Tag Archives: EPA

Weekly News Check-In 5/29/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

This week’s post is all about opposing forces.

Presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit if elected – signaling an about-face from the Trump administration’s blanket support for fossil fuel infrastructure build out. We explored further to look broadly at the road to a greener economy – finding obstacles already positioned by financial, corporate, and political interests deeply invested in the high-carbon status quo.

An interesting article describes how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) embraced the discredited research findings of contrarian scientist James Enstrom to justify its recent refusal to tighten clean air regulations of fine particulate pollution – ignoring the strong recommendations of credible environmental scientists. Also on the subject of federal regulatory agencies disregarding public interest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is being challenged by Congress and environmental groups on net metering and gas infrastructure issues.

The idea that the climate crisis can be resolved by simply planting a trillion trees has gained traction recently, especially among groups who see it as a free pass from having to decarbonize the economy. We offer an article that looks under the surface of that appealing message to reveal a much more complicated reality. Spoiler alert: we need to decarbonize the economy and do lots of work on forests.

Along those lines, our clean energy and clean transportation sections offer some looks ahead, and we take a peek backward to review the recent history of high performance batteries.

Last week, we carried an article about solar and wind projects on Federal lands, blindsided by a sudden demand for retroactive rent payments. In a pairing that puts fossil fuel industry influence into perspective, a report shows that public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide royalty relief for oil and gas companies during the coronavirus pandemic. Life is bland without irony, so we provide links to both stories.

We close with a report on emerging plastics alternatives from sustainable sources like seaweed and mushrooms.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

XL pull the plug
Biden White House would yank Keystone XL permit
The Monday statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how he would handle the project.
By Ben Lefebvre, Politico
May 18, 2020

Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project, his campaign told POLITICO on Monday.

The statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how the presumptive Democratic nominee would handle the project that has been stalled for over a decade if he wins the White House in November.

Biden’s opposition also raises the stakes for the TC Energy’s efforts to start construction on the cross-border portion of the pipeline this year that would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the U.S.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines            

GREENING THE ECONOMY

G20 fossil finance
New Report Details How G20 Nations Spend $77 Billion a Year to Finance Fossil Fuels
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
May 28, 2020

Even after the world’s largest economies adopted the landmark Paris agreement to tackle the climate crisis in late 2015, governments continued to pour $77 billion a year in public finance into propping up the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Wednesday.

Despite their public commitments to the Paris agreement, “G20 countries continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry even as it makes bad business decisions that hurt people and the planet,” FOE U.S. senior international policy analyst Kate DeAngelis said in a statement.

“Our planet is hurtling towards climate catastrophe and these countries are pouring gasoline on the fire to the tune of billions,” she said. “We must hold G20 governments accountable for their promises to move countries toward clean energy. They have an opportunity to reflect and change their financing so that it supports clean energy solutions that will not exacerbate bad health outcomes and put workers at greater risk.”
» Read article      
» Read the report

bad bet on fossils
Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Bad Bet
The Fed should not be directing money to further entrench the carbon economy.
By Sarah Bloom Raskin, New York Times – Opinion
May 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable the United States is to sudden, catastrophic shocks. Climate change poses the next big threat. Ignoring it, particularly to the benefit of fossil fuel interests, is a risk we can’t afford.

The Fed is singularly poised to seed strategic investments in future economic stability. Oil, gas and coal companies are set or are seeking to receive billions in federal aid — including at least $3.9 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program and at least $1.9 billion in tax credits tucked into the CARES Act passed by Congress. Their allies in Congress and the administration have lobbied for changes to several of the Fed’s lending programs, including relaxing the Main Street Lending Program. Among those eligible for government assistance are many fossil fuel companies that were in deep financial trouble long before the pandemic began.

These concessions to the fossil fuel industry are a risky investment in the past. The Fed is ignoring clear warning signs about the economic repercussions of the impending climate crisis by taking action that will lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when even in the short term, fossil fuels are a terrible investment.
» Read article       

Spain to join group of first movers off oil and gas
By Romain Ioualalen, Oil Change International
May 26, 2020

On May 19, 2020, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved a Draft Bill on Climate Change and Energy Transition which sets out the country’s overarching climate policies. If the law is adopted, Spain will join a growing group of countries and financial institutions putting an end to oil and gas production.

Faced with the twin challenges of an unprecedented economic and social crisis and an ever-worsening climate emergency, governments have a duty to build a resilient economic model that protects their citizens’ future. There is no room in that future for a volatile industry whose products are directly responsible for the climate crisis and that is faced with a bleak future as demand for oil reaches its peak.

While the proposed emissions reductions trajectory is not in line with the cuts required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Spain’s proposed measures are nonetheless a welcome example of how countries can plan a fossil-free recovery. Under the proposed law, Spain would tackle both the demand for (by promoting electric vehicles, establishing alternative fuel targets for the air transport) and supply of fossil fuels thus highlighting the need to combine both approaches to address fossil fuel lock-in.
» Read article       

far out
Labor Helps Obama Energy Secretary Push and Profit from ‘Net Zero’ Fossil Fuels
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
May 24, 2020

Progressive activists have called for a Green New Deal, a linking of the U.S. climate and labor movements to create an equitable and decarbonized economy and move away from fossil fuels to address the climate crisis. But major labor unions and President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary have far different plans.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) — a nonprofit founded and run by former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — launched the Labor Energy Partnership. Unlike those calling for a Green New Deal, though, this alliance supports increased fracking for oil and gas, as well as other controversial technologies that critics say prop up fossil fuels. It’s also an agenda matching a number of the former Energy Secretary’s personal financial investments.
Blog editor’s note: There will be headwinds on the way to a greener economy. Not all will originate from the usual suspects – here’s something to keep an eye on.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

J Enstrom
How a Contrarian Scientist Helped Trump’s EPA Defy Mainstream Science
James Enstrom’s work on particle pollution’s health effects contradicts the findings of dozens of studies, but that hasn’t stopped the agency from relying on it.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

When, last month, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the agency’s decision that it would not raise the standards for air pollution because the science of PM 2.5 was too uncertain to justify doing so, he was relying in part on Enstrom’s work. Enstrom’s research was among the studies cited by Wheeler’s hand-picked committee of science advisers to raise doubts about the PM 2.5 consensus.

More broadly, Enstrom’s work has helped provide the underpinning for the Trump administration’s wide-ranging assault on environmental protection policy, from its retreat on climate change to its current effort to restrict the type of science used by the EPA by disqualifying studies that critics say are some of the most important in human health science.
» Read article       

» More about EPA        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

net metering and FERC
24 Congressional Democrats urge FERC to reject net metering overhaul
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
May 28, 2020

A group of Democratic senators and representatives on Tuesday wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, urging the regulatory body to shut down a net metering proposal that experts say would effectively overturn the policy nationally.

The proposal at hand would subject any behind-the-meter, or customer-sited, energy generation to FERC jurisdiction, arguing that power production constitutes a wholesale sale. In the letter, Congress Members questioned FERC’s authority to make such a rule and also asked the commission to ask the petitioner, New England Ratepayers Association (NERA), to disclose its members.

“If FERC granted NERA’s petition, it would overturn long-held precedent and give the federal government decision-making power that has long belonged to the states, including the authority to set rates, terms, and conditions for programs,” the letter reads. “These decisions are best left to state regulators.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter

drilled podcast
The U.S. Government Has Been Rubber-Stamping New Oil and Gas Projects—This Lawsuit Hopes to Change That
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News podcast
May 8, 2020

A lawsuit filed against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over a small project in Massachusetts could have big implications. It aims to force FERC to comply with an order the courts gave it back in 2017, and that it’s been ignoring ever since: to evaluate the overall emissions and climate change impact of any new energy project. The case has particular relevance right now as FERC has been rapidly approving every project that crosses its desk. Adam Carlesco, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, joins to walk us through the case.
» Listen to podcast       

» More about FERC      

CLIMATE

trillion tree diversion
Can Planting a Trillion Trees Stop Climate Change? Scientists Say it’s a Lot More Complicated
Compared with cutting fossil fuels, tree planting would play only a small role in combating the climate crisis.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 27, 2020

It seems simple. Plant enough trees to soak up all the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels and people can forget about global warming and get on with their lives.

Climate scientists and many Democrats on the House committee greeted… proposed tree planting legislation skeptically, saying that the only real climate solution is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero as soon as possible.

Forests can only be part of a long-term plan to curb global warming after that happens, Yale evolutionary biologist and ecologist Carla Staver testified at the Trillion Trees Act hearing.

“Our primary focus must be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels,” she said, adding that any plausible attempt to limit global warming within our lifespan must also include forest protection and reforestation. “However, it is also crystal clear that tree planting alone will not fix our ongoing climate emergency,” she said.

In February, a coalition of 95 environmental groups sent a letter to Congress opposing the Trillion Trees Act as the “worst kind of greenwashing and a complete distraction from urgently needed reductions in fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter        

seafloor ripples
Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise
A study of seafloor ripples suggests that ice shelves can retreat six miles per year, a quantum increase over today’s rates.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

Climate researchers racing to calculate how fast and how high the sea level will rise found new clues on the seafloor around Antarctica. A study released today suggests that some of the continent’s floating ice shelves can, during eras of rapid warming, melt back by six miles per year, far faster than any ice retreat observed by satellites.

As global warming speeds up the Antarctic meltdown, the findings “set a new upper limit for what the worst-case might be,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The estimate of ice shelf retreat is based on a pattern of ridges discovered on the seafloor near the Larsen Ice Shelf. The spacing and size of the ridges suggest they were created as the floating ice shelves rose and fell with the tides while rapidly shrinking back from the ocean. In findings published today in Science, the researchers estimate that to corrugate the seafloor in this way, the ice would have retreated by more than 150 feet per day for at least 90 days.
» Read article       

9th circuit
Climate Liability Cases Score a Win with 9th Circuit Decision to Keep Them in State Court
By Karen Savage, Drilled News
May 26, 2020

Six California municipalities scored crucial wins on Tuesday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent their climate liability suits against several fossil fuel companies back to state court, rejecting the companies’ arguments that the cases belong in federal court.

The 9th Circuit is the second appellate court to rule that climate-related lawsuits brought by municipalities across the country belong in state court. The 4th Circuit ruled earlier this year that a case filed by Baltimore against more than two dozen fossil fuel producers and distributors belongs in state court. The 10th Circuit is currently considering whether a suit filed by three Colorado communities belongs in state or federal court, and the 1st Circuit is reviewing the issue in a case filed by Rhode Island.

“I think a lot of plaintiffs were watching very carefully to see what happened in the 9th Circuit to see how this question of jurisdiction was resolved,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
» Read article

» More about climate     

CLEAN ENERGY

PTC guidelines
US Treasury Gives Renewables More Time to Meet Tax Credit Deadlines
The wind and solar sectors both got something to like in new tax-credit guidelines issued by the Treasury Department.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 28, 2020

The U.S. Treasury Department released much-anticipated guidance Wednesday that offers onshore wind and solar projects more time to meet tax credit deadlines.

Wind was the big winner: onshore projects that started construction in 2016 and 2017 will now have five rather than four years to finish projects, while still receiving production tax credit (PTC) benefits. But solar developers got some help too, with the IRS allowing for investment tax credit-qualified equipment bought in 2019 to be delivered into October and providing added assurance that developers will receive benefits as long as they have “reasonable” expectation that equipment will be delivered in the required timeframe.

The guidance, requested by members of Congress and encouraged by the clean energy industry, should offer developers comfort as they recover from extended coronavirus-related shutdowns.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

morning traffic
States Sue to Block Trump From Weakening Fuel Economy Rules
At stake in the lawsuit is the single biggest effort by the United States to fight the climate crisis.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 27, 2020

Led by California, nearly two dozen states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, arguing that the move is based on erroneous science, and endangers public health.

The lawsuit escalates a standoff between President Trump, who has moved to undo a long list of environmental regulations since taking office, and a coalition of Democratic states, which have gone to court to stop him.
» Read article      
» Read the petition     

CAL
California Leads Multi-State Lawsuit Against Trump Admins’ Clean Car Rollback
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
May 27, 2020

A coalition of 23 states plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Obama-era clean car standards. Those standards mandated stronger reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from new light-duty cars and trucks — reductions equivalent to corporate average fuel economy improvements of 5 percent annually.

But on March 31 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule requiring only minimal fuel economy increases of 1.5% annually, which the agencies’ own analyses showed would result in more pollution and premature deaths.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

ENERGY STORAGE

better and cheaper
The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas
The economics of cheaper batteries—and why they’re good news for the planet.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARSTechnica
May 22, 2020

In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That’s a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.

That’s the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.
» Read article       

» More about energy storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

public lands fossil giveaway
Ailing Oil Companies Get a Pass on Royalties
Federal public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide pandemic relief, according to documents obtained by High Country News.
By Nick Bowlin, High Country News, in Drilled News
May 27, 2020

The day after oil futures went negative, Nicholas Douglas, a top-ranking national BLM official, emailed the agency’s Western state directors. This email thread, obtained by High Country News, shows the agency encouraging public-land drilling, despite the continued glut in the global market.

The new policies instruct state offices to let companies apply for lease suspensions and avoid royalty payments, which are the legally mandated taxes on the revenue from resources drilled or mined on public lands. Several BLM state offices confirmed to High Country News that they are carrying out these policies.

These new directives are not outliers. Despite the pandemic, the BLM appears to be encouraging public-lands drilling, rather than pressing operators to shut in wells and not produce oil. In the past few months, the BLM held lease sales in Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. A September auction could make more than 100,000 acres of public land available for drilling just outside Canyonlands and Arches national parks in Utah. No such aid has been offered to renewable energy industries, which have also suffered in the downturn. Instead, the Interior Department hit solar and wind projects on federal land with large retroactive rent bills in mid-May, Reuters reported.
Blog editor’s note: we recently carried that Reuters story about retroactive rents for green energy installations on public lands. Refresh your memory here.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTIC ALTERNATIVES

 

tired of plastic
Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You
Companies are developing alternatives to single-use plastic, and with options including seaweed and mushroom tissue, consumer interest isn’t disappearing, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
By Tatiana Schlossberg, New York Times
May 27, 2020

The pandemic came at a time when momentum was building for a shift away from plastic, with many consumers demanding alternatives or halting use of products (plastic straws) altogether. Although about 72 percent of Americans say they actively try to limit their plastic use, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, the amount of plastic waste per person has remained constant: about 4 ounces per person every day, for a total of about 15.6 million tons in 2017.

But to those who are working on alternatives to single-use plastic, the consumer momentum is not disappearing. In fact, founders of several plastic-alternative companies said that they had seen even more interest from consumers in their products, and a renewed commitment from some of the larger companies they work with to press on.
» Read article      

» More about plastics alternatives

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Weekly News Check-In 5/22/20

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

This was a big week in news, and we ranged widely.

