Tag Archives: EPA

Weekly News Check-In 7/15/22

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Welcome back.

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.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

creatures too
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     

Chuck and Nancy
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     

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

rejected
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 

walk of shame

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

» More about legislation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

TVA office
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     

» More about EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Copper River Dela
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     

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

freeway
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     

emerald tutu
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     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

taking measure
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     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

A-plus
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     

customer entrance
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

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

road trip
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    

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Robert Wallace
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.

“I want to figure out what parts of this technology will work for me, for rural Oregon, for rural America,” Wallace said.
» Read article     
» Read about the program

more and faster
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     

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

aerial view ccs
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         

billion dollar scrap
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    

» More about CCS

DEEP-SEABED MINING

slideshow
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     

» More about deep-seabed mining

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

TAP
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     

CP test well
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     

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

old news
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     

» More about LNG

PLASTICS, HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

joint venture
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    

» More about plastics and the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 3/11/22

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Welcome back.

In Peabody, just north of Boston, ground is being prepared for a new fossil fuel powered peaking power plant with no defensible economic or technical reason to exist given today’s climate imperatives and renewable energy and storage alternatives. Two respected consulting firms have produced deeply-researched reports illuminating greener alternatives that in all cases cost less and reduce financial, health, and environmental risks. Now, a group of dedicated activists are prepared to begin a hunger strike, seeking to focus public and Baker administration attention on what has become a high stakes effort to stop an outdated and dangerous project from moving forward.

At the same time, the window is closing on any chance for national legislation that salvages the important climate components of President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better bill. Pressure is coming from a radically conservative Supreme Court that seems intent on preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, along with the real possibility that Democrats could lose control of one or both houses of Congress in upcoming midterm elections.

Both of those topics are loaded with the green economic transition’s promise to address climate change by cutting fossil fuel use, while simultaneously (finally) righting historic environmental injustices. The horrifying urgency of Russia’s war in Ukraine is driving energy-related decisions today that could push future emissions either up or down.

Some of those decisions involve physical and policy changes to modernize the electric grid. Here in New England, that starts with convincing our grid operator, ISO-NE, to embrace the coming changes and stop protecting the fuel-based status quo of the last century. Meanwhile, we have a story from Virginia about some of the creative ways renewable energy is being deployed.

The Biden administration recently restored California’s special status as a clean transportation leader, overturning the prior administration’s attempt to remove the state’s longstanding ability to set and enforce stringent tailpipe emissions requirements. Looking at aviation, efforts are underway to eventually eliminate emissions altogether in aircraft powered by green hydrogen fuel cells.

We have carried a number of stories about Massachusetts gas utility pilot projects to provide district heating and cooling using heat pumps connected to a network of underground pipes. We have an update, including a useful graphic showing what these ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” might look like.

Wrapping up with a local report, we’re looking at the possible sale and decommissioning of Pittsfield’s waste incinerator, which will benefit the area’s air quality and public health while also posing challenges. We’ll be advocating for policies that reduce packaging materials and divert organic waste to composting facilities.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

fast company
Protestors plan hunger strike over Peabody power plant
By Paul Leighton, Salem News
March 11, 2022

Environmental activists say they plan to go on a hunger strike next week to protest the building of a new oil-and-gas powered plant in Peabody.

In a posting on the Breathe Clean North Shore website, six members of Climate Courage say they will begin the hunger strike on Tuesday and visit the 14 communities that are involved in the planned peaker plant in Peabody.

“We’ve tried everything,” said Joy Gurrie, of Ipswich, one of the planned hunger-strikers. “We’ve marched, protested to officials. This is like a last-ditch effort.”

The $85 million peaker plant — so called because it will run only during peak demand times for electricity — is scheduled to be built on Pulaski Street in Peabody. Fourteen municipal light plants, including those in Peabody and Marblehead, are partnering on the project through the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company.

The project has been approved by the state and site work has begun on its construction next to the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s existing Waters River Substation. But residents and environmental advocates continue to fight it.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network released two reports saying the plant is risky both financially and environmentally. One of the reports said the municipal light plants could provide more power at a lower cost by “buying capacity” from the market, rather than spending $85 million to build a plant. The report estimated that would save $29 million over the first 15 years.

Another report said the plant could end up being “stranded,” or abandoned, before the end of its projected 30-year lifespan due to new laws intended to protect environmental justice communities, which are defined based on income and minority populations. The report also cited the volatility of gas prices as a threat to the plant’s financial future.

Sarah Dooling, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, said the project was approved by the state before new rules protecting environmental justice communities were adopted. The plant would be located in an environmental justice neighborhood in Peabody and less than a mile from eight others, according to her organization.

Dooling said the organization has asked the state’s environmental secretary, Kathleen Theoharides, to conduct an environmental review of the project.

“If the Baker administration does not want this plant to be built, it would not be built,” Dooling said.
» Read article 
» Read the Clean Power Coalition’s post on the hunger strike – see how you can support the strikers!
» Read the Strategen Consulting report on market capacity purchases    

» Read the Applied Economics Clinic risk assessment report      

time is short
Peabody Generator Opponents Make Late Plea To Halt Project
Climate advocacy groups released data Thursday they hope will prompt the state to reopen the proposed generator’s approval process.
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 10, 2022

Climate advocacy groups made a late — and perhaps ultimately final — push for the state to reopen the approval process for the proposed 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered peak capacity generator at Peabody’s Waters River substation on Thursday.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company Project 2015A — which the state Department of Public Utilities approved for $85 million in funding last July after months of appeals and fierce objections from opposition groups and some elected officials — is designed to provide residents in 14 MMWEC communities, including Marblehead and Peabody, with peak-capacity energy at below-market prices in the case of extreme weather conditions.

The MMWEC last spring hit a 30-day “pause” on the project, which moved through the state approval process in relative obscurity for years. The MMWEC and Peabody Municipal Light Plant made some alterations aimed at lowering the emissions impact on the surrounding communities but ultimately got the go-ahead for much of the framework for the original plan the utility said will operate approximately 239 hours per year and be 94 percent more efficient than generators across the state.

But both state and local climate and environmental justice advocates groups have kept up the fight — on Thursday citing more data that the generator threatens to be more expensive for consumers and risks become a “stranded asset” based on recent price trends in the energy industry and improvements in battery storage capacity.

“Gas peakers right now are not the only capacity resource,” said Maria Roumpani, Senior Manager of Strategen, an impact-driven firm whose mission is to decarbonize energy systems. “Resource economics and climate change have progressed significantly over the past five or six years (since the outset of Project 2015A). Today, we’re more aware of environmental impacts and at the same time renewable and storage energy costs have fallen dramatically, which changes a lot of the economics of the peaker.”
» Read article  

» More about peaker plants

LEGISLATION

closing window
The political window is closing on climate change
If Democrats can’t compromise now, they may come away with nothing.
By The Editorial Board, Boston Globe
March 3, 2022

The long-predicted effects of climate change are now hard upon us, and they will only get worse unless we take sweeping action. But it’s not just the atmospheric window that’s closing. The political portal is as well — and not just for this year but for the next several. That means Democrats must move with dispatch to pass the climate provisions of the Build Back Better legislation.

Several coalescing probabilities make congressional action in the next few months the best, and perhaps last, chance for timely action. On Feb. 28, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit intended to block the federal government’s ability to take strong regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That was the approach President Obama settled on in the face of Congress’s disinclination to act in a meaningful way on global warming. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan soon ran into legal problems, with the Supreme Court freezing it while a challenge to its legal grounding played out in court. Donald Trump then gutted Obama’s regulatory effort, only to see his own do-little-or-nothing rule thrown out by the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Biden administration has signaled it intends to return to an Obama-like approach by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory power to crack down on energy-sector emissions, but has yet to detail its plan. Despite the lack of a currently relevant justiciable policy, however, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the D.C. Appeals Court’s ruling. The fact that the high court opted to hear this case before President Biden has a set of rules in the game suggests that its conservative majority is intent on preemptively closing that regulatory avenue. That would be in keeping with those justices’ clear skepticism about administrative authority based on a broad interpretation of statute. If so, the EPA would see its power to require sector-wide greenhouse-gas reductions severely curtailed.

