There’s plenty of news this week. We’re covering important direct actions involving our own Berkshire Environmental Action Team, in conjunction with the Berkshire Branch of the NAACP, 350MA Berkshire Node, and statewide environmental coalition Mass Power Forward. These organizations are pushing for the state Legislature to adopt a series of strong climate bills, saying we are in the “11th hour” for such initiatives.
Here’s where things get tough. At the federal level, more than 200 congressional staffers urged the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to finalize a reconciliation package that includes robust measures to tackle the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency before the August recess. But West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin scuttled that legislation at the last moment – dramatically sinking President Biden’s climate agenda and arguably cementing his legacy (in the words of John Podesta, a former senior counselor to President Barack Obama and founder of the Center for American Progress), as “… the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity.”
Manchin’s to blame, for sure, but let’s not forget that things would be different if even a single Republican senator had been willing to support this critical legislation. This all means that the feds are only bringing modest action to the game, like the US Department of Energy’s competition supporting innovations in extracting lithium for energy storage, or the Environmental Protection Agency telling the Tennessee Valley Authority to reconsider an initial decision to replace its largest coal plant with a natural gas one. For the foreseeable future, meaningful climate progress in the US is locked down at the state level. The rest of the world, having suffered extraordinary losses from the effects of America’s historic emissions, is not impressed.
Even before this happened, John Kerry, President Biden’s top climate-focused diplomat, expressed concern in an interview with The Boston Globe that time to transition to clean energy is running out. Still, the war in Ukraine, supply chain problems, and inflation have all lined up to favor the fossil fuel industry – at least in the near term.
Plans are advancing for an extension of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline as a partial alternative to Russian gas for Europe, and the Biden administration may approve the huge ConocoPhillips ‘Willow’ carbon bomb in Alaska. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency is recognizing energy efficiency (not liquefied natural gas) as the real workhorse that can pull Europe through its energy crisis. Along those same lines, a recent report out of Oregon shows that a speedy transition to electric heat pumps in homes and businesses could translate into lower utility bills and faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Those findings bolster calls from environmental groups asking state regulators to end consumer subsidies that allow utilities to expand gas infrastructure.
Maine is making up for one missing federal program by launching a climate corps service program aimed at mitigating and preparing for climate change. Its goal is to both make a difference on climate issues and create career pathways for young people interested in conservation, renewable energy, or other related work.
Clean transportation is coming to the farm, and the way to get farmers to adopt a new tool is to prove that it can do the work. Beginning last year, Robert Wallace, an expert on rural energy projects, fitted electric tractors with data-gathering sensors and offered them for free tests on farms and gardens in rural Oregon. It may be the first program of its kind in the U.S.
Some large carbon capture and storage projects will be funded with $2.1B from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but they will start life in the shadow of the industry’s greatest failure so far: a billion dollar boondoggle called Petra Nova. Another sketchy operation, deep-seabed mining, is nearing approval, but scientists are raising new alarm about noise caused by those operations, and the likely harm it will cause to marine mammals and other animals from surface to sea floor.
We’ll close with an item that clarifies the connection between the fossil fuel and plastics industries. A new U.S.-Saudi joint venture on the Texas coast represents a shift by the fossil fuel industry toward supporting and promoting the production and use of plastics as demand for oil and gas declines.
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Activists Demand Climate Legislation ‘In the 11th Hour’
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
July 11, 2022
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local activists are pushing for the state Legislature to adopt a series of strong climate bills, saying we are in the “11th hour” for such initiatives.
These include an act to improve outdoor and indoor air quality for communities burdened by transportation pollution; an act relative to energy facilities siting reform to address environmental justice, climate, and public health; an act for building justice with jobs; and an act transiting the state to clean electricity, heating, and transportation.
Berkshire Environmental Action Team, in conjunction with the Berkshire Branch of the NAACP, 350MA Berkshire Node, and statewide environmental coalition Mass Power Forward had a standout on Monday at Park Square to advocate for climate justice legislation.
“We’re here today to push the Mass Legislature to pass a comprehensive, equitable energy bill,” said Rosemary Wessel, program director for BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass.
“On Friday afternoon, we learned that there’s a possibility that State House politics could result in no climate bill at all in this session, so they need to have a deliverable bill worked out by [July]15 at the latest and the word is from several sources that talks have completely broken down. So we need to ramp up the pressure and make sure that the legislature hears loudly and clearly that no bill is not an option.”
This was a part of 11 simultaneous actions across the state held at 11 a.m. on July 11 to signify its proximity to the end of the legislative session on July 15. They’re using the hashtag #MA11thhour
“BEAT’s mission is to protect the environment for wildlife in support of the natural world that sustains us all,” Executive Director Jane Winn said.
“So we’re here keeping in mind that this work is not just all about us humans. We are causing the sixth extinction, a massive loss of biodiversity. We need our legislators to take action now.
» Read article
200+ Hill Staffers Urge Pelosi and Schumer to End ‘Dangerous Inaction’ on Climate
“We refuse to remain silent until bold investments are made,” said a Green New Deal organizer from Rep. Cori Bush’s office.
