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Weekly News Check-In 12/11/20

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Welcome back.

Representative Stephen Lynch and activists are again calling for the Weymouth compressor station to be shut down, following multiple occurrences of natural gas venting as the station prepared to begin operation. Of course, venting will occur regularly as part of the compressor’s normal function. That’s why these facilities are not sited in congested communities…. Oh, except for this one.

Occasionally, the week’s news organizes around a common theme. This week, most of the stories touched on the idea that environmental regulations are nice, except when they get in the way of progress. When that happens, industry and regulators seem all too eager to re-write the rules, or simply “reinterpret” the teeth right out of them. Numerous environmental regulations should have protected Weymouth from Enbridge’s compressor.

Other pipeline projects are similarly manipulating the regs. Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) hasn’t managed to pass environmental review for a number of key permits – so compliant state and federal regulators are rewriting the rules to lower the bar. Enbridge wants to pipe tar sands oil through northern Minnesota’s environmentally sensitive lake country. Indigenous groups and environmentalists feel so marginalized and ignored by regulators that tree sitters have resorted to setting up positions along the pipeline’s path as winter locks in.

Meanwhile, the divestment movement notched another win, as New York State’s comptroller announced that the state would begin divesting its huge employee pension fund from gas and oil companies unless they submit a legitimate business plan within four years that is aligned with the goals of the Paris climate accord. And since December marks the fifth anniversary of that historic climate agreement, we take a look at how well countries are delivering on their promises.

The clean energy sector has been buzzing lately about all things hydrogen. Turns out a lot of that press is being pushed by the natural gas industry with the help of top industry public relations firm FTI Consulting. We offer extensive coverage showing how the prospect of green hydrogen is being used to extend the economy’s dependence on natural gas.

The Biden presidency is expected to focus early on energy efficiency, and that’s good news for people looking for help with building weatherization and heat pumps. But electrified homes work best when connected to a green grid, and unfortunately New England’s grid operator was just forced to cancel an important rule that would have supported faster deployment of utility scale battery storage.

There’s trouble brewing in clean transportation, too, as auto companies seek reliable sources of lithium for batteries to power the millions of electric vehicles they’ll soon build. This week’s theme of regulators bending environmental rules for industry is also an issue in so-called green sectors – and the damage can be just as profound.

We found a couple of new reports on the hazards of using natural gas indoors. This especially applies to gas ranges with inadequate ventilation. Of course, this science-based public health warning is being vigorously countered by a gas industry PR blitz touting the superiority of gas stove tops. You may have seen the ads or encountered social media influencers touting the wonders of blue flame cooking. It looks like California is preparing a regulatory update.

As expected, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency failed to strengthen limits on fine particulate pollution, even though research and our recent experience with Covid-19 implicate airborne soot as a significant health hazard. [40 days left….]

On the bright side, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week to kill offshore drilling in the Arctic. This may set a precedent that will also keep the fossil fuel industry out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The US liquefied natural gas industry faces headwinds from the Europe’s Green Deal, which accounts for emissions associated with extraction and transport when rating fuels. LNG export projects that depend on fracked gas are being re-evaluated and even scrapped.

We wrap up with a biomass story. Britain used the Kyoto Climate Agreement’s incorrect classification of woody biomass as “carbon neutral”, to convert the huge Drax power station from coal to wood pellets. Aside from the real-world emissions issues, fueling it is devastating Baltic forests.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Stephen Lynch for Weymouth
Stephen Lynch, activists call for shutdown of Weymouth natural gas compressor station
By Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald
December 5, 2020

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch called a controversial Weymouth natural gas compressor station’s decision to vent gas into the community multiple times during its first week of operations “deeply troubling” and said the station needs to be shut down.

“The fact that Enbridge describes all of this as ‘routine’ and openly dismisses the threat to the public is deeply troubling,” Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, said in a tweet. “Venting natural gas into the atmosphere has an inherent harm that cannot be completely eliminated, and due to its proximity to heavily populated areas, it poses a grave risk to Weymouth residents and surrounding communities. At this point, it is clear that as long as the Weymouth Compressor Station is active, it will threaten public health and safety and must be shut down.”

