Tag Archives: Formosa

Weekly News Check-In 7/3/20

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Welcome back.

There’s continued interest in the recent arrest of two environmental activists in Louisiana on felony terrorism charges for their non-violent action delivering a box of “nurdles” to a plastics industry lobbyist. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

We’re happy to report that the Holleran family has been compensated by the Williams Companies for hundreds of trees cut on their Pennsylvania farm to make way for a pipeline that was never built. The Constitution Pipeline was recently scrapped when New York refused to permit it. As a side note, we’re pretty sure Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker could use a similar argument to stop the Weymouth compressor.

Future cases like the Holleran family’s tree loss may have been averted by a recent DC Circuit Court ruling that found the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can no longer continue its use of “tolling orders” to indefinitely delay hearing landowner complaints, even while trees are cleared and pipelines are built across their properties.

This week, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a sweeping and serious new climate proposal, including measures for greening the economy in the post-pandemic recovery. The Trump administration and Senate Republicans declared the bill dead on arrival. You can express your opinion of that by voting on or before Tuesday, November 3, 2020…. Meanwhile, the need for transformative action is especially acute in coal country. A gradual contraction of that mining economy has recently morphed into freefall – with relief and a new economic model desperately needed.

Some of us have noticed recently that the latest generation of climate models occasionally predicts substantially more warming than prior models did. We found an interesting article exploring that anomaly, and revealing the devilish complexities around cloud effects. We also have a fascinating story of coal-driven climate change from 250 million years ago, plus encouraging news indicating that the Heartland Institute – a major force in climate denial – appears to be losing influence.

Electricity will not entirely replace fuels in the foreseeable future because some processes and modes of transport are just too energy intensive. Hydrogen is a strong alternative candidate, but it’s currently produced using fossil fuels. “Green” hydrogen is coming – our Clean Energy section offers a primer.

Energy efficiency upgrades, especially in commercial and industrial sectors, are among the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions. That is not necessarily true for existing low-income housing, but taken as a component of redressing social injustice, it’s a compelling program that deserves high priority. Another priority is greening the transportation sector. It’s at once the largest greenhouse gas emitter and Big Oil’s best customer. We’re seeing both progress and push-back.

We wrap up with a few articles about the fossil fuel industry. It’s a gutter tour through financial collapse, attempted influence against green legislation, and a tightening circle of litigation calling out years of fraud.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

outrage after terror charges
Outrage after “Cancer Alley” activists face terrorism charges for anti-plastics stunt
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 29, 2020

For decades, those on the frontline of the environmental justice struggle have faced legal intimidation and harassment for speaking out against chronic pollution in “Cancer Alley,” an 85-mile stretch of oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana.

According to the Times-Picayune, “[Anne] Rolfes was booked with terrorizing, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. [Kate] McIntosh was booked with principal to terrorizing.” Each was released after posting a USD 5,000 bond.

So what had they done to deserve a felony terrorism charge and potentially face years in prison?

Over six months ago, in December, they left a highly symbolic sealed box containing plastic pellet waste on the doorstep of a local oil and gas lobbyist to highlight the issue of chronic pollution in the region, which is home to some of the most impoverished and vulnerable communities in the United States.

In that sense [the charges] are SLAPPs — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. We know legal intimidation is getting worse in the US.

Indeed, as Earther points out: “In the past four years, 21 states have introduced criminal penalties for demonstrating near oil and gas infrastructure with many of those laws mirroring text drafted by the industry-backed American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2019, the federal government proposed legislation that would prescribe up to two decades in prison for ‘inhibiting the operation’ of pipelines — or even just ‘conspiring’ to do so. But even by those standards, these charges seem utterly gratuitous.”
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no eminent domain for corporate gain
Family that lost hundreds of trees to failed pipeline project settles with company, gets land back
Constitution pipeline builder cut 558 trees to make way for line that never got built
By Susan Phillips, NPR – State Impact
July 3, 2020

A Northeastern Pennsylvania family who watched as work crews, accompanied by armed federal marshals, destroyed their budding maple tree farm to make way for the failed Constitution Pipeline has settled with the company Williams for an undisclosed amount. A federal court has also vacated the eminent domain taking of about five acres, reversing an order it made more than five years ago.

“We’re really glad that it’s ended,” said Catherine Holleran, co-owner of the 23-acre property that has been in the family for 50 years. “We’ve gotten our land returned to us. That was our main objective right from the first.”