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
July 13, 2022
More than 200 congressional staffers have urged the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to finalize a reconciliation package that includes robust measures to tackle the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency before the August recess.
“We’ve crafted the legislation necessary to avert climate catastrophe,” the staffers wrote in a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday night. “It’s time for you to pass it.” The letter, signed anonymously with initials, was first shared with CNN.
“Our country is nearing the end of a two-year window that represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass transformative climate policy,” the letter continues. “The silence on expansive climate justice policy on Capitol Hill this year has been deafening. We write to distance ourselves from your dangerous inaction.”
The rare staff-authored letter criticizing party leadership and calling for specific legislation comes as Schumer conducts last-ditch negotiations with right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) on a scaled-back economic package that can be passed without Republican votes through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.
Manchin rewarded his corporate donors last year by siding with the GOP to tank the more wide-ranging Build Back Better Act, but he has recently endorsed the idea of a narrow bill aimed at reducing the surging cost of living, specifically backing a proposal that would enable Medicare to negotiate lower prices for certain prescription drugs.
When it comes to climate action, however, Manchin remains an obstacle. The long-time coal profiteer continues to insist—erroneously, according to experts—that easing pain at the pump requires further expanding domestic fossil fuel production.
» Read article
How One Senator Doomed the Democrats’ Climate Plan
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia led his party and his president through months of tortured talks, with nothing to show for it as the planet dangerously heats up.
By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 15, 2022
First, he killed a plan that would have forced power plants to clean up their climate-warming pollution. Then, he shattered an effort to help consumers pay for electric vehicles. And, finally, he said he could not support government incentives for solar and wind companies or any of the other provisions that the rest of his party and his president say are vital to ensure a livable planet.
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who took more campaign cash from the oil and gas industry than any other senator, and who became a millionaire from his family coal business, independently blew up the Democratic Party’s legislative plans to fight climate change. The swing Democratic vote in an evenly divided Senate, Mr. Manchin led his party through months of tortured negotiations that collapsed on Thursday night, a yearlong wild goose chase that produced nothing as the Earth warms to dangerous levels.
“It seems odd that Manchin would choose as his legacy to be the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity,” said John Podesta, a former senior counselor to President Barack Obama and founder of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.
Privately, Senate Democratic staff members seethed and sobbed on Thursday night, after more than a year of working nights and weekends to scale back, water down, trim and tailor the climate legislation to Mr. Manchin’s exact specifications, only to have it rejected inches from the finish line.
“Rage keeps me from tears,” Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a longtime advocate for climate legislation, wrote on Twitter late Thursday.
Mr. Manchin’s refusal to support the climate legislation, along with steadfast Republican opposition, effectively dooms the chances that Congress will pass any new law to tackle global warming for the foreseeable future — at a moment when scientists say the planet is nearly out of time to prevent average global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
» Read article
» Read related NBC News coverage
Manchin Pulls Plug on Climate and Tax Talks, Shrinking Domestic Plan
The West Virginia Democrat’s decision dealt a crushing blow to President Biden’s domestic agenda, effectively ruling out action on anything beyond prescription drug pricing and health care subsidies.
By Emily Cochrane and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 14, 2022
WASHINGTON — Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, pulled the plug on Thursday on negotiations to salvage key pieces of President Biden’s agenda, informing his party’s leaders that he would not support funding for climate or energy programs or raising taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.
The decision by Mr. Manchin, a conservative-leaning Democrat whose opposition has effectively stalled Mr. Biden’s economic package in the evenly divided Senate, dealt a devastating blow to his party’s efforts to enact a broad social safety net, climate and tax package.
In recent months, Democrats had slashed their ambitions for such a plan to win over Mr. Manchin, hoping that he would agree to support even a fraction of the sweeping initiative they once envisioned. His abrupt shift appeared to dash those aspirations.
In a meeting on Thursday with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, Mr. Manchin said he would support a package that would include a negotiated plan aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs and an extension of expanded Affordable Care Act subsidies set to lapse at the end of the year.
The shift capped off weeks of painstaking negotiations to cobble together a package that could win Mr. Manchin’s support. It came seven months after the West Virginian abruptly walked away from talks and rejected a far larger plan.
[…] In rejecting any climate and energy provisions, Mr. Manchin appeared to have single-handedly shattered Mr. Biden’s ambitious climate agenda and what would have been the largest single federal investment in American history toward addressing the toll of climate change.
His decision came just days after a report showed that prices surged to 9.1 percent in June, exacerbating existing fears about inflation and rising costs for every day Americans. But while Mr. Manchin has long sounded alarms about inflation and the national debt, he had also maintained openness to overhauling the tax code, a position he appeared to have reversed.
It stunned Democratic officials who had labored to win Mr. Manchin’s vote. As recently as Friday, Democrats said they had coalesced around a plan to use the funds from raising taxes on some high-earning Americans to extend the solvency of a key Medicare fund.
But it was particularly devastating for those who had championed the climate and energy provisions. In calls to various climate activists on Thursday night, Mr. Schumer and his staff sounded shellshocked and said they believed until just a few hours before that a deal was still possible, said one person who spoke with Mr. Schumer.