In an email Saturday, Max Bergeron, a spokesman for Enbridge, the energy company that built the facility, said: “Safety will always be our number one priority at Enbridge, and the Weymouth Compressor Station benefits from multiple safety features in place to support safe and responsible operation of the facility, in compliance with applicable environmental and safety regulations.”

He said the venting may occur intermittently between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. through Dec. 11 and said the “controlled” venting of natural gas is “a safe and routine procedure, and the gas that is vented will naturally dissipate. There is no cause for concern and there will be no danger to persons or property in the area.”

But community activists are unconvinced that the venting — and the facility itself — will be safe after accidental gas leaks this fall prompted two emergency shutdowns and a federally ordered pause in operations.

“This opens up our community to more health risks,” said Alice Arena of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station. “They say they’re going to have intermittent and planned releases. But they’re what we call a blow-down, the release of unburned methane into the air. Not only is it toxic, but it’s really driving us over the edge in terms of climate change.”
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

shifting MVP goalposts
Federal Regulators Are Rewriting Environmental Rules So a Massive Pipeline Can Be Built
Federal regulators and West Virginia agencies are rewriting environmental rules again to pave the way for construction of a major natural gas pipeline across Appalachia, even after an appeals court blocked the pipeline for the second time.
By Ken Ward Jr., ProPublica
December 8, 2020

Last month, a federal appeals court blocked one of the key permits for construction of a massive natural gas pipeline that cuts through West Virginia and that industry officials and their political allies in the state are desperate to see completed.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that environmental groups are likely to prevail in a case arguing federal and state regulators wrongly approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline through a streamlined review process for which the project isn’t eligible.

If this sounds familiar, it is. A strikingly similar thing happened two years ago.

In October 2018, the same appeals court blocked the same $5.4 billion pipeline because the developer’s plan to temporarily dam four West Virginia rivers didn’t meet special restrictions that state regulators had put on the streamlined approval process.

But rather than pausing or rethinking the project at the time, the state Department of Environmental Protection rewrote its construction standards so that the pipeline would qualify.

After their most recent court loss, West Virginia officials are once again rewriting their restrictions to help pave the way for the pipeline to qualify for that streamlined permitting process.

“Here we go again,” citizen group lawyer Derek Teaney wrote in frustration in the latest of a series of legal challenges to the government agencies that have bent environmental standards for the pipeline.

When it is built, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, known as MVP, will transport natural gas from Wetzel County, near West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, crossing 200 miles in West Virginia and 100 miles in Virginia. The project is one of several large transmission pipelines in the works across Appalachia, part of the rush to market natural gas from drilling and production in the Marcellus Shale formation.
» Read article    

Enbridge line 3 construction begins
State utility regulators vote against a stay on Enbridge pipeline project
Red Lake and White Earth bands hoped to halt construction while awaiting resolution of appeals.
By Brooks Johnson Star Tribune
December 4, 2020

State regulators declined Friday to grant a stay on construction of Enbridge’s new pipeline across northern Minnesota, leaving little recourse to stop work on the $2.6 billion project while court appeals of key approvals and permits are pending.

“Operation of the existing Line 3 is more likely to cause harm than construction of the project,” said Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner Valerie Means, explaining her vote against the stay. “The commission has determined that replacing an old, aging pipeline is the safest option for protecting the environment and Minnesota communities.”

The move came on a day when about 1,000 workers were ending the first week of work and protesters gathered at two work sites.

A pair of protesters camped out in trees in Aitkin County and dozens gathered at a job site near Cloquet to disagree with that sentiment as the legal means of stopping the pipeline are now in the hands of the slow-moving Court of Appeals. It could be several weeks at a minimum before the court could intervene in the project and months before the case is decided.

“The PUC’s predictable actions today again demonstrate that the regulatory process in Minnesota is brazenly pro-oil industry,” said Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke, who joined several other self-described “water protectors” near a planned Mississippi River pipeline crossing on Friday. “Without a stay, Line 3 would be constructed before the court could determine if the PUC broke the law, making the case moot.”
» Read article     

EJAG collapse
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency advisers quit over pipeline permit
By Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune
November 18, 2020

A citizen advisory group at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has collapsed following the regulator’s decision to issue a water-quality permit to Enbridge Energy for its Line 3 oil pipeline cutting through Minnesota.