The Constitution Pipeline project would have carried Marcellus Shale gas  from Pennsylvania to New York state. Though the project received federal approval and the necessary permits from Pennsylvania regulators, New York blocked the pipeline by not issuing permits. Williams dropped the project in February.
» Read article     

» More about other pipelines             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

tolling orders in the dock
DC Circuit: FERC can’t indefinitely delay action on gas pipeline challenges
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
Updated July 1, 2020

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-1 on Tuesday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lacks authority to postpone rehearing decisions on natural gas projects through the issuance of tolling orders. The practice has delayed parties that oppose FERC rulings from challenging those decisions in court.

FERC Commissioner Richard Glick called the decision a “resounding victory” for landowners impacted by FERC’s pipeline orders. “It is important that these parties can go to court before a company can take their land & build a pipeline affecting their communities,” he said in a tweet.

Tolling orders are an accessible tool for FERC to delay judgement on rehearing requests when more time is needed to consider arguments regarding the legality of the commission’s actions. FERC attorney Robert Kennedy said tolling orders are “generally entered almost as a matter of routine.”

Petitioners argued that pipeline projects have been completed while opponents were unable to litigate because a tolling order was in place.

“This case is exceptionally important because it brings to light a habitual practice by [FERC] that raises serious questions of fairness, due process and legality. And the commission’s defense in no way addressed how [a FERC order] can be final for some but not for others,” NRDC’s Giannetti told Utility Dive.
 » Read article         

fifty k to twenty
NERA counters broad opposition to FERC net metering petition, reveals utility-linked member
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

Lawyers representing the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) on Tuesday filed their response to the almost 50,000 comments opposing the group’s petition to federal regulators to effectively upend net metering policies nationwide.

NERA has generated significant attention in the power sector with its April petition asking FERC to declare “exclusive” jurisdiction over behind-the-meter energy generation.

Bipartisan groups of state legislators, regulators, attorneys general, governors and other officials filed almost 100 comments in opposition. Advocacy groups, legal experts and academics filed over 500 comments, while almost 50,000 individuals also commented on the filing, all in opposition to the proposal.

Meanwhile, just 21 groups filed in support, 15 of which echoed comments written out by the Heartland Institute.

Net metering compensates customers who have rooftop solar or some other form of behind-the-meter resource for the energy it provides to the grid. Opponents of the practice say it can overcompensate distributed resource customers, leaving remaining customers to absorb the additional costs. The focus of the petition, however, is not on the merits of net metering, but whether FERC should have jurisdiction over those sales.
» Read article         
» Read the NERA filing with FERC          

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Democrat climate plan
Democrats to unveil bold new climate plan to phase out emissions by 2050
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
June 29, 2020

House Democrats will unveil an aggressive climate crisis “action plan” on Tuesday to nearly eliminate US emissions by 2050, according to summary documents reviewed by the Guardian.

The net-zero emissions goal is what United Nations leaders and the scientific community say the world must achieve to avoid the worst of rising temperatures, and it’s what the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, says he would pursue if he were to win the White House in November.

The more than 538-page report will include hundreds of policy recommendations focused on 12 key pillars, according to a separate outline.

Modeling on a subset of those recommendations by the firm Energy Innovation showed they would cut net US greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2010 levels in 2030, and 88% below 2010 levels in 2050, according to the report outline. The remaining 12% of emissions cuts would have to come from hard-to-decarbonize sectors, including heavy-duty truck transportation, industry and agriculture.

The proposal outline recommends a clean energy standard for net-zero electricity by 2040 and net-zero new buildings by 2030. It calls for only zero-emitting new vehicles to be sold by 2035, and it advocates for doubling funding for public transit.
» Read article         

slippery slope for coal country
A Call for Massive Reinvestment Aims to Reverse Coal Country’s Rapid Decline
The plan targets devastated communities from Virginia to Arizona. “There is a debt to be paid,” said one proponent.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
June 30, 2020

The global coronavirus that’s put tens of millions of Americans out of work and plunged the nation into a recession is speeding an ongoing transition away from coal.

With devastation in communities left behind, 80 local, regional and national organizations on Monday rolled out a National Economic Transition Platform to support struggling coal mining cities and towns, some facing severe poverty, in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and elsewhere.

Although it comes just four months before the presidential election in November, the platform doesn’t mention the Green New Deal, the proposed massive shift in federal spending to create jobs and hasten a transition to clean energy that’s divided Republicans and Democrats.