Without action by Congress, it will be impossible to meet Mr. Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. emissions roughly in half by the end of this decade. That target was aimed at keeping the planet to stabilize the climate at about 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming compared to preindustrial levels.
The Earth has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Lawmakers and activists who have led the charge for action to combat climate change expressed outrage on Thursday night.
» Read article
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Gas instead of coal? EPA tells TVA to look again
By Kristi E. Swartz, E&E News
July 7, 2022
EPA said the Tennessee Valley Authority should reconsider an initial decision to replace its largest coal plant with a natural gas one, arguing that there are cheaper and cleaner options to combat climate change.
The nation’s largest public power utility is weighing new generation choices as it prepares to close the massive Cumberland Fossil Plant, which is near the Tennessee-Kentucky border. TVA must follow the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the federal government to analyze environmental impacts of major decisions, particularly with infrastructure.
EPA’s statements, filed last week, are the latest in a tug of war between the federal government and TVA over carbon-reduction efforts. They also follow comments by leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which pressed TVA in January to realign its trajectory to match the Biden administration’s goal of a decarbonized U.S. power sector by 2035.
[…] In sharply worded comments filed June 30, EPA said TVA overlooked options to help the United States meet carbon-reduction goals, as backed by science and to be implemented through the Paris Agreement.
Picking natural gas exposes TVA to price volatility and likely the cost of a stranded asset if it decided to close the plant in a couple of decades, EPA officials wrote.
Long-lived “fossil assets may become uneconomic faster than expected if alternatives and mitigation are not fully considered,” EPA wrote.
The agency wants TVA to modify its decision and consider federal greenhouse gas reduction policies, climate resilience, air quality, environmental justice and water resource issues.
“Such an alternative, or other alternatives, would better align with decarbonization pathways necessary to meet science-based targets for GHG reductions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” wrote Mark Fite, EPA’s strategic programs office director, in the letter to TVA.
CEO Jeff Lyash has said TVA can achieve more aggressive carbon dioxide reduction goals but also said more aid from the federal government is needed in the form of money and bringing emerging clean energy technologies to scale quickly.
» Read article
GREENING THE ECONOMY
As Biden’s climate corps languishes, states move ahead with civilian service model
Maine is the latest state to launch a civilian service program focused on climate change, though at a much smaller scale than what has been proposed by the president and his allies in stalled federal legislation.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
July 13, 2022
Maine is set to join a growing number of states in launching a service program aimed at mitigating and preparing for climate change.
The goal of the climate corps initiative is to both make a difference on climate issues and create career pathways for young people interested in conservation, renewable energy, or other related work. The effort will take on projects in areas including community resilience planning, energy education and outreach, home energy management and conservation, regenerative agriculture, and community solar.
“We designed it as ambitious because addressing the climate crisis is an ambitious task,” said state Rep. Morgan Rielly, who campaigned on the idea of a climate corps and supported the bill that created it. “You’ve got to address it in a systemic way.”
Despite the corps’ lofty goals, it will launch with modest backing. The legislature allocated $200,000 for the program, well short of the $1 million proposed in the original bill. Some $80,000 will fund staffing and administration and $120,000 will pay those who choose to serve.
“The requested amount was larger, but we will forge ahead with what we did receive,” said Kirsten Brewer, coordinator of the Maine Climate Corps.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill establishing the corps in May. The initiative is still in its early stages. Brewer was hired to coordinate the program under the umbrella of Volunteer Maine, the state’s service commission. She is now working on a request for proposals that will ask potential partner organizations to suggest projects that could be up and running by winter or spring.
» Read article
Nearly $2tn of damage inflicted on other countries by US emissions
Research puts US ahead of China, Russia, India and Brazil in terms of global damage as climate expert says numbers ‘very stark’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 12, 2022
The US has inflicted more than $1.9tn in damage to other countries from the effects of its greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis that has provided the first measurement of nations’ liability in stoking the climate crisis.
The huge volume of planet-heating gases pumped out by the US, the largest historical emitter, has caused such harm to other, mostly poor, countries through heatwaves, crop failures and other consequences that the US is responsible for $1.91tn in lost global income since 1990, the study found.
This puts the US ahead of China, currently the world’s leading emitter, Russian, India and Brazil as the next largest contributors to global economic damage through their emissions. Combined, these five leading culprits have caused a total of $6tn in losses worldwide, or about 11% of annual global GDP, since 1990 by fueling climate breakdown.
“It’s a huge number,” said Chris Callahan, a researcher at Dartmouth College and lead author of the study, of the overall economic loss. “It’s not surprising that the US and China are at the top of that list but the numbers really are very stark. For the first time, we can show that a country’s emissions can be traced to specific harm.”
The Dartmouth researchers combined a number of different models, showing factors such as emissions, local climate conditions and economic changes, to ascertain the precise impact of an individual country’s contribution to the climate crisis. They looked for these links over a period spanning 1990 to 2014, with the research published in the journal Climatic Change.