The bulk of the agency’s Environmental Justice Advisory Group has resigned in protest over the permitting decision, saying in a letter Tuesday to MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop that “we cannot continue to legitimize and provide cover for the MPCA’s war on Black and brown people.”

A dozen of the board’s 17 members signed the letter, which called the water-quality permit the “final straw” in a series of MPCA actions that they said sidelined the advisory group. Among those resigning is Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and executive director of Honor the Earth who strongly opposes the pipeline.

In an interview, LaDuke called the decision “a slap in the face.”

“The people who are most impacted are Indigenous people, and for seven years we have tried to make the system work,” she said. “If the MPCA actually valued Indigenous people and environmental justice they would not have issued that permit.”

LaDuke called her four years on the advisory group “a waste of time.”
» Read article    
» Read the advisory board letter

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Line 3 protest begins
Indigenous groups stage first protests as Enbridge pipeline construction begins
As a set of protestors climbed trees to block workers, a second launched Friday near Cloquet.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 4, 2020

Two protesters climbed trees at a Mississippi River crossing Friday to stand in the way of Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction, which began earlier this week across northern Minnesota.

The protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” mounted the protest among an Aitkin County forest set to be logged as “direct blockades to the attempt by Enbridge to drill Line 3 under the Mississippi River.”

“Water is not invincible. That’s why I am here,” said 22-year-old Liam DelMain of Minneapolis in a statement released by Giniw Collective. “I am here, putting my body on the line, because I have been left with no other choices.”

The Giniw protest is the first along the pipeline’s route since construction began this week and comes four years after the massive, months-long Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock. Several other protesters came to the site on Friday afternoon, and a live stream from Native Roots Radio showed a discussion between Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida and the handful of others at the site. The sheriff’s office did not have a comment on the situation when reached Friday afternoon.
» Read article     

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

NY calling
New York State Sends a Blunt Message to Big Oil
The comptroller’s threat to pull billions from fossil fuel investments is a big victory for climate activists.
By Bill McKibben, New York Times | Opinion
December 9, 2020
Mr. McKibben is a founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org and a leader of fossil fuel divestment efforts.

New York State’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced on Wednesday that the state would begin divesting its $226 billion employee pension fund from gas and oil companies if they can’t come up with a legitimate business plan within four years that is aligned with the goals of the Paris climate accord. Those investments have historically added up to roughly $12 billion.

The entire portfolio will be decarbonized over the next two decades. “Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 will put the fund in a strong position for the future mapped out in the Paris Agreement,” he said in a statement.

It’s a huge win, obviously, for the activists who have fought for eight years to get Albany to divest from fossil fuel companies and for the global divestment campaign. Endowments and portfolios worth more than than $14 trillion have joined the fight. This new move is the largest by a pension fund in the United States, edging the New York City pension funds under Comptroller Scott Stringer, who announced in 2018 that the fund would seek to divest $5 billion in fossil fuel investments from its nearly $200 billion pension fund over five years.

But it also represents something else: capitulations that taken together suggest that the once-dominant fossil fuel industry has reached a low in financial and political power.

The first capitulation, by investors, is to the understanding that most of Big Oil simply won’t be a serious partner for change. Mr. DiNapoli had long been an advocate of engagement with the fossil fuel companies, arguing that if big shareholders expressed their concerns, those companies would change course. This, of course, should be how the world works: He was correctly warning the companies that their strategy endangered not only the planet but also their businesses, and they should have listened.
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

emissions gap 20205 Years After Paris: How Countries’ Climate Policies Match up to Their Promises
By Morgan Bazilian and Dolf Gielen, The Conversation, in EcoWatch
December 10, 2020

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement – the commitment by almost every country to try to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius.

It’s an ambitious goal, and the clock is ticking.

The planet has already warmed by about 1°C since the start of the industrial era. That might not sound like much, but that first degree is changing the planet in profound ways, from more extreme heat waves that put human health and crops at risk, to rising sea levels.