But Heidi Binko, executive director of the Just Transition Fund, which drafted by the plan with a wide range of partners, including labor unions, community organizations, business groups and environmental and tribal nonprofits, said it could be used as a template for part of the Green New Deal or any other legislative initiatives aimed at helping coal communities.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

running hot
Are New Extreme Global Warming Projections Correct?
By Jeff Berardelli, Yale Climate Connections, in EcoWatch
July 2, 2020

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world’s top climate modeling groups have been “running hot” – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

“It is concerning, as it increases the risk of more severe climate change impacts,” explains Dr. Andrew Gettelman, a cloud microphysics scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado.

As a result, there’s been a real urgency to answer this important question in climate science: Are there processes in some new models that need correcting, or is this enhanced warming a real threat?
» Read article         

Siberian Traps
Ancient coal fires led to prehistoric extinctions
Did eruptions set ancient coal fires burning? Global heating happened 250 million years ago, just as it is happening now.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
June 29, 2020

Geologists have linked one of the planet’s most devastating events to the burning of fossil fuels, as ancient coal fires set in train a global extinction wave.

Emissions from the fires on a massive scale can be connected to catastrophic events that extinguished most of life on Earth – and this time, humans were not to blame.

It all happened more than 250 million years ago, at the close of the  Permian period. And this time the match that lit the flame was [a] massive but slow volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia, a burning that continued for two million years.
» Read article

heartland twilight
Hard Times in the Climate Denial Business for the Heartland Institute
Shorter Conference, Fake Sponsor, Low Attendance, and a Lot of Gray Haired Men
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2019

Last week, the Heartland Institute was again trumpeting climate science denial at its 13th “International Conference on Climate Change” at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. But by a number of measures, the Chicago-based free market think tank’s science denial doesn’t exactly seem to be a growing — or cohesive — movement at this point.

That’s even with more media coverage than five years ago, and with friends in high places. In early 2017, following the election of President Trump, attendees of the Heartland Institute conference were clearly excited to have a climate denier in the White House. Frontline reported that the mood at the conference was “jubilant.”

Even last year, the organization was projecting an air of optimism. Former Congressman Tim Huelskamp was still Heartland president and confidently declaring victory for the climate denial movement.

“It took a while, but we think we’ve won the battle — Al Gore was wrong,” Huelskamp said.

So, how are things going for Heartland these days?
» Read article         

fading winters
Fading Winters, Hotter Summers Make the Northeast America’s Fastest Warming Region
Connecticut’s average temperature has risen 2 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, double the average for the Lower 48 states.
By Abby Weiss, InsideClimate News
June 27, 2020

Connecticut is one of the fastest-warming states, in the fastest warming region, in the contiguous United States. An analysis last year by The Washington Post found that neighboring Rhode Island was the first state among the lower 48 whose average annual temperature had warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius since 1895. New Jersey was second, the Post found, followed by Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts.

The Post analysis also found that the New York City area, including Long Island and suburban counties in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, was among about half a dozen hot spots nationally where warming has already exceeded 2 degrees. The others are the greater Los Angeles area, the high desert in Oregon, the Western Rocky Mountains, an area from Montana to Minnesota along the Canadian border and the Northeast Shore of Lake Michigan.

Climate scientists don’t fully understand why Connecticut and the other Northeast states have warmed so dramatically, but they offer an array of explanations, from warm winters that produce less snow and ice (and thus reflect less heat back into space) to warming ocean temperatures and  changes in both the jet stream and the Gulf Stream.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen explained
So, What Exactly Is Green Hydrogen?
For a colorless gas, hydrogen gets described in very colorful terms. A new GTM series helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
June 29, 2020

According to the nomenclature used by market research firm Wood Mackenzie, most of the gas that is already widely used as an industrial chemical is either brown, if it’s made through the gasification of coal or lignite; or gray, if it is made through steam methane reformation, which typically uses natural gas as the feedstock. Neither of these processes is exactly carbon-friendly.

A purportedly cleaner option is known as blue hydrogen, where the gas is produced by steam methane reformation but the emissions are curtailed using carbon capture and storage. This process could roughly halve the amount of carbon produced, but it’s still far from emissions-free.

Green hydrogen, in contrast, could almost eliminate emissions by using renewable energy — increasingly abundant and often generated at less-than-ideal times — to power the electrolysis of water.

