Tag Archives: fossil fuel

Weekly News Check-In 3/26/21

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week’s news with a toot of our own horn, thanks to Danny Jin’s excellent reporting on the growing momentum behind BEAT’s campaign to replace polluting peaking power plants with renewables and battery storage. Please join the effort by signing our petition!

The Weymouth compressor station fight appears to be developing into something of a test case at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is beginning to focus on fossil project climate impacts for the first time. We use that framework to explore a couple potential effects: the impact on the broader U.S. natural gas industry, and the tie-in with another controversial project in Canada – the Goldboro LNG export terminal.

We’re exploring the fascinating contest between Michigan’s Governor Whitmer and environmental allies, vs Enbridge, Canada, and a good chunk of the oil industry, over Michigan’s recent demand the shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline – the aging section crossing under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Amy Westervelt of Drilled News offers an excellent podcast dive into the fossil fuel industry’s continuing efforts to criminalize nonviolent civil protest. Related to all those protests, the divestment movement has taken off – but big banks are still financing polluters to a shocking degree.

We have late-breaking news that Governor Charlie Baker signed landmark climate legislation into law just before we posted. As Massachusetts moves forward, we’re also keeping an eye on broader efforts to green the economy. We found a report explaining why skepticism is in order when considering big-polluter claims to go net-zero, and also some encouraging news about the greening of some aquaculture operations – a good thing since a new climate report shows that ocean trawling for fish releases as much carbon as emitted by the global aviation industry.

As usual, we can take a breather and enjoy some good news in our clean energy section, including a report on the multiple benefits of covering open canals and aquaducts with solar panels – a huge opportunity in southern California. The news is a bit more sobering as we consider home energy efficiency and electrification, and look at the current shortage of contractors with up-to-date skills. And likewise in clean transportation, where we’re reminded that heavy future reliance on personal electric vehicles, without reducing miles driven, would still be a problem.

Springfield’s City Council has enlisted the support of the Conservation Law Foundation in its fight against Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass plant. Meanwhile, across the pond, the Dutch have signaled it’s time to end biomass subsidies, ahead of the critical review in June of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). The EU must decide whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

We wrap up with a look at plastics, health, and the environment, along with a youtube video of comedian John Oliver’s deep dive into how the plastics industry convinced us to think we could simply recycle our way out of trouble. It’s pretty rude, but to the point.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


BEAT’s ‘peaker’ campaign draws local support, statewide allies
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
March 20, 2021

In its campaign to convert three local power plants to less-polluting alternatives, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has added local supporters as well as allies across the state.

The “peaker” power plants in Pittsfield and Lee burn [gas, oil, and kerosene]. They serve to meet peak electricity demand — during the hottest summer days, for instance — but rank among the oldest and most polluting plants, disproportionately impacting neighborhoods that already have experienced significant pollution.

More than 10 local groups have joined the coalition opposing the operation of the three plants, and a petition to close them has reached about 200 signatures, said Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative.

“When we put up flyers in the afternoon, you see signatures by the evening,” Wessel said.

As a plan to transition Massachusetts to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 appears set to become law, Wessel said the state’s long-term climate goals align with a move away from fossil fuel-burning plants.

“That’s another argument for us: to switch over before they’re forced to shut down and become extinct,” Wessel said. “It’s a win-win for the companies, and we would get cleaner air sooner.”

The two plants in Pittsfield are on Merrill Road and Doreen Street, and the plant in Lee is on Woodland Road.

Wessel said BEAT has contacted the owners and operators of the plants but has not received a response. The California-headquartered IHI Power Services Corp. runs the Merrill Road plant, and Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix acquired the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants in 2016.

BEAT is pushing for battery storage as a cleaner alternative for peak demand, especially if paired with solar or wind energy. Wessel said BEAT wants to have a conversation with companies to see which storage incentives they might qualify for. The Clean Peak Energy Standard and the ConnectedSolutions program, for example, aim to cut costs and reduce emissions.

The Merrill Road plant is near Allendale Elementary School and Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state has designated an “environmental justice” area. Doreen Street is by Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road is at the edge of October Mountain State Forest.
» Read article               
» Sign the petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaking power plants!

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Why A Federal Order In The Weymouth Compressor Case Has The Natural Gas World Worried
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 19, 2021

In the six years since Massachusetts residents began fighting a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, the controversial and now-operational project has mostly been an issue of local concern. Not anymore.

As a challenge to the compressor station’s permit to operate winds its way through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — the agency in charge of approving interstate energy projects — some on the five-person body have signaled that they’re no longer interested in doing business as usual.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the commission began what some FERC experts are calling “a seemingly unprecedented” review process that not only raises questions about the future of the Weymouth Compressor, but has many in the gas industry worried about the fate of their current and future projects.

At the simplest level, this case is about whether FERC should hold a hearing to relitigate the Weymouth Compressor’s license to operate, known as a “service authorization order.” This happens all the time when project opponents appeal a FERC decision.

But two things make this situation unique: the potential precedent it could set, and the fact that FERC has a new commissioner who has promised to give more weight to climate change and environmental justice concerns.

The Weymouth Compressor was designed to be the linchpin of a large interstate gas pipeline system called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The project connects two pipelines and allows fracked natural gas from western Pennsylvania to flow through New Jersey and New England, and into Maine and eastern Canada for local distribution.

Though no public opinion polling about the compressor exists, there is intense opposition to it here in Massachusetts. From activists groups like the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) and Mothers Out Front, to elected officials, the anti-compressor movement here is vocal and visible.
» Read article                

Braintree Pays $20K For Air Quality Monitors At Fore River Plant
Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the area.
By Jimmy Bentley, Patch
March 19, 2021

Braintree will contribute $20,000 to help pay for an air quality monitoring system near the controversial natural gas plant along the Fore River.

Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the river basin’s communities, including Braintree, Weymouth, Quincy and Hingham.

Residents and elected officials in Braintree, Hingham, Quincy and Weymouth have expressed concern and have opposed Enbridge’s compressor station. Elected officials, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, also came out against the plant after an emergency shut down where 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas was released at the facility. There have been numerous protests outside the plant’s [construction] site and several arrests.

But Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Katie Gronendyke said upon the final approval that the project met all state and federal safety regulations, and that the project had passed air-quality testing impact assessments. Enbridge has also maintained that safety is their priority.

With state regulators approving the plant, Braintree joined Quincy, Hingham, the Ten Persons Group and the Ten Citizens Group in appealing the plant’s approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in federal court. The motion was filed last month in the U.S. 1st District Court of Appeals.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES


Gov. Whitmer offers propane plan for Upper Peninsula after Line 5 shutdown
By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
March 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration released its plan Friday to heat Michigan homes without depending on the Line 5 oil pipeline to deliver propane.

The plan calls for millions of dollars of investment in rail infrastructure and storage to help wean propane suppliers off the pipeline, plus other programs to reduce propane demand, help low-income customers pay their propane bills, and increase the state’s ability to monitor propane supplies.

The plan was praised by environmental groups, Native American tribes and others opposing Enbridge Line 5. But an Enbridge spokesperson called the plan “wholly inadequate” and at least one propane supplier raised doubts about whether it will adequately replace the propane currently supplied by the pipeline.

Whitmer has given Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy until May 13 to stop transporting oil through the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, citing concerns that the aging underwater pipeline poses an “unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

Much of the plan to replace Line 5 relies on grant programs Whitmer has written into her 2022 budget proposal, meaning it may require legislative approval.  Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

But the plan also notes that some propane suppliers have begun to independently wean themselves off Line 5 since Whitmer made the shutdown order in November.

Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis Parisio told Bridge Michigan the governor “is looking forward to discussions with the legislature and is hopeful that we can reach bipartisan support for her budget recommendations.”

In an interview Friday, Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps said the plan will put Michigan “in a good place for next winter and for whatever market changes arise.”
» Read article               
» Read the MI Propane Security Plan               


Ohio, Louisiana argue against Line 5 shutdown in federal court
By Garret Ellison, mlive.com
March 22, 2021

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is asking a federal judge in Grand Rapids to block Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s effort to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, arguing on behalf of Ohio refineries and the state of Louisiana that closing the submerged oil line would have economic impact beyond Michigan.

Yost filed an amicus brief on Friday, March 19 in the case Enbridge brought against Whitmer last fall, which is pending before Judge Janet Neff in the Western District of Michigan. The case is scheduled to begin mediation in April.

In the brief, Yost argues that closing the pipeline segment under the Straits of Mackinac would cause economic hardship for businesses supplied by the pipeline.

In November, Whitmer announced termination of the 1953 easement that allows the pipeline to cross the lakebed where lakes Michigan and Huron connect. She gave Enbridge until May 12 to stop the oil flow, a deadline the company says it won’t comply with absent a court order.

“Ohio refineries, their employees, and key industrial stakeholders directly rely on Line 5′s crude oil supply, and its economic effects are strongly felt in the Buckeye State and beyond,” Yost wrote. “Ohio, joined by Louisiana, respectfully urges the court to carefully balance protections for both the environment and the economic health of individuals and businesses on both sides of the border by allowing Line 5 to continue to operate safely.”

Case documents indicate Michigan opposes the motion but the state has not yet filed a reply.

Enbridge allies have mounted a full-throated defense of the controversial pipeline this year. Canadian government and business officials are lobbying the Biden Administration to intercede in Whitmer’s decision and are threatening to invoke a 1977 treaty governing the operation of cross-border pipelines unless Michigan backpedals the closure order.

Seamus O’Regan, Canadian natural resources minister, told a parliament committee earlier this month that the pipeline’s operation is “non-negotiable.”

The 68-year-old, 645-mile pipeline runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan. It is a key part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network that carries light crude and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac. Its existence has caused escalating concern since another Enbridge pipeline caused a massive oil spill in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River.