Bold visions for slowing global warming have emerged from all over the world. Less clear is how countries will meet them.

So far, countries’ individual plans for how they will lower their greenhouse gas emissions don’t come close to adding up to the Paris agreement’s goals. Even if every country meets its current commitments, the world will still be on track to warm by more than 3°C this century, according to the United Nations Environment Program’s latest Emissions Gap Report, released Dec. 9. And many of those commitments aren’t yet backed by government actions.
» Read article           
» Read the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2020

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

pro-H2 push
Major Fossil Fuel PR Group is Behind Europe Pro-Hydrogen Push
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 9, 2020

The recent deluge of pro-hydrogen stories in the media that tout hydrogen as a climate solution and clean form of energy can now be linked in part to FTI Consulting — one of the most notorious oil and gas industry public relations firms.

According to a new report, titled The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?, released by a coalition of groups in Europe including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Food and Water Action Europe, details the work of FTI to push hydrogen as a clean climate solution in Europe. So far it appears FTI is being quite successful in this endeavor. As the report notes, the “European Commission is most definitely onboard” with the idea of a hydrogen-based economy.

FTI Consulting’s previous and ongoing work promoting the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to sell natural gas as a climate solution were recently featured in an article by the New York Times.

Among FTI’s misleading claims it defended to the New York Times was that the Permian region in Texas — the epicenter of the U.S. shale oil industry’s fracking efforts — was reducing methane emissions. This claim, however, was based on government data that did not include emissions for actual oil and gas wells, which are major emitters of methane emissions. FTI’s argument is easily disproved as methane emissions in Texas continued to break records in 2019.

And now FTI is taking the same approach for hydrogen as it has for natural gas — promoting it as a climate solution despite the evidence to the contrary.

One of the main goals of the lobbying efforts to create a “hydrogen economy” in Europe to sell the idea of utilizing existing gas infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) for hydrogen. Hydrogen gas can currently be mixed with methane and be transported by existing pipelines — which is a major selling point for hydrogen’s supporters.

However, there is a potential fatal flaw with this idea that has not been addressed. Hydrogen can react with steel to make it brittle. A 2018 paper published in the journal Procedia Structural Integrity, found that “using pipelines designed for natural gas conduction to transport hydrogen is a risky choice” as doing so “may cause fatigue and damage the structure.” This is a widely known and researched issue with hydrogen and pipelines but is a fact that is being left out of the current public relations efforts.

The methane industry already has a pipeline explosion problem and hydrogen will increase those risks because it can make steel pipelines more brittle and susceptible to failure and gas leaks.

The concept of hydrogen being a clean fuel is also dependent on the idea that the unproven and costly technologies being touted for carbon capture for fossil fuels can be effective in producing low carbon and affordable blue hydrogen.

Perhaps the biggest reason green hydrogen isn’t a good choice to decarbonize the economy when compared to electrification is that producing green hydrogen would take enormous amounts of electricity — which can just as easily be used directly to electrify transportation and heating.
» Read article           
» Read “The Hydrogen Hype” report
» Read NY Times article about FTI Consulting
» Read NY Times article excerpt in Weekly News Check-In 11/13/20

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Biden to push green buildings
Green buildings ‘unheralded hero’ in emissions fight, experts say

By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
December 10, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to upgrade the buildings sector and make it more energy efficient could be critical to help fight the effects of climate change, elected officials said Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Biden’s Clean Energy Plan says it would create 1 million jobs to upgrade 4 million buildings across the United States and weatherize 2 million homes, all within four years. Such energy efficient upgrades is something that should receive bipartisan support as it saves money in the long run and creates jobs, while also bringing down emissions, Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, said during the webinar.

A strong federal partner will also be needed in a national building strategy, with cities and states having led the way previously, speakers said. The federal government can play a leading role in strengthening building codes, streamlining the permitting process and pushing through approvals, with financial incentives and technical support as two key ways for national leaders to help, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-FL, said.