On the electoral front, meanwhile, the prognosis does not look good for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. Republicans could well end up in control of the House and perhaps the Senate as well. Shortsighted though it is, congressional Republicans, who are both deeply beholden to the fossil-fuel industry and deep into climate denial, feel little compunction to address the climate issue. Should they win control of either branch of Congress in November, it becomes highly unlikely that any meaningful climate measure will pass.
» Read article

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Raimondi Park
How Air Pollution Across America Reflects Racist Policy From the 1930s
A new study shows how redlining, a Depression-era housing policy, contributed to inequalities that persist decades later in U.S. cities.
By Raymond Zhong and Nadja Popovich, New York Times
March 9, 2022

Urban neighborhoods that were redlined by federal officials in the 1930s tended to have higher levels of harmful air pollution eight decades later, a new study has found, adding to a body of evidence that reveals how racist policies in the past have contributed to inequalities across the United States today.

In the wake of the Great Depression, when the federal government graded neighborhoods in hundreds of cities for real estate investment, Black and immigrant areas were typically outlined in red on maps to denote risky places to lend. Racial discrimination in housing was outlawed in 1968. But the redlining maps entrenched discriminatory practices whose effects reverberate nearly a century later.

To this day, historically redlined neighborhoods are more likely to have high populations of Black, Latino and Asian residents than areas that were favorably assessed at the time.

California’s East Bay is a clear example.

[…]Margaret Gordon has had decades of experience with these inequalities in West Oakland, a historically redlined neighborhood. Many children there suffer from asthma related to traffic and industrial pollution. Residents have long struggled to fend off development projects that make the air even worse.

“Those people don’t have the voting capacity, or the elected officials, or the money to hire the lawyers, to fight this,” said Ms. Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an advocacy group.
» Read article  
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Omsk refinery
As War Rages, A Struggle to Balance Energy Crunch and Climate Crisis
Rising oil prices and increased demand for expanded production come at a time when scientists say nations must sharply cut the use of fossil fuels.
By Brad Plumer, Lisa Friedman and David Gelles, New York Times
March 10, 2022

As the world reels from spikes in oil and gas prices, the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare a dilemma: Nations remain extraordinarily dependent on fossil fuels and are struggling to shore up supplies precisely at a moment when scientists say the world must slash its use of oil, gas and coal to avert irrevocable damage to the planet.

While countries could greatly reduce their vulnerability to wild swings in the oil and gas markets by shifting to cleaner sources of energy such as wind or solar power and electric vehicles — which is also the playbook for fighting climate change — that transition will take years.

So, for now, many governments are more urgently focused on alleviating near-term energy shocks, aiming to boost global oil production to replace the millions of barrels per day that Russia has historically exported but which is now being shunned by Western nations.

The two goals aren’t necessarily at odds, officials in the United States and Europe say.

Yet some fear that countries could become so consumed by the immediate energy crisis that they neglect longer-term policies to cut reliance on fossil fuels — a shortsightedness that could set the world up for more oil and gas shocks in the future as well as a dangerously overheated planet.

“In the short term we have to try to prevent this crisis from creating an economic catastrophe,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a managing director at RMI, a nonprofit that works on clean energy issues. “But there are also longer-term steps we need to take to reduce our underlying energy vulnerabilities.” Otherwise, she said, “we’ll end up right back in this situation several years down the road.”
» Read article  

Amazon fire
Amazon is less able to recover from droughts and logging, study finds
By Henry Fountain, New York Times, in Boston Globe
March 7, 2022

The Amazon is losing its ability to recover from disturbances like droughts and land-use changes, scientists reported Monday, adding to concern that the rainforest is approaching a critical threshold beyond which much of it will be replaced by grassland, with vast consequences for biodiversity and climate change.

The scientists said their research did not pinpoint when this threshold, which they described as a tipping point, might be reached.

“But it’s worth reminding ourselves that if it gets to that tipping point, that we commit to losing the Amazon rainforest, then we get a significant feedback to global climate change,” said one of the scientists, Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in England.

Losing the rainforest could result in up to 90 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide being put back into the atmosphere, he said, equivalent to several years of global emissions. That would make limiting global warming more difficult.

Among previous studies there has been a large degree of uncertainty as to when such a threshold might be reached. But some research has concluded that deforestation, drying, and other factors could lead to substantial forest destruction in the Amazon by the end of this century.

Carlos Nobre, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil and one of the first to sound alarm over the potential loss of the Amazon more than three decades ago, described the new study as “very compelling.”

“It raised my level of anxiety,” said Nobre, who was not involved in the research.

Covering more than 2 million square miles in Brazil and neighboring countries, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, and serves a crucial role in mitigating climate change in most years by taking in more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases. In its diversity of plant and animal species, it is as rich as or richer than anywhere else on the planet. And it pumps so much moisture into the atmosphere that it can affect weather beyond South America.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Mr Popular
Analysis: From Gas to Renewables to Efficiency, Putin’s War Has EU Scrambling for Energy Independence
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
March 7, 2022

With Vladimir Putin’s devastating war in Ukraine now well into its second week, news coverage and commentary are turning to the steps other European countries can take to break their dependence on Russian oil and gas, once and for all.

While the fossil industry tries to spin the war as justification for a new round of exploration and development, and Europe looks to alternate sources of gas for short-term relief, renewable energy and energy efficiency are dominating much of the conversation as a more practical, affordable solution.

Two intertwined issues brought into focus by the invasion of Ukraine are the 40% of European Union gas supply that comes from Russia, and the corresponding US$720 million in daily gas revenue that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using to finance his war. While sanctions and divestment are hitting broad swaths of the Russian economy, “in gas the flow continues unabated and, with European customers now paying even more exorbitant prices, Russia is benefiting from a staggering surge in revenue,” writes British historian and European Institute Director Adam Tooze, citing Bloomberg columnist Javier Blas.

“At the start of the year, Russia was earning $350 million per day from oil and $200 million per day from gas,” Tooze says. “On March 3, 2022, Europe paid $720 million to Russia for gas alone.”

[…]That dependence “has proved the Achilles’ heel of security for Europe and, by extension, the United States,” writes the Washington Post editorial board. “Quite simply, Russia has fossil fuels in abundance and has used this as a geopolitical tool to influence consuming countries such as Germany and Italy, blunting their willingness to take a stand against Mr. Putin’s aggressive policies until it is too late.”
» Read article  

800 MW offshore
House pushes for Massachusetts to become the center of U.S. wind production
By Mike Deehan, WGBH
March 3, 2022

House Speaker Ron Mariano and the Massachusetts House want to supercharge the wind energy industry in the Commonwealth by levying new fees on fossil fuels to invest in cleaner power produced off our shores.

“What oil did for Texas, wind can do for Massachusetts. We have enough wind energy out there that can power every home and every business in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Franklin Rep. Jeffrey Roy, the House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and key author of the bill.

Mariano and Roy’s wind bill is seen by Democrats as a key piece of the state’s strategy to meet it’s long-term emissions goals.

Under state law, Massachusetts must by 2030 reduce carbon emissions by 50% from 1990 levels. That target moves to a 75% reduction in emissions by 2040 and 85% of 1990 levels by 2050.