A longstanding pipeline battle concluded in New York, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation denied permission for the Williams pipeline to run from New Jersey and connect with another pipeline under Long Island Sound. DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said in a statement, “New York is not prepared to sacrifice the State’s water quality for a project that is not only environmentally harmful but also unnecessary to meet New York’s energy needs.” While we applaud New York for asserting its right to stop this unnecessary interstate gas infrastructure project, we wonder how Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker can continue to claim his hands are tied regarding the dangerous and unnecessary Weymouth compressor station.

Other stories related to pipelines (both real and virtual) include new evidence that dying urban trees suffered exposure to gas leaks from under the streets, and a head-spinner from Washington state where an attempt to regulate oil trains was overruled by the Trump administration. Apparently public safety is not a sufficient pretext for regulation that might inhibit market growth….

The effectiveness of persistent, youth-led activism is on display in New York, as long-stalled legislation to divest the state pension fund from fossil fuels has found traction this legislative session. The bill was introduced each session for the past four years.

Transitioning to a greener economy may be most effective if governments take control of the fossil fuel phase-out, worldwide. We posted an excellent summary argument for why this should happen, along with peeks into policy proposals taking shape in the U.S. and Europe. For folks who might be tempted to think the pandemic-induced economic recession has set us tentatively on a path to heal the climate, we note that atmospheric CO2 levels are still rising.

In a move that’s arguably the opposite of economic relief, the Trump administration struck a blow against clean energy by suddenly and retroactively requesting rent payments from wind and solar developers using federal lands. The pettiness of that double-cross is countered by inspiring innovations in energy efficiency, energy storage, and clean transportation.

The last day for public comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “secret science” rule didn’t pass quietly. A joint letter from 39 top scientific organizations and academic institutions stated that the rule would greatly diminish the role of science in EPA decisions concerning the environment and public health.

It’s interesting to compare fossil fuel corporate spending on green technologies, especially during a recession. At some point investments move beyond cynical greenwashing to something that might signal a course change toward sustainability. We found reporting that shows European oil majors are investing significantly more than their U.S. counterparts. This may be driven by the home country political and regulatory landscape, but even a pro-fossil American administration can’t protect the liquefied natural gas industry from market headwinds.

New rules proposed in April under the Clean Air Act would define biomass, when burned to produce energy, as being carbon neutral. Some 200 U.S. environmental scientists sent a letter to congressional committee chairs urging they reject these new rules. It’s important to note that the science on biomass has advanced considerably in recent years, and consensus is now firmly established that burning biomass for energy is neither clean nor carbon neutral.

We wrap up with a couple interesting reports on plastics. One describes a biodegradable plant-based alternative for beverage bottles, and another profiles efforts to use satellite data to detect plastic pollution in oceans.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Williams canned
New York Rejects Williams Pipeline Over Water, Climate Concerns
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
May 18, 2020

New York state has rejected the controversial Williams pipeline that would have carried fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, running beneath New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean before connecting to an existing pipeline system off Long Island.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) announced the decision Friday, arguing that pipeline construction would have harmed water quality and threatened marine life.

“New York is not prepared to sacrifice the State’s water quality for a project that is not only environmentally harmful but also unnecessary to meet New York’s energy needs,” DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said in a statement reported by POLITICO.

The decision is a victory for grassroots activists who have long campaigned against the pipeline. After Oklahoma-based company Williams submitted its most recent application, New Yorkers sent in more than 25,000 comments opposing the pipeline in two weeks, according to the Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition.

“We know [New York State Gov. Andrew] Cuomo only did this because we pressured him to do so,” anti-pipeline campaigner Lee Ziesche told HuffPost. “At the end of the day, he still needs to make a plan to get New York off of gas.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

gas leaks kill trees
Tree Deaths in Urban Settings Are Linked to Leaks from Natural Gas Pipelines Below Streets
A new study finds dying trees are 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane-contaminated soil, confirming long-held suspicions that gas leaks kill plants.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
May 20, 2020

Natural gas leaks from underground pipelines are killing trees in densely populated urban environments, a new study suggests, adding to concerns over such leaks fueling climate change and explosion hazards.

The study, which took place in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a low-income immigrant community near Boston, also highlights the many interrelated environmental challenges in a city that faces high levels of air pollution, soaring summer temperatures and is now beset by one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the nation.

Dead or dying trees were 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane in the soil surrounding their roots than healthy trees, according to the study published last month in the journal Environmental Pollution.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More about gas leaks

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

safety schmafety
Safety Can’t Be a ‘Pretext’ for Regulating Unsafe Oil Trains, Says Trump Admin
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
May 20, 2020

The federal agency overseeing the safe transport of hazardous materials released a stunning explanation of its May 11 decision striking down a Washington state effort to regulate trains carrying volatile oil within its borders. A state cannot use “safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth,” wrote Paul J. Roberti, the chief counsel for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

The statement appeared in the Trump administration’s justification for overruling Washington’s oil train regulation, which was challenged by crude-producing North Dakota and oil industry lobbying groups. The Washington rule seeks to limit oil vapor pressure unloaded from trains to less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi) in an attempt to reduce the likelihood that train derailments lead to the now-familiar fireballs and explosions accompanying trains transporting volatile oil.
» Read article

» More about virtual pipelines

DIVESTMENT

NY pension divest
Could New York’s Youth Finally Convince the State to Divest Its Pension of Fossil Fuels?
One analyst says oil, gas and coal were the biggest pension contributors for 30 years, but now are the worst performing sector—and there are no signs of improvement.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
May 15, 2020

In April, a day before Earth Day’s massive virtual gathering, Penna and about 150 other youth met with nearly 40 New York lawmakers or their staff online, asking them to support a bill that would force the New York Common Retirement Fund to divest from fossil fuel companies within five years. As of last year, the fund had nearly $211 billion in assets under management and currently has about $5 billion in fossil fuel holdings, according to the New York State Comptroller’s office.

The bill, known as the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, has been introduced in the New York Senate four years in a row but has never made it out of committee. But as youth climate strikers who are sheltering in place seek ways to spread their message without marching in the streets, the once stalled legislation has quickly gained support this year.
» Read article      
» Read the Act

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

five reasons for managed phaseout
Deep Dive: 5 reasons governments must act now to phase out oil and gas production
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International – blog post
May 20, 2020

Since the Paris Agreement was signed, Oil Change International (OCI) has been making the case that meeting its goals will require governments to proactively manage the phase-out of fossil fuel production. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and sudden cratering of the oil economy, that is more true than ever.

Low oil prices and a near-term drop in demand are causing immediate financial and logistical stress for the industry. But current events provide no guarantee that the industry will stay in long-term decline, especially at the pace needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

Now is precisely the time for governments to pursue a carefully planned exit from oil and gas production: to systematically disentangle their economies from this volatile and toxic industry in a way that lines up with global climate goals, invests deeply in a just transition for workers and local communities, and builds the clean energy sectors we will need long into the future.
» Read article

Inslee plan promoted
Former Inslee Staffers Urge Biden and House Dems to Embrace $1.2 Trillion Green Stimulus as Part of COVID-19 Recovery
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams – reprinted in DeSmog Blog
May 15, 2020

Staffers who helped develop Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s widely-praised climate policy during his 2020 presidential run are now calling on congressional Democrats to adopt the bold initiatives included in the plan to make a shift to a renewable energy economy within coronavirus relief legislation.

The staffers formed an advocacy and political action group, Evergreen Action, on Thursday, a month after calling on former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to adopt large portions of Inslee’s multi-trillion-dollar plan. Progressive groups including Justice Democrats asked that Biden work closely with Inslee’s team on climate action after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suspended his presidential campaign.

Both Biden and Democrats in Congress must view the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to “jumpstart” the United States economy while transitioning away from fossil fuels and offering relief to the 36 million Americans who have lost their jobs so far as a result of the coronavirus, Evergreen Action says.
» Read article

EU green recovery previewLeaked Document Lifts Lid on EU’s Green Deal ‘Recovery’ Package
The EU has reshaped its Green Deal into a recovery package, with huge support for renewables, green hydrogen and EVs set to be announced next week.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
May 21, 2020

First revealed in December 2019, the EU’s Green Deal was initially structured as a roadmap for the bloc to achieve its goal of net-zero status by 2050. But early progress has been hampered since the Green Deal was revealed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The coronavirus outbreak and a failure to agree on the EU’s next seven-year spending framework have created division among some member states that are nervous about the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Next week, the reworked — and renamed — Green Deal Recovery package will be presented in full, with a string of near-term policies added to act as an economic stimulus. It will be an early indicator of policymakers’ willingness to act on promises of a “green recovery.”
» Read article

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

still filling the tub
Even with people staying in, carbon dioxide is breaking records
The coronavirus is doing little to slow down climate change
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 7, 2020

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still rising, even though people are driving and flying less during the COVID-19 pandemic. CO2 reached an all-time daily high on May 3rd, hitting levels that haven’t been seen in the more than 60 years since records began.

The annual average is also expected to rise, according to an analysis published today by scientists at the national meteorological service for the UK and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They found that the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is still climbing steadily, and that the dramatic changes from the pandemic barely slowed it down.

An important thing to keep in mind is that carbon dioxide can persist in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years after it escapes our factories and tailpipes. “It’s like a bathtub and you’ve had the spigot on full blast for a while, and you turn it back 10%, but you’re still filling the bathtub,” says [Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at the nonprofit Climate Central]. “You haven’t really stopped filling the bathtub, you’ve just slowed it a tiny bit.”
» Read article      
» Read analysis

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

surprise rent
Trump administration slaps solar, wind operators with massive retroactive rent bills
By Nichola Groom, Reuters
May 18, 2020

The Trump administration has ended a two-year rent holiday for solar and wind projects operating on federal lands, handing them whopping retroactive bills at a time the industry is struggling with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, according to company officials.

The move represents a multi-million-dollar hit to an industry that has already seen installation projects cancelled or delayed by the global health crisis, which has cut investment and dimmed the demand outlook for power.

It also clashes with broader government efforts in the United States to shield companies from the worst of the economic turmoil through federal loans, waived fees, tax breaks and trimmed regulatory enforcement.
» Read article

electrify or fry
Electrifying Space Heating Will Require a Herculean Effort
The technology is here today, but the sector has a long way to go, according to Wood Mackenzie.
By Fei Wang, GreenTech Media
May 12, 2020

Natural gas and fuel oil satisfy 60 percent of heating needs of households in Europe. In the U.S., the share is about 75 percent. In China, coal and gas boilers make up more than 90 percent of heating sources.

To decarbonize space heating in residential and commercial buildings, several tools will need to work together: energy efficiency, electrification, and alternative fuels.

Building codes enacted and enforced by municipalities can also push forward all-electric new construction and retrofits. In California, 30 municipalities have started such initiatives encouraging or mandating building electrification, including San Francisco and San Jose.

In Europe, while the Green Deal recognizes buildings as a primary sector for decarbonization, several countries already enacted bans on fossil fuels for heating, such as Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

NUS chilling outCooling with heat: Hybrid air conditioner that reduces electricity consumption
By National University of Singapore News
May 14, 2020

The innovative air conditioners comprise an unconventional electrical compression machine that uses the heat from the sun and ambient surroundings to ease the electrical load of energy-guzzling compressors by up to 55 per cent.

“As the global temperature rises, fuelled by urbanisation and exacerbated by climate change, so does the global demand for fuel to run energy-hungry air conditioning. Today’s conventional air conditioners require high electrical energy, yet at the same time, they also produce a high volume of heat which is released into the environment, causing the creation of undesirable heat zones,” explained Associate Professor Ernest Chua Kian Jon from NUS Mechanical Engineering who led the team.

The jointly-developed solution utilises a solar thermal collector (i.e. heat collector) comprising vacuum tubes filled with a novel medium specially designed and engineered by the NUS team to absorb more solar energy and ambient heat.

The harnessed energy is then recycled to assist in the superheating of the refrigerant in the system, converting it from a low pressure, low temperature gas into a high pressure, high temperature gas. This reduces the system’s reliance on the compressor that pumps the refrigerant through the system and, in turn, reduces the system’s overall electricity consumption and the harmful greenhouse emissions released to the environment.
» Read article       

» More about energy efficiency     

ENERGY STORAGE

EV charging with storage
Energy storage poised to tackle grid challenges from rising EVs as mobile chargers bring new flexibility
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
May 18, 2020

“One can expect that the number of EVs in fleets will grow very rapidly over the next ten years,” according to Rhombus’ report. But that means many fleet staging areas will have trouble securing sufficient charging capacity.

“Given the amount of time it takes to add new megawatt-level power feeds in most cities (think years), fleet EVs will run into a significant ‘power crisis’ by 2030,” according to Rhombus.

“Grid power availability will become a significant problem for fleets as they increase the number of electric vehicles they operate,” Rhombus CEO Rick Sander said in a statement. “Integrating energy storage with vehicle-to-grid capable chargers and smart [energy management system] solutions is a quick and effective mitigation strategy for this issue.”
» Read article

» More about energy storage      

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Wireless EV charging
HEVO to Launch US Manufacturing for Wireless Electric Vehicle Charger
The Brooklyn-based startup quietly finalized a product, working with limited funds and staff. Now the race is on for the wireless charging market.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
May 21, 2020

Wireless electric vehicle charging carries a whiff of the future, akin to flying cars. But HEVO, a Brooklyn-based startup, aims to make it part of the present by emerging from obscurity with a commercially ready wireless charger this year.

The electric vehicle industry is scrambling to build out enough chargers to handle the expected wave of EV adoption. Wireless charging holds many potential advantages over the currently available wired systems.

Wired charging uses a smattering of different plugs, but automakers have already agreed to a universal wireless charging standard, eliminating interoperability challenges. Nobody can yank out the charging cable when a car is left to fill up at a wireless public station. Drivers don’t even need to get out of the car to charge, which is handy in a rainstorm.

From an urban-planning standpoint, wireless charging would allow a more seamless installation of charging equipment into existing paved surfaces, rather than sticking charging cables around town. And the technology could theoretically go into roadways to top up drivers on the go rather than making them park and wait.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation     

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

bad idea opposed
EPA’s ‘Secret Science’ Rule Meets with an Outpouring of Protest on Last Day for Public Comment
Among those opposing the proposed rule were nearly 40 top scientific organizations and academic institutions which jointly submitted a letter to the agency.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
May 19, 2020

As the deadline approached for public comment on a controversial “transparency” rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, 39 top scientific organizations and academic institutions joined together on Monday to warn that if finalized, the regulation would greatly diminish the role of science in decisions affecting the environment and the health of Americans.

In a letter submitted to the EPA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society, and a wide array of other professional groups and universities, strongly opposed the rule, which they said is “not about strengthening science, but about undermining the ability of the EPA to use the best available science in setting policies and regulations.”
» Read article      
» Read the AAAS letter          

» More about the EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oil majors reveal fantasy gap
Coronavirus widens climate rift between European and U.S. oil majors
By Ron Bousso and Shadia Nasralla, Reuters
May 18, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – Europe’s top oil and gas companies have diverted a larger share of their cash to green energy projects since the coronavirus outbreak in a bet the global health crisis will leave a long-term dent in fossil fuel demand, according to a Reuters review of company statements and interviews with executives.