Biden’s plan would make a variety of upgrades to areas like lighting systems, HVAC systems and other appliances to improve their cost and energy efficiency. For homes, the plan would include direct cash rebates and financing to upgrade household appliances and install more energy efficient windows. The administration also plans to push legislation that would set new net-zero standards for all new commercial buildings for 2030.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
New England energy storage advocates say FERC ruling is a setback for industry

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered New England’s grid operator to end a rule that let new resources lock in prices for up to seven years.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Ryan McKnight / Flickr / Creative Commons
December 8, 2020

A decision by federal regulators to throw out a rule that has helped emerging technologies gain a foothold on New England’s electric grid will put the region’s energy storage industry in jeopardy, according to advocates.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week ordered New England’s grid operator to end a rule that has allowed new bidders in its capacity market to lock in their prices for up to seven years.

The annual capacity auction is meant to ensure the region will have enough electricity to meet peak demand three years in the future. Developers bid resources, often yet to be built, into an auction, and those accepted are paid to be available to meet demand.

The rule has allowed owners of new resources to avoid potential fluctuations in future auctions. That means the developer has a guaranteed revenue stream, something that can help them gain investor confidence when they’re trying to capitalize the project.

Several groups, led by the New England Power Generators Association, asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to overturn the rule. (The association’s members include fossil and renewable developers.) They said the rule suppresses prices in the market and hurts competition. ISO-New England has said the rule is no longer clearly necessary, given that it was enacted to address a capacity shortage that’s been mitigated.

On Thursday, FERC agreed, saying the rule distorts prices and is no longer needed to attract new entrants into the market. The decision comes as states in New England and other regional transmission organizations reconsider their future in the markets as they move toward a cleaner energy mix.

Renewable and storage advocates, led by Renew Northeast and the Energy Storage Association, have said the rule is necessary, especially for storage.

Very few battery resources have actually bid into the capacity market or secured the price lock. But developers say that just as the market was important for new gas generators to get built in past years, it should now allow for the same development of new storage projects. Storage is still a new technology, and investors often aren’t yet willing to commit to funding it.

“We’re at a point … where I would say the last thing New England needs is another gas plant, and so I would argue that the seven-year price lock for gas plants has served its term,” said Liz Delaney, director of wholesale market development at Borrego Solar. “It’s done a great job. It’s probably not necessary because the region does not need new ways to incent fossil generation. What we need are ways to incentivize the resources of the future.”
» Read article            

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

lithium curse
The curse of ‘white oil’: electric vehicles’ dirty secret
The race is on to find a steady source of lithium, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale
By Oliver Balch, The Guardian
December 8, 2020

Electrifying transport has become a top priority in the move to a lower-carbon future. In Europe, car travel accounts for around 12% of all the continent’s carbon emissions. To keep in line with the Paris agreement, emissions from cars and vans will need to drop by more than a third (37.5%) by 2030. The EU has set an ambitious goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the same date. To that end, Brussels and individual member states are pouring millions of euros into incentivising car owners to switch to electric. Some countries are going even further, proposing to ban sales of diesel and petrol vehicles in the near future (as early as 2025 in the case of Norway). If all goes to plan, European electric vehicle ownership could jump from around 2m today to 40m by 2030.

Lithium is key to this energy transition. Lithium-ion batteries are used to power electric cars, as well as to store grid-scale electricity. (They are also used in smartphones and laptops.) But Europe has a problem. At present, almost every ounce of battery-grade lithium is imported. More than half (55%) of global lithium production last year originated in just one country: Australia. Other principal suppliers, such as Chile (23%), China (10%) and Argentina (8%), are equally far-flung.

Lithium deposits have been discovered in Austria, Serbia and Finland, but it is in Portugal that Europe’s largest lithium hopes lie. The Portuguese government is preparing to offer licences for lithium mining to international companies in a bid to exploit its “white oil” reserves. Sourcing lithium in its own back yard not only offers Europe simpler logistics and lower prices, but fewer transport-related emissions. It also promises Europe security of supply – an issue given greater urgency by the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption of global trade.

Even before the pandemic, alarm was mounting about sourcing lithium. Dr Thea Riofrancos, a political economist at Providence College in Rhode Island, pointed to growing trade protectionism and the recent US-China trade spat. (And that was before the trade row between China and Australia.) Whatever worries EU policymakers might have had before the pandemic, she said, “now they must be a million times higher”.