To get there, the state’s electricity supply must shift from being generated by polluting fossil fuels to clean energy sources like wind, solar and hydro energy. After Maine voters rejected a plan by Massachusetts and other northeast states to buy and transport hydropower from Canada, the Bay state was left looking for new ways to increase green power production.

“We happen to be located in the perfect space because the most robust waters in the contiguous United States are 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.,” Roy said.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy    

MODERNIZING THE GRID

future now
The future is now: Doubling down on fossil fuels is not the solution to New England’s energy needs
By Joe Curtatone, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 1, 2022
Joe Curtatone is president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council

Across New England, the second half of January ushered in freezing temperatures and along with it, a reinvigorated debate about the region’s overreliance on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. New England has made significant strides in recent decades, retiring most of its coal fleet and moving to a — comparatively — cleaner generating fleet that is now largely dominated by natural gas.

That is why it may surprise you to learn that in late January, the grid mix was, in fact, very dirty with over 25% coming from oil and coal at times, and with the monthly contribution of those dirty sources totaling a staggering 13%. Over the course of an entire year, coal and oil generation is quite small, typically below 1%, as it was in 2021. But in this cold, and with gas prices far higher than in recent years, it was coal and oil to the rescue on the vast majority of days. To be clear, the system was not in an emergency condition. It was just cold.

As we move on from a year that was the hottest in Boston’s history, with New England facing the impacts of climate change at an even more accelerated pace, this is simply untenable. New England states have enacted some of the most aggressive climate laws in the country, and we have made bold and smart bets on making clean energy resources like offshore wind and solar the new backbone of our grid in the future. But as this past January demonstrates, our work to meet those ambitions has only begun.

ISO New England’s CEO was recently quoted as saying, “[t]he clean energy transition is a long journey and we cannot escape the reality that the region will be reliant on much of the existing fleet, and the fuels they utilize, for many years to come”. We fear that framing the problem that way risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. By continuing to look to fossil fuel peaking resources as a first resort rather than last, we are ignoring significant opportunities that exist today to bring all available clean resources to solve this problem. Here are some ideas to start.
» Read article  

SEAM study
Grid operators’ ‘seam’ study paves way for renewable expansion

A new study shows how strategically sited transmission projects can unleash a wave of new clean energy generation.
By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News, in Energy News Network
March 5, 2022

A joint study by two regional grid operators with territories that span a wide swath of the central U.S. reveals how strategically sited transmission projects along their boundaries could enable a wave of new renewable energy generation that may not otherwise get built.

The final study, published yesterday, is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to help enable more wind and solar development across an area that’s become increasingly challenging for renewable developers because of grid constraints.

The study identified seven transmission projects along the MISO-SPP boundary that would cost $1.65 billion and enable 28 gigawatts of new generation capacity — and perhaps as much as 53 GW — across MISO and SPP combined. The latter estimate, based on modeling by SPP, would roughly double the combined wind and solar capacity that currently exists in the two regions.

“Identifying those projects that can meet the needs of interconnecting generators in both regions for a period of time is huge, it’s very important,” said Natalie McIntire, a technical and policy consultant for the Clean Grid Alliance, a St. Paul, Minn.-based group whose members include renewable developers.

The projects to help unlock the region’s renewable energy potential could accelerate the pace of the transition from fossil fuels in regions of the country long tied to coal.
» Read article  

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

PV on abandoned coal mines
In Virginia, abandoned coal mines are transformed into solar farms
Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes the model can be replicated nationwide
By Zoeann Murphy, Washington Post
March 3, 2022

Empty freight cars line the railroad tracks as far as the eye can see from Tim Jennings’s backyard in Dante — a town of less than 600 residents.

“They should open up some more new mines around here,” the 61-year-old former coal miner says, pointing up at the mountains surrounding the valley. “Solar panels — that might work too.”

In southwest Virginia, abandoned coal mines are being transformed into solar installations that will be large enough to contribute renewable energy to the electric grid. Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes it’s creating a model that can be replicated nationwide.

In 2019, the Nature Conservancy acquired 253,000 acres of forest in the central Appalachian Mountains that it calls the Cumberland Forest Project. It’s one small part of the group’s efforts in the mountain range, which reaches from Alabama to Canada.

“We’ve identified the Appalachians as one of the most important places on Earth for us to do conservation,” says Brad Kreps, the Nature Conservancy’s Clinch Valley program director, who is leading the solar projects. “We put the Appalachians in a very rare company along with the Amazon, the wild lands of Kenya and the forests of Borneo.”

The Cumberland Forest includes several abandoned mine sites scattered around Virginia’s coal fields region. Solar developers partnering with the Nature Conservancy, such as Dominion Energy and Sun Tribe, say the mine sites have vast flat areas exposed to sunlight that are a rarity in the mountains, and the sites offer advantages like being close to transmission lines.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Bay Bridge traffic
Biden Restores California’s Power to Set Stringent Tailpipe Rules
The state is expected to write strict auto pollution standards designed to significantly speed the transition to electric vehicles and influence new federal rules.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
March 9, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday restored California’s legal authority to set auto pollution and mileage rules that are tighter than federal standards, a potent climate policy that had been stripped away by former President Donald J. Trump.

The return of one of California’s most powerful environmental prerogatives could have a significant impact on the type of cars Americans will drive in the coming decade, the amount of gasoline the nation consumes and its ability to reduce the tailpipe emissions that contribute heavily to climate change.

As the most populous state, and with the world’s fifth-largest economy, California has been able to influence automobile makers and set the pace for the rest of the country. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the California rules, turning them into de facto national standards. Twelve other states are following California’s mandate to sell only zero-emissions vehicles after 2035.

With that leverage, California’s actions become pivotal to Mr. Biden’s broader push to accelerate the transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles toward electric vehicles, which require no oil and produce no emissions.
» Read article  

Zero E concept
Fortescue teams up with aero giant Airbus to accelerate green hydrogen planes
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
March 8, 2022

Fortescue Future Industries says it wants to speed up the development of aircraft fuelled by green hydrogen, as part of a push to decarbonise the aviation industry, forming a new partnership with European aircraft giant Airbus.

The clean energy unit of resources giant Fortescue Metals Group signed the MoU with Airbus on Tuesday to cooperate on the development of zero emissions aircraft, fuelled by hydrogen.

The partnership will see the two companies identify the needs and potential boundaries to the use of green hydrogen as an aircraft fuel, covering government regulation, necessary infrastructure and how to best establish global supply chains.

According to a joint statement, FFI will provide technical expertise on the development of the necessary hydrogen supply chains, and Airbus will focus on assessing the energy needs and fuelling requirements of the aviation industry, as well as the aviation regulatory environment.

Fortescue founder Dr Andrew Forrest said the aviation industry was responsible for a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, and had so far proven elusive in decarbonisation efforts.

“The time is now for a green revolution in the aviation industry. This exciting collaboration brings together leaders in the aviation industry with leaders in green energy for a pollution-free future,” Forrest said.

Airbus has unveiled a number of zero emissions aircraft concepts and is hoping to launch its first hydrogen-fuelled commercial aircraft by 2035.

The company says that green hydrogen could be used through two key methods for reducing aviation emissions, including as an input in the production of synthetic fuels for use in current aircraft, as well as for direct use in next-generation aircraft using modified turbines and fuel cells.
» Read article  

» More about green transportation

GAS UTILITIES

vertical ground loops
A net-zero future for gas utilities? Switching to underground thermal networks
Three pilot projects in Massachusetts will connect ground-source heat pumps to heat and cool entire neighborhoods.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
March 1, 2022

Massachusetts’ major gas utilities, facing the eventual demise of fossil fuels under the state’s decarbonization mandate, are contemplating a new business model: replacing neighborhood gas pipeline networks with pipes that capture and share thermal energy underground.