Because the pipeline crosses both Michigan peninsulas and many waterways, opponents see little benefit but substantial risk for the state from its existence and dismiss economic concerns around its closure as overblown.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Another Line 3 Battleground: free speech
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
March 20, 2021

We’ve covered the ongoing, fossil fuel-backed push to criminalize protest before. In 2017, Oklahoma passed the first of these bills, specifically citing the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Then American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), the trade group for refineries and petrochemical facilities, crafted sample legislation based on the Oklahoma bill, and pushed the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) to adopt it. In 2020 , the Covid-19 pandemic slowed things down a bit, but in 2021 things are speeding up. In January, Ohio passed a bill that’s been debated for years, bringing the total number of states with so-called “critical infrastructure laws” in place to 14.

What’s defined as critical infrastructure varies a bit from state to state, but pipelines are always included; penalties range, too, but across the board these laws increase both the criminal and financial penalties of protest, potentially landing protestors in jail for years with fines up to $150,000. It’s worth noting that all of these states have trespassing and property damage laws already, it’s not as though those things have been going unpunished; the new laws merely make the consequences much tougher. They also add penalties for organizers and organizing entities. In Montana, for example, a proposed bill would fine organizations up to a million dollars for being involved in protest.

All of which comes into play in Minnesota, where the fight against Line 3 is underway. There are currently six bills under consideration in the state, packaged into four legislative packages. If any of them pass, not only could protestors be facing stiffer penalties but also the organizations involved, most of them led by Native women, could find themselves slapped with large fines too.

In this interview, researcher Connor Gibson walks us through the origin of these laws, why they’re picking up steam, and what to expect this year.
» Listen to podcast, “How the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Undermining Free Speech”

» More about protests and actions               

DIVESTMENT

Big banks’ trillion-dollar finance for fossil fuels ‘shocking’, says report
Coal, oil and gas firms have received $3.8tn in finance since the Paris climate deal in 2015
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
March 24, 2021

The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of NGOs.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking”.

Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2C, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.

US and Canadian banks make up 13 of the 60 banks analysed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.

Overall financing dipped by 9% in pandemic-hit 2020, but funding for the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest expansion plans actually rose by 10%. Citi was the biggest financier of these 100 companies in 2020.

A commitment to be net zero by 2050 has been made by 17 of the 60 banks, but the report describes the pledges as “dangerously weak, half-baked, or vague”, arguing that action is needed today. Some banks have policies that block finance for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but almost two-thirds of funding is for oil and gas companies.

The report’s authors said targeting of banks by campaigners and activist shareholders could help change bank policies but that action by governments was also needed.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

Baker intends to sign climate and emissions bill
By Chris Lisinski, WWLP
March 25, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he plans to sign into law a sweeping climate policy bill the Legislature approved last week after vetoing an earlier version in January.

Asked as he departed a press conference if he would approve the climate bill, Baker replied with one-word: “Yes.” A spokesperson for his office then confirmed his intent to sign the legislation.

The landmark proposal aims to craft a path toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions statewide by 2050 by setting interim targets for emissions reductions, establishing energy efficiency standards for appliances and addressing the needs of environmental justice communities. Baker vetoed the original version of the bill, approved at the end of the 2019-2020 lawmaking session, in January over concerns that it could limit housing production and did not do enough to help cities and towns adapt to the effects of climate change effects.

Lawmakers passed the legislation a second time and then adopted many of Baker’s sought changes, though they did not agree to some of his more substantial amendments, such as a lower emissions-reduction milestone for 2030.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides signaled after the bill’s passage that the administration was happy with the amendments. Business groups NAIOP and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce have recently announced support for the bill after previously expressing hesitation. Baker has until Sunday to act on the climate bill.
» Read article            

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Why Companies’ ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions Pledges Should Trigger a Healthy Dose of Skepticism
By Oliver Miltenberger, The University of Melbourne and Matthew D. Potts, University of California, Berkeley, The Conversation, republished in DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2021

Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?

As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.

The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper.

The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.

Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.

Environmentalists may welcome Shell’s newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
» Read article            


That Salmon on Your Plate Might Have Been a Vegetarian
Pescatarians take note: Farmed fish are eating more veggies and less wild fish, according to new research. That’s good news for nature.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
March 24, 2021

Twenty years ago, as farmed salmon and shrimp started spreading in supermarket freezers, came an influential scientific paper that warned of an environmental mess: Fish farms were gobbling up wild fish stocks, spreading disease and causing marine pollution.

This week, some of the same scientists who published that report issued a new paper concluding that fish farming, in many parts of the world, at least, is a whole lot better. The most significant improvement, they said, was that farmed fish were not being fed as much wild fish. They were being fed more plants, like soy.

In short, the paper found, farmed fish like salmon and trout had become mostly vegetarians.

Synthesizing hundreds of research papers carried out over the last 20 years across the global aquaculture industry, the latest study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The findings have real-world implications for nutrition, jobs and biodiversity. Aquaculture is a source of income for millions of small-scale fishers and revenue for fish-exporting countries. It is also vital if the world’s 7.75 billion people want to keep eating fish and shellfish without draining the ocean of wild fish stocks and marine biodiversity.

At the same time, there have long been concerns among some environmentalists about aquaculture’s effects on natural habitats.

The new paper found promising developments, but also lingering problems. And it didn’t quite inform the average fish-eater what they should eat more of — or avoid.
» Read article              
» Read the original study
» Read the new aquaculture study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE


Trawling for Fish May Unleash as Much Carbon as Air Travel, Study Says
The report also found that strategically conserving some marine areas would not only safeguard imperiled species but sequester vast amounts planet-warming carbon dioxide, too.
By Catrin Einhorn, New York Times
March 17, 2021

For the first time, scientists have calculated how much planet-warming carbon dioxide is released into the ocean by bottom trawling, the practice of dragging enormous nets along the ocean floor to catch shrimp, whiting, cod and other fish. The answer: As much as global aviation releases into the air.

While preliminary, that was one of the most surprising findings of a groundbreaking new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The study offers what is essentially a peer-reviewed, interactive road map for how nations can confront the interconnected crises of climate change and wildlife collapse at sea.

It follows similar recent research focused on protecting land, all with a goal of informing a global agreement on biodiversity to be negotiated this autumn in Kunming, China.

Protecting strategic zones of the world’s oceans from fishing, drilling and mining would not only safeguard imperiled species and sequester vast amounts of carbon, the researchers found, it would also increase overall fish catch, providing more healthy protein to people.

“It’s a triple win,” said Enric Sala, a marine biologist who directs National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. Dr. Sala led the study’s team of 26 biologists, climate scientists and economists.

How much and what parts of the ocean to protect depends on how much value is assigned to each of the three possible benefits: biodiversity, fishing and carbon storage.

Trisha Atwood, an aquatic ecologist at Utah State University who was one of the study’s authors, compared trawling to cutting down forests for agriculture.

“It’s wiping out biodiversity, it’s wiping out things like deep sea corals that take hundreds of years to grow,” Dr. Atwood said. “And now what this study shows is that it also has this other kind of unknown impact, which is that it creates a lot of CO2.”
» Read article               
» Read the study


We have turned the Amazon into a net greenhouse gas emitter: Study
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
March 19, 2021

Something is wrong in the lungs of the world. Decades of burning, logging, mining and development have tipped the scales, and now the Amazon Basin may be emitting more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

Most of the conversation about climate change is dominated by carbon dioxide. While CO2 plays a critical role in the complex climate equation, other forces such as methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and black carbon are also factors.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a group of 31 scientists calculated the balance of all natural and human-caused greenhouse gases coming in and out of the massive Amazon Basin. The team concluded that warming of the atmosphere from agents other than CO2 likely exceeds the climate benefits the Amazon provides via CO2 uptake. Or more simply: due to humans, the Amazon Basin is now a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

“I would highlight that natural greenhouse emissions from ecosystems aren’t causing climate change,” the study’s lead author, Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor at Skidmore College told Mongabay. “It’s the many human disturbances underway in the basin that are contributing to climate change.”

Earth receives constant energy from the sun. Climate-forcing factors in the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases, act like a blanket, trapping that heat energy on Earth. When there’s more energy coming in from the sun than is being reflected back out into space, the planet warms and our climate is thrown out of balance.

A healthy forest ecosystem sucks in CO2 and keeps other climate-forcing factors in relative balance. But in the Amazon, where forests have faced increased logging, mining, dam construction, and clearing for agricultural (typically using fire), the system is drying and degrading. One study found that the amount of aboveground plant tissue in the Amazon was reduced by roughly one-third over the past decade.

In short, the ability of the Amazon to absorb CO2 is declining.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Why Covering Canals With Solar Panels Is a Power Move
Covering waterways would, in a sense, make solar panels water-cooled, boosting their efficiency.
By Matt Simon, Science
March 19, 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Hall & Oates. Now there’s a duo that could literally and figuratively be even more powerful: solar panels and canals. What if instead of leaving canals open, letting the sun evaporate the water away, we covered them with panels that would both shade the precious liquid and hoover up solar energy? Maybe humanity can go for that.

Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership. Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

California’s water conveyance system is the world’s largest, serving 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland. Seventy-five percent of available water is in the northern third of the state, while the bottom two-thirds of the state accounts for 80 percent of urban and agricultural demand. Shuttling all that water around requires pumps to make it flow uphill; accordingly, the water system is the state’s largest single consumer of electricity.

Solar-paneling canals would not only produce renewable energy for use across the state, it would run the water system itself. “By covering canals with solar panels, we can reduce evaporation and avoid disturbing natural and working lands, while providing renewable energy and other co-benefits,” says environmental engineer Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Merced, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead author on the paper.
» Read article              


As early renewables near end-of-life, attention turns to recycling and disposal
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
March 24, 2021

Although only a handful of states have implemented rules related to the disposal of batteries, PV panels and other renewable assets, the time has come to consider their fate as early installations reach the end of their useful life, industry leaders concluded during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Batteries, solar panels and even wind turbines contain components that could be repurposed and recycled, panelists said, but high costs and the limited availability of these materials present barriers to scaling up recycling operations.