Europe’s top five producers – BP, Shell, Total, Eni, and Equinor – are all focusing their investment cuts mainly on oil and gas activities, and giving their renewables and low carbon businesses a relative boost, according to Reuters calculations.

The biggest U.S. oil and gas companies are taking a different path, encouraged by a government that is a vocal supporter of expanding fossil fuel production: investment in business ventures outside petroleum hardly register, and that is not going to change without a shift in government policy.

Chevron CEO Mike Wirth told investors in a conference call on May 1 he expects demand for oil and gas to rebound after the coronavirus pandemic lifts.

“The world is not ready to transition to another source of energy in large part anytime soon,” he said.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG unmasked
Failed Finances and ‘the Demonization of Gas’ Are Threatening the Future of US LNG
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
May 14, 2020

The U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) market, once the promising golden child of the fossil fuel industry, has a major long-term problem. While it’s facing financial disaster due to the current crash in oil and natural gas prices, that’s only the short-term threat.

The real issue for the LNG industry is an existential one: It’s a fossil fuel in a rapidly warming world, and these polluting fuels are losing public favor fast.

As DeSmog reported earlier this year, European LNG buyers are considering measuring the true climate impacts of U.S. LNG, which means considering methane emissions — another strike against the U.S. LNG industry.

Growing public awareness and concern about the climate impacts of natural gas apparently are frightening industry executives.
» Read article

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass carbon accounting
Scientists warn U.S. Congress against declaring biomass burning carbon neutral
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay.com
May 13, 2020

Some 200 U.S. environmental scientists have sent a letter to congressional committee chairs urging they reject new rules proposed in April under the Clean Air Act that would define biomass, when burned to produce energy, as being carbon neutral.

The scientists say that biomass burning — using wood pellets to produce energy at converted coal-burning power plants — is not only destructive of native forests which store massive amounts of carbon, but also does not reduce carbon emissions.

A long-standing UN policy, recognizing biomass burning as carbon neutral, has caused the U.S. forestry industry to gear up to produce wood pellets for power plants in Britain, the EU, South Korea and beyond. Scientists warn that the failure to count the emissions produced by such plants could help destabilize the global climate.
» Read article      
» Read the letter

» More about biomass      

PLASTICS ALTERNATIVES

better bottles
The end of plastic? New plant-based bottles will degrade in a year
Carlsberg and Coca-Cola back pioneering project to make ‘all-plant’ drinks bottles
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
May 16, 2020

Beer and soft drinks could soon be sipped from “all-plant” bottles under new plans to turn sustainably grown crops into plastic in partnership with major beverage makers.

A biochemicals company in the Netherlands hopes to kickstart investment in a pioneering project that hopes to make plastics from plant sugars rather than fossil fuels.

The plans, devised by renewable chemicals company Avantium, have already won the support of beer-maker Carlsberg, which hopes to sell its pilsner in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of plant plastic.

Avantium’s chief executive, Tom van Aken, says he hopes to greenlight a major investment in the world-leading bioplastics plant in the Netherlands by the end of the year. The project, which remains on track despite the coronavirus lockdown, is set to reveal partnerships with other food and drink companies later in the summer.
» Read article

» More about plastics alternatives

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

 

floating plastic
Satellite imagery is helping to detect plastic pollution in the ocean
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
May 1, 2020

A new study illustrates how optical satellite imagery from the European Space Agency can be used to identify aggregates of floating plastic, such as bottles, bags and fishing nets, in coastal waters.

It is estimated that more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, threatening global ocean health.

While plastic tends to get pushed around in the ocean, winds and ocean currents will propel it into clusters that stay in one place. [Lauren Biermann, an Earth observation scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the U.K.] says she hopes that optical satellite data can help identify these aggregates, and that people and organizations can use this information to work on solutions.

“There will be cleanup operations like the Ocean Voyages Institute, which we’d like to work with. They would then go to where we spotted things, and they would be able to remove tons of plastic at a time,” Biermann said. “This really is the first technical exercise, but we would then like to apply the method, far more broadly … to rivers and open waters.”
» Read article

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 5/15/20

WNCI-7

Welcome back.

Although the coronavirus put a temporary stop to protests and actions against pipeline projects, there’s still a lot of activity behind the scenes. Eversource’s planned Ashland pipeline was deemed unnecessary in a report by the town’s consultant. Meanwhile, with the Weymouth compressor station nearing completion, the mayor is negotiating funding for various projects as compensation for hosting the facility. Read Bill McKibben’s interview with compressor resistance leaders Alice Arena and the Reverend Betsy Sowers for useful insights.

The political right is spinning pandemic-related economic pain as a preview of conditions it claims would follow enactment of the Green New Deal. This may be a draft copy of the Republican playbook for resisting transition to a greener economy.

New climate models predict unbearable future heat waves, while a fresh look at existing data reveal that episodes of dangerously high temperatures have already begun in some locations. Never mind – fossil fuel supporters are out banging the drum about the agricultural benefits of even more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

For a peek at a brighter, science-based future, you’ll find reports about innovation and progress in our energy efficiency, clean energy, energy storage, and clean transportation sections. Plus an interesting article about Maine’s proposal to solve its electricity reliability problems through a public purchase of the delivery system. The move has potential to green the grid more quickly.

When Trump’s EPA replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, we expected the “clean energy” part to be pretty meaningless. Confirmed – they just needed words that started with “C” and “E” so the rule could have a snappy acronym.

Our fossil fuel industry and LNG sections are all about exports of natural gas – especially to Europe. This ties into Bill McKibben’s interview about the Weymouth compressor station. Geopolitics (and the Trump administration’s desire to boost U.S. energy production) promote LNG exports to counter Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. At the same time, market headwinds are blowing strongly against LNG – and investors may ultimately decide it’s too risky. The Weymouth compressor is all about LNG exports, but five years of fierce and effective resistance has raised the stakes. If the global economic recession is deep and prolonged, Enbridge may have to choose between profit and pride.

— The NFGiM Team

ASHLAND PIPELINE

Ashland consultant says Eversource pipeline project is unnecessary
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
May 11, 2020

Here a few of the key takeaways from the report:

Major growth in the area not expected any time soon

The clinic has concluded that Eversource’s new project is not needed to meet current demand, nor would it be needed in the long term.

In its application, Eversource notes that customer demand for natural gas has increased in the past five years in the towns of Ashland, Framingham, Holliston, Natick and Sherbon. The company argues demand will continue to grow as more people turn to its services in the area – requiring the need for the new pipes.

The clinic argues, however, that Eversource doesn’t provide any data to explain why demand has risen in recent years. The clinic argues the growth isn’t the result of new customers moving into those areas, but rather homes and businesses switching to natural gas from other forms of heating. The clinic further claims that the Greater Framingham region’s population will not grow quickly enough for the current pipeline to be overwhelmed anytime soon, noting that between the years of 2010 and 2017, growth in total households in the area only increased .8 percent per year.

“The expected future growth to 2030 in total households across these towns range from a low negative .02 percent year in Sherborn to a high of 1.5 percent per year in Ashland,” the report reads, citing information from the U.S Census Bureau, UMass Donahue Institute and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Eversource’s projections in demand are higher than the federal or state government and do not comply with the state’s Global Warming Solution Act.
» Read article

» More about the Ashland Pipeline          

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

mitigation talks
Weymouth compressor station moves toward completion

Mayor Robert Hedlund said the town will need to work with the gas company to make sure the facility is as safe as possible.
By  Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
May 12, 2020

With the project allowed to proceed and construction well underway, Hedlund said there have been discussions about a mitigation payment from Enbridge to fund things such as improvements in North Weymouth and potential public safety resources. Hedlund said some residents are opposed to taking any money from the gas company, even as the compressor station becomes operational.

“Philosophically, do I work with them to address these things – things that will cost money? Do I put it on them, or do I put it on us?” he said.

Town officials have not had any discussions with Enbridge recently regarding mitigation, Hedlund said, but those talks are inevitable as the compressor nears completion. Hedlund said $10 million was a “marker thrown down” for a potential payment to the town, though there is no firm number.
» Read article      

One Crisis Doesn’t Stop Because Another Starts (scroll down to “Passing the Mic”)
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker
May 14, 2020


Enbridge hopes to move fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to [eastern] Canada, for export as L.N.G. [liquid natural gas]. It’s a battle with Russia for the European market, even as Europe turns toward renewables and some of Enbridge’s contracts in Europe are disappearing. (A small amount of the gas is destined for local distribution in Canada.) Its only point is to set one precedent and prevent another. It would set a precedent as the only transmission compressor station sited in a designated port area, in a FEMA flood zone, in a densely populated urban area adjacent to two environmental-justice communities, on only 4.3 acres of land. It would avoid setting the precedent of losing to a ragtag citizens group and a few municipalities who have cost them millions in overruns and lost shipping capacity in a five-year legal battle. They would be pariahs at fossil-fuel cocktail parties.
» Blog editor’s note: the whole newsletter is worth reading, but we’re focused on the “Passing the Mic” section which features an email conversation between McKibben and two leading organizers of opposition to the Weymouth Compressor Station.
» Read article      

» More about the Weymouth compressor station       

GREENING THE ECONOMY

GOP gaslight gambit
G.O.P. Coronavirus Message: Economic Crisis Is a Green New Deal Preview
As the economy melts down, embattled conservatives are testing a political response: saying Democratic climate policies would bring similar pain.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
May 7, 2020

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus and the struggle to contain it has tanked the economy, shuttered thousands of businesses and thrown more than 30 million people out of work. As President Trump struggles for a political response, Republicans and their allies have seized on an answer: attacking climate change policies.

“If You Like the Pandemic Lockdown, You’re Going to Love the Green New Deal,” the conservative Washington Examiner said in the headline of a recent editorial. Elizabeth Harrington, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, wrote in an opinion article in The Hill that Democrats “think a pandemic is the perfect opportunity to kill millions more jobs” with carbon-cutting plans.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy 

CLIMATE

carbon candyClimate Deniers Argue Carbon Pollution Is Beneficial, Again Take Aim at EPA’s Endangerment Finding
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
May 12, 2020

Climate science deniers at think tanks with fossil fuel ties are doubling down on attempts to undermine the bases for regulating climate pollution, from attacking estimated carbon pollution costs used in regulatory analyses to urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reverse its own scientific finding that underpins federal climate rules.

Even as experts’ understandings of climate science and the costs of carbon pollution have strengthened significantly, opponents of climate action are publishing flawed studies in scientific journals to support false claims that align with the fossil fuel industry’s deregulatory agenda.
» Read article      

wicked hot trending
Potentially fatal bouts of heat and humidity on the rise, study finds
Scientists identify thousands of extreme events, suggesting stark warnings about global heating are already coming to pass
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
May 8, 2020

Intolerable bouts of extreme humidity and heat which could threaten human survival are on the rise across the world, suggesting that worst-case scenario warnings about the consequences of global heating are already occurring, a new study has revealed.

Scientists have identified thousands of previously undetected outbreaks of the deadly weather combination in parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, South America and North America, including several hotspots along the US Gulf coast.

Humidity is more dangerous than dry heat alone because it impairs sweating – the body’s life-saving natural cooling system.

The number of potentially fatal humidity and heat events doubled between 1979 and 2017, and are increasing in both frequency and intensity, according to the study published in Science Advances.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about climate         

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

smart streetlights
Cities ‘finally waking up’ to the benefits of smart streetlights: survey
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
May 7, 2020

Investments in smart street lighting could total $8.2 billion over the next decade, according to a survey from smart infrastructure market intelligence firm Northeast Group LLC. Utilities are considering more efficient and connected street lighting as a way to help manage system demand and lower carbon emissions.

Northeast Group surveyed 314 large U.S. cities and found 185 cities (59%) are in the process of converting streetlights to LEDs, while 59 cities (19%) are considering smart street lighting. While LED conversion is the “largest piece of the pie” in terms of smart streetlight investment, there is increasing interest in two other areas: remote streetlight monitoring, and using streetlights to support broader internet of things (IoT) applications like air quality or traffic sensors.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency     

CLEAN ENERGY

rural coal cleanup
Closing of North Dakota Coal Plant, Energy Transition Comes Home to Rural America
The move may signal a turning point for rural cooperatives, which have been slow to embrace renewable energy
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
May 14, 2020

Great River Energy has announced it will close the largest coal-fired power plant in North Dakota and replace it with renewable sources, an almost complete overhaul of the way the utility provides electricity to the smaller rural electric cooperatives it serves.

The plan made me sit up and take notice because rural electric cooperatives have been slow to move away from coal and embrace renewables. These cooperatives serve only about 12 percent of the nation’s customers, but they operate a disproportionately large share of coal-fired power plants across the country.

Great River says it is taking these actions because the coal plant has become too expensive and customers increasingly want renewable energy.
» Read article      

renewables matching coal
In a First, Renewable Energy Is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S.
The coronavirus has pushed the coal industry to once-unthinkable lows, and the consequences for climate change are big.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
May 13, 2020

WASHINGTON — The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change.

It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants.

Now the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet.

As factories, retailers, restaurants and office buildings have shut down nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for electricity has fallen sharply. And, because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.
» Read article      

regional descrepancies - not
Duke CEO decries ‘assault’ on natural gas as shareholders, others blast company’s resource plans
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
May 13, 2020

Duke Energy faced tough questions from shareholders about its long-term resource plan last week, ahead of its Q1 earnings call on Tuesday.

Duke has been criticized by some for its plans to build out natural gas infrastructure, as well as its perceived slow progress on other clean energy investments. That concern was echoed by shareholders during the company’s 2020 shareholder meeting on Thursday, who asked the utility a number of questions related to its progress, especially relative to other utilities.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy         

ENERGY STORAGE

shiver and buzz
Cold storage: Organic proton batteries show disposal, solar pairing advantages in advance to market
A Sweden-based research team’s new battery can withstand low temperatures and more efficiently store renewable energy.
By Lynn Freehill-Maye, Utility Dive
May 11, 2020

Scientists in Sweden are stepping up in the global race to efficiently store renewable energy with an all-organic proton battery whose capabilities surprised even the researchers. Among them, the battery can be recharged directly from a solar cell within seconds, and can withstand temperatures of up to -24 degrees Celsius [-11.2 degrees F] without losing capacity.

The path to market remains long, but easier disposal compared to the hazardous-waste disposal challenges surrounding lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries could also provide a competitive advantage in the rapidly expanding energy-storage market, analysts say.
» Read article      

power to gas
Power-to-gas could be key to California’s long-duration storage needs, stakeholders say
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
May 6, 2020

Power-to-gas technologies, which soak up excess renewables that would otherwise have been curtailed to produce methane or hydrogen, are an option that can be seriously considered for California’s path to carbon neutrality, Karl Meeusen, senior advisor of infrastructure and regulatory policy at the California Independent System Operator, said during a webinar Tuesday.