Over the next year, utilities Eversource, National Grid and Columbia Gas plan to break ground on separate pilot projects testing the viability of making such ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” into in-the-ground realities. If they succeed, the model could be extended to a much broader set of the utilities’ customers — and potentially offer gas utilities in other regions a path toward a carbon-free future.

Nikki Bruno, Eversource’s director of clean technologies, said the utility has hopes to expand well beyond its $10.2 million, three-year pilot project in a lower-income neighborhood in the city of Framingham, Massachusetts.

For that to happen, however, ​“we would have to show an environmental benefit, customer affordability, and technology performance,” she said.

Right now Eversource is busy signing up a mix of residential and commercial customers willing to install heat pumps that can tap into the pipes it will be laying alongside its fossil gas pipelines, Bruno said. Those pipes will carry a water-and-antifreeze mix that circulates through loops in boreholes sunk hundreds of feet into the earth, absorbing underground temperatures that linger at a stable range around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

As that temperate fluid is brought back to the surface, it can be used by electric-powered heat pumps to generate heat when it’s cold outside or cold when it’s hot outside, whichever is needed, as this Eversource graphic indicates.
» Read article  

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

spinning it
Canada’s ‘petro-provinces’ see opportunity in Russia-Ukraine war
Amid calls to ban Russian oil and gas, environmentalists slam pro-oil ‘opportunism’ in Canada and call for energy transition.
By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, Al Jazeera
March 8, 2022

As efforts ramp up to broker a ceasefire and bring an end to nearly two weeks of Russian attacks on Ukraine, calls have been growing internationally to ban oil imports from Russia as a way to exert pressure on President Vladimir Putin to end the war.

United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on US imports of Russian oil and gas. It was unclear whether Europe, more energy-dependent on Russia than the US, would follow suit.

That is where Canada’s oil industry lobby groups and pro-oil politicians are now hoping to step in, urging countries to choose what they describe as Canadian “ethical oil” over Russian “conflict oil” reserves.

But environmentalists, rights advocates and other experts have denounced attempts to expand fossil fuel projects in light of the war in Ukraine, saying the conflict should instead hasten a global energy transition to respond to the climate crisis.

“We’re seeing once again the fossil [fuel] lobby seizing upon a crisis with horrific human consequences to promote its destructive agenda and double down on fossil production expansion,” Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, told Al Jazeera. “It’s been absolutely distressing to see some politicians echo this grotesque spin.”
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP plume
If Pittsfield trash incinerator plant sale goes through it will close, which could mean you’ll pay more for trash disposal
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
March 11, 2022

If approved by a bankruptcy judge, a national company that boasts of capturing “value from waste” will take over and decommission a Pittsfield incinerator that has been a city landmark for two generations.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court identify Casella Waste Management of Massachusetts as the company poised to pay $1 million to buy the Hubbard Avenue plant, whose smokestacks, visible across the city’s east side, long have concerned environmentalists.

In February, a letter to employees from Richard Fish, Community Eco Power’s president and CEO, confirmed that a prospective new owner intended to dismantle the incinerator, which, in 2021, burned 80,000 tons of trash from Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

In a letter of intent included in a recent bankruptcy court filing, a Casella executive says that if the sale is allowed, it would halt trash incineration in Pittsfield and transform the site into a transfer station. From there, the executive said, trash would be trucked to landfills, possibly including four owned by Casella in New York state.

Closing the incinerator would force Pittsfield and other customers to renegotiate how to dispose of trash, having lost the option to have those costs tempered by the use of waste to generate energy. Casella already holds a contract to collect trash in Pittsfield.
» Read article   

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 3/4/22

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Welcome back.

The courts have become ground zero for actions that either attack or defend the fossil fuel industry and the polluting economy it supports. We found important stories describing skirmishes from both sides of the fight. On one hand, Honolulu can proceed with a lawsuit that seeks compensation for climate-related damage from the oil majors who lied and concealed the dangers for decades. Sadly, a case before the strongly conservative US Supreme Court could shield the fossil and utility industries from regulation and stymie government efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities and towns fighting hard to implement gas hookup bans are meeting stiff resistance from entrenched utilities and a sluggish regulatory apparatus. In Massachusetts, the green economic boost promised by offshore wind development can’t be taken for granted – and the state is looking at adjusting some incentives.

This week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dropped a devastating climate assessment, stating clearly that humanity has already crossed into unsafe territory, and laying out the scale of suffering we’re sleepwalking into through lack of effective action. Our second article in this section is a case in point. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, only 6% of pandemic recovery funds have been spent on “green” projects. At the same time, half that amount went to propping up fossil fuels. In light of the IPCC report, that represents a colossal failure of leadership and political will during a time when “build back better” became a ubiquitous slogan. Looking at you, G20 nations, and cutting you no slack here.

As horrible as it is, Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine and its attempt to use oil and gas to dampen European resistance, seems to have finally afforded some of those leaders a near-term threat that could result in a real, concerted move toward clean energy. Closer to home, we’re waiting to see if this urgency starts affecting decisions and policies that were already underway as the invasion unfolded. That includes a lackluster attempt by Massachusetts’ Baker administration to improve its “stretch” building energy code even as new affordable housing units are showing the way with Passive House performance. And witness the US Post Office’s clueless insistence on committing much of its huge fleet of new delivery vehicles to burning gasoline for decades to come.

Checking in on the power sector, we have a report showing that electric utilities are underestimating the cost of carbon and climate change, which makes renewables and batteries less attractive investments. Similarly, gas utilities are using pretzel logic to rationalize any moves that disrupt their traditional model of pushing fuel through pipelines to flames. It’s no secret that utilities spend lots of money on lobbying efforts to protect their perceived interests. Now fourteen states are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency to prevent them recouping those costs from ratepayers.

We’ve been watching developments in cryptocurrency because of the astonishing amount of energy “mining” it consumes. While some miners use surplus, or “stranded” renewable energy whenever possible, a new study examining the effect of China’s recent action to expel bitcoin mining concludes the net result is a heavier dependence on fossil-generated power.

We’ll wrap up with the very positive news that delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) drafted an international agreement on plastics that includes a broad definition of the problem. It would control pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal. There’s much to be done before this agreement is enforceable, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Underscoring the urgency to reduce plastics usage and waste is a warning that burning plastics in waste-to-energy facilities could be creating new and powerful greenhouse gases.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Honolulu flooded street
‘Historic First’ as Hawaii Court OKs Lawsuit Against Big Oil
“This development should send a message to communities across the country that the legal case for making polluters pay for lying about fossil-fueled damages is strong and defensible.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 3, 2022

Climate campaigners and local officials this week are celebrating a major series of victories in Hawaii state court rejecting Big Oil’s attempts to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the the City and County of Honolulu.

“This is a big and important win,” said Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters in a statement. “Not only in the sense of legal justice, but also for our local residents.”

“We are facing incredible costs to move critical infrastructure away from our coasts and out of flood zones,” he continued, “and the oil companies that deceived the public for decades should be the ones helping pick up the tab for those costs—not our taxpayers.”

Waters declared that “the reason these companies are fighting so hard to block this case is they don’t want even more evidence to come out. This is just like Big Tobacco, when they tried to take advantage of the public.”

Honolulu’s lawsuit—filed in 2020 against oil giants including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell—claims that despite knowing for decades that their products heat the planet, which “could be catastrophic,” and there was limited time to act, the companies “engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort” to deny the threats, discredit the science, and deceive the public “about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article          

Harrison power station
US supreme court signals it may restrict EPA’s ability to fight climate crisis
Roberts suggests states could claim harm from laws not yet enacted
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 28, 2022

Several conservative justices on the US supreme court signaled on Monday that they may be willing to restrict the federal government’s ability to address the climate crisis.