To create a “circular economy” in which no raw materials are wasted would reduce the lifetime environmental impact of renewable energy, but accomplishing this requires intent and funding that “starts at the design phase,” said Peter Perrault, senior manager of circular economy and sustainable solutions at Enel North America.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND ELECTRIFICATION


He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem.
Want to electrify your home? Good luck finding a contractor.
Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 18, 2021

Adam James had been casually browsing the housing market for about a year when he came across a home that seemed like the perfect fit. The 31-year-old and his wife recently had their third child, and the 1960s split-level ranch house in Ossining, New York, a village on the Hudson River with ample green space and a commuter train station, was just what they were looking for. The house had only one downside: Its oil-based heating system was 35 years old and on the brink of sputtering out.

Except that wasn’t a downside for James, who works as chief of staff at Energy Impact Partners, a sustainable energy investment firm. “I was actually excited because I was like, I’m gonna get this thing off of fuel oil and decarbonize it,” he told Grist last October.

By that he meant he wanted to switch out the heating and hot water systems in the house for appliances that run on electricity. This kind of conversion is called electrification, and it is currently the only proven way to eliminate the carbon emissions directly generated by our buildings. But even in New York state, which has a legal mandate to cut emissions 85 percent by 2050, a goal of getting 130,000 electric heat and hot water systems installed by 2025, and several public and private programs that promote and incentivize electric heating, James had an unexpected amount of trouble getting it done.

The first thing James did was call a few local contractors to ask about geothermal heat pumps, highly efficient systems that absorb heat from the near-constant temperature beneath the earth’s surface and transfer it into your home. But he quickly learned that it was going to cost a lot more than he thought — around $40,000, by one estimate. So James gave up on geothermal and began looking into air-source heat pumps, similar systems that instead absorb heat from the outdoor air, even on cold winter days. He found a list of contractors on the website for New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, a state agency tasked with promoting energy efficiency and renewables. The contractors on the list were ostensibly certified to install heat pumps, and James said he called about 10 of them just to figure out what his options were.

Several didn’t respond to his inquiry. A few told him they didn’t do heat pumps. The rest said they could install heat pumps but tried to talk him out of it, explaining that a heat pump would be more expensive than a fuel oil system or a propane furnace, and that he would still need one of those as a backup source of heat.

[Nate Adams, a home performance specialist based in Ohio who goes by the nickname the “House Whisperer,”] said some contractors are afraid of heat pumps because earlier generations of the technology were noisy and didn’t work well in colder temperatures. The technology has come a long way, and new, cold-climate heat pumps work just fine in places like New York, but contractors still perceive them as riskier than traditional systems. “We have 105,000 HVAC contractors across the U.S. that have to be convinced this is a good idea,” said Adams, using the acronym for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

There’s disagreement about heat pump effectiveness even among contractors who recommend the technology. In February, about five months after James’ ordeal, I called several contractors from the same list James consulted and reached Scott Carey, a contractor in Briarcliff, New York, who installs heat pumps for clients and even recently put them in his own house. However, he recommends that his customers keep a back-up source of heat, such as a propane furnace, for when the heat pump periodically goes into defrost mode, running the system in reverse and pumping cold air into the house.

Daphney Warrington, who runs an HVAC company called Breffni Mechanical with her husband in Yonkers, New York, and also installs heat pumps, disagreed — she said there was no need for a backup system unless the homeowner wanted to have one. When asked about James’ trouble finding a contractor, Warrington and Carey offered a similar assessment — a lot of contractors are old school and haven’t stayed up to date with the latest technology. “They still are thinking that heat pumps aren’t for this part of the country,” said Carey.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency and electrification

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Critics warn Massachusetts’ climate progress is headed for traffic jam
Climate advocates and analysts say the state will need to reduce driving if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and that current plans focus too much on vehicle electrification.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 22, 2021

Massachusetts won’t meet its climate goals without getting people to drive less.

That’s the unpopular message from climate advocates and analysts who say the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan draft places too much emphasis on vehicle electrification and all but ignores the critical need to also reduce driving miles.

The number of vehicle miles traveled in the state is on pace to increase by 21% from 2010 to 2030, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for greater Boston. This growth would cause emissions to rise unless all the vehicles in the state achieved an average — and unlikely — efficiency of 29 miles per gallon, the report concludes.

To alter this course, advocates say, state leaders will need to consider implementing congestion pricing, per-mile fees for road usage, or land use policies that make it easier and more attractive to use public transit — ideas that are not currently major parts of the climate plan.

“It leans on electrification of the vehicle fleet, which is obviously a critical pathway to pursue at the policy level,” said Conor Gately, senior land use and transportation analyst for the planning council. “There’s not as much enthusiasm for the land use side of things to reduce underlying demand.”
» Read article               
» Read the MAPC report

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick, Danly spar over gas pipeline reviews as FERC considers project’s climate impacts for first time
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
March 19, 2021

FERC’s decision to consider climate impacts when approving a pipeline certificate marks a significant compromise between Glick and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who had indicated in the weeks leading up to the meeting that he might be willing to consider such factors.

“I give [Chatterjee] a lot of credit,” said Glick. “He approached me a while back and said ‘Hey, I think we can work out some sort of compromise here on this issue.'”

Danly, in his dissent, accused the commission of a “dramatic change” inconsistent with long-standing precedent that the commission does not have the right tools to properly assess the impact of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. Further, he expressed concern that oil and gas companies were not sufficiently involved in the process.

“It appears to me that the financial gas industry and its customers are on the verge of experiencing some dramatic changes in the coming months and years, and we’ve learned that those changes can come from unexpected proceedings,” he said.

FERC’s Thursday meeting followed the commission’s first listening session of the Office of Public Participation, wherein commissioners listened to hours long testimony from landowners and others who had been negatively impacted by gas infrastructure development and, they felt, left out of FERC’s proceedings. Glick pointed out that Danly’s arguments disregard those stakeholders.

“You had suggested that everyone should intervene in all these natural gas pipeline proceedings,” he said. “Well, I would say the same for not just the pipeline companies, but for all the other people that have been screwed by the Commission,” Glick said, calling Danly’s stance “the height of hypocrisy.”

“You were the general counsel, Mr. Danly, when the Commission … without any notice, without telling landowners, without telling people that are concerned about climate change” repeatedly chose not to examine the climate impacts of infrastructure, despite a 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that found that FERC’s environmental impact assessment for pipelines was “inadequate.”

“Absolutely, if you’re a pipeline company, and you want to intervene in a proceeding, go for it … but I would say that everyone else, please you intervene too, because we need to hear your voices as well,” Glick said. “Not just the voices that can afford high-priced Washington D.C. law firms to participate in these proceedings.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


SLAPPed silly: the company promoting the Goldboro LNG plant that Premier Rankin supports is trying to bully its critics into silence
By Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner
March 22, 2021

This weekend, delegates at the Conservative Party of Canada’s national convention rejected a motion that called for the party to acknowledge that “climate change is real.”

Some of the no votes were more nuanced than others, but the gist is that party members don’t want to adopt policies — support for the Paris Accord and carbon taxes, better regulation of emissions from the oil and gas industry — that are necessary to confront the problem. If it means losing votes in the oil fields, they’re against it, the future of the planet be damned.

It’s a reprehensible attitude, but hopefully will have little real-world impact: the CPC is out of power, not even a bit player in the governing minority government, and by voting against the motion, delegates made it that much harder for the party to get back in power.

But it’s an entirely different matter when Iain Rankin, the Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, who is presiding atop a majority government that is setting energy policy for the next several decades, embraces the natural gas industry. Unlike the now powerless CPC, Rankin’s actions can contribute materially to humanity’s failure to confront climate change.

The Pieridae proposal envisions natural gas sourced in Alberta being delivered via new and enlarged pipelines to Nova Scotia, where it will be liquified at the Goldboro plant. That LNG would then be pumped into giant LNG carriers that will carry the LNG across the Atlantic to a new terminal to be built by the energy company Uniper in Wilhelmshaven, Germany; there, the gas will be regasified and distributed to German homes and businesses.

And last night, activists in the US alerted me to yet another possible gas source for the Goldboro plant — natural gas produced by fracking in Western Pennsylvania.

At issue is a now-operating natural gas compressing plant in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As WBUR, the NPR station in Boston, explained it in October:

The 7,700-horsepower Weymouth compressor [emphasis added] is part of a larger gas pipeline plan called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The purpose of the project is to make it easier for “fracked” natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of Western Pennsylvania to get to northern New England and Canada, and it does this by connecting two existing pipeline systems: the Algonquin Gas Transmission, which flows from New Jersey into Massachusetts, and the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which flows from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, Canada.
» Read article                
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 1           
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 2             

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Springfield City Council enlists Conservation Law Foundation in fight against Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
March 23, 2021


The Springfield City Council will challenge Palmer Renewable Energy’s decade-old building permit with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation of Boston.

At issue is councilors’ contention that the 2011 permit expired because construction has not begun at the proposed $150 million, 35-megawatt power plant. They say any construction now would require a new special use permit under a 2013 city ordinance.

The appeal will be filed this week — possibly Wednesday — with the Springfield Zoning Board. Whatever side loses at the Zoning Board can appeal to one of several courts after that.

“The people of Springfield seem largely opposed (to the plant),” said Johannes Epke, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “We had a unanimous vote of the city council (Monday) night. If the city council and the people of Springfield cannot make these developers come in for a special permit and explain to the city why this is a beneficial use, there is a real problem in the operation of zoning and building enforcement.”

Building permits require construction to commence within six months, Epke said.

The appeal isn’t costing the council, or the city, anything to pursue, Epke said. The Conservation Law Foundation is “happy” to advocate on the council’s behalf, he said.
» Read article                

Dutch to limit forest biomass subsidies, possibly signaling EU sea change
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
March 9, 2021

The Dutch Parliament in February voted to disallow the issuing of new subsidies for 50 planned forest biomass-for-heat plants, a small, but potentially key victory for researchers and activists who say that the burning of forests to make energy is not only not carbon neutral, but is dirtier than burning coal and bad climate policy.