» Read article
Northeastern researchers have a plan to protect Boston from rising sea levels: floating vegetation mats they call the ‘Emerald Tutu’
By Travis Andersen, Boston Globe
July 8, 2022
Researchers at Northeastern University have developed a system of interconnected circular mats of floating vegetation dubbed the “Emerald Tutu,” which they believe could help protect Boston Harbor from the perils of rising sea levels.
In a statement, Northeastern said the Emerald Tutu project, a play on Boston’s famed Emerald Necklace of parkways and waterways stretching from Boston to Brookline, currently has one mat in the water in Salem, with a second set slated for launch in Boston Harbor. A date for the harbor launch hasn’t been set.
[Julia Hopkins, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern and lead scientist for the Emerald Tutu project…] deployed an initial Emerald Tutu test mat off an East Boston pier during the spring of 2021, and she said in the statement that researchers were pleased when they pulled it out of the water last summer and discovered a significant amount of vegetation growing on it.
“We didn’t expect as much grass or seaweed to grow,” Hopkins said. “We didn’t realize it would colonize that easily and that much.”
The mats are composed of biodegradable material, such as coconut fiber, wood chip byproduct, burlap canvas, and marine-grade rope, and they won’t pollute the environment if they break loose and get lost at sea, according to the statement.
The university said the mats absorb wave energy and help mitigate the flooding that increasingly threatens to inundate Boston and other coastal cities. The more vegetation that grows on the mats when they’re in the water, the more wave energy they can absorb, thereby limiting flooding, the statement said.
“It functions as a marsh without being a marsh,” Hopkins said in the statement, adding that the “basic idea takes some of the theory we have about how nature is supposed to be protecting shore and applying that to something we can use in urban environments.”
Plans are in place for “a massive” Emerald Tutu pilot project next summer, with an exact location for the vegetation mats yet to be determined, the statement said
» Read article
Climate envoy John Kerry sees peril and opportunity as fuel prices bog down green energy push
By Jess Bidgood, Boston Globe
July 9, 2022
A sweeping climate bill that collapsed in the Senate. An invasion that sent energy prices even higher, sparking calls for even more drilling. And, just weeks ago, a Supreme Court ruling curbing the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollution.
It has been a punishing six months for the effort to decarbonize the economy and stave off the most disastrous effects of climate change. And John Kerry, President Biden’s top climate-focused diplomat, expressed concern in an interview with The Boston Globe that time is running out.
“I have absolutely zero doubt whatsoever that we are going to get to a zero carbon, low carbon economy. … My question is, are we going to get there fast enough to avoid the worst consequences of the crisis? And that I’m not convinced of right now,” Kerry said. “This can work if we make the right decisions, if we move fast enough. But if we don’t, it’s clear what’s coming at us.”
[…] “Last year, coal emissions went up 9 percent. And emissions generally went up 6 percent. So … it’s delayed, the cutting in of the momentum that we brought out of Glasgow,” he said, but added the momentum had not been extinguished entirely.
The backsliding comes at a pivotal moment for the planet, since climate scientists say there is less than a decade left to cut emissions and hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — the threshold beyond which lethal flooding, superstorms, and heat waves could become even more common. The globe has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1880, and Biden set a goal of cutting fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030 to slow that progression, while encouraging other countries to make their own big cuts.
“It’s urgent today, and it was urgent last week, and it was urgent last year,” Kerry said. “If we don’t do enough between 2020 and 2030, it’s physically not possible, barring some miracle discovery … to get to net zero [emissions] by 2050. You can’t do it.”
But higher oil and gas prices worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have made an immediate transition to green energy politically trickier, both in the United States and abroad, threatening the global goals Kerry and Biden helped set just last year. Biden has called for a gas tax holiday and proposed opening up some federal areas for drilling in response to rising prices at the pump; meanwhile, Kerry continues to publicly call for the US not to invest more in extracting fossil fuels at a moment that lays bare the many issues with being dependent on them.
» Read article
High energy prices, climate, Ukraine conflict and rising demand response potential spur energy efficiency efforts
Innovative uses of efficiency as demand response to meet power system needs can end natural gas and coal dependence, according to a new International Energy Agency initiative.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
July 11, 2022
Energy efficiency, the cleanest, lowest cost, most overlooked resource in the climate fight, is now part of the world’s pushback against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the International Energy Agency.
Energy efficiency, or EE, is fundamental to the clean energy transition, analysts have long agreed. But the Ukraine war-driven urgency for the European Union to end reliance on Russian natural gas and arbitrary Russian threats like the July 11 shutdown of the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline to Germany, and avoid stopgap coal burning now makes EE vital, a June 10 statement co-signed by the U.S. and 25 IEA parties in the Americas, Africa, Asia and the EU recognized.
EE is “critical” to keeping world energy “affordable, secure, and clean,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told the annual IEA Global Conference on Energy Efficiency June 8. And world leaders must make the conference “a meeting of hope” where “the world hits the accelerator on efficiency” or they may “pay the price for years to come.”
This “could be the peace project of our time,” U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman added at the conference. “Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine has challenged us to think differently about how we generate, distribute, and use energy, and the case for energy efficiency has never been more urgent.”