In a case that could have profound implications for those affected by the crisis, the supreme court considered an argument brought by West Virginia, a major coal mining state, that the US Environmental Protection Agency be limited in how it regulates planet-heating gases from the energy sector.

The Biden administration wants the court to throw out the case as baseless because it doesn’t relate to any existing regulation.

But John Roberts, the chief justice, said West Virginia and other states could still claim some “harm” from rules not yet enacted.

[…]The case has deeply worried environmental groups, stoking fear it could hobble any effort to set strict limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired plants.

“It was grotesque to hear big coal’s lawyers argue for tying EPA’s hands on cutting climate-heating pollution, even as the world’s scientists warn of a bigger, worsening swath of human suffering,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, referring to a report released on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We’re out of time and the president must act boldly now,” Rylander said.

The Biden administration is already dealing with congressional refusal to enact the climate change proposals in its Build Better Back domestic spending plan. Now the justices are taking up an appeal from 19 mostly Republican-led states and coal companies over whether the EPA has the authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

GAS BANS

not yet Brookline
Brookline wants a fossil fuel-free future. With latest ruling, the AG says: Not yet (again).
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 25, 2022

In a move widely seen as a setback for cities and towns hoping to accelerate their climate efforts, Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday ruled that the Town of Brookline’s efforts to use zoning bylaws to stop fossil fuels in new buildings violated state law.

This is the second time that Healey’s office has ruled against Brookline’s attempts to stop fossil fuels, and the latest stumbling block has climate advocates wondering: If this can’t happen here, in progressive Massachusetts, where a strong climate law is on the books, will it be able to happen at a fast enough pace anywhere to stave off the worst of climate change?

“When you say that local governments aren’t allowed to try these novel but fully lawful approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, you’re not only preventing the local government from responding to the direct needs of their residents but also from perhaps developing a new model for their neighbors to start adopting as well,” said Amy Turner, a senior fellow for the Cities Climate Law Initiative at Columbia University’s Sabin Center.

This years-long effort by Brookline has been watched all over the country, and particularly in Massachusetts, as cities and towns try to step up the pace of climate action on a local level, even as states lag behind.

In Brookline, the decision felt devastating to the town meeting members behind the effort, which had been approved at a Town Meeting in July by a margin of 206 to 6.

“It feels like I’m a child whose parents have gone out of their way not to give me permission to clean my own room,” said Jesse Gray, one of the petitioners behind Brookline’s efforts. “We need to do this to meet the state’s own climate goals, but what they have made abundantly clear is that they are not going to allow any municipality to do this, even though it’s a basic and necessary and urgent climate step.”

The decision from Healey’s office in many ways echoed what the residents of Brookline — and the many other cities and towns hoping to follow in its footsteps — have heard before: that while the office agrees with the principal of what Brookline wants to do, state law won’t allow it.

Noting that her office has “prioritized the state’s transition away from polluting fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future,” Healey said in a statement her hands were tied by state law.

[…]There are now 30 Massachusetts towns that—like Brookline—have said they want to ban fossil fuels. While Friday’s decision represents a setback for them, a few other avenues remain. Currently, Brookline and four other communities (Acton, Arlington, Concord, and Lexington) have home rule petitions being considered by the legislature, which—if passed—would allow the towns to pass fossil fuel bans for new construction.

“When you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging,” said state Representative Tommy Vitolo of Brookline. “We must find other policy mechanisms to prevent us from digging ourselves a climate change hole from which we can’t escape.”
» Read article          

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

gravity shift
In race for offshore wind jobs, Mass. is falling behind. So now what?
Lawmakers pitch changes to how the state awards wind farm leases in bid to compete with neighbors to the south.
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
March 2, 2022

If anyone should be trying to build wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts, it’s Ørsted.

The Danish energy company happens to be the world’s biggest developer of offshore wind farms. Its largest US office is here in Boston. And it controls a big stretch of the sea near Martha’s Vineyard, with high winds and relatively shallow waters that make it an ideal place to put up turbine towers.

But Ørsted and its local development partner Eversource steered clear of competing in the state’s third round of bidding for wind energy contracts last year. So did Equinor, another European energy company with a big lease area south of the Vineyard. Their big reason? A price cap baked into state law that requires each bid to be lower than the winning bids in the previous rounds. It’s a rule designed to keep prices under control for consumers. But it threatens Massachusetts’ early lead in a nascent but quickly growing sector, and the on-shore jobs and factories it could bring.

The stakes seem to get higher almost by the month. The race is on for the wind industry thanks to generous federal tax credits, a pro-wind president in the White House, and states along the East Coast putting contracts out to bid to finance these multibillion-dollar projects. Just last week, wind-farm development teams ponied up more than $4 billion, just for the rights to build in federal waters southeast of New York City. The industry’s center of gravity sure seems to be shifting — away from us.

Many lawmakers on Beacon Hill want to make sure Massachusetts doesn’t fall any further behind.

Toward that end, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Representative Jeff Roy, co-chairman of the Legislature’s energy committee, teed up a pro-wind bill for a floor debate on Thursday. The bill would establish new offshore-wind tax incentives, and rework who gets to pick the winners in these contract competitions. It gives economic development such as factories that create long-term jobs a greater weight in future bids, and allows more input from commercial fishermen concerned about the potential navigation hazards posed by these giant towers.

And, perhaps most notably, the bill would remove that controversial price cap.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hot already
IPCC Risk Analysis Shows Safe Limits Have Already Been Passed
By Tim Radford, The Energy Mix
March 2, 2022

Humankind is not just heading for a more dangerous future: for some people, the safe limits have already been passed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows in its climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability report this week.

Global supplies of food became more precarious a few years ago when the planet’s average temperature increased by 1°C: the risk of possible famine however is classed as moderate, the report states. But if the thermometer rises by 2.5°C, the risk to communities, regions, and whole nations becomes high, as harvests fail and flocks perish.

Food is inseparable from water supply. Right now, 800 million people experience chronic water scarcity. But if the temperature notches up to 2°C this figure reaches three billion, at 4°C, around four billion people will be in trouble. And that’s a calculation that factors in only the present population of the globe, and only the effects of climate change.

But of course that calculation does not and cannot incorporate the other hazards that come with a soaring mercury: the advance of tropical diseases; the chance of displaced, impoverished and malnourished people on the move; the arrival of new crop pests; and the risk of conflict fuelled by drought or heat. Not to mention the damage to natural ecosystems on which all human health and wealth ultimately depend as the insects that pollinate human crops, or dispose of waste, are winnowed at ever-higher temperatures.
» Read article         
» Read the IPCC report

SA coal power station
Only 6% of G20 pandemic recovery spending ‘green’, analysis finds
Review of G20 fiscal stimulus spending counters many countries’ pledges to ‘build back better’
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 2, 2022

Only about 6% of pandemic recovery spending has been “green”, an analysis of the $14tn that G20 countries have poured into economic stimulus.

Additionally, about 3% of the record amounts governments around the world have spent to rescue the global economy from the Covid-19 pandemic has been spent on activities that will increase carbon emissions, such as subsidies to coal, and will do little to reduce greenhouse gases or shift the world to a low-carbon footing.

The analysis of the G20 fiscal stimulus spending, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, belies claims many governments made of a “green recovery” that would “build back better” from upheavals caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.

It comes just after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued “the bleakest warning yet” of the ravages of climate breakdown already under way, warning only urgent action to cut emissions could stave off the worst outcomes.

Jonas Nahm, assistant professor in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US and lead author of the study, said governments had missed a vital opportunity, but there were still ways to improve the situation.

