Here to Stay
The Vermont utility now controls several thousand Tesla Powerwall batteries sited in customers’ homes. The results have been promising.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
October 16, 2020

Utility pilot projects aren’t famous for being standout financial successes. Usually, the goal is to verify a technology in the field before attempting broader deployment. Sometimes nothing follows the pilot.

Vermont utility Green Mountain Power not only verified the efficacy of residential batteries for meeting grid needs, but it also saved its customers millions of dollars with them. Now, that program has been ratified by the state’s Public Utility Commission as a permanent residential storage tariff, which means battery installations — and utility savings — will continue to rise.

At a time when forward-thinking companies are excited to erect networks of distributed batteries at some point in the next few years, Green Mountain Power represents something of an anomaly. It already has not several hundred, but 2,567 utility-controlled Powerwall batteries sitting in customer homes, adding up to around 13 megawatts.

“These things are functioning exactly as or better than we hoped,” said Josh Castonguay, GMP vice president and chief innovation officer. “You’ve got an asset that’s improving reliability for the customer, paying for itself and providing a financial benefit for all of our customers.”
» Read article           

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI and social justiceJustice advocates keep pressure on transportation emission pact planners
Transportation and Climate Initiative organizers recently held a webinar to discuss concerns around equity and environmental justice.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By barnimages / Flickr / Creative Commons
October 15, 2020

As organizers of a regional transportation emissions pact discuss how to make sure the initiative benefits everyone, environmental justice activists say they need to involve more people of color in the process.

“Anywhere I go, the conversation around [the Transportation and Climate Initiative] is dominated by white people,” said Joshua Malloy, a community organizer with Pittsburgh for Public Transit. “There has to be a way to make this more accessible that I’ve not seen.”

Founded in 2010, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, is a collaboration of 12 states and the District of Columbia working to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources. Nearly two years ago, nine of the states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — along with Washington, D.C., announced plans to create a market-based system to reduce these emissions.

Since the beginning of the process, environmental justice activists have pushed for the needs of low-income, immigrant, and other marginalized communities to be a central focus of the program. Air pollution is often higher in low-income communities and in areas with high populations of people of color. Industrial developments are also more likely to be located in these neighborhoods than in wealthier areas that have the resources to mount organized opposition. 

Organizers of the initiative have also expressed support for the goal of equity, and late last month held a webinar to share the progress they have made toward designing a system that will benefit all communities and underscore why such efforts are needed.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation               

 

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

NESCOE calls for change
New England states call for changes to wholesale markets, transmission planning and grid governance
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
October 19, 2020

[New England States Committee on Electricity] NESCOE’s call for reform of the ISO-NE market is the latest example of how some states are pushing back on federally-regulated markets they say ignore renewable energy and decarbonization goals.

The region’s wholesale markets “fail to sufficiently value the legally-required clean energy investments made by the ratepayers they serve,” according to the NESCOE vision statement.

Some states say their preferred resource mix and renewables goals are being undermined in regional markets overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They say the commission’s rulings have negated the impact of their support for green energy in favor of keeping fossil fuel generators competitive.
» Read article           

NE power play
N.E. governors seek bigger say in power policies

Seek greater role in oversight of grid operator
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
October 16, 2020

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and four other New England governors made a push on Friday for a much bigger say in the way the region’s electricity markets are regulated and governed, although the vision statement they issued steered clear of the top recommendation put forth by the region’s power grid operator – a carbon tax.

The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont are concerned that the long-term electricity contracts their states are negotiating with offshore wind operators and the province of Quebec are not being absorbed into the existing wholesale markets for electricity. As a result, the vision statement says, the direct purchases of electricity by states and the production of electricity through wholesale markets are working at cross-purposes and may result in ratepayers paying for the production of power they don’t need.

The vision statement reflects a growing recognition that much larger amounts of electricity will need to be produced to decarbonize the transportation and other sectors of the economy. The vision statement calls for a reimagining of the region’s wholesale electricity markets; the development of a grid that relies less on big power plants and more on local wind, solar, and battery projects; and a new governance structure for the regional grid operator.

One area the mission statement does not explore is the recommendation by the grid operator, ISO New England, that the best way to make wholesale electricity markets work effectively is to impose a carbon tax that would nudge the market in the direction of cleaner forms of energy.
» Read article          
» Read the vision statement          

Eversource strategy chief sees role for green hydrogen, geothermal in Northeast
By Tom DiChristopher, S&P Global
October 16, 2020

Decarbonizing New England’s natural gas grid will require a portfolio of solutions that likely includes green hydrogen and geothermal energy rather than systemwide electrification, according to Roger Kranenburg, vice president for energy strategy and policy at Eversource Energy.