A more recent addition to the hydrogen-production palette is turquoise. This is produced by breaking methane down into hydrogen and solid carbon using a process called pyrolysis. Turquoise hydrogen might seem relatively low in terms of emissions because the carbon can either be buried or used for industrial processes such as steelmaking or battery manufacturing, so it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere.

However, recent research shows turquoise hydrogen is actually likely to be no more carbon-free than the blue variety, owing to emissions from the natural-gas supplies and process heat required.
» Read article         

looking ahead
‘Simple’ or a ‘band-aid’? ISO-NE leans toward Eversource/National Grid $49M solution for Mystic plant replacement
New England’s grid operator chose the lowest-cost proposal, but one developer says that doesn’t make it the most effective or efficient.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

ISO New England in June identified National Grid and Eversource’s “Ready Path Solution” as the most cost-effective way to address transmission reliability issues following the planned retirement of the Mystic Generating Station in 2024.

The $49 million project is inexpensive and relatively simple compared to 35 other proposals, which carried price tags up to $745 million.

The ISO is expected to issue a final decision July 17 and is accepting comments through today. At least one competing developer is unhappy with the grid operator’s initial determination: Officials at Anbaric Development Partners say the Ready Path approach is a “band-aid” that will not address the region’s longer-term energy needs.

According to Anbaric, its project would eliminate the need for $620 million in near-term system upgrades the ISO will need to address to incorporate offshore wind being procured by the region.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

low income EE
Utility efficiency programs offer model to merge climate, racial justice solutions
Many states require utilities to help low-income customers conserve energy despite higher costs and barriers.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
Photo By Dennis Schroeder / NREL
July 2, 2020

As urgency grows to simultaneously address climate change and racial justice through proposals like the Green New Deal, low-income energy efficiency programs provide a potential example of how to merge the priorities.

The time is right to bolster such programs since the pandemic’s economic effects mean more households will likely need assistance with energy bills, advocates say.

Studies — including a recent one by Lawrence Berkeley Livermore National Laboratory — show that dollar for dollar, the biggest efficiency gains can be made by investing in commercial and industrial energy conservation, while efficiency programs targeting low-income customers are among the least cost-effective.

However, many consumer groups, utilities, researchers and other stakeholders agree: The benefits provided by helping low-income customers are wide-ranging, and especially important to advance racial equity and protect vulnerable people in times like these.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

not for the US market
Europe’s Demand for Electric Cars May Get a Jolt From COVID-19 Response

Stimulus packages, falling costs and rising environmental awareness may rev Europe’s EV market quicker than expected, analysts say.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
July 3, 2020

Far from depressing the market, the response to the COVID-19 outbreak looks set to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles across Europe.

The combined market share of EVs and plug-in hybrids jumped 6.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, faster than the 2.5 percent growth seen in the same quarter last year, according to sales figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA).

And that was before big pandemic-recovery stimulus plans began targeting the EV market. In contrast, total sales of new passenger plunged 41.5 percent between mid-March and the end of May, according to the ACEA.

But in the U.K., where monthly data is available from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, battery electric vehicles are performing well. In May, new petrol and diesel registrations were down around 90 percent compared to the same time last year. BEVs were up 21.5 percent. A tax break for corporate buyers that started in April won’t have hurt.

“In the very short term, we have seen that EV uptake rates have been immune to the drop-off in new car sales,” John Murray, head of EV research at the consultancy Delta-EE, said in an interview.
Blog editor’s note: Sadly, the VW ID-3 featured in the photo will not be available in the U.S., because Americans no longer buy enough small cars to justify the marketing and U.S.-specific design expenses.
» Read article          

house green transport bill
Oil Industry and Allies Look to Pump Brakes on Democrats’ Plans to Move Transportation Off Petroleum
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 2, 2020

This week Congressional Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives put forward policies, including passing a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill on July 1, aimed at cleaning up the number one source of carbon pollution in America — the transportation sector. The oil and gas industry and its supporters quickly weighed in, framing “the critical role” of the industry in addressing climate pollution and in some cases outright attacking these plans’ efforts to move away from petroleum-powered transport.

It is the first time a body in Congress has set a deadline for selling 100 percent zero-emission vehicles, which include electric or fuel cell cars. Over a dozen countries have already set timetables for phasing out conventional petroleum-powered vehicles.