With public opinion opposing forest biomass as a climate solution now growing in the EU, the decision by the Netherlands could be a bellwether. In June, the EU will review its Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

Currently, forest biomass burning to make energy is ruled as carbon neutral in the EU, even though a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that it takes many decades until forests regrow for carbon neutrality to be achieved.

The forestry industry, which continues to see increasing demand for wood pellets, argues that biomass burning is environmentally sustainable and a viable carbon cutting solution compared to coal.
» Read article                

» More about biomass                 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

My Team Found 2,000 Plastic Bags Inside A Dead Camel
By Marcus Eriksen, Bloomberg | Opinion, in NDTV
March 24, 2021

Digging between the ribs of a dead camel buried in the sands of Dubai, I couldn’t believe what my colleagues and I found: a mass of plastic bags as big as a large suitcase. At least 2,000 plastic bags were lumped together where the animal’s stomach would have been.

We had been led to the site by Ulrich Wernery of the Dubai-based Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, who knew we were researching floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region. After two decades at sea, I thought I had seen it all. We had traveled from the Arctic to the Antarctic, publishing research on plastic pollution across all the oceans’ garbage patches. We found plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. We have seen albatrosses full of plastic on Midway Atoll, fish with microplastics in their stomachs and California sea lions with nooses of fishing line around their necks.

But the camels were a whole new level of appalling. Our team of scientists documented that more than 300 camels in the Dubai region had died because they ate humans’ trash, accounting for 1% of dead camels evaluated there since 2008. Unlike other research that might examine animals in a laboratory, this was a field study with concentrations of plastic trash that exist in the environment. It is a real-world tragedy with ecologically relevant concentrations of trash.

Imagine having 50 plastic bags in your stomach that you could not digest, causing ulcers and tremendous discomfort and the feeling that you’re full all the time. You can’t and don’t eat any food. This is what happens to camels, and it results in intestinal bleeding, blockages, dehydration, malnutrition and death.

Much of the world still perceives plastic pollution as a problem limited to the ocean. Last month, U.N. Secretary General Antnio Guterres opened the gathering of the United Nations Environmental Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making body, by warning that the “oceans are filling with plastic,” and left it at that.

This is wrong. The camels are only the latest casualties occurring in all environments on this planet due to plastic. Researchers have also observed death and suffering in animals from elephants to reindeer. They have found plastic fragments in farmland, food and drinking water. Another recent report drawing on the results of more than 30 studies calls attention to the damage that a chemical found in plastic may do to babies’ brains. Plastic has even been seen in Earth’s orbit.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING


John Oliver Takes on the Plastics Industry
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 23, 2021

In his latest deep dive for Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver took on plastic pollution and, specifically, the myth that if we all just recycled enough, the problem would go away.

Instead, Oliver argued, this is a narrative that has been intentionally pushed by the plastics industry for decades. He cited the [iconic] 1970 Keep America Beautiful ad, which showed a Native American man (really an Italian American actor) crying as a hand tossed litter from a car window. Keep America Beautiful, Oliver pointed out, was partly funded by plastics-industry trade group SPI.

“Which might seem odd until you realize that the underlying message there is, ‘It’s up to you, the consumer, to stop pollution,'” Oliver said. “And that has been a major through line in the recycling movement, a movement often bankrolled by companies that wanted to drill home the message that it is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products.”
» Read article              
» Watch ‘Last Week Tonight’ video (viewer discretion advised)

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 2/12/21

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Welcome back.

Even as the fossil fuel industry pushes out ever more pipelines, a new report from the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor predicts they’re building what will amount to a trillion dollars worth of stranded pipeline assets worldwide. Meanwhile, we’re watching the strong push to shut down the Dakota Access and stop Enbridge’s Line 5.

In a significant climate action, the Paris administrative court found that France has “failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.”  This decision is impactful, and should put other governments on notice that emissions goals must actually be met.

We offer two reports on greening the economy that highlight some of the damage and inequities caused by the current, fossil-based model. Taken together, these stories underscore the need to address environmental and economic justice during the clean energy transition, while they also debunk industry claims of potential job losses as we move away from fuels.

In legislative news, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has sent the climate roadmap bill back to the legislature with suggested amendments. Senator Barrett and Representative Golden report that they see some common ground.

Worldwide efforts to mitigate climate change are falling far short of what’s needed. A new study warns that pledges to cut emissions must be scaled up by 80% to keep warming below the dangerous 2°C threshold. Meanwhile, a planned Swedish balloon flight in June has alarmed environmental groups, who think this may be a trial-run for a future planet-cooling geoengineering experiment – releasing reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to mimic the effect of large volcanic eruptions.

Danny Jin, ace reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, posted an excellent article explaining what “peaker” power plants are, and highlighting Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to replace these polluting plants with clean energy alternatives. We offer a second article in this section describing a new study on achieving carbon-free America by 2050, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

One of Governor Baker’s amendments to the climate roadmap bill involves energy efficiency requirements for buildings, and a proposed net-zero stretch code that municipalities could opt into. This is a contentious issue, with climate and social activists, architects, building efficiency experts, and many municipal leaders lined up on one side, and building industry trade groups dug in on the other. We’ve spotted a lot of industry-generated misinformation in the press, and offer this well-researched editorial as a helpful explainer.

We’re always happy to post reports on new energy efficient building materials – ones that can be more sustainably sourced, have superior insulating or vapor sealing properties, or carry less embodied carbon from their manufacture. This week, we consider bricks made from mushrooms!

Our energy storage news lines up nicely with BEAT’s campaign to retire polluting fossil peaker power plants. San Fransisco battery storage company Plus Power has won two bids on the ISO-New England electricity capacity market, and will build very large batteries to provide clean power during peak demand periods – eliminating the need for some of those polluting fossil peakers. This is big news because it’s the first win for large-scale battery storage in New England, and shows that clean power is now economically competitive.

The electric vehicle revolution is coming to big rigs, but deployment of these heavy haulers will be slowed by an initial shortage of batteries. Meanwhile, Tesla and others are gearing up a range of products that should be fleet-ready when battery production catches up.

Today, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, who opposed the expansion of a compressor station in Agawam. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in 2019 without considering the climate impact of emissions from the additional natural gas conveyed by the “improvement”. FERC has new leadership under the Biden administration, and has expressed interest in accounting for upstream/downstream emissions from fossil infrastructure projects. In a related story, FERC is reckoning with the legacy of environmental racism that underpinned so many of its past decisions.

The fossil fuel industry is having difficulty addressing the climate emergency in ways that rise to the actual transformative challenge before them. With few exceptions, most industry efforts look more like rebranding exercises than serious attempts to change the business model. Meanwhile, Big Gas has settled on your gas range as the ideal emotional hook to keep you from disconnecting that pipe.

We’re waiting to see if President Biden’s new EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, will continue his opposition to biomass. In 2019, when he served as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, he said, “I don’t see a future in wood pellets.” With Governor Baker wobbling on whether to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard – which would green-light construction of the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield – we hope Administrator Regan makes his point loud and clear and soon.

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

PIPELINES

DAPL loses surety bond
$1 Trillion in Oil and Gas Pipelines Worldwide Could Become Stranded Assets, New Report Warns
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
February 4, 2021

On January 7, 2021, Energy Transfer was notified by its insurer, Westchester Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that it had lost a $250,000 surety bond for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) — a bond that Iowa, one of the four states it passes through, required the pipeline to maintain.

That loss of insurance coverage comes as the Biden administration and a federal court each must confront a decision about whether to order DAPL to shut down, after a federal appeals court last week upheld a lower court’s finding that the oil pipeline still lacks a completed environmental review. Financial observers have been watching DAPL closely — and a new report warns that DAPL is hardly alone in the oil and gas pipeline industry in facing major financial risks linked to projects’ environmental impacts.

“Dakota Access Pipeline has no federal easement. It’s now losing insurance coverage on the state-level which is a requirement for Iowa’s state permit,” the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a January 29 statement. “It’s time to end this saga and do what’s right.”

Environmentalists predicted that the lost insurance coverage could be difficult for Energy Transfer to replace, particularly given DAPL’s incomplete federal review. “It will be difficult because the bond holder will require the pipeline to comply with all legal requirements,” attorney Carolyn Raffensperger, director of the Science and Health Network, told DeSmog. “If it is operating without a permit, any spill would be a big, big legal problem.”

But as consequential as the DAPL fight — which has raged for roughly a half-decade — might be, Dakota Access is just one of hundreds of pipelines worldwide that a new report finds are at risk of early abandonment because they’re “on a collision course” with climate agreements.

The report, titled “Pipeline Bubble 2021” and published by the climate data nonprofit Global Energy Monitor, warns that pipeline construction projects worldwide have put $1 trillion worth of pipeline investment at risk of being rendered obsolete by the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             
» Read “Pipeline Bubble 2021” report 

request for more time
Biden administration asks for more time to decide whether to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
February 9, 2021

The Biden administration is asking for more time to decide the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In a filing late Monday, the government asked a court to postpone a conference on the status of the pipeline for 58 days while it gets new officials up to speed on the case.

“Department of Justice personnel require time to brief the new administration officials and those officials will need sufficient time to learn the background of and familiarize themselves with this lengthy and detailed litigation,” the government said.

It asked for the Feb. 10 conference to be moved to April 9.

The government’s motion was opposed by Dakota Access LLC, but was not opposed by the tribes who sued over the pipeline.

Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government should have conducted an environmental impact statement before going forward with the pipeline and vacated easements granted for its construction to cross federally owned land.

However, it did not go as far as a lower court, which had previously ordered the pipeline shut down, leaving that decision up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

The court also left room for additional litigation to potentially shut down the pipeline if the USACE decides against it.