Kranenburg sees electrification of heating playing some role in achieving Massachusetts’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. However, Kranenburg sees Eversource evolving into a “regional energy company” that delivers a range of low-carbon energy to end users, and the right solution might not always be electrification.

“We feel that if you push folks too much artificially towards electrifying heat, you will actually get a lot of backlash and it can undo what we all agree is the end objective, which is to decarbonize the economy,” Kranenburg said during an Oct. 15 webinar hosted by the U.S. Association for Energy Economics’ National Capital Area Chapter. “Instead of thinking of it as systemwide, let’s look at what the customer characteristic and needs are. … Let’s look at it that way, and you’ll come up with a portfolio solution to provide that service.”

With the exception of California, the Boston area has emerged as the most active beachhead in the movement to adopt ordinances that require electric heating in new construction. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the region’s first gas ban in July, but lawmakers in several communities have resolved to pursue building electrification.
» Read article          
» Read report from National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues
Report by M. W. Melaina, O. Antonia, and M. Penev, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), March, 2013

» More about regional energy                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

coal ash ponds
EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
October 16, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water.

Research has found even plastic-lined coal ash ponds are likely to leak, but those risks are even higher when a clay barrier is the only layer used to hold the arsenic-laced sludge.

Environmental groups have already pledged to sue over the Friday rule, which will allow unlined pits to continue operating, so long as companies can demonstrate using groundwater monitoring data that the pond is unlikely to leak.

“These focused common-sense changes allow owners and operators the opportunity to submit a substantial factual and technical demonstration that there is no reasonable probability of groundwater contamination. This will allow coal ash management to be determined based on site-specific conditions,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release.  

There are more than 400 coal ash ponds in the U.S. 

An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities.
» Read article           

EPA coal ash pone rule
EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer
By TRAVIS LOLLER, AP
October 16, 2020

The Trump administration will let some leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash storage ponds stay in operation for years more and some unlined ponds stay open indefinitely under a rule change announced Friday.

The move by the Environmental Protection Agency is the administration’s latest rollback of environmental and public health regulations governing operators of coal-fired power plants, which are taking hits financially as cheaper natural gas, solar and wind power make dirtier-burning coal plants less competitive.

Friday’s move weakens an Obama-era rule in which the EPA regulated the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash for the first time, including closing coal-ash dumping ponds that were unstable or contaminating groundwater.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for power and contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous heavy metals. U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tonnes) annually of ash and other waste.

Data released by utilities in March 2018, after the Obama administration required groundwater monitoring around coal ash storage sites, showed widespread evidence of contamination at coal plants from Virginia to Alaska.

For decades, utilities largely disposed of coal ash by sluicing it into huge open pits. In 2008, the six-story-tall dike on a massive coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Swan Pond community. It remains the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and prompted the 2015 regulations that were intended to increase oversight of the industry.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Texas regulators failingTexas Regulators Failing to Act on Pollution Complaints in Permian Oilfields, New Report Finds
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
October 21, 2020

Over the past five years, environmental advocates with the nonprofit Earthworks have made trips to 298 oil and gas wells, compressor stations, and processing plants across the Permian Basin in Texas, an oil patch which last year hit record-high methane pollution levels for the U.S. During those trips, Earthworks found and documented emissions from the oil industry’s equipment, and on 141 separate occasions, they reported what they found to the state’s environmental regulators.

However, in response to those 141 complaints, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) took action to reduce pollution — by, for example, issuing a violation to the company responsible — just 17 times, according to a new report published today by Earthworks, which describes a pattern in which Texas regulators failed to address oilfield pollution problems, allowing leaks to continue in some cases for months.

TCEQ took “other” regulatory action, which the report said might be contacting the company operating the site or sending out an inspector, in response to 60 complaints, but in many cases Earthworks said TCEQ’s response came weeks or months after the report was filed.

In 22 cases, TCEQ closed the complaint but took no action at all, the report says. And 42 of the nonprofit’s pollution complaints remain open.