In the U.S., EE has enormous potential but must demonstrate its value across different regulatory and market circumstances, Speakes-Backman and other U.S. EE advocates said during and after the IEA conference. With more innovative and comprehensive policies, EE can have great value as demand response, or DR, and be used when and where the power system needs kWh reductions the most, they said.
[…] The most important policies are those that can make EE cost effective, like rebates and financing mechanisms that reduce upfront deployment costs, Nadel said. Some utilities, green banks and institutional lenders support on-bill financing and property-assessed clean energy, or PACE, programs that allow customers to pay for EE installations with their bill savings, he said.
Those policies, along with time-of-use, or TOU, rates that shift usage, and performance standards and codes for buildings and appliances have helped make California, followed by Massachusetts, the top two EE states, according to ACEEE’s December 2020 state analysis.
» Read article
Rapid Electric Heat Transition Will Save Oregon $1.7 Billion, Report Finds
Advocates say that’s all the more reason to end customer-funded gas line expansion.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
July 11, 2022
A speedy transition to electric heat pumps in homes and businesses in Oregon could translate into lower utility bills and faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report.
Those findings bolster calls from environmental groups, who are asking state regulators to end consumer subsidies that allow utilities to expand gas infrastructure.
A June report from Synapse Energy Economics, commissioned by the Sierra Club, found that a rapid transition to electric heat pumps in Oregon would cut household energy bills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide savings for the electricity system as a whole. Heat pumps, despite their name, offer both heating and air conditioning, and are widely seen as key to replacing oil and gas furnaces and helping decarbonize residential and commercial buildings.
Pollution from residential and commercial buildings in Oregon currently makes up roughly 35 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions – largely the result of burning gas for heating and cooking. The report compared two hypothetical scenarios in which 100 percent of appliances sold to Oregon homes and businesses were electric, perhaps due to a ban on new gas connections, for example, or a mandate for all-electric construction. The first scenario analyzed zero-emissions appliance sales beginning in 2030, and the other beginning in 2025. Both scenarios would be ambitious, but the study found that the faster route not only provided more climate benefits, but also saved more money. Switching to all-electric appliances by 2025 would result in $1.7 billion in system-wide savings by 2050, compared to $1.1 billion in the 2030 scenario.
For individual households, the story is similar. The average fully electric Portland household would save about $161 more per year on utility bills than a household that uses a mixture of electricity and gas. A household in Bend, Oregon would save an average of $192 in the all-electric scenario compared to a household that still uses some gas.
“We know that the transition away from fossil fuel appliances for heating has to happen to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change – but even if you look at this issue purely from an economic perspective, transitioning our homes off of polluting fuels like methane gas is still the right decision for Oregonians,” said Dylan Plummer, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club.
» Read article
» Read the report
DOE announces finalists of Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize
By Green Car Congress
July 14, 2022
The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced the finalists in the $4-million American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize, a competition supporting innovations that help lower the costs and reduce the environmental impacts of extracting lithium from geothermal brines.
Demand for lithium—a critical material used in batteries for electric vehicles, grid-scale electricity storage, phones, and laptops—has grown rapidly in recent years, with global demand expected to increase 500% by 2050. The United States depends on other countries for nearly all its lithium supply and mining the mineral strains water resources and can harm the environment. Using brines already produced by geothermal energy presents a solution because it is an environmentally friendly process that yields lithium.
Through this prize, DOE is advancing the development of domestic, cost-competitive, sustainable sources of lithium, particularly around Southern California’s Salton Sea.
This area has the potential to produce more than 600,000 tons of lithium per year and support a robust supply chain that turns the United States into a leading lithium exporter.
The five finalists in the Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize have identified solutions that may safely and cost-effectively extract lithium from geothermal brines. Each team will receive $280,000 and will compete in the third and final phase of the competition.
» Read article
A New Project in Rural Oregon Is Letting Farmers Test Drive Electric Tractors in the Name of Science
With tractors being used in vineyards, berry fields and hobby farms, the EV industry hopes to prove out the promise of electrifying the $38 billion US agricultural vehicle industry.
By Grant Stringer, Inside Climate News
July 13, 2022
Robert Wallace was puzzled when the first electric tractor was delivered to his home in rural Dufur, Oregon, about 75 miles east of Portland.
Wallace, an expert on rural energy projects, knows his way around a tractor. But the electric machine, distributed by the California-based startup Solectrac, didn’t idle when he turned it on, unlike the loud diesel-powered tractors he was used to. It hummed.
“It was the first electric tractor I’d ever seen,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was running or not.”
Wallace has since become a guru of electric tractors, climate tech that’s just starting to show up on U.S. fields and farms. Beginning last year, he fitted several Solectracs with data-gathering sensors and offered them for free tests on farms and gardens in rural Oregon. It’s part of a citizen science program testing first-generation electric farm equipment on the ground, likely the first program of its kind in the U.S.