The pipeline, which carries oil from North Dakota to Illinois, has drawn significant opposition from environmentalists and tribes over the years who have cited threats to drinking water and sacred sites. It has spurred massive protests.
» Read article
» Read related article

select alternate route
In pushing for Line 5 shutdown, Bad River Band points to alternative route
The Chippewa tribe in northern Wisconsin says Enbridge could reduce the risk to the Great Lakes by diverting Line 5 oil to another line that runs south to Illinois.
By Patrick Shea, Energy News Network
Photo By U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
February 4, 2021

As legal battles continue over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, tribal leaders in Wisconsin say the company is ignoring a safer alternative that’s already in the ground — though the company disagrees.

“The notion that Enbridge is somehow going to be stranded without Line 5 is ludicrous,” said Mike Wiggins, tribal chair for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation on the south shore of Lake Superior is crossed by Line 5.

The 30-inch pipeline originates in Superior, Wisconsin, and carries crude oil 645 miles across Wisconsin and Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently ordered Enbridge to shut down the pipeline where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac, citing risk to the Great Lakes.

As the company seeks permits for its proposed reroute south of the reservation, Bad River Band leaders say the company is failing to acknowledge the potential to decommission the 67-year-old pipeline altogether and divert its contents through other routes.

Line 5 is part of a network of Enbridge pipelines called the Lakehead System. As Line 5 cuts east and then south around Lake Michigan, Line 61 runs south from Superior into Illinois before connecting with smaller lines that cross Indiana and Michigan and ultimately reach the same destination: Sarnia, Ontario.

Line 61 is newer and larger — the 42-inch pipeline was completed in 2009 and has already undergone multiple upgrades and expansions. The line carries about 996,000 barrels per day to Pontiac, Illinois — about 75% of its capacity.

“The elephant in the room is that Enbridge has invested heavily in their route from Superior down through Chicago,” Wiggins said, in contrast with Line 5, which he calls “the forgotten pipe.”

The environmental risk posed by the pipeline was highlighted in August 2019 when tribal officials discovered 49 feet of Line 5 unearthed less than 5 miles from Lake Superior. The pipeline itself has contributed to the erosion of a steep bank as an oxbow is forming, according to a February 2020 report from the Bad River Natural Resources Department.

The report also cited major storm events in recent years as a cause for concern, which climatologists project to increase in frequency and severity. “We know that the next massive storm system could potentially shear Enbridge’s pipe right in the Bad River, pumping oil into Lake Superior,” Wiggins said. “We’re concerned every day.”

Shutting down Line 5 and relying exclusively on Line 61 would keep the pipeline far away from the Bad River Reservation, and would reduce the risk of a spill in the Great Lakes or anywhere by retiring Line 5’s aging pipes.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

France found guilty
Campaigners Claim ‘Historic Win’ as France Found Guilty of Climate Inaction
By Isabella Kaminski, DeSmog Blog
February 3, 2021

The French state has been found guilty of climate inaction in what campaigners have dubbed “the case of the century”.

Today the Paris administrative court concluded France has failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.

France is the third European country where legal action by campaigners has highlighted significant failings in state action on climate change and forced politicians to act, after the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands in 2019 and the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in the national Climate Case last year.

Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of Greenpeace France – one of the four NGOs bringing the case – described the ruling as a “historic win for climate justice”.

“This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts,” she said.

“For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts.”

LAffaire du Siècle (case of the century), as it was described by NGOs was brought by Greenpeace France, together with Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire à Tous, in December 2018.

The groups filed a legal complaint, saying France was not on track to meet its then target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, its minimum commitment as an EU member. Since then, this target has been raised to 55 percent for all EU member states, but it is not yet clear how President Emmanuel Macron will deliver this given France’s track record on cutting emissions.

France’s own High Council on Climate has analysed the country’s progress and found it lacking, with emissions substantially exceeding the first two carbon budgets. France had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 percent each year, but they fell by only 0.9 percent from 2018 to 2019. The Climate Change Performance Index also shows France’s climate progress slowing, with limited advances in increasing the share of renewables and in decarbonising transport.

The court judgment ruled that: “Consequently, the state must be regarded as having ignored the first carbon budget and did not carry out the actions that it itself had recognised as being necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

dirty divide
America’s dirty divide: how environmental racism leaves the vulnerable behind
The health effects caused by decades of systemic racism are staggering. The Guardian is launching a year-long series to investigate
By Frida Garza, The Guardian
February 11, 2021

The climate crisis has forced many people to consider what they would do if the places they call home became unlivable in their lifetimes. But in the US, certain vulnerable communities – especially Black and Indigenous populations – have been fighting for the right to clean, safe, healthy environments for generations.

Decades of systemic racism mean that in the richest country in the world, access to clean air, clean water, and proper sanitation are not a given.

The health effects of these inequalities are staggering. Black Americans are 75% more likely to live in close proximity to oil and gas facilities, which emit toxic air pollutants; as a result, these communities often suffer from higher rates of cancer and asthma. Researchers have found that Black children are twice as likely to develop asthma as their peers.

There has long been a lack of political will to protect the communities most harmed by pollution – and the climate crisis could exacerbate these inequalities, as well as create new ones.

That is why today the Guardian is launching America’s Dirty Divide, a year-long series that will delve into US environmental racism and its history. And we are partnering with Nexus Media, a non-profit news service that focuses on climate change, to produce video documentaries about environmental justice issues.

America’s Dirty Divide will examine environmental justice issues in three areas: pollution and waste; the uneven impacts of a warming planet; and climate events such as hurricanes and flooding, and the often inequitable recovery efforts that follow.
» Read article               

fracking jobs bust
Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 11, 2021

The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region’s extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry’s promise of prosperity has “turned into almost nothing,” according to a new report.

The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.

The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region’s natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.

Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region’s share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country.

Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.

“What’s really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region’s natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better,” said Sean O’Leary, the report’s author.
» Read article           
» Read the report             

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

suggested S9 amendments
Baker takes more conciliatory tone on climate change bill
Sends it back with amendments, drops objection on offshore wind
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 7, 2021

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER sent the Legislature’s twice-passed climate change bill back on Sunday with new, compromise language that strikes a more conciliatory tone and dials back some of his earlier objections.

When the Legislature first passed the bill in early January at the end of the last legislative session, the governor could only approve or reject it. He rejected it, raising concerns about its costly emissions target for 2030, its separate emission targets for six industry subsectors, its offshore wind procurements, its support for community energy codes that could deter the production of affordable housing, and the narrowness of its environmental justice provisions.

Lawmakers, irked by the administration’s attitude, responded by passing the same bill again and sending it back to Baker. But administration officials and legislative leaders over the last three weeks also began talking, trying to sort out their differences. “We did try to find areas of common ground,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

Baker on Sunday returned the bill to the Legislature with an accompanying letter that was much less strident in tone than his earlier veto message. In the letter, Baker withdrew some of his earlier objections and proposed amendments that compromised on others.

The initial reception from legislative leaders was cautious optimism. They indicated they would likely not agree with the governor on everything, but would accept some of his amendments.

Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the House’s point person on the legislation, said the governor’s amendments will get a fair shot. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on the legislation, seemed receptive. He said a number of Baker’s technical amendments improved the bill and welcomed the fact that the critical tone of last session’s veto letter was missing from Sunday’s letter outlining proposed amendments.

“There will be disagreements there, but I liked the new theme,” Barrett said.
» Read article             
» Read Gov. Baker’s letter and suggested amendments

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

current trends inadequate
Study Warns Emissions Cuts Must Be 80% More Ambitious to Meet Even the Dangerously Inadequate 2°C Target
“And as if 2°C rather than 1.5°C was acceptable,” responded Greta Thunberg, calling the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 11, 2021

A new study warns that countries’ pledges to reduce planet-heating emissions as part of the global effort to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement must be dramatically scaled up to align with even the deal’s less ambitious target of keeping temperature rise below 2°C—though preferably 1.5°C—by the end of the century.

A pair of researchers at the University of Washington found that the country-based rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts should increase by 80% beyond current nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—the term for each nation’s pledge under the Paris agreement—to meet the 2°C target.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, adds to the mountain of evidence that since the Paris agreement—which also has a bolder 1.5°C target—was adopted in late 2015, countries around the world have not done enough to limit human-caused global heating.

“On current trends, the probability of staying below 2°C of warming is only 5%, but if all countries meet their nationally determined contributions and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, it rises to 26%,” the study says. “If the USA alone does not meet its nationally determined contribution, it declines to 18%.”

“To have an even chance of staying below 2°C,” the study continues, “the average rate of decline in emissions would need to increase from the 1% per year needed to meet the nationally determined contributions, to 1.8% per year.”

Greta Thunberg of the youth-led climate movement Fridays for Future called the findings further evidence “that our so-called ‘climate targets’ are insufficient.”
» Read article             

trial balloonBalloon test flight plan under fire over solar geoengineering fears
Swedish environmental groups warn test flight could be first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology
By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
February 8, 2021

A proposed scientific balloon flight in northern Sweden has attracted opposition from environmental groups over fears it could lead to the use of solar geoengineering to cool the Earth and combat the climate crisis by mimicking the effect of a large volcanic eruption.

In June, a team of Harvard scientists is planning to launch a high-altitude balloon from Kiruna in Lapland to test whether it can carry equipment for a future small-scale experiment on radiation-reflecting particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

An independent advisory committee will rule on whether to approve the balloon test flight by 15 February. Swedish environmental groups have written to the government and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) to voice their opposition.

In the letters, seen by the Guardian, organisations including the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Greenpeace Sweden and Friends of the Earth Sweden said that while the balloon flight scheduled for June does not involve the release of particles, it could be the first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology.

Stratospheric aerosols are a key component of solar geoengineering technology that some have proposed as a plan B for controlling the Earth’s temperature if the climate crisis makes conditions intolerable and governments do not take sufficient action.

Studies have found that widespread adoption of solar geoengineering could be inexpensive and safer than some fear. But critics argue the consequences of its use are not well understood and stratospheric aerosol injections (SAI) on a large scale could damage the ozone layer, cause heating in the stratosphere and disrupt ecosystems.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar clean peak
When power most needed, ‘peaker’ polluters fire up in Berkshires. Should that continue?
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 7, 2021

When electricity demand peaks, dirtier fuels enter the power grid.