Wärtsilä’s roadmap — initially presented during a webinar in March and then updated with a scenario based on hydrogen production — could help California reach its clean electricity goal five years ahead of the 2045 deadline, according to the company. It requires a quicker build out of renewables and battery storage than is currently laid out by the state’s integrated resource planning process, and then deploying power-to-gas technology to siphon off the excess renewables closer to 2045.

Any power system moving closer to 100% renewables will have huge amounts of over-generation, which will then need to be dumped somewhere, Ferrari said. But with power-to-gas technology, excess renewables can be sucked up either to electrolyze water, creating hydrogen, or power a methanizer, which produces methane.
» Blog editor’s note: methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and hydrogen reacts with atmospheric hydroxyl (OH) radicals, neutralizing them so they can’t do their work destroying greenhouse gases such as… methane. Since deployment of this technology would create methane and/or hydrogen leaks, any environmental analysis must consider a realistic accounting for the effect of these gases on climate. A word search through Wärtsilä Energy’s white paper turned up zero hits on “leak”.
» Read article     
» Read the Wärtsilä Energy
white paper

» More about energy storage   

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Rocky Mountain low carbon
Colorado Plans to Eliminate Emissions from Road Transportation
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
May 6, 2020

Colorado is moving ahead with a plan to get nearly 1 million electric vehicles (EV) on its roads by 2030 and, for the first time, has adopted a long-term goal of transitioning to 100 percent electric and zero-emission vehicles.

The state’s Energy Office recently released the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020, an update to the 2018 EV plan that established a target of 940,000 EVs by 2030. The new plan retains that target and lays out a vision for a “large-scale transition of Colorado’s transportation system to zero emission vehicles.” That vision includes electrifying all light-duty vehicles and making all medium and heavy-duty vehicles zero-emission (including electric, hydrogen, and other zero emissions technologies).

As noted in the 2020 EV Plan, transportation is projected to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state of Colorado by this year. Transitioning to to nearly a million EVs by 2030 could result in an annual reduction of 3 million tons of climate pollution in the state. De-carbonizing the transportation sector is a key strategy for meeting Colorado’s targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050, targets that are outlined in a state climate action law passed last year.
» Read article
» Read the plan

» More about clean transportation   

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Maine proposes public utility
Maine utility critics plot public takeover of the state’s electric grid
Creating a publicly owned distribution utility could boost reliability and renewables, supporters of the proposal argue.
By Tom Perkins, Energy News Network
Photo by
Jim Bowen, Flickr / Creative Commons
May 13, 2020

Years of simmering frustration over power outages and transmission issues in Maine is fueling a pitch for a public takeover of the state’s electric grid.

Maine records longer and more frequent power outages than any other state, according to federal data. The state’s investor-owned utilities blame the state’s rugged topography, but critics say the companies have underinvested in the grid infrastructure that could improve reliability and better accommodate renewables.

Now, a bipartisan bill is proposing to buy the transmission and distribution infrastructure of Central Maine Power and Emera and create a new publicly owned utility to operate it.
» Read article      

» More about electric utilities     

EPA

intended consequences
EPA’s New ACE Rule for Power Plants Barely Decreases Emissions
By Yale Climate Connections, in EcoWatch
May 12, 2020

Last year, the EPA repealed the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy aimed at reducing carbon pollution from power plants.

The agency replaced it with the Affordable Clean Energy – or ACE – rule.

The new rule does not place limits on power plant pollution. Instead, it directs states to prioritize energy efficiency improvements at power plants. The idea is that more-efficient plants will burn less fuel.

“An unfortunate kind of unintended consequence of that approach is that those power plants then become more cost-effective to operate and tend to run more,” says Kathy Fallon Lambert of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment.

Her team analyzed EPA data about the expected impact of the ACE rule. Because some plants will likely run more and old power plants may be kept online longer, she says that over a fifth of power plants were estimated to have an increase in CO2 emissions.
» Read article
» Read the analysis          

» More about the EPA      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

gas exports slow
Natural Gas Exports Slow as Pandemic Reduces Global Demand
Businesses in the United States, Israel and other countries were planning to invest billions in export terminals. Now, those projects are being canceled or delayed.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
May 11, 2020

HOUSTON — A few months ago, Israel and some Arab countries were laying the groundwork for an energy partnership that held the potential for economic cooperation between once-hostile neighbors.

Israel started selling natural gas to Egypt, which in turn was reviving two gas export terminals, attracting badly needed foreign investment and opening a path for Israeli gas to Europe. Lebanon was preparing to drill its first offshore gas well after years of delays. And Palestinian representatives joined a regional forum with officials from Israel and other countries to lift energy exports to Europe.

The damage to the gas trade goes well beyond the Middle East, hurting businesses from Australia to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The pandemic is putting the brakes on a two-decade-long global expansion for natural gas, which has been replacing coal for electricity and heating and even competing with oil as a transportation fuel in some developing countries.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels     

LNG

EU LNG from Russia
LNG Imports and New Supply Challenge Russia’s Hold on European Gas Market
By Yigal Chazan, Geopolitical Monitor
May 12, 2020

Russia’s dominance of Europe’s natural gas market, widely seen as threatening European energy security, is likely to be increasingly challenged as new suppliers establish a foothold in the region.

While Russia remains the European Union’s largest gas provider, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the US and other sources, such as Qatar, coupled with the emergence of Azerbaijan as a major gas supplier, is creating real competition, reducing member states’ dependence on Russia.
» Read article      

US LNG tankers to Europe to see a bleak outlook starting June: traders
By Antoine Simon, S&P Global
April 29, 2020

London — With continued support in US Henry Hub natural gas prices reaching near parity with European gas benchmarks, Europe is set for far less US LNG imports starting in June, traders argue.

LNG prices have collapsed globally, as the fallout from the coronavirus continues to destroy demand in the fuels’s most significant geographic markets. Traders expect a diminishing fleet of US LNG tankers to Europe as a result.

Global LNG prices are not expected to recover significantly before next winter, further pressuring North American project developers that are trying to advance new liquefaction capacity at the same time the coronavirus pandemic is weakening demand, the International Gas Union said Monday.

An IGU report highlighted 907 million mt/year of liquefaction capacity that has been proposed and has yet to be sanctioned by a final investment decision.
» Read article      

» More about liquefied natural gas  

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Weekly News Check-In 5/8/20

WNCI-6

Welcome back.

A recent federal appeals court ruling against the water-crossing permit issued to Keystone XL by the Army Corps of Engineers may signal an end to easy pipeline permits in general. Big Oil is watching closely.

Our new section on greening the economy is a great place for thought-provoking articles, and this week is exceptional.  We include writing that discusses a potential green bias in future project financing, the issues surrounding “just transition” – compensation for displaced fossil fuel sector workers – and a must-read essay by science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson who suggests that the Covid-19 crisis and global response may open our collective imagination enough to tackle climate change.

Our climate section offers fresh examples of why we should hope Robinson is right. Unless we change our emissions trajectory soon, about one-third of humanity will find itself facing intolerable heat within 50 years. Unfortunately the Trump administration has pressed a sustained and effective attack on the very federal institutions that should be leading the climate fight.

That said, we have to give tentative credit to the Treasury Department for suggesting in a recent three-sentence letter that it will extend the federal renewable energy credit deadline for some projects delayed by the Covid-19 crisis. Stay tuned… this could be particularly beneficial to the wind industry.

We have some good/bad news on energy storage. Southern California Edison has commissioned a record amount of new capacity in an attempt to get ahead of planned natural gas power plant shut-downs. At the same time, Tesla has announced it will have trouble keeping up with demand.

The Environmental Protection Agency is a prime example of an agency that has been transformed under Trump to do industry’s bidding. Its latest attack on the use of science in the public interest involves an attempt to use a 19th century rule that legal scholars may not even apply to this agency. A court challenge is likely.

Regardless of all the help it gets from the federal government and its captured regulatory agencies, the fossil fuel industry as a whole is in deep trouble. We offer three insightful articles for a clear look at the situation from the oil patch to the securities trading floor.

Until recently considered a boon to shale gas producers, the dream of exporting liquefied natural gas to higher-priced foreign markets has sailed onto the rocks. Huge projects are being cancelled as investors and politicians recognize this new reality.

We close with an issue related to burning woody biomass for energy. A new United Nations report raises concern that global forest production can’t sustainably keep pace with all the various wood products a growing human population demands.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

big oil yellow light
Big Oil Fears Keystone XL Ruling Means End of Easy Pipeline Permits
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
May 3, 2020

On April 15, Judge Brian Morris nullified water-crossing permits in Montana that were granted for the Keystone XL, a major setback for the long-embattled tar sands oil pipeline. The ruling came just days after Keystone XL owner TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, obtained billions of dollars in subsidies from the Alberta government as global oil prices plummeted.

The oil and gas industry has taken notice. Seemingly just a ruling on Keystone XL — the subject of opposition by the climate movement for the past decade — the ruling could have far broader implications for the future of building water-crossing pipelines and utility lines.

In his decision, Judge Morris cited a potential violation of the Endangered Species Act when he ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a deeper analysis of potential impacts to protected species. Morris required the Corps to demonstrate whether or not it could construct the pipeline without harming endangered species, such as the Pallid Sturgeon or the American burying beetle. Instead, the Army Corps “failed to consider relevant expert analysis and failed to articulate a rational connection between the facts it found and the choice it made,” Morris ruled, when the Corps gave Keystone XL the initial green light.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

financiers say rebuild green
Rich nations must make pandemic recovery plans green: global investors
By Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett, Reuters
May 4, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – The world’s richest nations must ensure their COVID-19 recovery plans are sustainable and help meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, according to leading global investor groups that together manage trillions of dollars in assets.

While some members of the world’s 20 biggest economies such as Britain, France and Germany have made statements about doing just that, some of the biggest emitters such as China and the United States have yet to do so.

The intervention comes as more governments start to plan for the lifting of lockdown restrictions that have cratered the revenues of companies from airlines to retailers and radically changed the economics of the energy sector.

The groups said private capital would play a key role in the recovery, but investors needed long-term policies to be put in place that reflected the agreed move to a low-carbon economy.
» Read article     

one last puff
Looming Coal and Nuclear Plant Closures Put ‘Just Transition’ Concept to the Test
In Europe, the fate of displaced power plant workers is increasingly a matter of national concern. So far, things look very different in the U.S.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
May 4, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has not changed the grim reality facing workers at coal and nuclear power plants in the U.S. and Europe. How those workers will fare in the years ahead will vary greatly based on where they live and the prevailing political winds.

In Europe, the retirement of aging plants is increasingly seen as a matter of national concern. Germany this year agreed to a €40 billion ($45 billion) compensation package for workers affected by the country’s planned phaseout of coal generation by 2038. Last month the Spanish authorities agreed a just transition plan affecting 2,300 workers across 12 thermal power plants that are due to close this year.

In contrast, there is no federal support plan for such workers in the U.S., said Tim Judson, executive director at the Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which lobbies for an end to nuclear and fossil-fuel power.
» Read article     

rewriting out imaginations
The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations
What felt impossible has become thinkable. The spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change as a civilization.
By Kim Stanley Robinson, The New Yorker
May 1, 2020

The Anthropocene, the Great Acceleration, the age of climate change—whatever you want to call it, we’ve been out of synch with the biosphere, wasting our children’s hopes for a normal life, burning our ecological capital as if it were disposable income, wrecking our one and only home in ways that soon will be beyond our descendants’ ability to repair. And yet we’ve been acting as though it were 2000, or 1990—as though the neoliberal arrangements built back then still made sense. We’ve been paralyzed, living in the world without feeling it.

Now, all of a sudden, we’re acting fast as a civilization. We’re trying, despite many obstacles, to flatten the curve—to avoid mass death. Doing this, we know that we’re living in a moment of historic importance. We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters. For some of us, it partly compensates for the disruption of our lives.

Actually, we’ve already been living in a historic moment. For the past few decades, we’ve been called upon to act, and have been acting in a way that will be scrutinized by our descendants. Now we feel it. The shift has to do with the concentration and intensity of what’s happening.
» Read article     

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

diminished capacity
The Trump Administration Has “Corroded” Federal Environmental Science

A watchdog group’s new report documents the heavy toll that three and a half years of Trump-era attacks have had on environmental and public health research at government agencies.
By Emily Gertz, Drilled News
May 7, 2020

The Trump administration’s ongoing attacks on the budgets, staffing, and priorities of federal environmental agencies have “corroded our government’s ability to protect our nation’s ecology and public health,” according to a new report from Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a government science watchdog.

“If there’s one overriding principle involved, it’s a pretty strategic taking-apart of government capacity to act in the public good,” said [the report’s lead author, Christopher Sellers, an environmental historian at Stony Brook University in New York].

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative formed in late 2016 to archive and monitor federal climate and other environmental data, and to track changes to environmental, energy, and climate information on government websites.
» Read article     
» Read the report         

insufferable in fifty
One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study
Human cost of climate crisis will hit harder and sooner than previously believed, research reveals
By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
May 5, 2020

The human cost of the climate crisis will hit harder, wider and sooner than previously believed, according to a study that shows a billion people will either be displaced or forced to endure insufferable heat for every additional 1C rise in the global temperature.

In a worst-case scenario of accelerating emissions, areas currently home to a third of the world’s population will be as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years, the paper warns. Even in the most optimistic outlook, 1.2 billion people will fall outside the comfortable “climate niche” in which humans have thrived for at least 6,000 years.

The authors of the study said they were “floored” and “blown away” by the findings because they had not expected our species to be so vulnerable.
» Read article
» Read the study

leases vacated in Montana
Judge Vacates Oil and Gas Leases on 145,000 Acres in Montana
A federal judge, rapping the Trump administration for its weak environmental assessments, has vacated hundreds of oil and gas leases across a large swath of Montana.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
May 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday vacated 287 oil and gas leases on almost 150,000 acres of land in Montana, ruling that the Trump administration had improperly issued the leases to energy companies in 2017 and 2018.

The judge, Brian Morris of the United States District Court for the District of Montana, said the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately take into account the environmental impacts of the drilling. In particular, Judge Morris found that the officials had not accounted for the drilling’s impact on regional water supplies and the global impact that the increased drilling would have on climate change.

The decision is at least the third such legal loss that criticized the Trump administration for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of expanding fossil fuel production on the warming of the planet.
» Read article     

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

deadline relief for wind
US Treasury to Tweak Tax Credit Deadlines for Renewables Projects
A letter issued by the Treasury Department suggests relief may be on the way for an anxious renewables market, particularly wind developers.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 7, 2020

A concise three-sentence letter sent by the U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday suggests relief may be on the way for a renewables industry concerned about meeting quickly approaching tax credit deadlines.