“The spending directed towards economic recovery could have significantly improved our chances of staying within 1.5C [of global heating] and we’ve collectively missed that opportunity,” he told the Guardian. “It’s disappointing that governments have yet to fully grasp that economic growth, prosperity and emissions reductions are actually complementary.”
» Read article          

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

coal complication
Ukraine war prompts European reappraisal of its energy supplies
Analysis: Russian invasion could speed up renewables transition – or lead to disastrous return to coal
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 4, 2022

Vladimir Putin is using Russia’s hold over fossil fuel supplies to Europe as “a political and economic weapon” in the war in Ukraine, the world’s foremost energy adviser has said, presenting western governments with crucial questions over how they face down the threat to democracy while also heading off climate disaster.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said: “Nobody is under any illusions any more. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon shows Europe needs to act quickly to be ready to face considerable uncertainty over Russian gas supplies next winter.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted European governments, including the UK’s, to make a frantic reappraisal of their energy supplies – one that arguably should have come much sooner. The first outcome has been a fresh resolve in some countries – including from the UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng – to push for more renewable energy generation and energy efficiency to cut dependence on fossil fuels.

Kwarteng’s intervention – “The long-term solution is obvious: gas is more expensive than renewable energy, so we need to move away from gas,” he tweeted – was unexpectedly firm, cheering green campaigners who had feared that rightwing voices in the Tory party who have sought to make scrapping the net zero target a “culture war” issue were in the ascendant.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “Kwasi Kwarteng has clocked it. Our dependence on gas is a problem, and warmer homes powered by renewables are the cheapest and quickest solution. Kwarteng must convince chancellor Rishi Sunak that we need a masterplan, and the money to get the UK off gas. We need to insulate our homes, roll out heat pumps and renewable power to rapidly address Putin’s grip on European gas markets, our sky-high energy bills, and the climate crisis unfolding before our eyes.”
» Read article          

renewable Europe
This is how we defeat Putin and other petrostate autocrats
After Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, America turned its industrial prowess to building tanks, bombers and destroyers. Now, we must respond with renewables
By Bill McKibben, The Guardian | Opinion
February 25, 2022

The pictures this morning of Russian tanks rolling across the Ukrainian countryside seemed both surreal – a flashback to a Europe that we’ve seen only in newsreels – and inevitable. It’s been clear for years that Vladimir Putin was both evil and driven and that eventually we might come to a moment like this.

One of the worst parts of facing today’s reality is our impotence in its face. Yes, America is imposing sanctions, and yes, that may eventually hamper Putin. But the Russian leader made his move knowing we could not actually fight him in Ukraine – and indeed knowing that his hinted willingness to use nuclear weapons will make it hard to fight him anywhere, though one supposes we will have no choice if he attacks a Nato member.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to dramatically reduce Putin’s power. One way, in particular: to get off oil and gas.

This is not a “war for oil and gas” in the sense that too many of America’s Middle East misadventures might plausibly be described. But it is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we can’t fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas.

Russia has a pathetic economy – you can verify that for yourself by looking around your house and seeing how many of the things you use were made within its borders. Today, 60% of its exports are oil and gas; they supply the money that powers the country’s military machine.

And, alongside that military machine, control of oil and gas supplies is Russia’s main weapon. They have, time and again, threatened to turn off the flow of hydrocarbons to western Europe.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

State House dome
2 senators say proposed building code comes up short
Urge Baker to allow communities to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure
By Colin A. Young, CommonWealth Magazine
March 2, 2022

AS THE DEPARTMENT of Energy Resources launches hearings on its straw proposal for a stretch code update and a new municipal opt-in specialized stretch code, two key senators made clear to Commissioner Patrick Woodcock that they expect “substantial revisions” to the proposals before they take effect later this year.

Sens. Michael Barrett and Cynthia Creem, the chairs of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and Senate Committee on Global Warming, told Woodcock in a letter released Tuesday that the suite of state code changes the administration hopes will encourage builders to shift from fossil fuel heating in favor of electrification “comes up short” and took issue with the way DOER scheduled the five statutorily required public hearings.

“The straw proposal bars a city or town from mandating all-electric new construction, even after local officials allow for vigorous analysis and debate. For municipalities in Massachusetts and other progressive states, all-electric construction is the favored strategy for decarbonizing new buildings. Barring communities from employing it would be a significant setback,” the senators said. They added, “Bottom line: Despite its unequivocal support of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050, despite the special challenges of reducing emissions in buildings, and despite having been given a full 18 months by the Legislature to do its work, the Baker administration has proposed a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that comes up short.”

Updating the existing stretch code and creating a new net-zero specialized stretch code for cities and towns to adopt is one step lawmakers required in last year’s climate roadmap law to move Massachusetts towards net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. The law requires the new net-zero code be in place by the end of 2022.
» Read article          

Harbor Village
Incentives inform and inspire highly efficient affordable housing in Massachusetts
Passive house incentive programs from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Mass Save have sparked the growth of high-performance multifamily buildings, with thousands more units in development.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 2, 2022

A pair of statewide incentive programs in Massachusetts is driving a surge of apartment buildings designed to the highly energy-efficient passive house standard.

In the past year, families have moved into 257 affordable housing units in complexes built to the standard, and about 6,000 additional units are now in various stages of development.

Early numbers indicate that this building approach costs, on average, less than 3% more than conventional construction and can slash energy use roughly in half. Air quality is higher in these buildings and residents report the units being more comfortable to live in. Many developers who have tried passive house building have been so pleased with the benefits for residents that they are eager to pursue more projects built to the standard.

“We’re getting closer and closer to the mainstream,” said Aaron Gunderson, executive director of Passive House Massachusetts. “The incentives help people get over that initial hesitancy to change and, once they discover what passive house is, there’s no looking back.”

Passive house is a performance standard that calls for a drastic reduction of energy consumption as compared to a similar, conventionally designed structure. Buildings that meet the standard have airtight envelopes, insulating windows, and continually insulated exterior walls.
» Blog editor’s note: an airtight building envelope sounds suffocating, but these buildings are very well ventilated with fresh air, using efficient energy recovery ventilator (ERV) systems that filter, reduce heat loss, and control humidity.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS inertia
The Challenges of an Electric-Vehicle Revolution
The United States Postal Service could lead by example with its new fleet of delivery trucks. What’s standing in the way?
By Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic
February 18, 2022

Judging by the ads during last weekend’s Super Bowl, electric vehicles are poised to imminently dislodge gasoline-powered cars and trucks from their privileged place on America’s roadways.

An escalating dispute among President Joe Biden’s administration, congressional Democrats, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over modernizing the Postal Service’s vehicle fleet shows why the transition may not come quite that quickly. As soon as next week, the Postal Service may place the first order in a multibillion-dollar contract meant to ensure that it relies mostly on gas-powered vehicles until the middle of this century.

The Postal Service’s decision underscores how the transition to an electric-vehicle, or EV, future still faces powerful headwinds from inertia, the lure of the familiar, technological questions about the electric alternatives, and ideological resistance to disconnecting from fossil fuels. Though Democrats still hope to reverse the decision, the struggle with the Postal Service suggests that there are still many bumps ahead on the road to an electrified future for the nation’s cars and trucks.

[…]“All of the companies are struggling with their desire to continue making the gas-guzzling behemoths on which they know how to make money and to avoid having to make the electric vehicles, which they know are the future,” [Dan Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity] said.

The battle over modernizing the Postal Service fleet encapsulates many of these tensions between holding on to the familiar and leaping into the new.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

dome
14 states urge FERC to tighten accounting rules to prevent utilities from recouping lobbying expenses
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 23, 2022

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, FERC in December issued a “notice of inquiry” (NOI) to see if it should revise its accounting rules related to utility payments of trade association dues.