Thanks to quick production and marketing of electric automobiles, American drivers already have plenty of options to choose from when replacing a gas-powered car with an all-electric one. But agricultural equipment manufacturing, a $38 billion industry in the U.S., is only beginning to go green. Some small electric models are just becoming available to farmers, and Wallace and his program partners are putting them under the microscope.
Solectrac and Monarch, another California-based startup co-founded by a former Tesla supply chain chief, are rolling out models of small tractors intended for use in vineyards, berry and hobby farms. They aim to lure customers with promises of long battery lives, low carbon footprints and even autonomous technology, in Monarch’s case. But many farmers harbor deep loyalties to big-name brands—think the trademark John Deere green—and widespread unfamiliarity with electric-powered engines. Outright skepticism of green tech is also pervasive among the dryland wheat and orchard farmers in the rolling hills around Dufur, Wallace said.
If farmers are going to replace polluting diesel-run equipment like tractors, side-by-sides, backhoes and, eventually, huge machines like combine harvesters, they’ll first need to know whether they work, Wallace says.
For more drivers to go electric, EV chargers must level up
By Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe
July 12, 2022
It’s getting easier to find places to recharge an electric car. Unless you want to recharge it fast. Then you’ve got a problem.
According to the US Department of Energy, there are about 49,000 vehicle charging locations in the US, with a total of 122,000 charging ports — the cables that plug into individual cars. But the great majority of these are slow “Level 2″ chargers that take hours to deliver a significant battery boost.
Only about 6,400 locations feature “Level 3″ fast chargers, capable of adding dozens of miles of driving range to a car’s battery in 15 or 20 minutes. These locations have just 25,000 charging ports to serve the entire US. Massachusetts has just 129 fast charging stations with just under 500 plug-in ports.
In addition, more than half of all US fast chargers serve only one make of electric vehicle — Tesla — making them useless to drivers of other battery-powered cars. Tesla has begun to allow customers in Europe to recharge non-Tesla vehicles at their chargers, but this program has yet to launch in the US.
The scarcity of fast chargers isn’t a critical problem for now, since today’s EV owners are mostly affluent homeowners who can recharge every night in their driveways. But “as the market for EVs expands and goes beyond the early adopters, you’re going to see an increasing portion of the customer base who do not have access to off-street parking,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an electric vehicle analyst at Guidehouse Insights in Detroit. Such drivers can’t or won’t spend hours in a public parking lot waiting for a battery boost, he said.
So it’ll take a lot more fast charging stations to persuade many drivers to even consider going electric. But they aren’t being installed fast enough.
A new study from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), a trade association of electric utilities, estimates that there’ll be about 26 million electric vehicles in the US by 2030, about 10 percent of the nation’s vehicle fleet. The report said that utilities, corporations, and governments have committed to build about 45,000 high-speed charging ports nationwide by 2030, but the nation will actually need about 140,000 to meet expected demand.
» Read article
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
Carbon capture projects, regional CO2 pipeline design to get $2.6B in DOE funding proposal
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
July 14, 2022
So far, CCS hasn’t taken off in the power sector. NRG Energy, for example, mothballed its Petra Nova carbon capture project at a Texas power plant in 2020 after experiencing operating problems and financial losses. It was the only carbon capture facility at a U.S. power plant.
DOE aims to spur carbon capture and storage development using funding authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The department intends to begin taking applications for funding in August or September.
The department said it expects to accept 12 applications for the initial design of CCS projects, which would receive a total of $160 million in DOE funding.
It then plans to offer $2.1 billion for the detailed design and construction of six CCS projects, two at coal-fired power plants, two at gas-fired plants and two at industrial facilities. The funding requires applicants to pay for at least half of their project’s costs.
Proposed projects must capture at least 95% of the carbon emissions from the facilities.
DOE sees wide potential benefits from CCS technology.
“CCS deployment can and should reduce emissions of other kinds of pollution in addition to CO2 pollution, protect communities from increases in cumulative pollution, and maintain and create good, high-wage jobs across the country,” the department said.
DOE said it will require funding applicants to show how their proposals will benefit communities and meet diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and environmental justice requirements.
» Read article
Biggest CCS failure clouds Supreme Court ruling
By Corbin Hiar, Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
July 11, 2022
The future for carbon capture and storage has perhaps never been brighter.
Congress has appropriated billions of dollars of funding to the CCS technology through last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law. And the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the West Virginia v. EPA case left the door open for EPA to require carbon capture as a way to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants.
But there’s a cloud hanging over the potential CCS-building boom: Petra Nova.
The $1 billion project was once the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture system. Backed by the Department of Energy, it began operating in December 2016 — and shut down less than four years later. Petra Nova’s operator, NRG Energy Inc., cited the challenging economic conditions at the time, prompted by the pandemic-induced economic slowdown.
The world economy has bounced back since then, but Petra Nova remains shuttered. Meanwhile, the conventional coal and natural gas units of NRG’s W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station — home to the shuttered Petra Nova installation — continue to dump planet-warming carbon emissions into the atmosphere. There are now just 27 operational CCS projects around the world, according to data from the Global CCS Institute, an environmental think tank.
But NRG has no immediate plans to return Petra Nova into service.