The letter came in response to a late April appeal from a bipartisan group of senators who asked that the department extend deadlines for solar and wind developers looking to qualify projects for the federal Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit. In the letter, addressed to Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, a long-time champion of the U.S. wind industry, Treasury said that it “plans to modify the relevant rules in the near future.”

That statement, though short on detail, may give breathing room to developers scrambling to keep projects on track as COVID-19-fueled delays throw schedules into disarray.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

hockey stick growth
SCE procures 770 MW of battery storage to bolster California’s grid as gas plants approach retirement
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
May 5, 2020

Southern California Edison (SCE) is procuring a 770 MW/3,080 MWh package of battery resources to bolster grid reliability, the utility announced May 1, in what would be one of the largest storage procurements made in the United States to date.

The battery projects will “enhance electric grid reliability and help address potential energy shortfalls identified in California,” SCE said in a press release, adding that they would also help California’s broader clean energy transition as multiple coastal once-through-cooling (OTC) plants approach retirement dates in the next three years.

The scale of the projects is “hard to describe,” Daniel Finn-Foley, head of energy storage at Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables, told Utility Dive, since this single procurement is more than the entire energy storage market in the U.S. for all of 2019.
» Read article     

storage demand high
‘Tremendous demand for stationary storage’ outstrips Tesla’s 2020 supply capability, Musk says
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
May 1, 2020

Tesla cannot meet the “tremendous demand” in 2020 for its energy storage products, like the large-scale Megapack battery systems, co-founder and CEO Elon Musk said during the company’s Q1 earnings call on Wednesday.

The company lists several COVID-19 impacts in its SEC filing, such as suspensions of operations at its facilities in Shanghai and New York, and deployment delays caused by closed government offices and businesses.

The pandemic is spurring the company to take a closer look at its cost structure, Musk said on the call.

“And we came to a conclusion that… the right move was actually to continue to expand rapidly, continue to invest in the future and in new technologies, even though it is risky. And we’ve talked to some of our key investors, and they support that approach as well,” he said, adding that long-term prospects for Tesla are extremely good.
» Read article     

» More about energy storage

EPA

bad housekeeping
Agency leans on 1870s ‘housekeeping’ law to block science
By Jean Chemnick, E&E News
May 8, 2020

EPA is trying to use a 19th-century statute giving department heads the right to manage personnel and internal record keeping to contain the science it uses when drafting regulations, including those on greenhouse gases.

The March supplementary proposal for a rule EPA bills as improving transparency of the science and modeling that underpin important agency work points to an obscure “housekeeping statute” enacted in 1874. It has roots in laws enacted under President Washington when early federal agencies were founded.

The agency’s gambit highlights the lengths to which the Trump administration will go, critics say, to cement the president’s anti-regulatory agenda ahead of a possible second term, or to try to tie the hands of subsequent administrations.
» Read article     

state enforcement lags
As EPA Backs Off Enforcement, States and Cities Have Little Capacity to Fill Gap
State and local governments often have authority but lack the resources and political will to enforce pollution rules.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
May 5, 2020

Since the Trump administration announced the suspension of much environmental enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic, advocates are calling on state and local regulators, as well as watchdog groups, to step up their efforts to fill the gap.

But that won’t be easy, whether in a Democratic-controlled state like Illinois or a Republican one like Indiana, given the impacts of the pandemic and past staffing and budget cuts that have curbed the ability of states to carry out enforcement.

In a March 26 letter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that polluters won’t be fined for failure to meet federal standards during the pandemic. Some experts feel the administration is using the pandemic to continue a trend of backing off on enforcement.
» Read article     

fine particulates vs science
EPA Decides to Reject the Latest Science, Endanger Public Health and Ignore the Law by Keeping an Outdated Fine Particle Air Pollution Standard
By H. Christopher Frey, DeSmog Blog – Opinion
May 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown have temporarily produced clearer skies across the U.S. Meanwhile, however, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been busy finding reasons not to pursue long-lasting air quality gains.

On April 30, 2020, the agency published a proposed new rule that retains current National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter without any revisions. It took this action after a five-year review process, in which scientific evidence showed unequivocally that these standards are not adequate to protect public health.
» Read article     

» More about EPA      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oil chaos
Oil chaos: Why is it so hard to cut production?
By Mike Lee and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
May 6, 2020

Last week’s round of earnings reports shows that oil companies are finally starting to pull back on their production in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Big and small companies alike announced that they’re shutting down rigs and closing down wells. Exxon Mobil Corp. said it plans to mothball 75% of its rigs in the Permian Basin.

But the response came more than a month after oil prices started to fall, leaving many observers asking: Why didn’t the industry hit the brakes sooner?
» Read article     

feels different this time
‘This Feels Very Different’
For over a decade, the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico has been the epicenter of the American oil boom. Now, it’s the epicenter of its demise.
By Tamir Kalifa and Clifford Krauss, New York Times
May 1, 2020

The Permian Basin, which stretches across Texas and New Mexico and is almost as big as Britain, accounts for one out of every three barrels of oil produced in the United States.

The region has a storied history. It provided much of the oil for the American and Allied effort during World War II. In the 1970s, the basin created so many millionaires that many drank champagne out of cowboy boots and had trouble finding places to park their private planes.

That was followed by a crash, after which a popular bumper sticker appeared everywhere: “God Grant Me One More Oil Boom and I Promise Not to Screw It Up.”
» Read article     

From Supermajors to Superminors: the fall of Big Oil
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
May 1, 2020

It is increasingly looking like COVID-19 could be Big Oil’s Kodak moment. For over a century these firms have been titans of business, offering a steady financial return in good times and bad.

But most importantly, they have been immovable pillars of stone for investors in times of turmoil. Whatever the financial weather, the companies rewarded their investors.

Although we are in times of trouble now, the supermajor oil companies, which we often describe as Big Oil: BP, Chevron, Eni, Exxon, Shell, Total, and ConocoPhilips, are anything but a safe bet right now.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LNG

dead in the water
Irish LNG Plan That Would Allow US Fracked Gas Imports ‘Dead in the Water’
By John Gibbons, DeSmog Blog
May 4, 2020

It is increasingly unlikely that Ireland will develop new infrastructure to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced from fracked wells in the US, after the plans suffered a series of potentially fatal legal and political setbacks.

First, the European Court of Justice advocate general, Juliane Kokott, ruled that An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s planning appeals body, erred in not requesting an up-to-date environmental impact study for the proposed Shannon LNG terminal before extending planning permission for a planned project. The decision means the case would have to be referred back to Ireland’s High Court.

Meanwhile, the political climate regarding the project has turned distinctly hostile, with the two major centrist parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil this week signing a joint letter that appears to signal the death knell for the LNG project.
» Read article     

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

not enough wood
Is There Enough Wood in the World to Meet the Sustainability Demand?
By Deutsche Welle, EcoWatch
May 4, 2020

According to the latest figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global forest production hit record levels in 2018. Up 11% on the year before.

“We see an increasing demand for almost all of our products,” says Göran Örlander, strategist at Södra, Sweden’s largest association of forest owners. “The most obvious demand is for biofuels at the moment. Everybody wants to have biofuels to replace fossil fuels.”

The idea is that burning wood becomes close to carbon neutral if the forests from where it is taken are replenished at the same rate as they are felled for fuel.

But critics question whether this is the case in every country which claims to provide sustainable wood, and say some of what is supplying the current boom in biomass fuels comes from existing forests rather than sustainably managed plantations.

They also point to the carbon emitted from the soil of cleared forests, and to the emissions created in the felling and processing of wood products.
» Read article     

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/17/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

We kick off with a note acknowledging that the relentless drive to build pipelines hasn’t yielded to a mere pandemic. The Keystone XL is pushing south into Montana with an initial work crew of 100 – many more to come.

Our climate section leads with a remembrance from Drilled News of notorious climate change denier Fred Singer, who passed away at 95. During his long career he spun layers of falsehoods and confusion in service of the planet’s biggest polluters.

Because improving the energy efficiency of buildings is critical to achieving necessary emissions reductions, it’s notable that the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulation and Standards (BBRS) appears skeptical of building design experts – apparently favoring developers who prefer existing methods and performance levels. We offer an excellent CommonWealth Magazine article to explain the headwinds faced by the net-zero building code campaign.

The pandemic highlights a multitude of fractures in American society. Clean energy development may offer a rare opportunity to lift people up from under-served and vulnerable communities. The economic potential is huge for post-pandemic recovery. We found a hopeful vision of how benefits might be broadly shared.

Now that the Trump administration has gutted vehicle emissions requirements, clean transportation may still be saved by California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards, combined with the likelihood that a future administration will put transportation sector decarbonization back on track.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been busy under Administrator Andrew Wheeler – continuing its planetary assault while a raging pandemic diverts public attention. In a particularly elegant bit of regulatory jujitsu, the agency rewrote a mercury pollution rule by leaving current standards in place but changing “how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains.” This subtle language has significant implications for many classes of pollutants and their future environmental impact.

Our fossil fuel industry section is particularly interesting. We found the usual press coverage of its precarious financial condition – already on the edge of insolvency even before the Saudi-Russian price war and sudden economic shutdown. Now there are emerging calls for a federal government takeover. And why not? The whole industry is in crisis, and a bargain at current share prices. If it were under federal control, a climate-minded administration could manage the phase-out and transition to a carbon-free future. It’s arguably a good investment, considering the massive costs associated with alternative, business-as-usual or go-slow climate scenarios.

We close on a  related topic. The pandemic and global economic crash have dealt a serious blow to expansion plans for the liquefied natural gas market. Australia is feeling that now, with LNG exports facing an uncertain future down under.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Keystone corona style
Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
April 07, 2020

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.

As EcoWatch reported, last week Canada-based TC Energy said it would start construction despite the climate impacts of the pipeline and the concerns about transporting construction crews during the coronavirus outbreak.

The construction that began yesterday involved around 100 workers in a remote border crossing between Montana and Canada, which is home to cattle ranches and wheat fields, according to a spokesperson from TC Energy, as the AP reported. The number of people involved in the construction is supposed to grow into the thousands as construction advances.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines    

CLIMATE

ding dong FSFred Singer Has Passed. He Took Pleasure In Bullying Scientists. May He Rest.
­Why speak well of the late climate denier Fred Singer, who spent over half a century attacking credible science and scientists?
By Paul Thacker, Drilled News
April 16, 2020

A chief talent of Fred Singer, the world-famous climate denier who died on April 6 at 95, was bullying scientists whose work he could never match, and whose findings threatened the bottom lines of his corporate polluter clients.

Singer was a physicist, whose most notable scientific work involved contributions to planetary science, as well as early satellite and rocket technologies. But beginning in the 1950s, and for a half-century thereafter, Singer offered up to the media his takes on the shortcomings of other sciences and scientists, especially those studying the impacts of toxic chemicals, air pollution, and smoking on the environment or public health. Singer’s opinion pieces appeared in newspapers all across the country, and he relished providing that perfect contrarian quote to a reporter on deadline who needed to “balance” a story about environmental regulations.

Singer seemed to take special pleasure in discrediting scientists who investigated the ways that human activity threatens public health and the safety of our planet, the sort of research that informs regulations to solve problems ranging from acid rain’s toll on forests to DDT’s impacts on wildlife, as well as — of course — the effects of climate change on us all.
» Read article     

cooperate and commit
Strengthen worldwide climate commitments to improve economy, study finds
Global economy could lose out by $600tn by end of century on current emissions targets
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

Every country in the world would be economically better off if all could agree to strengthen their commitments on the climate crisis through international cooperation, new research has found.

But if countries go no further than their current CO2 pledges – which are too weak to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and would lead to dangerous levels of global heating – then they face steep economic losses.

The global economy would lose out by as much as $600tn (£476tn) by the end of the century, on current emissions targets, compared with its likely growth if countries meet the Paris goals, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.
» Read article     
» Download the study       

credibility gap
To advise on green stimulus, the IEA needs to upgrade its own climate toolbox
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International / Blog Post
April 9, 2020

Oil Change International (OCI) has tracked how the IEA has historically hindered the bold climate ambition we need by normalizing and promoting fossil fuel-friendly scenarios and investments. In this post, we delve deeper into key shortcomings the IEA needs to correct in its own modelling toolbox in order to credibly advise governments on crafting ambitious, climate-proof economic recovery plans.
» Read article     

» More about climate    

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

BBRS and Net Zero
Cracking the climate code
Battle raging over building energy standards
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 8, 2019

AN ARCANE STATE BOARD, known to few outside the world of design and construction, is the setting of a furious clash the outcome of which could influence the amount of climate-curdling emissions that pour out of chimneys, as well as the future supply of housing in Massachusetts, where affordable homes are already scarce.

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards might seem an odd venue for the drama that has unfolded there. The BBRS adopts and administers the statewide building code and the building energy code, sets of rules that are important but would bore the average reader to tears. It is the domain of professionals who think in cubic feet, seismic loads, and kilowatt hours. Now, the problems of the world are before it.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency      

CLEAN ENERGY

get it right
Advocates call for methodical approach to make sure offshore wind benefits all
Low-income populations and people of color were largely left out of Massachusetts’ biotechnology and cannabis booms.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo by Wind Denmark / Flickr / Creative Commons
April 13, 2020

With offshore wind expected to add as much as $100 billion to the economy along the East Coast over the next 30 years, activists and business leaders in Massachusetts are urging the state to take steps ensuring that low-income populations and people of color are able to share in the benefits of the burgeoning industry.

“There will be a lot of economic opportunity and jobs,” said Elizabeth Henry, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Think about what even just a fraction of that could do for communities that have been persistently left behind — it’s really exciting.”
» Read article     

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

impact on EVs
Trump’s new fuel-efficiency rule: The devil is in the details for electric cars
By Bradley Berman, Electrek
April 10, 2020

It’s well known that on March 31, the Trump administration gutted fuel-economy and greenhouse gas rules for model years 2021 to 2026. But what does it mean specifically for electric vehicles? Environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond broke down the new rule, shedding light on provisions for EVs.

Beveridge & Diamond warns that automakers who immediately start disregarding California ZEV standards “do so at their own risk.” The lawsuits are only beginning, and if the administration changes next year, it will likely invalidate the rules.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation    

EPA

change in calculations
Trump’s EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution Rule
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 17, 2020

As many Americans fight for their lives in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, the Trump administration Thursday axed the justification for a mercury pollution rule that saves more than 10,000 lives and prevents as many as 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

The new rollback leaves mercury emission standards in place for now, but changes how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains, The New York Times reported. The move provides a legal opening to challenge other pollution controls even as evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution might increase one’s chances of dying from the new coronavirus.

“This is an absolute abomination,” former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head under Obama and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) president Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This final rule will increase the risk of more kids with asthma and brain damage, and more people with cancer. Undermining these vital safeguards now also directly threatens the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even harder to breathe and putting people with respiratory illnesses at even higher risk.”
» Read article    

quicksilver play by EPA
E.P.A. Weakens Controls on Mercury
The agency is changing the way it calculates the benefits of mercury controls, a move that would effectively loosen the rules on other toxic pollutants.
By Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 16, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday weakened regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants, another step toward rolling back health protections in the middle of a pandemic.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution that environmental lawyers said would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.

By reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.

“That is the big unstated goal,” said David Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. “This is less about mercury than about potentially constraining or handcuffing future efforts by the E.P.A. to regulate air pollution.”
» Read article     

science schmience
Ignoring Scientists’ Advice, Trump’s EPA Rejects Stricter Air Quality Standard
The decision flies in the face of large-scale studies that indicated tightening the standard would save tens of thousands of lives.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
April 15, 2020

Sweeping aside a broad body of evidence that air pollution is killing as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year, the Trump administration on Tuesday rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for fine soot.

The proposal to maintain the current standard for PM 2.5—microscopic particles known as fine particulate matter—in the face of alarming new science documenting its potentially deadly health effects, is a win for the fossil fuel industry. It comes amid a frenzy of major decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say is designed to secure the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy in the face of an uncertain future.

The Trump EPA has raced to loosen or reject a slew of clean air protections, even as the nation has been brought to a virtual standstill by a highly contagious virus that can produce serious or even fatal respiratory symptoms. In the last month, the Trump EPA has weakened fuel economy standards, advanced a proposal to discount the findings of scientific studies on health in rulemaking and announced a blanket suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws.

The decision to maintain the status quo on PM 2.5 was especially striking in the context of the pandemic, and came just days after Harvard researchers released preliminary results of a study showing that U.S. counties with high PM 2.5 levels have higher coronavirus death rates.
» Read article     

fine particles - EPA
Trump administration declines to stiffen US clean air standards
EPA chief Wheeler says current soot regulations are adequate despite research that shows stricter rules could save thousands of lives
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

The Trump administration has said it will not tighten rules for soot pollution, despite research showing that doing so could save thousands of lives each year.

The fine particles, which come from the burning of coal, oil and wood, penetrate the respiratory system and are linked with heart and lung diseases, higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and cancer.

Under the current standard, which was set in 2012, polluters can emit enough soot to measure 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Strengthening the standards to 11 micrograms could save about 12,000 lives per year, according to one Harvard study of US seniors.

Other research, noted in the government’s own analysis, found that maintaining the soot standard at its current level could allow as many as 52,000 deaths a year in just 47 urban areas.
 » Read article     

evidence
‘Unbelievable’ Timing: As Coronavirus Rages, Trump Disregards Advice to Tighten Clean Air Rules
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 14, 2020

WASHINGTON — Disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates, the Trump administration declined on Tuesday to tighten a regulation on industrial soot emissions that came up for review ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew R. Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency will not impose stricter controls on the tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, a regulatory action that has been in the works for months. The scientific evidence, he said, was insufficient to merit tightening the current emissions standard.
» Read article     

» More about the EPA        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

CARES Act oil bailout
Fed’s Corporate Debt-Buying Could Mean Billion-Dollar Big Oil Bailout
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams in EcoWatch
April 16, 2020

As calls for a People’s Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country’s Big Oil companies “stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout” thanks to the Federal Reserve’s plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.

The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
» Read article     
» Read FOE analysis         

the case for public ownership
Discussion Paper: The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
April 14, 2020

The U.S. fossil fuel industry continues to seek bailouts during the COVID-19 crisis, as global oil demand craters and crude oil floods an already oversupplied market.

During this crisis, the U.S. government should assert long-term ownership and control over fossil fuel companies to safeguard long-term economic security for workers, avoid taxpayer-funded windfalls for fossil fuel executives, restore communities exploited by fossil fuel corporations, save taxpayer dollars, and ensure an eventual managed phase-out of coal, oil, and gas production.

Bailing out the oil, gas, and coal industries with no strings attached would return our economy to a precarious status quo in which the fossil fuel industry’s volatile and environmentally destructive business model worsens our economic and environmental crises. It would allow a handful of executives and wealthy shareholders to continue to extract the vast majority of profits, while taxpayers, workers, and exploited communities shoulder the burden of corporate and social risks and externalities.
» Read overview    
» Download discussion paper
» Read related press release        

late 80s bad
Big Banks Pull Financing, Prepare To Seize Assets From Collapsing Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 13, 2020

While banks seizing assets from borrowers who can’t repay loans is common for industries like real estate — especially residential real estate — it is an unusual move for the oil and gas industry. Reuters reported that the last time it happened was during the oil price crash of the late 1980s. In the most recent oil price crash, when oil dropped from prices over $100 a barrel to $40 a barrel, there was a rash of bankruptcies, but the banks did not seize assets.

One difference now is that shale oil companies have continued to increase debt — thanks to loans from the banks — to the point where most of these companies are not viable with low oil prices. As one industry observer recently noted in the New York Times, “This is late ’80s bad.”

One new angle that didn’t exist in the 1980s is a dramatic change in sentiment from parts of the investment community about the viability of the oil industry as an investment. Television investment advisor Jim Cramer of CNBC was saying oil stocks were in the “death knell phase” in January, before oil prices crashed to the current lows and the coronavirus had crushed global oil demand.

More recently, in a remarkable opinion piece for Seeking Alpha, Kirk Spano advised investors to get out of the industry now with a unique twist on why this was urgent.

“We are about to see a massive wave of shale oil bankruptcies by thieving executives who have borrowed against assets and paid themselves bonuses for years without regard to shareholder value.”

While DeSmog has commented on issues of potential industry fraud and executives paying themselves while the companies they ran lost money, it is a decided shift in sentiment when sites like SeekingAlpha are calling for investors to get out and then “sue the dirt out of the executives who have almost all broken fiduciary duties.”

Which is why banks are now considering seizing the assets of the failed oil  companies — it is a bad option for the banks but it is the best one left.
» Read article     

cuts are complicated
Oil Nations, Prodded by Trump, Reach Deal to Slash Production
The deal will reduce output by 9.7 million barrels a day. While significant, the cut falls far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 12, 2020

HOUSTON — Oil-producing nations on Sunday agreed to the largest production cut ever negotiated, in an unprecedented coordinated effort by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States to stabilize oil prices and, indirectly, global financial markets.

Saudi Arabia and Russia typically take the lead in setting global production goals. But President Trump, facing a re-election campaign, a plunging economy and American oil companies struggling with collapsing prices, took the unusual step of getting involved after the two countries entered a price war a month ago. Mr. Trump had made an agreement a key priority.

It was unclear, however, whether the cuts would be enough to bolster prices. Before the coronavirus crisis, 100 million barrels of oil each day fueled global commerce, but demand is down about 35 percent. While significant, the cuts agreed to on Sunday still fall far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
» Read article     

wink and nod
Coronavirus May Kill Our Fracking Fever Dream
America’s energy independence was an illusion created by cheap debt. All that’s left to tally is the damage.
By Bethany McLean, New York Times Opinion
April 10, 2020

Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the idea of energy independence, which in its grandest incarnation meant freedom from the world’s oil-rich trouble spots, has been a dream for Democrats and Republicans alike. It once seemed utterly unattainable — until the advent of fracking, which unleashed a torrent of oil.

In reality, the dream was always an illusion, and its collapse was already underway. That’s because oil fracking has never been financially viable. America’s energy independence was built on an industry that is the very definition of dependent — dependent on investors to keeping pouring billions upon billions in capital into money-losing companies to fund their drilling. Investors were willing to do this only as long as oil prices, which are not under America’s control, were high — and when they believed that one day, profits would materialize.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, the spigot was drying up. Now, it has been shut off.
» Read article     
Ms. McLean is the author of “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World.”

climate deception
Baltimore, Rhode Island Argue They’re Suing Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Deception
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 10, 2020

At a time when fossil fuel companies are using a public health crisis to demand financial and regulatory support, the governments of Baltimore and Rhode Island are calling out a “decades-long campaign of deception” by these companies in urging courts to advance lawsuits trying to hold polluters responsible for climate damages.

Over a dozen of these climate liability lawsuits are currently pending, brought by cities, counties, one state, and one trade association seeking payments to help cover climate change-related costs. The lawsuits target major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, alleging they deliberately deceived the public and policymakers on the dangers of fossil fuels.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels        

LNG

LNG hits pause down under
Australia’s booming LNG industry stalls after fall in oil prices amid coronavirus
More than $80bn of investment decisions are delayed due to a collapsed oil price and a geopolitical price war
By Adam Morton, The Guardian
April 12, 2020

The extraordinary growth in Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, the main cause of recent rises in national greenhouse gas emissions, has stalled indefinitely, with decisions on more than $80bn of investments delayed due to a collapsed oil price sunk by coronavirus and a geopolitical price war.

The price of Brent crude oil is less than half what it was in early January, having fallen again on Friday despite the Opec oil cartel and its allies reaching a supply deal to stop Saudi Arabia and Russia flooding the world with more oil than it can use. The Asian spot price for LNG, which is linked to the oil benchmark, is down about two-thirds in six months.

The unprecedented crash had already prompted oil and gas giants to defer investment decisions on projects including Woodside’s massive Burrup Hub expansion off the Western Australian coast and Santos’ $7bn Barossa project 300km north of Darwin. A decision on the first parts of the Burrup Hub expansion, including a $17bn development of the Scarborough gas field, has been pushed to 2021.
» Read article     

» More about LNG         

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Weekly News Check-In 4/3/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

Greetings from another week of lockdown and social distancing, as we continue to take steps to keep ourselves and especially others safe during the coronavirus pandemic. We take inspiration, instruction, and comfort from Daniel Matarazzo’s inspired work of public service. You’ll find important news below, but definitely start here.

Developments in climate news include a one-year delay in the next United Nations-sponsored climate conference, COP26, due to coronavirus concerns. An interesting consequence of this schedule change is that it will give participants time to react to U.S. election results.

The Trump administration finalized its rollback of automobile emissions regulations – setting back one of the most important climate change mitigation efforts underway in the United States. The move was anticipated, and immediately challenged in court. This capped a busy couple of weeks in the annals of environmental assault, which also saw the EPA suspend enforcement of important air and water pollution laws during the pandemic.

We wrap up the climate section on a positive note, with an insightful Rolling Stone profile of Greta Thunberg.

Although clean transportation was bruised by Trump’s regulatory rollback, the climate case for electric vehicles was bolstered by yet another important study. It’s now certain that EVs are the lowest emitters in nearly every part of the world, regardless of what energy mix powers the electric grid that charges them. This decisively invalidates longstanding efforts by fossil fuel interests to dismiss electric vehicles as ineffective in lowering overall transportation sector emissions.

The fossil fuel industry is experiencing an existential disruption due to falling demand and cratering oil prices. Already on shaky financial ground, the industry is lobbying hard for government bailout money, while different players across and within sectors are turning on each other – each protecting its own interests as some maneuver to profit from the demise of others. This is where capitalism’s vaunted “creative destruction” morphs into “Lord of the Flies”.

We conclude with another story about the plastics / fracking connection. A huge new plastics plant in Gramercy, Louisiana is poised to spew massive amounts of greenhouse gas while adding to the pollution load on that already-burdened community.

— The NFGiM Team

CLIMATE

Glasgow COP26 delayed
Coronavirus Delays Key Global Climate Talks
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
April 1, 2020

This year’s United Nations-sponsored climate talks, widely regarded as the most important climate meeting of the past four years, were postponed on Wednesday because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The session, known as the Conference of Parties, had been scheduled to take place in Glasgow for a week and a half in mid-November. It was postponed to 2021, the world body’s climate agency and the host government, Britain, confirmed late Wednesday.
» Read article      

COP’s Postponement Until 2021 Gives World Leaders Time to Respond to U.S. Election
The annual United Nations climate meeting in Glasgow had been scheduled for six days after the presidential contest in early November.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
April 1, 2020

resident Donald Trump announced shortly after taking office that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, but under the agreement, the earliest possible withdrawal date is Nov. 4, four years after the agreement took effect in the United States—and a day after the upcoming presidential election.

The meeting in Glasgow had been scheduled for six days after the election. That would have given leaders little time to respond to either another Trump administration—and the full withdrawal of the United States from the pact—or a new, incoming Democratic administration, which, under the agreement’s rules, could restore and revamp U.S. commitments as soon as February 2021.

“With this scenario at least you have clarity on who the president is well before the meeting,” Meyer said. “And in a Trump scenario, they would have more than six days to think through the implications of four more years of Trump and figure out their response. It provides a little more breathing space.”
» Read article      

cough it up Wheeler
Court Rules EPA Can’t Keep Secret Key Model Used in Clean Car Rule Rollback
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

A federal appeals court ruled April 1 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had no basis to withhold one key part of a computer model used by the agency to develop its less stringent greenhouse gas emission standards for new vehicles. The ruling came just one day after EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a final rule rolling back clean car standards set under the Obama administration.

The new Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, which requires vehicle fuel economy improvements of 1.5 percent annually rather than 5 percent, is expected to increase air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and consumer fuel spending.

Several environmental and public interest groups — ardent critics of the laxer standards — submitted formal comments to EPA last year noting that the agency disregarded its own modeling for the rulemaking and refused to publicly disclose information related to that modeling. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also brought a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against EPA to compel the agency to release the full components of a modeling program called the Optimization Model for Reducing Emissions of Greenhouse Gases from Automobiles (OMEGA). The computerized program forecasts how automakers could comply with certain greenhouse gas emission standards.
» Read article      

big orange and the blowTrump Admin Weakens Clean Car Standards Despite Its Analyses Showing Rule Favors Big Oil Over Health, Climate
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2020

The Trump administration today announced the final rule that rolls back Obama-era clean vehicle standards, a move that, according to the government’s own analyses, is expected to benefit the oil industry and harm consumers, public health, and the climate.

Experts also warn it will result in litigation and global market inconsistency to the detriment of automakers.

The Trump administration standards require average fuel economy of only about 40 miles per gallon in 2025, with annual increases of 1.5 percent starting in 2021, as opposed to the 5 percent annual increase under the Obama standards. The laxer standards under the SAFE rule are expected to result in over a billion metric tons more climate pollution through 2040.

The move was condemned by former and some current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees.

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have for the past decade jointly set the greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards. The joint national program, first announced by Obama in 2009, came on the heels of the auto industry bailout and was welcomed by automakers.

The national program also aligned with stricter clean vehicle standards sought by California, which has authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt its own vehicle emissions standards.

Now automakers, though they had initially lobbied the Trump administration for weaker standards, could face more uncertainty especially given California’s legal challenge to the federal government’s revocation of its Clean Air Act authority. Several automakers including Ford, Honda, BMW of North America, and Volkswagen Group of America agreed last year to adhere to California’s more stringent vehicle standards, while a coalition of other automakers backed the Trump administration in the lawsuit, thus dividing the auto industry.
» Read article      

rolling with Trump
Trump to roll back Obama-era clean car rules in huge blow to climate fight

Announcement will allow vehicles to emit 1bn more tons of CO2; Experts say move will lead to more life-threatening air pollution
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
March 31, 2020

The Trump administration is rolling back the US government’s strongest attempt to combat the climate crisis, weakening rules which compel auto companies to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. Critics say the move will lead to more life-threatening air pollution and force Americans to spend more on gasoline.