Though they run just a small fraction of the time, “peaker” power plants often fire up on the hottest days of summer or the coldest days of winter. And when they are on, they typically are among the worst polluters.

Local climate advocates have started a push to convert three Berkshire peakers to cleaner alternatives.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team wants the plants to switch to using renewable energy and battery storage. To make that pitch, it’s seeking to build a coalition that already includes the Berkshire NAACP branch’s environmental justice committee, Masspirg Students, Indivisible Pittsfield and a number of local climate action groups.

“We want to create a large community of opposition to these plants and build this movement together,” said Berkshire Environmental Action Team Executive Director Jane Winn, who said at a recent online presentation that people can sign on to the petition through tinyurl.com/PeakerPetition.

Peakers tend to be located where relatively more people of color and low-income residents live, Winn said. The plants emit greenhouse gases that increase risks for respiratory ailments and contribute to climate change.

Pittsfield Generating, on Merrill Road, runs primarily on natural gas. In 2019, it emitted 39,176.89 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 6.65 metric tons of nitrous oxide while operating just under 6 percent of the time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plant is adjacent to Allendale Elementary School and is near Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state considers an “environmental justice” neighborhood.

Peakers on Doreen Street in Pittsfield and Woodland Road in Lee run on kerosene. While they each run just 0.1 percent of the time, the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants emitted 152.77 metric tons and 54.03 metric tons of carbon dioxide, respectively, in 2019, according to the EPA.

The Doreen Street site is near Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road borders October Mountain State Forest.

The peakers on Doreen and Woodland once were owned by Essential Power, which was acquired in 2016 by Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix, which includes Doreen in its list of projects but not Woodland.

Cogentrix did not respond to an inquiry regarding the two plants.

Pittsfield Generating is operated by PurEnergy LLC, a subsidiary of NAES and Japanese company Itochu. PurEnergy did not respond to an inquiry.

With Pittsfield Generating’s air permit set to expire this year (Doreen and Woodland are so old that the Clean Air Act does not apply to them), now is the time for the community to reckon with the plant’s impacts, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team said.

Six New York peakers recently began a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and storage, and advancements in battery technology might allow more peakers to do so.
» Read article             
» Sign petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaker plants

big switch
Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050
America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
February 11, 2021

The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.
» Read article             
» Read the study              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

condos under construction
Will developers block clean energy standards?
State must not allow builders off the hook
By Joan Fitzgerald and Greg Coppola, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 11, 2021

LATE IN THE last session, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a landmark climate bill targeting zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandating several mechanisms to achieve the goal. Gov. Baker vetoed the bill on the ground that it would make construction too expensive, echoing concerns raised by contractors and developers. The Legislature then passed the identical bill in late January and Baker has sent it back with amendments that will let developers off the hook on moving quickly to high-efficiency building standards. Although the language in the bill could use some clarification, these standards should be non-negotiable.

The legislation would require the state to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This goal would be achieved by increasing energy-efficiency requirements in transportation, buildings, and appliances; and increased reliance on offshore wind and solar power. A key provision would allow cities and towns to adopt net zero codes—meaning that a building is very energy efficient and completely powered by renewable energy produced either on- or off-site. But this aroused the opposition of real estate interests. Both NAIOP (the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, came out against the legislation. (On an array of issues, including rent control, the strategy of developers and landlords has been to use state law to block home rule.)

The irony of the veto is that the climate bill builds on existing policies enacted under Baker, though it does add more teeth. The Commonwealth’s current three-year energy efficiency plan, governing measures from 2019-2021includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing to build to passive house standards.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which is now open for public comment, will be adopted soon. It calls for the Department of Energy Resources to develop a high-performance stretch energy code in 2021 for submission to the Board of Building Review and Standards for cities and towns to adopt in 2022.

Many state and city programs are supporting these policies. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, has subsidized several successful projects to acquaint developers with the techniques of highly efficient buildings. Currently, Mass Save offers certification and performance incentives to builders and developers of residential buildings of five or more units and offers 50 percent registration reimbursements for certification courses on construction techniques for achieving the passive house standard. Last year, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development added bonus points into its scoring system for developers in its Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program if they build projects to passive house standard. Cambridge’s 2015 Net Zero Action Plan provides a 25-year roadmap to achieving a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2040.

The terminology of green buildings can be confusing for those not engaged in the policy. It all started with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Although its various levels of certification prevail in many cities, it is not the standard to get us to net-zero carbon by 2050. For that, cities and states need to move to passive house, net zero emissions, or zero net energy (ZNE), which are complementary standards. Buildings meeting these standards produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and save their owners money on utilities over time.

The passive house standard can reduce the need for heating by up to 90 percent, while increasing construction costs by no more than 3 percent, on average.

Net zero emission standards require buildings to offset any emissions they produce through carbon removal processes, such as investing in forest restoration projects or direct air capture and storage. A zero-net energy building produces enough renewable energy onsite or offsite to equal to the annual energy consumption of the building. These buildings can produce surplus renewable energy that feeds back to regional electrical grid.

Massachusetts developers are finding all three standards cost efficient. In Fall River, the 50,600-square foot Bristol Community College John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building was constructed in 2016 to ZNE standards without impacting its $31.5 million construction budget. The Commonwealth’s largest net-zero emissions building is the 273,000 square foot complex of the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge. The complex, comprising two school buildings, a library, and two outdoor swimming pools generates 60 percent of its energy onsite from solar and geothermal sources.

These are not just one-off examples. Nationwide, all three standards are becoming more common.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency             

ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDING MATERIALS

mushroom brickOne day, your home could be made with mushrooms
Mushrooms bricks could replace concrete
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 2, 2021

Mushrooms are helping architects and engineers solve one the world’s biggest crises: climate change. These fungi are durable, biodegradable, and are proving to be a good alternative to more polluting materials.

“Our built environment needs these kinds of materials,” says David Benjamin, founding principal architect at the firm The Living. “Different countries have really ambitious climate change goals, and this material could really help jump-start some of that progress.”

Building materials and construction make up about a tenth of global carbon dioxide emissions. That’s way more than the global shipping and aviation industries combined. And the problem is getting worse.

Materials made with mycelium, the fungal network from which mushrooms grow, might be able to help turn that around. They produce far less planet-heating carbon dioxide than traditional materials like cement. An added bonus is that mushrooms are biodegradable, so they leave behind less harmful waste than traditional building materials. Mushrooms can even help with clean-up efforts, feeding off things that might have otherwise ended up in a landfill, like sawdust or agricultural waste.
» Watch video          

» More about energy efficient building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

NE big storage arrivesPlus Power Breaks Open Market for Massive Batteries in New England
Large standalone battery plants had not succeeded in New England’s capacity market. Until now.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
February 11, 2021

Battery plants have established themselves in the sunny Southwest, but this week was the first time they won big in New England.

San Francisco-based developer Plus Power won two bids in the latest capacity auction held by the New England ISO, which operates the transmission grid and competitive power markets in six Northeastern states. That means that these two battery plants offered a compelling enough price to edge out some fossil fuel plants for delivering power on demand. And they did it without any help from federal tax credits because none of them apply to standalone batteries.

Plus Power now needs to build the plants: a 150-megawatt/300-megawatt-hour system near a cranberry bog south of Boston, Massachusetts and a 175-megawatt/350-megawatt-hour battery in Gorham, Maine. The seven-year capacity contracts start in June 2024.

New England has seen a build-out of smaller batteries. Some have been acquired by municipal utilities willing to get out in front of a grid trend. Others are supported by the Massachusetts SMART program, which incentivizes the addition of batteries at distributed solar projects.

But until now, no standalone battery had won in the competitive capacity auctions opened to energy storage by ISO-NE’s implementation of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 841, and no batteries above the 100-megawatt threshold had been built in the region.

“There’s no mandate, there’s no emergency procurement, there’s no grant program,” Plus Power General Manager Brandon Keefe said. In that light, the company’s capacity market wins represent “the market working and storage winning.”
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

e-trucks trickle in
2021: When electric trucks trickle in
Political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The question is whether manufacturers, fleets and infrastructure are ready for the change.
By Jim Stinson, Utility Dive
February 8, 2021

Electric trucks will accelerate on delivery, research and absorption into fleets in 2021, even though experts doubt more than a few Class 8 trucks will be delivered to carriers.

The electric truck is a crucial part of government and fleet plans to help decrease emissions. But implementation in the United States has been slow. In August, Wood Mackenzie estimated just over 2,000 electric trucks were in service at the end of 2019. The research firm said by 2025, the electric truck fleet will grow to 54,000.

The political winds and consumer tastes favor a change in how trucks are fueled. The new administration seems eager to help make the transition, and President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise of net-zero emissions in the U.S. no later than 2050.

Analysts said they don’t believe 2021 will be the year a notable percentage — say, 5% or 10% — of Class 8 trucks become electric, but some predict this will be the year the change begins.

“I think 2020, last year, was the year of commitments,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. “If everybody says they will do what they say will do, this will happen pretty fast.”

Roeth noted the pipeline for new electric trucks is slow in providing what fleets may want. That means what 2021 sees in the implementation of commercial electric vehicles won’t be a flood — more like a trickle. But that will allow fleets to begin gaining experience with electric trucks: How to charge them, and learning the logistics of charging and range limits.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC in the dock
Environmental Groups Sue Federal Regulators Over Western Mass. Pipeline Plan
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
February 12, 2021

Environmental groups are challenging a federal agency’s decision to allow natural gas expansion in central Massachusetts, arguing legal precedent — and a change in regulatory leadership — is on their side.

On Friday, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from two groups opposed to the proposed expansion of a compressor station in Agawam, which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved in 2019.

The project in question is a proposal from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC — a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan — to build 2.1 miles of new natural gas pipeline and replace two small compressors with a larger unit at its Agawam site. The company says these upgrades will allow it to deliver more natural gas for distribution in the greater Springfield area, and as such, “alleviate capacity-constrained New England gas markets.”