[…] “Petra Nova continues to be the project that people look to as an example,” said David Greeson, a former vice president at NRG who is now a carbon capture project consultant.
“This technology can be built on time and on budget, which kind of distinguishes it from other technologies around fossil fuels that are trying to reduce [the] carbon footprint of those fuels,” he said.
A DOE spokesperson told E&E News last week that Petra Nova “successfully met the technical milestones” established for its carbon capture grant from the agency.
“While the project later ceased operations due to challenging market conditions, Congress has subsequently made available additional policy support for future carbon management demonstration projects that has been critical to the successful development, deployment, and commercialization of other low and zero-carbon technologies, like wind and solar,” the DOE spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Yet the 2020 DOE report found that the Petra Nova project was plagued by long stretches of downtime, which limited its overall effectiveness. During the three-year period covered by the report, Petra Nova was offline for 367 days — or more than one-third of the time. As a result, the project initially failed to meet its cumulative carbon capture target goals.
» Read article
Mining the deep sea for battery materials will be dangerously noisy, study finds
There’s a looming deadline to address the risk
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 7, 2022
The race is on to figure out how to protect the ocean abyss as deep-sea mining operations look to extract minerals like nickel, cobalt, and copper from the sea floor. But there’s one potential risk to the deep-sea environment that tends to fall under the radar. Not only will mining dredge up the seafloor, but it’ll also create a lot of noise that poses its own problems for marine life, according to a newly published paper in the journal Science.
People have talked about mining the deep sea for minerals for decades, and that future is almost here. Driven by a need for more of the minerals used in everyday gadgets and batteries, the first efforts to raid polymetallic nodules at the bottom of the ocean for these resources could begin in earnest as soon as next year. The noise from those operations could affect marine life even hundreds of kilometers away, the authors of the new paper found.
Within about 6 kilometers (3.73 miles) of a mine, the noise could be equivalent to or even louder than a rock concert. That exceeds the threshold, 120 dB, that the US National Marine Fisheries Service says could negatively impact marine mammals’ behavior. The noise travels up to 500 kilometers (310 miles) away, where it would weaken but still be louder than ambient noise levels during fair weather.
“The biggest surprise for me was how far ambient noise levels are likely to be exceeded,” says Craig Smith, one of the authors of the paper and a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawai‘i. To make things worse, the noise from mining could be nonstop. “This noise is expected to be produced 24/7 for years or maybe even decades,” Smith tells The Verge.
And unlike the noise at busy ports that’s mostly at the surface of the water, mining creates a racket all the way down to the bottom of the seafloor. There’s noise from vessels above, dredges below, and pumps that bring nodules and sediments up to the surface.
As a result, whales passing through might have a harder time communicating. Or whales and other animals might decide to avoid these areas altogether, which could even affect their migration.
Still, researchers don’t know exactly how that will affect marine life — and a big part of the problem is that there’s still so much that we don’t yet know about life in the ocean’s abyss. The vast majority of animals researchers bring up from expeditions to these depths — 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) or deeper — are completely new to science, according to Smith.
» Read article
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Energy Security Trumps Climate As EU Agrees To Pipeline Expansion
By Irina Slav, Oil Price
July 14, 2022
The European Commission and the Azeri government have sealed a preliminary deal for expanding the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline that brings Azeri gas into Europe as part of the EU’s efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian gas.
“The Sides aspire to support bilateral trade of natural gas, including through exports to the European Union, via the Southern Gas Corridor, of at least 20 billion cubic metres of gas annually by 2027, in accordance with commercial viability and market demand,” the draft memorandum of understanding said, as quoted by Reuters.
The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP, is the final section of the 3,500-km Southern Gas Corridor from the Caspian Sea to Italy, which is projected to have an annual capacity of 20 billion cubic meters at some point in the future. Last year, Italy and other European countries received 8 billion cubic meters from Azerbaijan via the TAP.
The draft mentioned “long-term, predictable and stable contracts” that would provide gas suppliers with security for future demand. This is a marked departure from the European Union’s favor for gas spot markets that have prevailed in the past decade as the EU tries to prevent any fossil fuel commitments that would interfere with its climate goals.
The draft document made a note of the EU’s emissions-cutting ambitions, saying that gas deliveries along the Southern Gas Corridor would need to be aligned with Paris Agreement targets.
For context, the EU received 158 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia last year, per Germany’s deputy finance minister Joerg Kukies. Of this, 30 billion cubic meters could potentially be replaced with liquefied natural gas from the United States and Qatar.
» Read article
Biden Administration Signals Support for Controversial Alaska Oil Project
The administration issued an environmental review that represents a key step toward starting the Willow project. Opponents say drilling would violate Biden’s pledge to rein in fossil fuels.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 8, 2022
The Biden administration took a key step toward approving a huge oil drilling project in the North Slope of Alaska, angering environmental activists who said allowing it to go forward would make a mockery of President Biden’s climate-change promise to end new oil leases.
The ConocoPhillips project, known as Willow and located in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, was initially approved under the Trump administration and was later supported by the Biden administration but was then was blocked by a judge who said the environmental review had not sufficiently considered its effects on climate change and wildlife.