The chances that the infrastructure package and many other policies outlined in the Democrats’ climate plan will become law under the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump are very slim to none. According to The Hill, Trump slammed the infrastructure package as “full of wasteful ‘Green New Deal’ initiatives” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called it “nonsense.” Both Trump and McConnell receive sizable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Oil industry trade associations and front groups funded by the oil and gas industry are already coming out against the Democrats’ climate plan and infrastructure package.
» Read article          

barnstorm buzz
The largest electric plane ever to fly
As electric planes pass another milestone, Future Planet asks how long will it be before they are ready for everyday aviation? And just how far can they go?
By Chris Baraniuk, BBC / Future Planet
June 17, 2020

At a large airfield surrounded by farmland in central Washington State, an electric aeroplane recently made history. It is the biggest commercial plane ever to take off and fly powered by electricity alone. For 30 minutes on 28 May, it soared above Grant County International Airport as crowds of onlookers clapped and cheered.

The biggest electric plane ever, huh? Well, it was a modified Cessna Caravan 208B – which can take a maximum of nine passengers. And the test aircraft only had a seat installed for the pilot.

It’s a far cry from the 200-300-seater jet that takes you on weekend city breaks or work trips, never mind the huge double-decker planes that cross continents. But the “eCaravan” test flight was a success. The two companies behind it, AeroTEC and magniX, which supplied the electric motor, are chuffed with the results. Roei Ganzarski, chief executive of magniX, pointed out in a statement that the price of flying the Cessna clocked in at a mere $6 (£4.80). Had they used conventional engine fuel, the 30-minute flight would have cost $300-400 (£240-320).
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

over-hyped gas
“Gas is over-supplied, over-hyped, and out of time”
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 2, 2020

For years, Big Oil denied there was a problem with climate change and carried on drilling, deliberately creating doubt over the science. They could have acted decades ago, but they did not.

As our climate crisis intensified, the industry shifted its public relations strategy and started touting natural gas as a so-called “clean” bridge fuel, a stepping stone if you like, from dirty oil to renewables. There were major flaws in that argument, that gas is neither green nor clean, as OCI and others have repeatedly pointed out.

The other blatantly obvious flaw that climate activists pointed out was that the climate emergency was so urgent that we did not have time to carry on the fossil fuel age in any shape or form, whether oil or gas, and we should be investing in renewables now.

Two weeks ago, there was what I termed an “historic moment” when BP slashed up to USD 17.5 billion off the value of its assets after lowering its longer term price assumptions in the wake of COVID-19. In the words of the Financial Times, BP “expects” the pandemic “to hasten the shift away from fossil fuels.” BP’s assets were essentially stranded.

Whereas BP’s write-offs were largely in dirty heavy oil and offshore, what will be sending shocks waves through the industry is that Shell’s write-downs are in gas.
» Read article          

shell too
BP and Shell Write-Off Billions in Assets, Citing Covid-19 and Climate Change
The moves were seen as a possible turning point as plummeting demand makes big oil companies admit they’re not worth what they used to be.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
July 2, 2020

Two of the world’s largest energy companies have sent their strongest signals yet that the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate a global transition away from oil, and that billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel assets could go to waste.

This week, Royal Dutch Shell said it would slash the value of its oil and gas assets by up to $22  billion amid a crash in oil prices. The announcement came two weeks after a similar declaration by BP, saying it would reduce the value of its assets by up to $17.5 billion. Both companies said the accounting moves were a response not only to the coronavirus-driven recession, but also to global efforts to tackle climate change.

Some analysts say the global oil and gas industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation and is finally being forced to reckon with a future of dwindling demand for its products.
» Read article          

Senator Barrett
Fossil Fuel Lobby Is Targeting the State Senate’s Climate Bill
Mike Barrett represents the towns of Bedford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Concord, Lincoln, Waltham, Weston, large parts of Lexington and Sudbury
By State Senator Mike Barrett, Patch
June 29, 2020

On Thursday, June 25, an organization named the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy criticized Massachusetts State Senate climate legislation now pending before the House of Representatives. In response, State Senators Mike Barrett and Jason Lewis issued the following statement.

In January of this year, the Massachusetts State Senate passed An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy, now pending before the House of Representatives. The Senate’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is radical not in its ideology but in its seriousness; we’re determined to get emissions down across the Massachusetts economy, transportation and buildings included.