The changes to Obama-era regulations will allow vehicles to emit about a billion more tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide – equivalent to roughly a fifth of annual US emissions.

The rollback is one of dozens Trump officials have ushered to completion, seeking to bolster the fossil fuel industry amid intense opposition from Democratic-led states and pushback from world leaders.
» Read article      

emitters get free ride
Trump administration allows companies to break pollution laws during coronavirus pandemic
Extraordinary move signals to US companies that they will not face any sanctions for polluting the air or water
By Oliver Milman and Emily Holden, The Guardian
March 27, 2020

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suspended its enforcement of environmental laws during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, signaling to companies they will not face any sanction for polluting the air or water of Americans.

In an extraordinary move that has stunned former EPA officials, the Trump administration said it will not expect compliance with the routine monitoring and reporting of pollution and won’t pursue penalties for breaking these rules.

Polluters will be able to ignore environmental laws as long as they can claim in some way these violations were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the event of an imminent threat to public health, the EPA will defer to the states and “consider the circumstances” over whether it should intervene.

There is no end date set for this dropping of enforcement.
» Read article      

now or never
How one Swedish teenager armed with a homemade sign ignited a crusade and became the leader of a movement

By Stephen Rodrick, Rolling Stone   
March 26, 2020

Greta’s rise was the activist version of a perfect storm. Her ascension from bullied Swedish student to global climate icon has been driven by both a loss and a regaining of hope. It is not a coincidence that her ascent happened immediately in the aftermath of the election of Trump. It’s impossible to see a Greta-like phenomena emerging during the Obama-driven run up to the Paris climate talks, when it actually looked like nations of the world were getting their shit together to deal with global warming. It became obvious after Trump and the Paris implosion that 30 years of rhetoric and meetings had created very little except more talk.
» Read article      

» More about climate          

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

buzz aroundYet Another Study Confirms: Electric Cars Reduce Climate Pollution
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 27, 2020

Electric cars are better for the climate than gas-powered vehicles in nearly every part of the world. That’s the clear, unequivocal finding of the first study that conducted a global examination of the current and future greenhouse gas emissions of electric vehicles (EVs) and gas-powered cars. This study directly refutes myths perpetuated by climate science deniers and EV antagonists, who claim that EVs are really not all that green.

The team of European researchers behind the new study build on recent similar findings by the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Each of these studies have taken a worldwide look at the life cycle emissions from EVs that are charged by a variety of forms of electricity generation, from the cleanest to the dirtiest of grids. The new study again dispels the myth that electric cars are more polluting than gas-powered cars because they are charged by coal-fired electricity.

Additionally, the researchers reveal that electric heat pumps are also less carbon-intensive than fossil fuel-based heating. The study, published March 23 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Sustainability, supports the understanding that electrification of road transport and home heating helps lower climate pollution.
» Read article      
» Read the study     

electric is cleaner
Electric cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles, study confirms
Finding will come as boost to governments seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 23, 2020

Electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits.

The finding is a boost to governments, including the UK, seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions, which will require a massive expansion of the electric car fleet. A similar benefit was found for electric heat pumps.

In the UK, transport is now the biggest contributor to the climate crisis and domestic heating has been stubbornly stuck on natural gas for much of the country.

Across the world, passenger road vehicles and household heating generate about a quarter of all emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. That makes electric vehicles essential to reducing overall emissions, but how clean an electric vehicle is also depends on how the electricity is generated, the efficiency of the supply and the efficiency of the vehicle.

That has made some individuals and governments question whether these technologies are worth expanding. The study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, produced a decisive yes.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oily infighting
Industry Infighting as Oil and Gas Seek Government Help

By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

While the U.S. government is looking for ways to prop up unprofitable drilling, the industry is not a monolith. The collapse of the oil markets appears to be leading to infighting from various factions within the fossil fuel industry. For example, the oil majors are content to let smaller shale oil drillers fail, as DeSmog has reported, which would allow them to snatch up the shattered pieces on the cheap.

But the idea of tariffs on imported crude or a more comprehensive ban on imports is creating another fissure in the industry. Refiners, many of which import from abroad, are dead set against the idea. Refiners “aren’t seeking bailout relief from the government or financial stimulus, but they do need to avoid having additional hurdles thrown their way,” Susan Grissom, Chief Industry Analyst for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), said in a post on the group’s website. AFPM is a lobby group for refineries and petrochemical producers.

AFPM’s wish list includes “keeping the energy market free and open by avoiding embargoes or tariffs that would drive up consumer costs,” Grissom said. A growing number of refineries are shutting down as oil consumption collapses.

But it isn’t just refiners that oppose the tariffs. The shale gas industry is also against restricting imported oil. The Marcellus Shale Gas Coalition, a trade association, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on March 25, opposing tariffs.

“We have watched with some concern recent advocacy … to impose tariffs on imports of crude petroleum,” the letter said. “Frankly, such remedies do little to address the condition of natural gas producers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in our region.”

The letter added that tariffs “may even do harm to natural gas producers” because it could “stimulate crude oil production which in turn would cause the production of additional incidental or ‘free’ gas to be produced out of those crude-oil plays.”
» Read article      

candle in the wind
Oil Companies on Tumbling Prices: ‘Disastrous, Devastating’
The use of gasoline and other fuels is dropping as Saudi Arabia and Russia increase production, sending oil prices to their lowest level in a generation.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 31, 2020

Global oil benchmark prices hover around $20 a barrel — levels not seen in a generation — and regional prices in West Texas and North Dakota have fallen even further, to around $10 a barrel. That is about a quarter of the price that shale operators typically need to cover the costs of pulling oil out of the ground. If these prices persist, a big wave of bankruptcies is inevitable by the end of the year, experts say.

The share prices of large companies like Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Chevron have nearly halved in recent months, while the stocks of smaller firms with less healthy balance sheets have fallen even more.
» Read article      

not funny anymoreFracking Once Lifted Pennsylvania. Now It Could Be a Drag.
Natural-gas companies operating in the state were looking shaky before the coronavirus hit. Local economies are now at risk.
By Peter Eavis, New York Times
March 31, 2020

CARMICHAELS, Pa. — The last time the global economy was in free fall, an economic savior showed up in southwestern Pennsylvania. Energy companies, which had discovered a way to get at the state’s vast natural-gas reserves, invested billions of dollars in the region, cushioning the blow of the Great Recession.

“There were just so many jobs,” Debbie Gideon, a retired community banker, recalls. “It was crazy.”

But 12 years later, as the region braces for the coronavirus recession, natural-gas companies are much more likely to weigh on the local economy than to rescue it.
» Read article

refineries shutting down
Oil Refineries Face Shutdowns as Demand Collapses
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 30, 2020

A growing number of refineries around the world are either curtailing operations or shutting down entirely as the oil market collapses.

Oil prices have fallen precipitously to their lowest levels in nearly two decades. Typically, falling oil prices are a good thing for refiners because they buy crude oil on the cheap and process it into gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel, selling those products at higher prices. The end consumer also tends to consume more when fuel is less expensive. As a result, the profit margin for refiners tends to widen when crude oil becomes oversupplied.

But the world is in the midst of dual supply and demand shock — too much drilling has produced a substantial surplus, and the global coronavirus pandemic has led to a historic drop in consumption. Oil demand could fall by as much as 20 percent, according to the International Energy Agency, by far the largest decline in consumption ever recorded.
» Read article      

open license for polluters
Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry
The American Petroleum Institute sought the EPA’s help for companies hurt by COVID-19. One former EPA official called the suspension “an open license to pollute.”
By By Marianne Lavelle, Phil McKenna, David Hasemyer, Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
March 27, 2020

The Trump administration’s unprecedented decision to suspend enforcement of U.S. environmental laws amid the COVID-19 crisis throws a lifeline to the oil industry as it copes with the greatest threat to its business in a generation.

The decision, announced late Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency, comes after a detailed call for help from the industry’s largest trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, five days earlier.

The EPA went further than meeting the oil industry’s request—announcing a blanket policy suspending enforcement and civil penalties for any regulated entity that can show COVID-19 was the cause of a failure to comply with the law. But it is clear that a primary beneficiary will be the oil industry, which sought suspension of its obligations under consent decrees over past air and water pollution violations at its refineries, deferral of requirements on handling of fracking wastewater and a pause in reporting its greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
» Read article      

shale wreckage
Exxon May Crush Bailout Hopes for Suffering Fracking Companies
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 27, 2020

Presumably, Exxon and other companies who can outlast this crisis will gladly pick up the “ghosts and zombies.” This would seem like ruthless behavior from Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute, who constantly tout the jobs created by the oil industry. Wiping out those smaller companies will result in huge job losses in an industry already threatened by increasing automation.

However, in another rare moment of honesty from an oil company CEO years earlier, former ExxonMobil head Lee Raymond made clear why helping Americans wasn’t a concern of his when he was running the international oil major.

According to Steve Coll’s book Private Empire, when Raymond was asked if Exxon would build more refineries in the U.S. to help America, he replied, “I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”

Raymond is now on the board of JPMorgan Chase, the bank, which according to The Washington Post, is one of the biggest lenders to the fossil fuel industry. That’s probably not good news for shale firms either. Raymond’s successor was Rex Tillerson who left Exxon to head the Trump State Department for a period.

The shale industry, on the other hand, is only a decade old and simply does not have the political power of Exxon and its apparent surrogate, the American Petroleum Institute. Exxon may be likely to get its bailouts while making sure that smaller, less stable shale companies fail.
» Read article      

Breaking: Rights of Nature Law Forces Pennsylvania to Revoke Industry Permit
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection enforces local Grant Township law in revoking permit for dangerous frack waste injection well
By CELDF, Press Release
March 25, 2020

GRANT TOWNSHIP, INDIANA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: In an extraordinary reversal, last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoked a permit for a frack waste injection well in Grant Township. DEP officials cited Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter banning injection wells as grounds for their reversal.

Injection wells are toxic sewers for the fracking industry that cause earthquakes, receive radioactive waste, and threaten drinking water and ecosystems.

Township residents popularly adopted a Home Rule Charter (local constitution) in 2015 that contains a “Community Bill of Rights.” The Charter bans injection wells as a violation of the rights of those living in the township and recognizes rights of nature. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the Charter.
» Read article      
» Read the decision

» More about the fossil fuel industry  

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

stop killing us Formosa
In the most polluted part of America, residents now battle the US’s biggest plastic plant
Plastics factory will not only contribute to pollution in Louisiana town of Gramercy, but will also be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions
Oliver Laughland and Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 1, 2020

Named the Sunshine Project, the sprawling plastics facility owned by the Taiwanese plastics giant Formosa, has become a focal point in the fight against industrial pollution in the region. St James parish neighbours St John the Baptist parish, home to the most toxic air in America and the subject of a year-long Guardian series, Cancer Town.

The Sunshine Project will not only be a major contributor to local toxic pollution, but will also be a significant source of greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions. LDEQ has permitted Formosa to release an astonishing 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, the equivalent of three and a half coal fired power stations.

This boom in plastic production is fueled by cheap oil and gas released by fracking. The industry is planning 157 new or expanded plants and more drilling over the next five years, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project. These projects will release up to 227m tons of additional greenhouse gases by the end of 2025 – a 30% rise from the industry’s footprint in 2018.
 » Read article      

» More about the plastics / fracking connection     

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Weekly News Check-In 2/28/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

More allies have joined the fight against the Weymouth compressor station. Both Massachusetts U.S. Senators and Rep. Stephen Lynch have asked FERC Chairman Chatterjee to send federal inspectors to the construction site to address concerns.

In other pipeline news, the 125 mile Constitution Pipeline planned to run through Pennsylvania and New York, has been cancelled after eight years of resistance. The developer, Williams Companies, reported a $345M write-off.

Columbia Gas plead guilty to criminal charges related to the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster, and will pay a $53M fine. Eversource will buy Columbia’s Massachusetts operations.

In climate news, we learned that the Environmental Protection Agency has relaxed leak detection regulations on refrigerants. This saves businesses money but allows higher volumes of these powerful greenhouse gas polluters to vent into the atmosphere.

In the clean energy department, we found news that a Michigan electric utility has developed a renewable energy transition plan that may challenge other utilities to do better. Troubling news from Massachusetts though – solar installations have stalled for a variety of reasons.

Tesla is making a splash in clean transportation, approaching 400 miles of driving range in their new Model S.

We spotted plenty of dark clouds over the fossil fuel industry. Both Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have refused to finance drilling in the Arctic. Meanwhile, Canadian energy developer Teck Resources has withdrawn its bid to develop a huge new oil sands operation in Alberta.

In the plastics/fracking connection, Congressional Democrats introduced a bill that would impose a 3-year moratorium on new plant construction in parts of Appalachia and the Gulf Coast. This is motivated by the alarming buildup of ethane cracker plants and related industrial infrastructure aimed at turning fracked gas into plastic products like single-use water bottles.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

N Phillips
Nathan Phillips, Who Went On Hunger Strike To Stop The Weymouth Compressor Station, Calls On Gov. Baker To Denounce The Project
By Zoe Mathews, WGBH
February 27, 2020

Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips didn’t eat for two weeks to raise awareness to serious climate implications he says are related to a compressor station sited in Weymouth. He had three demands during his hunger strike: that more is done to decontaminate trucks leaving the site ; that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) test old burner bricks on the property for asbestos; and that the state install a permanent air monitor near the site.

Of those demands, the state has so far only committed to installing an air monitor near the site. Phillips joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to discuss what’s next.
» Listen to report     

requesting the Feds
Legislators ask federal regulators to inspect compressor site
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 21, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Several members of Congress are calling on federal regulators to send inspectors to the construction site of the natural gas compressor station to ensure crews are following the approved plan and protocols.

U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch sent a letter Friday to Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, asking that he send inspectors to the compressor site due to concerns from residents and local officials that construction crews are not following the approved plans.

“Community members have raised concerns over potential changes to the traffic pattern for construction vehicles, the soil removal process, and the construction height of pylons needed to raise the construction site to a safe level,” the letter reads. “An on-site FERC inspection would help either confirm or allay concerns that misconduct is taking place.”

The compressor station is being built by Algonquin, a subsidiary of Enbridge, and is part of the Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the Houston company’s pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Algonquin got the final go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November and started cleanup of existing contamination at the site shortly after.
» Read article       

risk study requested
Risk study sought for Weymouth compressor area
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
February 21, 2020

A high-pressure gas pipeline underneath the Fore River Bridge and a future gas conduit for a compressor station being built nearby pose explosion risks that could disrupt travel across the overpass, according to several South Shore lawmakers.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R- Weymouth, and his legislature colleagues are requesting Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to order a risk assessment of the Fore River Basin.