On Friday, the Biden administration issued a new environmental analysis.
In that analysis, the Department of the Interior said the multibillion-dollar plan would at its peak produce more than 180,000 barrels of crude oil a day and would emit at least 278 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime from the burning of the oil produced, as well as from construction and drilling activity at the site.
The oil company’s plan calls for five drill sites, a processing facility, hundreds of miles of pipelines, nearly 40 miles of new gravel roads, seven bridges, an airstrip and a gravel mine in a region that is home to polar bears, caribou and migratory birds. Project opponents have argued that the development would harm wildlife and produce dangerous new levels of greenhouse gases.
In a statement, the Interior Department said that the new analysis included several options, including a reduction in the number of drilling sites as well as an option for “no action” — or no drilling at all — and did not represent a final decision on the Willow project. The agency will take comments from the public for 45 days and is likely to make a final decision later this year.
» Read article
LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
The global LNG boom US exporters are chasing won’t materialise
Europe is doing everything it can to reduce gas use, while Asian governments are having to choose between sky-high prices and rolling blackouts. The smart money is on clean energy.
By Justin Guay, Energy Monitor | Opinion
July 6, 2022
The US liquified natural gas (LNG) export industry is in the middle of a charm offensive meant to greenwash its product to entice wary investors back into its loving embrace. Investors shouldn’t be fooled.
The uncomfortable truth is that LNG is not cleaner than coal, with life cycle emissions of LNG at best a marginal improvement. However, the real problem for investors is that the promise of overseas growth, and returns, is not likely to pan out. Instead, the smart money in these volatile times is on the real growth market – clean energy.
First, and most importantly, investors should be clear-eyed that while the US LNG industry’s expansion plans may be wrapped in a European energy security bow the industry is not seriously eyeing Europe for long-term growth. Instead, the European market is vanishing before our eyes.
Long before the invasion of Ukraine, Europe was the only major region on Earth where gas demand was projected to fall, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Now that fall is accelerating with the European Commission’s ‘Fit for 55’ proposals and new REPowerEU plan. If fully implemented, the former would already reduce total gas consumption by 30% – 100 billion cubic metres (bcm) – by 2030. The latter foresees the removal of at least 155bcm of fossil gas use – equivalent to the volume imported from Russia in 2021 – with nearly two-thirds of that reduction to be achieved by the end of the year.
That is anything but a growth market and it certainly cannot backstop the 20-year offtake agreements the industry needs to finance new export terminals.
Instead, Europe is planning a surge of clean energy that according to some estimates requires up to $800bn (€780bn) to get off all Russian fossil fuels. For those eyeing long-term structural growth in Europe, there is only one place to put your money – clean energy.
The real reason the industry wants to fast-track a wave of new infrastructure is to feed the real global growth market it is chasing – Asia. According to the IEA, the single largest source of gas demand through 2050 comes from industrial and power consumers in Asia. That is the market US exporters want access to; the European energy crisis is just the cover.
However, as cynically clever as the marketing is, savvy investors should be even more wary of the notion that demand for gas in Asia will materialise. It is true that many Asian countries have planned a wave of LNG import infrastructure to serve as the region’s comfort blanket in the transition beyond coal, but just as the infamous Asian coal super-cycle of a decade ago was meant to fuel US coal exports, only to fizzle out, the gap between Asia’s LNG plans and political and financial reality looms large.
» Read article
PLASTICS, HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
As alarm over plastic grows, Saudis ramp up production in the US
President Biden is in the kingdom this week to strengthen ties. Meanwhile, a U.S.-Saudi joint venture on the Texas coast is pumping out toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases.
By Mark Schapiro, Grist
July 14, 2022
The flares started last December, an event Errol Summerlin, a former legal-aid lawyer, and his neighbors had been bracing for since 2017. After the flames, nipping at the night sky like lashes from a heavenly monster, came the odor, a gnarled concoction of steamed laundry, and burned tires.
Thus did the Saudi royal family mark the expansion of its far-flung petrochemical empire to San Patricio County, Texas, a once-rural stretch of flatlands across Nueces Bay from Corpus Christi. It arrived in the form of Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, or GCGV, a plant that sprawls over 16 acres between the towns of Portland and Gregory. The complex contains a circuit board of pipes and steel tanks that cough out steam, flames, and toxic substances as it creates the building blocks for plastic from natural gas liquids.
The plant is the first joint venture in the Americas between Saudi Basic Industries Corp., or SABIC, a chemical manufacturing giant tied to one of the world’s richest royal families, and Exxon Mobil, America’s biggest energy company. Exxon Mobil built its wealth on drilling for and refining oil, SABIC by making petrochemicals. As climate concerns lead to a slow but steady decline in the demand for oil, the companies’ collaboration represents a shift by the fossil fuel industry. Rather than transforming the fossilized remains of organisms into gasoline and other motor fuels, the Texas plant breaks apart the molecular structure of oil, through a process called cracking, which turns it into the primary ingredient for car seats, single-use plastic bags, plastic coffee cups, and much more.
» Read article
» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!