“It’s not surprising to Texans that state law favors the oil and gas industry,” said Sharon Wilson, an Earthworks thermographer and Texas coordinator who filed the complaints described by the report. “What should be a surprise is that Texas regulators charged with protecting the public often can’t be bothered to enforce what laws do exist.”
» Read article          
» Read the Earthworks report            

» More about fossil fuels            

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Gibbstown LNG
Controversy Mounts Over Proposed LNG Export Facility on the Delaware River
By Yale Environment 360
October 22, 2020

A plan to build a major liquefied natural gas export facility in southern New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is being met with increasing scrutiny and opposition from environmentalists and nearby communities. The $450 million project would send liquified natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region to ports in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Europe.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), an interstate agency that regulates river development, originally approved the project — an expansion of the Gibbstown Logistics Center — in June 2019, but the decision was appealed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, delaying the project. In September, the DRBC voted to delay the final permitting. A final decision on the facility, which has also received permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is expected by year’s end.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the project’s supply chain and location are unusual. Most export facilities are located near deepwater ports, and fuel is loaded directly from an LNG plant onto vessels. But the proposed Gibbstown expansion requires dredging the Delaware River to make it deeper and building a second dock. The natural gas will also be transported hundreds of miles on trains and trucks to the facility from the Marcellus Shale region. According to a permit application, New Fortress Energy, one of the developers of the project, said it expects the facility will receive natural gas from several 100-car trains or up to 700 tractor trailers every day.

“We look at every part of the supply chain that this project entails, and we consider every single step of it to be dangerous and untested,” Delaware Riverkeeper Network Deputy Director Tracy Carluccio told FreightWaves, an industry news site.

More than a dozen environmental groups have joined the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club in opposing the Gibbstown export facility.

In addition to fighting the approval of the Gibbstown export facility, environmental groups have also filed a lawsuit against a new rule approved by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allowing for the transit of liquefied natural gas by rail.
» Read article           

» More about LNG        

 

BIOMASS

Springfield biomass plant resistance
In the nation’s asthma capital, plans to burn wood for energy spark fury
By David Abel, Boston Globe
October 20, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — For more than a decade, Amy Buchanan has lived in a small house in an industrial section of the state’s third-largest city, where a pall of pungent air hangs over the neighborhood and heavy trucks spew diesel fumes on their way to a nearby paving company.

Like many of her neighbors in what last year ranked as the nation’s asthma capital, Buchanan has the respiratory disease, while her husband and sister suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now, they worry their neighborhood could soon become home to the state’s largest commercial biomass power plant, one expected to burn nearly a ton of wood an hour and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

Plans to build a 42-megawatt incinerator have been in the works for more than a decade. In an interview with The Boston Globe last year, Victor Gatto Jr., Palmer’s founder, said the company had already broken ground on the project, which he estimated would cost about $150 million.

“The plant will be built,” he said.

Despite local protests and opposition from nearly all city councilors, the plant’s prospects were given a boost when the Baker administration last year proposed to alter rules that designate woody biomass as a form of renewable energy. The draft rules would make developers eligible for valuable financial incentives, potentially saving Palmer millions of dollars a year.

The revised rules, which are still being vetted by state regulators, are supported by the logging industry that seeks to promote woody biomass, a fuel derived from wood chips and pellets made from tree trunks, branches, sawdust, and other plant matter.

Environmental advocates oppose the rule changes, saying they would increase carbon emissions, create more pollution in the form of soot, and lead to greater deforestation. Trees and plants grow by absorbing carbon dioxide; when they’re burned, they release the heat-trapping gas back into the atmosphere.

Opponents note that a state-commissioned study in 2010 by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found that biomass — which accounts for about 1.5 percent of the state’s carbon emissions — “generally emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels per unit of energy produced.” The study also found that large biomass plants are likely to produce greater emissions than coal and natural gas plants, even after they’ve been in operation for decades.

The administration’s push to promote biomass was criticized by Attorney General Maura Healey, who called financial incentives to burn wood for energy a “step backward” in addressing climate change.

In comments submitted to the state, she said the draft rules “raise significant concerns about the potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions . . . and may undermine the commonwealth’s nation-leading efforts to address climate change.”

In Springfield, opponents’ concerns about the biomass plant go beyond greenhouse gases. The soot from burning wood, in addition to asthma, has been linked to heart and other lung diseases.
» Read article          

» More about biomass           

 

PLASTICS BANS

NY ban starts nowNew York Will Finally Enforce Its Plastic Bag Ban
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
October 19, 2020

 

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

“New York’s bag ban has already improved New York’s health by cutting down on plastic pollution,” Environmental Advocates NY deputy director Kate Kurera told NBC4 New York. “We look forward to the State beginning enforcement and stores complying with this important law.”

The new law prohibits most stores from giving out thin plastic shopping bags. They can dispense paper bags, for which counties have the option of charging a five cent fee. Any business caught handing out the banned plastic bags will face a fine, according to NY1.

The law offers exceptions for takeout orders and bags used to wrap meat or prepared food, according to NBC4 New York. Families who use food stamps will also not have to pay the fee for paper bags.
» Read article           

» More about plastics bans            

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