“We want MassDOT to analyze all the risks with respect to the Fore River Bridge and all the major points that include the Citgo Terminal, and the MBTA buses that use the bridge,” O’Connor said. “These things are incredibly important, and we want to know what the risks are with this compressor station being built.”
» Read article       

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

OTHER PIPELINES

Pittsburgh bumming
Major Pennsylvania-New York gas pipeline scrapped
By Paul J. Gough, Pittsburgh Business Times
February 24, 2020

A proposed natural gas pipeline that would have brought Pennsylvania natural gas to New York has been canceled.

The Williams Cos. confirmed late Friday it will not be moving ahead with the Constitution Pipeline, a 125-mile route that had been approved in 2014 but ran into controversy, including opposition by New York state officials.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams said in a statement published by The Daily Star newspaper and Kallanish Energy. Williams didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

While the pipeline would have been on the other side of Pennsylvania, there are local connections: Williams’ regional headquarters is in Pittsburgh and the regional headquarters of one of its partners on the Constitution Pipeline, Cabot Oil and Gas (NYSE: COG), is also in the Pittsburgh region. The other partners are Duke Energy and AltaGas.
» Read article       

Williams scraps Constitution Pipeline project
By Carl Surran, Seeking Alpha
February 21, 2020

Williams (NYSE:WMB) says it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, the proposed 650K dth/day Pennsylvania to New York natural gas pipeline that triggered an eight-year battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams says.
» Read article       

Constitution scrapped
Constitution Pipeline Project Scrapped
Victory: Decision is a major win for advocates fighting to protect clean water and our climate
By Moneen Nasmith, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice
February 21, 2020
“Defeating the Constitution Pipeline is an enormous victory for advocates who have been fighting for eight years to protect New York State and its waterways. At this critical moment for our climate, we cannot afford unnecessary fossil fuel projects that will lead to more fracking and exacerbate our climate crisis. It’s time to embrace a 100% clean energy future, and today’s news is an important step in the right direction.”

On behalf of clients such as Catskill Mountainkeeper, Riverkeeper, and Sierra Club, Earthjustice has been engaged in close partnership with other groups in numerous legal battles to stop the project, including challenging the original approval of the pipeline by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and helping to defend the State of New York’s decision to deny Constitution’s application for a critical permit under the Clean Water Act.
» Read article       

energy giant backs out
Energy giant backs out of Constitution Pipeline
By Joe Mahoney, The Daily Star
February 21, 202
0

ALBANY — Williams Companies, the Oklahoma energy giant, confirmed Friday that it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that triggered a prolonged battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates.

“Williams — with support from its partners, Duke, Cabot and AltaGas — has halted investment in the proposed Constitution project,” the company said in response to questions from CNHI.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams added.

Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer who helped form the opposition group Stop the Pipeline, said the group “fought this epic 8-year battle with courage, conviction and intelligence, adding: “Perseverance pays off.”

Williams disclosed this week in a financial report that the investors in the Constitution Pipeline took a $345 million “impairment,” suggesting that the investment in the mammoth 124-mile pipeline was being written off.
» Read article       

Stop the Pipeline - logo
Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead!
By Anne Marie Garti, Stop the Pipeline
February 20, 2020

Williams has written off its investment in the proposed Constitution Pipeline and stated that work on it has ended.

After more than 8 years of fighting, the company is throwing in the towel and walking away from its failed bid to build this enormous and unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure project. The Constitution Pipeline is dead!
» Read post        

» More about other pipelines    

COLUMBIA GAS

gas utilities service areas
Baker Cites ‘Real Benefits’ In Eversource-Columbia Gas Deal
By Colin A. Young, SHNS, on WGBH News
February 27, 2020

“First of all, I think all of us were glad to see the U.S. attorney take this one on and to see Columbia settle it in the way that they did because, obviously, it sends a big message about safety which we think is critical and important,” Baker said Thursday. He added, “Obviously, we had a lot of experience with Eversource up in up in the Merrimack Valley during that terrible tragedy a couple years ago and I think we saw at that point in time that there are real benefits to having a locally-owned, locally-managed company worrying about utility issues.”

In the days following the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, Baker declared a state of emergency and used the authority that afforded him to replace Columbia Gas and put Eversource in charge of the recovery efforts “on behalf of the Commonwealth.” Baker said at the time that he believed the switch would “make a big difference” in the relationship between what state and local officials are told, and what actually happens.
» Read article       

the fallout
Columbia Gas Will Pay $53M Fine For Merrimack Valley Explosions
By WBZ, CBS Boston Channel 4
February 26, 2020

BOSTON (CBS) – Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will pay a $53 million fine for its role in the deadly 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions. As part of a plea agreement, the company will also sell its business in Massachusetts. Eversource announced Wednesday night it has reached an agreement to purchase the natural gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion.

The FBI Boston said a joint investigation led to the decision to hold Columbia Gas “criminally & financially accountable” for the explosions and fires that killed a young man and damaged or destroyed several homes and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on September 13, 2018.

Money from the fine will go to the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said during a Wednesday press conference that Columbia Gas agreed to plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act.

“This is by far the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the Pipeline Safety Act,” said Lelling, adding that “this disaster was caused by a wholesale management failure” on the part of Columbia Gas.
» Read article       

» More about Columbia Gas and Merrimack Valley disaster

CLIMATE

fridge rules relaxed
New EPA Rule Change Saves Industry Money but Exacts a Climate Cost
The reversal of an Obama-era regulation relaxes leak detection rules for climate super-pollutants.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
February 28, 2020

For the latest Trump Administration rollback of Environmental Protection Agency rules, the math goes something like this: The change will save businesses and industries $24 million a year. Earth’s atmosphere, on the other hand, will receive emissions of pollutants equivalent to at least 625,000 new cars being added to the road.

This week, EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler signed a new rule that relaxes the requirements that owners and operators of refrigeration equipment have leak detection and maintenance programs for hydrofluorocarbons, a set of refrigerants often referred to as “climate super-pollutants.”

The rule change—the latest reversal of an Obama-era regulation—was part of the administration’s agenda to ease burdens on industry.
» Read article        

bots in denial
Revealed: quarter of all tweets about climate crisis produced by bots

Draft of Brown study says findings suggest ‘substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 21, 2020

The social media conversation over the climate crisis is being reshaped by an army of automated Twitter bots, with a new analysis finding that a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots, the Guardian can reveal.

The stunning levels of Twitter bot activity on topics related to global heating and the climate crisis is distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise.

An analysis of millions of tweets from around the period when Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement found that bots tended to applaud the president for his actions and spread misinformation about the science.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

raising the bar
Inside Clean Energy: A Michigan Utility Just Raised the Bar on Emissions-Cutting Plans
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 27, 2020

At least a half-dozen U.S. utilities have released plans to get to net-zero emissions, or close to it, by 2050. Now a Michigan company has elbowed its way into the mix and said, “We can top that.”

Consumers Energy of Jackson, Michigan, said this week that it will get to net-zero emissions by 2040, the fastest timetable of any major utility in the country.

The company is doing this with a plan that differs from those of the other utilities and includes building no new fossil-fuel power plants.
» Read article       

MA solar stumbles
As Massachusetts solar installs plummet, stalled interconnections, land use questions are key hurdles
Last year, solar installments slowed and jobs disappeared in Massachusetts. Now, developers are trying to overcome regulatory barriers and local opposition to land development.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
February 27, 2020

New England clouds can’t keep the power of the sun from Massachusetts — but stalled interconnection queues and land use concerns are giving developers pause, according to panelists at this year’s Solar and Storage Northeast conference in Boston.

Massachusetts in 2018 launched its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program — with incentives intended to spur an additional 1.6 GW of solar by 2020. The state quickly exceeded that goal and currently has 2.5 GW of solar installed, with almost 1 GW in the interconnection queue.

But in 2019, Massachusetts’ solar industry hit a rut — new installations fell 50% and the sector’s workforce shrank by 30%, according to a September Vote Solar report. Meanwhile, rural opposition led to tensions among developers, municipalities and some conservationists, and some towns considered or put in place temporary solar bans.
» Read article

FERC blows NYISOFERC deals blow to New York renewable, storage projects, adding hurdles to NYISO capacity market
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
February 21, 2020

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved four separate orders to narrow exemptions of buyer-side mitigation (BSM) market rules in the New York Independent System Operator’s (NYISO) capacity zones during Thursday’s public meeting, which critics say will stifle the competitiveness of clean energy resources.

The decisions would make it more difficult for new clean energy projects expected in the state to clear NYISO’s capacity auction. Clean energy advocates say bidding into NYISO’s capacity market is critical to the financial viability of projects like offshore wind and energy storage.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Tesla approaching 400
Inside Clean Energy: Tesla Gets Ever So Close to 400 Miles of Range

The increased range is a step toward bringing EVs—and their contribution to combating climate change—into the mainstream.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 20, 2020

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that his company’s Model S sedan now has an estimated range of more than 390 miles, the result of hardware and software improvements.

Last year, AAA issued a report showing range loss of about 40 percent when it tested five EV models in cold temperatures, and also found some loss during unusually hot weather. The models tested were the BMW i3s, the Chevrolet Bolt, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

Automakers’ efforts to expand range are a way to counteract the many factors that can reduce range, said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean vehicles program.

The aim for automakers is to reassure customers that an EV can work for them, even if few people would drive their EV more than 300 miles.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation  

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

arctic divestment
Goldman Sachs Refuses to Finance Drilling in the Arctic
The bank is the first in the US to make this commitment
By Chloe Zilliac, Sierra Magazine
February 26, 2020

In December, Goldman Sachs became the first US bank to announce that it would no longer finance oil projects in the Arctic, citing concerns about how drilling would affect the Indigenous peoples of Alaska and endangered species and how it would contribute to the climate crisis. The bank’s new lending policy is a milestone in the fight to preserve the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress opened for drilling in 2017.
» Read article       
» Update: At the end of February, JPMorgan Chase became the second US bank to announce that it would not finance oil and gas extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Read about it
here.

real-time monitoring
Momentum Builds to Monitor Cancer Alley Air Pollution in Real Time After Exxon Refinery Fire in Louisiana
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
February 24, 2020

A large fire at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge oil refinery late on February 11 lit up the sky for miles and continued until dawn. The night of the fire, ExxonMobil representatives claimed that air monitoring inside the plant and in surrounding neighborhoods did not detect the release of harmful concentrations of chemicals, a claim echoed by first responders and state regulators. What unfolded, however, reinforced a growing community movement to require real-time independent air pollution monitoring at industrial facilities.
» Read article       

no path forward
Canada Oil-Sands Plan Collapses Over Politics and Economics
A developer has abandoned a nine-year effort to extend mining, sparing Justin Trudeau a choice between energy interests and environmental concerns.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
February 24, 2020

A major effort to expand development of Canada’s oil sands has collapsed shortly before a deadline for government approval, undone by investor concerns over oil’s future and the political fault lines between economic and environmental priorities.

Nine years in the planning, the project would have increased Canada’s oil production by roughly 5 percent. But it would have also slashed through 24,000 acres of boreal forest and released millions of tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide every year.

Some Canadian oil executives had predicted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet would approve the project by a regulatory deadline this week, though with burdensome conditions. But in a letter released Sunday night, the Vancouver-based developer, Teck Resources, declared that “there is no constructive path forward.”

The oil sands are a watery mixture of sand and clay soaked with a dense, viscous form of petroleum known as bitumen. But in addition to being a fossil fuel, bitumen is difficult to extract and energy-intensive to process.
» Read article       

tar sands canned
Mining Company’s Decision Lets Trudeau Off Hook, But Doesn’t Resolve Canada’s Climate Debate
While the cancellation of the tar sands mine, planned for Alberta, was a victory for activists, low oil prices meant the project was unlikely to move forward.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
February 24, 2020

A Canadian mining company’s announcement that it would shelve a major oil project spared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a difficult decision that had pitted his Liberal Party base and environmental advocates against the country’s powerful oil industry and the Western provinces whose economies rely on it.

The decision Sunday came just days before the government was set to decide whether to approve a mine planned by Teck Resources Limited that would have been one of the country’s largest oil sands operations yet.

But the Frontier mine’s fate may have been sealed more by market economics than by whether Trudeau approved the project or not: It was unlikely to have been built anytime soon, if at all. And by canceling the project before a final regulatory decision was issued, Teck Resources avoided the controversy that would surely have continued no matter the government’s decision.
» Read article       

Teck out
Canadian mining giant withdraws plans for C$20bn tar sands project
Teck Resources’ surprise decision drew outrage from politicians in oil-rich Alberta and cheers from environmental groups
By Guardian staff and agencies, The Guardian
February 24, 2020

A Canadian mining giant has withdrawn plans for a massive C$20.6bn ($15.7bn) tar sands mine, days before the federal government was to decide on whether to approve the controversial project.

Teck Resources’ surprise decision to withdraw from open pit Frontier Mine project landed as a bombshell on Sunday night, prompting outrage from politicians in oil-rich Alberta and cheers from environmental groups.
» Read article       

Permian going bust
To Many’s Dismay, Permian Produces More Gas and Condensate Instead of Oil and Profits
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
February 21, 2020

As oil prices plummet, oil bankruptcies mount, and investors shun the shale industry, America’s top oil field — the Permian shale that straddles Texas and New Mexico — faces many new challenges that make profits appear more elusive than ever for the financially failing shale oil industry.

Many of those problems can be traced to two issues for the Permian Basin: The quality of its oil and the sheer volume of natural gas coming from its oil wells.

The latter issue comes as natural gas fetches record low prices in both U.S. and global markets. Prices for natural gas in Texas are often negative — meaning oil producers have to pay someone to take their natural gas, or, without any infrastructure to capture and process it, they burn (flare) or vent (directly release) the gas.

As DeSmog has detailed, much of the best oil-producing shale in the Permian already has been drilled and fracked over the past decade. And so operators have moved on to drill in less productive areas, one of which is the Delaware sub-basin of the Permian. Taking a close look at the Delaware Basin highlights many of the current challenges facing Permian oil producers.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

ethane cracker
Congressional Democrats Join the Debate Over Plastics’ Booming Future

A new bill would impose a three-year moratorium on new plant construction in parts of Appalachia and the Gulf Coast.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
February 21, 2020

As industry and local authorities count thousands of new jobs and millions in tax revenues, battle lines have been drawn. Scientists warn of premature deaths from air pollution. Environmentalists foresee a plastics climate bomb. And now congressional Democrats have entered the fray, proposing a three-year moratorium on all new plastics plant construction nationwide, while the National Academy of Science studies the consequences of such a build-out on health and climate change.

A far-reaching bill that Democrats call the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, has nary a Republican sponsor. But the legislation, which would also hold plastics manufacturers responsible for cleaning up plastic waste, helps frame a raging national debate over plastics in an election year. And it could set the stage for action on plastics reform, should the Democrats defeat President Trump and win the Senate.
» Read article       

» More about the plastics-fracking connection

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