The urgency in getting a lithium supply has unleashed a mining boom, and the race for “white oil” threatens to cause damage to the natural environment wherever it is found. But because they are helping to drive down emissions, the mining companies have EU environmental policy on their side.

“There’s a fundamental question behind all this about the model of consumption and production that we now have, which is simply not sustainable,” said Riofrancos. “Everyone having an electric vehicle means an enormous amount of mining, refining and all the polluting activities that come with it.”
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation

HEALTH RISKS OF INDOOR NATURAL GAS

gas alarm
Why experts are sounding the alarm about the hidden dangers of gas stoves
By Jonathan Mingle, Quartz
December 4, 2020

Since the publication of two new reports on the subject from the nonprofit research group the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, this past spring, the existence of these gas-fired health hazards has garnered increasing media scrutiny. But less discussed has been how the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the risks of this pollution, especially for low-income and vulnerable populations, and how key regulatory agencies have lagged decades behind the science in acting to protect them.

Despite such calls—and despite compelling evidence that gas appliances can produce levels of air pollution inside homes that would be illegal outdoors in the US—indoor air quality remains entirely unregulated in the US today, and gas appliances largely maintain their industry-manufactured reputation as “clean.” The Environmental Protection Agency only monitors pollutants in outdoor air. And while building codes typically require natural gas furnaces and water heaters to be vented outside, many states lack requirements that natural gas cooking stoves be vented to the outdoors.

Still, recent signs suggest that some measure of regulatory action reflecting the current understanding of the health risks of gas cooking and heating devices might finally be forthcoming. At the end of September, the California Energy Commission held a day-long workshop on indoor air quality and cooking to inform its triennial update to its building energy efficiency standards. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which regulates air pollution in the state, presented evidence that gas stoves harm health, and that a statewide transition to electric appliances would result in substantial health benefits. These obscure energy code deliberations have generated an unprecedented number of public comments—testament, advocates say, to mounting concern about greenhouse gas emissions, and to growing awareness of the health impacts of residential fossil fuel use.

Last month, the 16 members of CARB unanimously adopted a resolution in support of updating building codes to improve ventilation standards and move toward electrification of appliances—making California the first state to issue official guidance addressing the health impacts of gas stoves and other appliances.
» Read article           
» Read the RMI report
» Read the UCLA report

» More about the health risks of using natural gas indoors

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

eat soot
Trump Administration Declines to Tighten Soot Rules, Despite Link to Covid Deaths
Health experts say the E.P.A. decision defies scientific research showing that particulate pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
December 7, 2020

The Trump administration on Monday declined to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates.

In one of the final policy moves of an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a regulation that keeps in place, rather than tightening, rules on tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, even though the agency’s own scientists have warned of the links between the pollutants and respiratory illness.

E.P.A. administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to announce the rule Monday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Public health experts say that the rule defies scientific research, including the work of the E.P.A.’s own public health experts, which indicates that PM 2.5 pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually, and that even a slight tightening of controls on fine soot could save thousands of American lives.
» Read article            

» More about EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ninth circuit
Downstream Emissions
A new court ruling could doom the Trump Administration’s ANWR plan.
By Dan Farber, Legal Planet
December 8, 2020

A Ninth Circuit ruling yesterday overturned approval of offshore drilling in the Arctic. The ruling may directly impact the Trump Administration’s plans for oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). By requiring agencies to consider emissions when fossil fuels are ultimately burned, the Court of Appeal’s decision may also change the way that agencies consider other fossil fuel projects such as gas pipelines.

In Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, environmental groups challenged the Interior Department’s approval of an  offshore drilling and production facility on the north coast of Alaska.  In its environmental impact statement, the agency refused to consider the effects of the project on carbon emissions outside the United States.

On its face, as the court was quick to point out, the agency’s position makes no sense. It’s like assuming that if you pour water in one end of the bathtub it won’t rise on the other end. There’s a world market for oil, so increased supply anywhere means that prices go down and world demand goes up.   The Interior Department also said that the effect on emissions was too uncertain to quantify, but the court pointed out that Interior had failed to provide support to back up this assertion.

The greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are called “downstream” emissions in terms of the production, processing, and transportation of those fuels.  The Republican majority on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has taken a position similar to Interior’s.  Despite prodding from the D.C. Circuit and strong dissent from one commissioner , FERC has refused to take downstream emissions into account when approving gas pipelines and LNG export facilities.  That refusal was always questionable and has become even less tenable given this additional precedent. [emphasis added]

In its environmental impact statement for oil leasing in ANWR, the agency seems to have followed the same course as it did for offshore drilling — the same path that the Ninth Circuit found unacceptable.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling today seems to invalidate this part of the ANWR EIS. Unless reversed by the Supreme Court, this ruling will be a serious obstacle to the Trump Administration’s hurried effort to begin leasing before the end of Trump’s term.  (Another part of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, involving the Endangered Species Act, may also be a barrier.) More broadly, yesterday’s ruling should reinforce the trend in other courts requiring agencies to consider downstream emissions from coal, oil, and gas projects. That’s a win for rational decision making, as well as a win for the environment.
» Read article            

polar bear greetingCourt Rejects Trump’s Arctic Drilling Proposal in ‘Huge Victory for Polar Bears and Our Climate’
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
December 8, 2020

Climate action advocates and wildlife defenders celebrated Monday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration’s approval of Liberty, a proposed offshore oil-drilling project in federal Arctic waters that opponents warned would endanger local communities, animals, and the environment.

eans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “This project was a disaster waiting to happen that should never have been approved. I’m thrilled the court saw through the Trump administration’s attempt to push this project through without carefully studying its risks.”

Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, similarly applauded the ruling, saying that “thankfully, the court put the health of our children and our planet over oil company profits.”

Both groups joined with fellow advocacy organizations Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, and Pacific Environment for a lawsuit challenging the Hilcorp Alaska project, which was approved in 2018. The energy company planned to construct an artificial island, wells, and a pipeline along the Alaska coast in the Beaufort Sea.
» Read article            

porkchopAs the Livestock Industry Touts Manure-to-Energy Projects, Environmentalists Cry ‘Greenwashing’
Corporate pork and dairy producers are producing “biogas” to reduce methane emissions. But the actual climate benefits are unclear, and often overstated.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
December 7, 2020

When the world’s largest pork producer and a major public utility announced they would team up to turn hog manure from North Carolina swine farms into energy, they billed their new partnership as a win-win for both the companies and the climate.

With a $500 million commitment and a recently minted joint venture called Align RNG, Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy set out to capture the methane emitted from giant hog manure “lagoons,” convert it into biogas—what the industries dub “renewable natural gas”—and inject that biogas into pipelines to heat homes and buildings.

The partnership, the companies said, would create the biggest manure-to-energy project in North Carolina, a state with the potential to become the largest producer of livestock biogas in the country.  At the same time, the project would help the companies meet their goals of reducing climate-warming emissions, they said.

Similar alliances are emerging around the country as the livestock industry comes under increasingly critical scrutiny for its greenhouse gas emissions, and utilities and power companies attempt to meet climate-related commitments. To name only two recent examples, Duke Energy announced in July that it will collaborate with dairy farmers in the Southeast. In September, Chevron announced a project with California Biogas and the state’s dairy farmers.

But as utilities, oil companies and livestock companies pitch biogas as an emissions-reducing solution, critics say it simply locks in systems that allow two highly polluting industries to continue unchecked and without truly tackling their climate impact. These industrial farms, like oil and gas infrastructure, are disproportionately located in lower income and minority communities, where pollution plagues waterways, air and quality of life.

“It’s absolute greenwashing,” said Sherri White-Williamson,  environmental justice policy director with the North Carolina Conservation Network. “If you think about it, there’s nothing renewable about biogas, because in order to make it, you have to grow the hogs in large quantities in huge facilities.”

She added, “It only continues to ingrain that system.”
» Read article            

Denmark to stop exploration
Denmark to end new oil and gas exploration in North Sea
Decision as part of plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050 will put pressure on UK
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 4, 2020

Denmark has brought an immediate end to new oil and gas exploration in the Danish North Sea as part of a plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050.