Under FERC’s accounting rules, association dues are considered “presumptively” recoverable, but the commission doesn’t allow expenses related to lobbying, influencing the public, or political activity to be recovered in rates.

In a first-ever lobbying disclosure report, EEI on Tuesday said its “core” budget for this year is $58.9 million. E9 Insight, a Boulder, Colorado-based consulting firm, estimated utility holding companies spent at least $91.6 million on trade association dues last year.

At a minimum, FERC should require utilities to substantiate their requests for recovery of industry association dues with breakdowns of the trade groups’ activities and clear connections showing how they benefit ratepayers, agencies from nine states said in joint comments.

“Showing that an industry association provides some services that benefit ratepayers should not create a presumption that all dues paid to the industry association are paid for ratepayers’ benefit,” the agencies said. They included the California Public Utilities Commission, the Connecticut attorney general and the Oregon attorney general, among others.

In their comments, the state agencies pointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in December to overturn FERC’s finding that Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) could recover about $6 million in expenses related to public relations.

“The disputed funds were paid to public relations contractors who hired ‘reliable power coalitions’ that would recruit individuals to testify before the state PUCs in support of PATH’s applications for necessary certificates; polled public opinion of the project; ran promotional advertisements; and sent lobbyists to persuade state officials that the certificates should be granted,” the state agencies said.
» Read article          

» More about FERC

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

IOUs too slow
Investor-owned utilities underestimate potential costs of carbon, climate change, Deloitte finds
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
February 24, 2022

Although most investor-owned utilities have set targets for decarbonization, many have also under-estimated the cost of failing to accelerate their decarbonization efforts, according to a new report from Deloitte.

Based on public filings, utilities anticipate a price of carbon in the range of $3-55 per metric ton by 2030, and $60-120 per metric ton by 2050. However, last March, Wood Mackenzie estimated that the price of carbon could run as high as $160 per metric ton by 2030 if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The potential costs to utilities will likely escalate if action is delayed, according to Jim Thomson, vice chair, U.S. power, utilities and renewables leader for Deloitte. Utilities will need to work with regulators to deploy needed adaptations in time, he said.

Utilities in the northeastern U.S. have made the most progress toward decarbonization, while the Midwest and the South currently face the largest gap between current plans and global climate ambitions, according to the report. These two regions also face the greatest potential costs in the event of inaction. Climate change could cost individual Midwestern utilities $2.5 billion annually, while Southern utilities face $3.6 billion in potential annual costs, according to Deloitte.

While many utilities have plans to achieve decarbonization by 2050, moving the target to 2035 could result in considerable savings for utilities by reducing risks associated with carbon taxation, penalties for emissions noncompliance and lost investment opportunities, Thomson said. It would also reduce the probability of extreme weather events, which would further reduce costs—and the savings could be rolled over into additional adaptation and grid hardening efforts, he said.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities

GAS UTILITIES

build back fossil free
Berkshire Gas sees natural gas as part of its plan to meet state climate goals. Some observers disagree
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 27, 2022

Asked how it will help meet Massachusetts climate goals, Berkshire Gas said natural gas will remain a key part of its plans.

Consultants contracted by Berkshire Gas and other Massachusetts utilities released a draft report on Feb. 15 detailing possible strategies.

Based on that report and the stakeholder process, Berkshire Gas concluded in a Feb. 15 document that “all scenarios taken together, including qualitative and feasibility considerations, envision an important role for natural gas in the energy transition.”

Observers who have followed the process continue to voice one central concern. While the changes being floated continue to rely on burning gas, they wanted the process, which Attorney General Maura Healey requested in June 2020, to look at how companies could shift to a business model built around electrification.

[…]Berkshire Gas lists its proposals as consumer education, energy efficiency, electrification, low-carbon fuel growth, renewable electricity, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, and developing technologies.

The reliance on “decarbonized” gases, which refer to synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, gives the appearance of a dog and pony show to Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

“You can’t call something ‘decarbonized’ that’s still got carbon in it,” Winn said. “It’s as bad as calling it ‘natural’ gas to make it sound good.”

[…]Climate groups have called for utilities to move toward electrification using solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower instead.

Researchers have debated the merits of synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas. William Moomaw, a former International Panel on Climate Change scientist who now lives in Williamstown, has said he believes that leaning on those gases, which all emit greenhouse gases when burned, delays an inevitable transition.

[…]Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass. program, said she wants [Attorney General] Healey or the Department of Utilities to reject the report and ask the companies to start from scratch.

“They should say, ‘Well, sorry. It didn’t hit the mark. You’re going to have to do it again,’ ” Wessel said.

Critics have argued that allowing the companies to hire and select the consultants gave them inordinate power over a process meant to change the industry.

[…]While the companies plan to file another three-year plan in 2024, Wessel said she believes the companies have delayed changes.

“This could just turn into a perpetual exercise without a lot of results, where every time they’ll look at it again, and it’ll be the same sort of stall tactic that we’re seeing here,” she said. “They really need to develop new business models, and they have failed to do that.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft report         
» Read the Berkshire Gas overview

» More about gas utilities

CRYPTOCURRENCY

bitcoin mining farm
Bitcoin mining is ‘less green than ever’ after leaving China
Miners lost a key source of renewable energy
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 28, 2022

Bitcoin’s carbon dioxide pollution has gotten even worse since China ousted Bitcoin miners last year, according to a new analysis. It’s likely the result of Bitcoin miners substituting China’s abundant hydropower with coal and gas, experts say.

“We actually see Bitcoin becoming less green than ever before,” says Alex de Vries, lead author of the analysis published last week in the journal Joule. That directly counters continued claims by industry groups that renewable energy would clean up Bitcoin’s operations.

The new report shows that the Bitcoin boom is becoming a bigger problem for the world’s efforts to eliminate fossil fuel pollution. Mining bans, like the one China put in place last year, don’t seem to be very effective in curbing emissions, de Vries points out, because miners can easily find cheap, dirty energy elsewhere.

Bitcoin currently has a carbon footprint comparable to the Czech Republic’s, according to de Vries’ estimate. The cryptocurrency generates so many greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the super energy-hungry process of mining new coins. Miners essentially race to solve ever-more-complex puzzles in order to verify transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain, receiving new coins as a reward. The hardware they use to solve those puzzles burns through vast amounts of electricity (and also adds to the world’s growing e-waste problem).

China was home to over 70 percent of the world’s Bitcoin mining operations until the country kicked them out in 2021, purportedly in part because of environmental concerns.
» Read article         
» Read the analysis

» More about crypto       

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

road hogs
Latest energy wake-up call: How long must we depend on autocratic petro-states?
By Andreas Karelas, The Hill | Opinion
March 2, 2022

As Americans navigate through politically divisive times, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted a clear area of consensus across the aisle: We need to move past our addiction to foreign oil. The only divergence seems to be how. But the “how” is not rocket science. It’s time to say goodbye to fossil fuels once and for all. Hopefully, this latest threat to global energy supply will inspire us to act, and act swiftly.

Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Dallas Goldtooth tweeted “I know the reasons for the #UkraineCrisis are complicated. But it would be remiss of us to not mention how energy is a factor in this invasion. In some ways the conflict is being driven, literally and figuratively, with hands lathered in oil and gas.”

Given the latest shock to world energy markets due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world is once again waking up to the realities of dependence on foreign despots for energy. Of course, you don’t have to look back too far to recall similar episodes.

Many have argued the Iraq war was motivated in part to keep Iraqi oil flowing to international markets. Before that, the oil shocks of the 1970s spurred President Carter to call for reduced energy usage and to put solar panels on the White House. But once the gas flowed again and the pressure at the pump eased, President Regan took the solar panels off the roof and called for more business as usual, which decades later has come back to haunt us.