We should add that the senators who wrote the legislation sat down with a good many commercial interests, listened to what they had to say, and made changes. At the time of the bill’s final passage — with the votes of both Democrats and Republicans, and with only two dissents in the 40-member Senate — its seriousness of purpose seemed to impress the business community without unsettling it.

But that was then. With the onset of COVID-19, conservative elements are eager to exploit an opening. Two years ago, an investigative report in the Huffington Post blasted the then-new Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy as a “front for gas interests,” identifying, as major funders of the group, Eversource, National Grid, and Enbridge, the pipeline conglomerate behind the natural gas compressor station project in Weymouth.

Last week the Coalition surfaced anew, patching together a limp critique of Next-Gen that seems less about the bill and more about the Coalition’s longer-range objective, which is to keep fossil fuels at the heart of Massachusetts energy policy.
» Read article           

Joe Camel meets Don Fuego
Oil and gas coloring books teach kids safety, fossil fuel dependence
By Kate Yoder, Grist
June 29, 2020

It’s finally summer: The time of year when your kids run through the sprinklers, munch on watermelon, and whip out their crayons to scribble in coloring book pages of fracking wells and gas pipes. Wait, what?

Last week, Puget Sound Energy, the Seattle-area utility, shared an odd activity on Twitter: “Color your way through Natural Gas Town and learn how natural gas provides energy to your neighborhood!” The tweet, later deleted, linked to an online coloring page showing a detailed map of how natural gas lines run underneath your yard and into your home. The image is from Energy Safe Kids, a national program that teaches children safety tips — like how to sniff out a gas leak and avoid pummeling natural gas meters with water balloons.

The Energy Safe Kids site includes an interactive coloring page for the friendly gas flame named “Don Fuego,” a video game called “Gas Dash” in which your character hurdles gas meters and fire extinguishers while riding a bike, and a word search that challenges you to find “butane,” “pilot light,” and “cogeneration.”
» Read article

arrival of the reckoning
Fracking pioneer Chesapeake files for bankruptcy protection
By CATHY BUSSEWITZ and TALI ARBEL, Associated Press
June 28, 2020, Associated Press

Chesapeake Energy, a shale drilling pioneer that helped to turn the United States into a global energy powerhouse, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Oklahoma City-based company said Sunday that it was a necessary decision given its debt. Its debt load is currently nearing $9 billion. It has entered a plan with lenders to cut $7 billion of its debt and said it will continue to operate as usual during the bankruptcy process.

The oil and gas company was a leader in the fracking boom, using unconventional techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground, a method that has come under scrutiny because of its environmental impact.

Other wildcatters followed in Chesapeake’s path, racking up huge debts to find oil and gas in fields spanning New Mexico, Texas, the Dakotas and Pennsylvania. A reckoning is now coming due with those massive debts needing to be serviced by Chesapeake and those that followed its path.
» Read article           

we sued - DC
Both Minnesota and D.C. sue Big Oil for “campaign of deception” over climate change
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 25, 2020

Big Oil’s decades-old campaign to deny, deceive, and delay action on climate change has been thrust into the spotlight again after both Attorney Generals for Minnesota and the District of Columbia (D.C.) launched legal action against the industry within twenty-four hours of each other.

First yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed the suit against Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and three Koch Industries for pushing climate denial for decades.

The 84 page document did not mince its words, arguing, “that the economic devastation and public-health impacts from climate change” in Minnesota “were caused, in large part, by a campaign of deception that Defendants orchestrated and executed with disturbing success.”

Dating back decades, instead of warning Minnesota about the risks of climate change, the “Defendants realized massive profits through largely unabated and expanded extraction, production, promotion, marketing, and sale of their fossil-fuel products.”

The suit cited scientific evidence dating back to the fifties and sixties. “By 1965, Defendants and their predecessors-in-interest were aware that the scientific community had found that fossil-fuel products, if used profligately, would cause global warming by the end of the century, and that such global warming would have wide-ranging and costly consequences,” the suit said.

Instead of acting responsibly, the companies repeated the playbook of the tobacco industry and funded “fraudulent scientific research” in order to create uncertainty.

And instead of acting in the public interest, and investing in alternatives to fossil fuels, the Defendants just carried on drilling for oil and gas, making extreme profits.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 4/3/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stephen Rodrick, Rolling Stone   
March 26, 2020

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

» More about climate          

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oily infighting
Industry Infighting as Oil and Gas Seek Government Help

By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the fossil fuel industry  

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

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

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

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

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

» More about the plastics / fracking connection     

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