On Thursday night the Danish government voted in favour of the plans to cancel the country’s next North Sea oil and gas licensing round, 80 years after it first began exploring its hydrocarbon reserves.

Denmark’s 55 existing oil and gas platforms, scattered across 20 oil and gas fields, will be allowed to continue extracting fossil fuels but the milestone decision to end the hunt for new reserves in the ageing basin will guarantee an end to Denmark’s fossil fuel production.

“We’re the European Union’s biggest oil producer and this decision will therefore resonate around the world,” Denmark’s climate minister, Dan Jørgensen, said. “We are now putting a final end to the fossil era.”

Helene Hagel from Greenpeace Denmark described the parliamentary vote as “a watershed moment” that will allow the country to “assert itself as a green frontrunner and inspire other countries to end our dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels”.

She said: “This is a huge victory for the climate movement and all the people who have pushed for many years to make it happen.”
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

EU Green Deal threat to US LNGEurope’s Green Deal Is Bad News For U.S. LNG
By Irina Slav, Oil Price
November 14, 2020

U.S. LNG producers have had a tough few months, what with the pandemic and plunging prices because of an oversupplied market. Now, prices have improved substantially as production declines while exports have been rising for three consecutive months. The future, however, contains some storm clouds. French utility Engie recently pulled out of a major long-term deal with NextDecade that would have seen it import millions of tons of U.S. liquefied natural gas. The Wall Street Journal cited earlier media reports naming the French government as the power behind the decision, which was reportedly motivated by concerns about fracking: according to the reports, Paris considered fracking an emission-heavy way of extracting natural gas.

The Engie deal could be a harbinger for U.S. LNG in Europe. Bloomberg recently reported that environmental legislation in Brussels could throw a wrench in the works of U.S. LNG expansion as it pursues its ambitious net-zero agenda.

The Green Deal formulated by the European Commission is based on three main goals: eliminating net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; decoupling economic growth from resource use; and leaving no person and no place behind. Whether the latter two are achievable is arguable. The first goal, however, is what has been drawing the most attention anyway: net-zero greenhouse emissions.

The EU is very serious about it. Member countries are being encouraged to spend heavily on solar and wind generation capacity development, and even Poland, a country heavily dependent on coal, recently announced plans to boost its renewable energy capacity at the expense of fossil fuel.

In this context, it was only a matter of time before policymakers set their sights on natural gas. Although hailed as a bridge fuel between the fossil fuel era and the future of renewable energy, now natural gas has been attracting not-so-positive attention because of methane leaks. On top of that, there is the issue of hydraulic fracturing, which appears to worry euro-bureaucrats.
» Read article           

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

serving DRAX
Drax Wood Pellets Have Devastating Impact On Baltic Forests, Report Shows
By Caitlin Tilley, DeSmog UK
December 4, 2020

Drax’s “insatiable” demand for wood is harming Baltic forests, campaigners have claimed following the publication of a damning report.

Compiled by NGOs in Estonia and Latvia, the report reveals that together the two countries exported more than three million tonnes of wood pellets last year – equivalent to at least 200 square kilometres of clearcut forest.

The authors argue that the intensification of logging is reinforced by biomass demand from foreign bioenergy companies such as Orsted, RWE and Drax.

Kelsey Perlman, a climate campaigner for forests NGO Fern, said the report exposed “a glaring paradox at the heart of the EU’s environmental policies”.

“This report reveals the intolerable pressure facing some of the most valuable habitats in Estonia and Latvia,” she told DeSmog.

“The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which allows Member States to subsidise burning woody biomass under the banner of ‘green energy’, has a clear role in the destruction of forests and wildlife, which are meant to be protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 policy.”

Almuth Ernsting, a campaigner from NGO Biofuelwatch, said the report showed how forests in the Baltic States are being “harmed by Drax’s insatiable demand for wood”.

“Stopping and redirecting subsidies for burning wood in power stations will help protect forests in each of those regions,” he added.
» Read article          
» Read the report

» More about biomass

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