Opponents of the project, meanwhile, want the panel of appellate judges to nullify the permit issued by FERC, saying the project will contribute to climate change,  prolong our dependence of fossil fuels, and harm local residents by increasing pollution in an area already known for poor air quality and pose public safety risks. They also argue that FERC violated federal law and disregarded legal precedent by allowing the project to move forward.

“The National Environmental Policy Act requires FERC to meaningfully evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production and transportation projects,” wrote petitioners, Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Food & Water Watch, in court documents.
» Read article       

EJ arrives at FERC
FERC Chairman Acts to Ensure Prominent FERC Role for Environmental Justice
By FERC
February 11, 2021

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick today announced plans to better incorporate environmental justice and equity concerns into the Commission’s decision-making process by creating a new senior position to coordinate that work.

“I believe that the Commission should more aggressively fulfill its responsibilities to ensure our decisions don’t unfairly impact historically marginalized communities,” Glick said.

Glick said he will have more details about the new environmental justice position at a future date. But he stressed that this will be a cross-cutting position, and that the person who fills the job will be charged with working with the experts in all FERC program offices to integrate environmental justice and equity matters into Commission decisions.

“This position is not just a title,” Glick said. “I intend to do what it takes to empower this new position to ensure that environmental justice and equity concerns finally get the attention they deserve.”
» Read article       
» Read E&E News background article from 7/31/20         

» More about FERC

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Total rebrand
Oil companies don’t want to be known for oil anymore
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 12, 2021

In a speech to his board of directors on Monday, Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of French oil giant Total, announced that the company planned to change its name to TotalEnergies. He said the new name would anchor the company’s transformation into a “broad energy company,” and went on to describe the renewable energy assets Total added to its portfolio over the last year, including a stake in the largest solar developer in the world.

If approved by the company’s investors, Total’s name change would be the latest in a round of oil company makeovers that have accompanied a flurry of climate pledges over the past year. Last February, when BP announced its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, it said its new purpose was “reimagining energy.” It later claimed it was pivoting from “international oil company” to “integrated energy company.” In December, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, which also set a net-zero target, said in an interview that it was transitioning toward becoming a “carbon management company,” in reference to its investment in a facility that will suck CO2 out of the air.

Oil companies have been trying to rebrand themselves as cleaner and greener for years. BP famously changed its tagline to Beyond Petroleum in 2000 to advertise its move into solar and wind energy — then it caused the most disastrous oil spill in American history in 2010 and shed many of its renewable energy assets in the aftermath. In 2010, Chevron launched a campaign called “We Agree,” with advertisements that said things like “It’s time oil companies get behind renewable energy,” followed by the words “We agree” in red letters. Then it sold off its renewable energy subsidiary four years later. Exxon has been advertising its research into algae-based fuel since 2009, but over the past decade has only spent around $300 million on said research, or the equivalent of about 1 percent of its capital budget for 2020.

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Brown University who has studied the industry’s disinformation campaigns for years, told Grist that these greenwashing efforts come in cycles, with companies increasing this kind of promotion in response to political shifts. “By running this sort of campaign, they hope to convince policy makers and the general public that there is no need for legislation,” he said in an email.

Is anything different this time? “It’s certainly a reflection of an enormous amount of pressure on these companies,” said Kathy Mulvey, the climate accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, citing pressure from shareholders, the divestment movement, lawsuits, and the prospect of new policies under the Biden administration.
» Read article              
» Obtain the Brown University study on fossil fuel corporate greenwashing

breaking up is hard to do
How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves
And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones
February 11, 2021

In early 2020, Wilson Truong posted on the NextDoor social media platform—where users can send messages to a group in their neighborhood—in a Culver City, California, community. Writing as if he were a resident of the Fox Hills neighborhood, Truong warned the group members that their city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage natural gas lines in newly built homes and businesses. In a message with the subject line “Culver City banning gas stoves?” Truong wrote: “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote about the glass stovetop, which uses a magnetic field to heat pans. Another user, Laura, was nearly incoherent in her outrage. “No way,” she wrote, “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

What these commenters didn’t know was that Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all. He was writing in his role as account manager for the public relations firm Imprenta Communications Group. Imprenta’s client was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES), a front group for SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, working to fend off state initiatives to limit the future use of gas in buildings. C4BES had tasked Imprenta with exploring how social media platforms, including NextDoor, could be used to foment community opposition to electrification.

The NextDoor incident is just one of many examples of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to garner public support for their fuel. As more municipalities have moved to phase gas lines out of new buildings to cut down on methane emissions, gas utilities have gone on the defensive, launching anti-electrification campaigns across the country.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Michael S Regan
Will new US EPA head continue his opposition to burning forests for energy?
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
February 4, 2021

“I don’t see a future in wood pellets,” Michael S. Regan told me when we spoke late in 2019 while he was serving as head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Today, Regan is President Joe Biden’s choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator; he’s very likely to be confirmed this week by the Senate with bipartisan support. And his words, if put into practice, could have a profound impact on the future of forest biomass — the burning of trees, turned into wood pellets, to make energy on a vast industrial scale — bringing about a major shift in U.S. and potentially international energy policy.

With his administration not even a month old, President Biden is moving swiftly to regain a global leadership role for the United States in climate change mitigation. A portion of that effort could revolve around the U.S. ability to influence international and United Nations policy regarding biomass-for-energy.

Under Donald Trump, biomass burning got favorable treatment. But now, under Biden and Regan, it seems plausible that the nation will follow the lead of current science, which has clearly debunked an earlier mistaken claim of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.

This is what Michael Regan, 44 and an eastern North Carolina native, said on the topic in a late 2019 interview, long before his EPA appointment (parts of that interview were featured in a series of articles in the Raleigh News & Observer): “I am not shy about saying [that Democratic N.C.] Gov. [Roy] Cooper and I believe in a clean energy, renewable energy future for the state that has the lowest emissions profile,” he said. “That’s going to be driven by technology, business models, new ways of thinking about things. I don’t see a future in wood pellets.”

At the time, Cooper set a goal to reduce North Carolina’s emissions by 70% by 2030 over a 2005 baseline, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Regan added that he saw no role for biomass in North Carolina’s energy future, even though his state is among the nation’s largest producers of wood pellets, exporting some 2.5 million tons annually, mostly to the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU). There the pellets are burned in former coal-fired power stations to make electricity; biomass accounts for nearly 60% of the EU’s “renewable” energy mix.
» Read article             

RMLD GM O’Brien defends Palmer plant energy purchase
By BOB HOLMES, Daily Times Chronicle
February 9, 2021

READING – For Coleen O’Brien, it was much like a trip to the grocery store. As the Reading Municipal Light Department’s General Manager, she was shopping for renewable energy for the four towns RMLD serves. She had her list, and biomass was on it, right there in RMLD Policy 30.

On this shopping trip last February, she came home with a 20-year commitment to buy power from a wood-burning biomass facility in Springfield. What seemed like a good idea to O’Brien at the time, has gone south fast.

Since entering into the agreement with the Palmer plant, and especially in recent months, the plant and RMLD’s connection to it has been a growing source of controversy. Protest over the proposed plant goes back years, most of it focused on the air pollution it would bring to an area already dealing with asthma brought on by poor air quality.

The purchase wasn’t the only problem. The process was as well because the RMLD Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) were left out of the decision to buy power from the Palmer plant.

When the Board of Commissioners was informed of the commitment in October, protest followed. That protest has grown recently after the Department of Energy Resources proposed amendments in December that relaxed state regulations. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Senator Jason Lewis, and the Reading Select Board all have expressed opposition to the plant and asked for a public hearing on the DOER amendments. RMLD is taking heat for supporting the plant by purchasing 25 percent of its energy over a 20-year span.

Wednesday night the Climate Advisory Committee re-stated their opposition to RMLD’s use of power from the Palmer plant. The committee voted to bring their objections to the Reading Select Board at a future meeting.

O’Brien defended her decision Wednesday but pledged to do whatever the Board of Commissioners and the Citizen Advisory Board tells her to do. That means potential changes to RMLD’s energy shopping list, better known as Policy 30.

“I was instructed to keep buying renewable,” said O’Brien. “We were instructed to buy renewable, meet the goals, make sure it meets the renewable criteria. At that time, Palmer met that criteria. That’s why it’s so important going forward that Policy 30 provides us instruction about what they would want the portfolio to look like. What do they want us to buy?”

When it comes to tweaking Policy 30, she’s open for any discussion.

Regarding Palmer, can RMLD walk away from [the] February agreement?

“No, you wouldn’t be able to just back out of it but you could assign it or sell it,” said O’Brien. “Power is traded like a commodity. You would have to look to taking your power commitment and having someone else pick it up.
» Read article       
» Related article                   

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/3/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stephen Rodrick, Rolling Stone   
March 26, 2020

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

» More about climate          

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oily infighting
Industry Infighting as Oil and Gas Seek Government Help

By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the fossil fuel industry  

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

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

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

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

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

» More about the plastics / fracking connection     

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Weekly News Check-In 11/1/19

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

On the local scene, we’re following the Weymouth compressor station, a proposed pipeline replacement/enlargement in Ashland, and continuing consequences to Columbia Gas for last year’s disaster in the Merrimack Valley.

With the Trump administration attempting to relax safety rules for oil transport by rail, we’re keeping a close eye on virtual pipeline news. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts legislature is considering the 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983), to address climate change and pivot away from fossil fuels.

Reporting on climate includes a new study illuminating what types of forests sequester the most carbon. And Canadian youth have now joined others in suing their government for climate inaction that threatens their future. Progress toward that future is highlighted in stories on energy efficiency, clean energy alternatives, clean transportation, and battery storage.

We come into the home stretch with a routine basket of news about fossil fuel bankruptcies, denials, and deceptions, and a warning that the promoters of biomass appear to have a tailwind because of favorable changes to legislation and regulations – in spite of warnings from the science and environmental communities. Heads up, Massachusetts – the Baker administration is trying very hard to classify biomass as clean, renewable, and carbon neutral.