All the presidents since, Republican and Democrat alike, have called for ending our addiction to foreign oil, and while some have tinkered in the margins, none of their policies have ever moved the needle.

The U.S. military alone spends $81 billion a year protecting oil shipping lanes and keeping troops in oil-producing regions. This not-too-often spoken about subsidy for giant fossil fuel companies allows them to continue doing business in, supporting and legitimizing, what are often authoritarian ruled petro-states, not friendly to the U.S. and its allies, through taxpayer dollars and tragically, American lives.
» Read article          

big gas station
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left a hole in the global energy market
Will countries fill it with more oil and gas, or with renewables?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
February 28, 2022

On Thursday, as bombs fell on major cities in Ukraine and families sheltered in homes, subway stations, and parking garages, global energy prices spiked. For the first time since 2014, crude oil prices surged to over $100. The cost of European natural gas, which has already been at record highs since last summer, increased by almost 20 percent in a single day.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a shock to a global fossil fuel system that has been on edge for the past year. Russia is the world’s largest natural gas and second-largest oil exporter, and provides 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas supply. (One expert wryly referred to the country as “one big gas station.”) If flows of oil and natural gas from the country are disrupted, the entire world could end up paying more for energy at a time when economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is increasing demand.

There are also questions about whether the war and resulting spike in energy prices will accelerate — or disrupt — the process of shifting to cleaner sources of energy. The conflict and prior energy crunch have exposed the fragility of relying on fossil fuels, especially from foreign powers. But as prices climb, will countries shore up their domestic supplies with fossil fuels or renewables?

In the U.S., some fossil fuel companies and lobbyists are seizing on the crisis to encourage expanded oil and gas production. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute — an oil and gas industry group — urged President Joe Biden to accelerate permitting for fossil fuel infrastructure and allow for more oil and gas development on public lands. “As crisis looms in Ukraine, U.S. energy leadership is more important than ever,” the group tweeted. Republicans in Congress have similarly called on the president to reverse his “war on American energy” and boost fossil fuel production in response to the situation in Ukraine. (While Biden has halted new oil and gas leasing on public lands, he has still allowed substantial drilling during his term.)
» Read article          

over a barrel
US fossil fuel industry leaps on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to argue for more drilling
Petroleum lobby calls for looser regulation and drilling on public lands to ‘ensure energy security’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 26, 2022

The US oil and gas industry is using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration to throw open more land and ocean for domestic drilling and to loosen regulations for large companies attempting to ramp up their fossil fuel extraction.

Just hours before Russian troops began their unprovoked assault on Ukraine, the American Petroleum Institute (API) posted a string of tweets calling for the White House to “ensure energy security at home and abroad” by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands, extend drilling in US waters and slash regulations faced by fossil fuel firms.

API, which represents oil giants including Exxon, Chevron and Shell, has called on Biden to allow an expansion of drilling and to drop regulations that impede new gas pipelines in order to help reduce fuel costs for Americans and support European countries that have seen gas costs spiral due to concerns over supply from Russia, which provides Europe with around a third of its gas.

“At a time of geopolitical strife, America should deploy its ample energy abundance – not restrict it,” said Mike Sommers, the chief executive of API. Sommers added that Biden was “needlessly choking our own plentiful supply” of fossil fuels.

Some leading Republicans have joined the calls. “No administration should defend a Russian pipeline instead of refilling ours,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, told her state’s legislature this week. “Every day, I remind the Biden administration of the immense benefits of Alaska production, energy and minerals alike, and every day I remind them that refusing to permit those activities can have harmful consequences.”

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the renewed push for more drilling, accusing proponents of cynically using the deadly Ukrainian crisis to benefit large corporations and worsen the climate crisis.

“Expanding oil and gas production now would do nothing to impact short term prices and would only accelerate the climate crisis, which already poses a major threat to our national security,” said Lena Moffitt, chief of staff at Evergreen Action, a climate group. “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and stand opposed to actions by leaders of the fossil fuel industry that attempt to profit off of these harrowing atrocities.”
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuel

WASTE INCINERATION

seven six five four
Combustion of plastics could be creating a surge in waste-to-energy plants’ climate emissions
Incineration of plastics containing “forever chemicals” could be generating potent greenhouse gas emissions, but testing methods are not yet in place.
By Marina Schauffler, Energy News Network
February 25, 2022

How much does household waste fuel the climate crisis? Official numbers suggest a small role, but the full contribution is not yet known — even by regulators and scientists.

As New England states work to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and heating, little attention goes to landfills and municipal solid waste, or “waste-to-energy,” incinerators. Combined, those sources typically represent 5% or less of each state’s total emissions, and they get scarce mention in climate action plans.

But growing volumes of plastics in the waste stream complicate incinerator emissions accounting. Less than 9% of plastics are recycled, and global plastic production is expected to double by 2040.

Plastic combustion produces many more byproducts than the three greenhouse gases that most incinerators report annually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane.

Some chemical compounds in plastics don’t appear to degrade during incineration, while others break down partially and recombine, potentially forming potent and enduring greenhouse gases — compounds that are thousands of times more effective at trapping heat than CO2  and can linger in the atmosphere for millennia.

Scientists do not yet know the scale of the problem, but a growing body of research suggests that even small amounts of these powerful warming agents could have a significant impact.

The Northeast is home to roughly half of the nation’s 75 waste-to-energy  incinerators, most of which were constructed in the 1980s and are now passing their expected 30-year lifespans.

These facilities typically operate around the clock, feeding waste into boilers that generate steam to produce electricity and that release pollutants in the form of gaseous emissions, fly ash, bottom ash and leachate.

Far more waste is burned in the Northeast than the EPA’s national estimate of 12%. Maine, for example, burns 34% of its municipal waste, Massachusetts 71% and Connecticut 80%.
» Read article          

» More about waste incineration

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Juhu beach
For the First Time, Nations Band Together in a Move Toward Ending Plastics Pollution
A United Nations resolution embraces a broad definition of the problem that encompasses the life-cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
March 3, 2022

A United Nations gathering in Kenya on Wednesday set the world on track to forge for the first time a legally binding global agreement to curb plastic pollution.

The language in a resolution adopted, to a standing ovation, by delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) gave environmental advocates much of what they were looking for: a broad definition of the problem to include pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal.

There are still a lot of contentious details to navigate, including financial and compliance issues that are only hinted at in the resolution. And the petrochemical and plastics industries are expected to fight any efforts by governments to slow down plastics production.

But against the backdrop of what U.N. officials described as a “triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution,” the assembly’s decision marks the beginning of an official process over the next two years to negotiate a treaty aimed at ending global plastics waste. It establishes a formal negotiating committee that will begin meeting later this year, focused on plastics pollution in marine and other environments, including the tiny bits of plastics debris known as microplastics.

“We are making history today and you should all be proud,” Espen Barth Eide, the assembly’s president and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, said after declaring the adoption of the resolution without any dissent.

Moments later, Monica P. Medina of the State Department, the U.S. representative at the assembly, fought back tears as she spoke to the gathered delegates.

“It’s the beginning of the end of the scourge of plastics pollution on the planet,” Medina said. “We will look back on this as a day for our children and grandchildren.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft resolution         

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 7/16/21

banner 16

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peaker plants              

 

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about virtual pipelines                 

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

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

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

Ah yes, truth.

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about EPA            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy                

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate             

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency                   

 

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage                    

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation              

 

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass            

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics and health        

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Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass            

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor           

 

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines       

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy               

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about EPA              

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate                

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency            

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peaker plants         

 

GAS UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels                 

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

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

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

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

» More about plastics in the environment              

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