We close this week with a notable advancement in plastics recycling from startup Carbios. They have developed a way to biologically break down many types of plastic and then make new plastic without degradation.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor protesters
Planning agency seeks review of Weymouth compressor study
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, reprinted in The Patriot Ledger
October 28, 2019

BOSTON — Five months after it became clear that a study clearing the way for a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth was based on incomplete data, the regional planning agency that produced it is seeking an outside review to determine if its conclusions were in error.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council announced last week that it had hired London-based Public Health by Design to re-examine its health impact assessment, which found that there would be “no substantial changes in health” for Weymouth and the surrounding communities as a result of the gas plant’s operations. The assessment’s findings have been cited by the Baker administration in approvals of project permits.

In May, amid a contentious appeal process over an air-quality permit the state issued, the Department of Environmental Protection revealed that the data used in the MAPC’s work was less than two-thirds of what regulators had originally sought. The MAPC soon said that its original conclusions could not be assumed to remain valid.
» Read article     

compressor site WBUR
With Permits Upheld, Weymouth Compressor Opponents Plan Legal Challenge
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
October 25, 2019

Massachusetts’ lead environmental regulator upheld wetlands and waterways permits for a natural gas compressor station, drawing renewed promises of a legal challenge from opponents.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg on Thursday announced that the two permits would go forward after facing an appeal from opponents in the community, an expected step after the DEP’s hearing officer earlier this week recommended allowing the approval to stand.

On Friday morning, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said it would appeal the decision to Superior Court, arguing the permits in fact violate environmental regulations. The group had said earlier it would challenge Suuberg’s decision.
» Read article     

» More on Weymouth compressor station

ASHLAND PIPELINE

Ashland residents rally against Eversource natural gas pipeline project
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
October 3, 2019

ASHLAND- Deeply troubled over Eversource’s plan to replace a 3.7-mile natural gas line that runs through town, Joel Arbeitman can’t help but feel that the state’s review system has taken away residents’ power to decide what should happen in their town.

“Right now, we have this case in front of the Energy Facilitates Siting Board. We don’t get to decide what happens in our community. They do. We could go to court. We can fight, but ultimately, they decide and that’s a problem,” Arbeitman said Wednesday in Ashland’s Senior Community Center.

Arbeitman was one of at least 30 people who attended Wednesday’s session during which a student documentary “Under Pressure” about last year’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions was screened. Eversource’s local pipeline project was the central focus during the question-and-answer portion of the night’s discussion.

The company is looking to decommission a six-inch 3.7-mile gas line that runs through Ashland and Hopkinton and place new 12-inch pipes alongside them. The company said the project is needed to improve line pressure and better serve customers in Greater Framingham. The easement intersects through the property of more than 80 Ashland homes, two parcels owned by the town, the Chestnut Street Apartments and a number of environmentally sensitive areas, including portions of the wetlands and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.
» Read article     

FSU professor: Eversource pipe proposal is not necessary
Metro West Daily
April 13, 2019

Lawrence McKenna, an earth and environmental science associate professor at Framingham State University, recently completed a report on the pipeline project. He says he sees some flaws, which he relayed to Ashland selectmen earlier this month.

McKenna’s takeaway: There is no immediate need for pipes to be replaced and doubled in size. In fact, current piping “is reliable at the 99.999% level,” he said.

“Ashland has time, because there is no emergency,” McKenna told the Daily News. “Ashland has time to have a vigorous honest debate about where this pipeline should go and why.”

Eversource officials declined to address the professor’s findings, noting that their proposal is still being reviewed by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB).
» Read article  

» More on Ashland pipeline

COLUMBIA GAS – MERRIMACK VALLEY

North Andover Selectmen Ask For Town Voice In Columbia Gas Audit
By Christopher Huffaker, The Patch
October 29, 2019

North Andover’s selectmen are asking the state to give them more of a role in oversight of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions restoration work. On Oct. 2, the state ordered that Columbia Gas pay for an audit of all gas pipeline work they’ve done since the deadly explosions. North Andover asked in a letter sent that the engineering firm Environmental Partners, which they partnered with alongside Andover and Lawrence following the accident, participate in the audit.

“It is important that the towns have a voice and independent oversight in this process. We hope that this work will begin soon so that we have a final determination on whether the work completed was done correctly,” Town Manager Melissa Rodrigues wrote on behalf of the selectmen.
» Read article  

» More on Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

oil train explosion
Four States, Led by New York, Challenge Trump Admin Over Oil Train Safety Rule
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 29, 2019

On October 23, New York Attorney General Letitia James, joined by attorneys general from Maryland, New Jersey, and California, sent a letter of support to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) over a Washington state law that would limit the volatility of oil transported by train through the state.

That oil originates in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana, where trains help take the place of scarce pipelines in order to move fracked crude oil to Washington’s refineries and ports along the coast. North Dakota and Montana have fought back against Washington’s law, which was passed in May, and filed a petition to PHMSA in protest just two months later.

Spurred by safety concerns about oil trains derailing and exploding, the Washington law would cap the vapor pressure of crude oil moved by rail at 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi) and would be triggered by a rise in oil train traffic in the state.
» Read article     

tanker train
California Attorney General pushes back on regulation of trains carrying flammable oil being retained at the federal level
By David C. Lester, RT&S
October 28, 2019

Several states are pushing back on the notion that regulation of crude oil trains in the United States belongs in the hands of the federal government, as opposed to being regulated by the states.  The Sierra Times reports that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation, and expressed support of the State of Washington efforts to retain state control with laws that limit the vapor pressure level in cars that are carrying very flammable crude oil by rail.

Interestingly, North Dakota and Montana are opposed to these Washington state laws, and the Attorney General’s letter expressed opposition to the position of these two states.  The transportation of crude oil by rail is relatively safe, but an accident can have disastrous consequences. The railroads have made efforts to minimize the impact of oil train derailments by building stronger tank cars that are better equipped to retain leaks and prevent fires.

However, if things go wrong, as they have in past years before stronger tank cars were in place, all bets are off as to the level of havoc that can be wrought by derailments.  In fact, many refer to these trains as “bomb trains,” as violent explosions and intense heat can result from derailments. Trains moving in California often pass areas that are among California’s very sensitive ecological areas, as well as highly populated communities.  Several states have noted that the Environmental Protection Agency has not been active in keeping communities safe, and have failed to enact more robust standards, putting areas through which the trains pass at risk.
» Read article     

LNG on trains for export
Trump Admin Proposes New Rule to Allow Shipping Flammable LNG by Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 25, 2019

While the DOT press release announcing the rulemaking emphasizes safety (the word or a variant is repeated no fewer than eight times), the actual document proposing this new rule details a worrisome scenario for what could happen if a train of LNG tank cars derails, breaching and releasing the liquefied fossil fuel — what PHMSA calls “Scenario 3”:

“Although Scenario 3 has a low probability, a breached inner tank during a transportation accident could have a high consequence because of the higher probability of a fire due to the formation of a flammable gas vapor/air mixture in the immediate vicinity of the spilled LNG. This probability is based on the likelihood of ignition sources (sparks, hot surfaces, etc.) being generated by other equipment, rail cars, or vehicles involved in a transportation accident that could ignite a flammable vapor cloud.”

According to PHMSA, the derailment of a train full of LNG could have “high consequences” — as in, a major fire or explosion — but because the agency says there are lower odds that it would happen, the public should feel assured this proposed transportation mode, using DOT-113 rail tank cars, is safe.
» Read article     

» More on virtual pipelines

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

A roadmap for combatting climate change
Let’s build on Global Warming Solutions Act
By Joan Meschino and Alyssa Rayman-Read, CommonWealth Magazine
October 26, 2019

Massachusetts has been a leader in the fight against climate change. Yet, several alarming reports by top climate scientists have made it clear that this fight is just beginning. If we are serious about safeguarding the character and nature of our communities, we must take action now. We need a bold commitment to addressing the climate crisis that includes concrete steps for reaching net-zero carbon emissions while promoting a just transition to a clean energy economy.

That is why 59 legislators in the Massachusetts House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle, have signed onto the 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983). Developed with input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including labor and business leaders, local officials, environmentalists, and our utilities, the 2050 Roadmap Bill is a bold response to the crisis currently at our doorstep. The bill gives us a plan for steadily reducing our carbon pollution, while ensuring that the opportunities and benefits of a cleaner, healthier, more just economy are enjoyed by everyone in Massachusetts.
» Read article    
» Read 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983)

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

forest damage - Peru
In the Fight Against Climate Change, Not All Forests Are Equal
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
October 30, 2019

Forests are a great bulwark against climate change, so programs to reduce deforestation are important. Those efforts usually focus on stopping the destruction in areas where it is already occurring.

But a new study suggests these programs would do well to also preserve forests where deforestation and degradation haven’t begun. Gradual loss of these largely pristine, intact forests has a much greater climate impact than previously accounted for, the researchers said.

Immediate clearing of intact forests, what might be considered “classic” deforestation, over that period accounted for about 3 percent of global emissions from deforestation in all tropical forests, the researchers said. But when they looked at other, more gradual types of loss and disturbance — forests that had been opened to selective logging for firewood, for example, or road-building that exposed more trees to drying or windy conditions — they found that the carbon impact increased sixfold over the period.
» Read article    
» Read study

A Couple A’s, One F: Again, A Mixed Environmental Report Card For Baker
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
October 29, 2019

Six of the state’s leading environmental organizations gave Gov. Charlie Baker mixed grades on environmental issues.

Each year, the groups release a report card assessing the administration’s performance in nine categories. While Baker enjoyed two A’s and two B’s in this year’s report, he also earned two C’s, two D’s and an F.

“The takeaway is a mixed record on environmental issues,” said Nancy Goodman, vice president for policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
» Read article    
» Read report

Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows
By Denise Lu and Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 29, 2019

Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities.

The authors of a paper published Tuesday developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic. The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury.
» Read article     

Secret Deal Helped Housing Industry Stop Tougher Rules on Climate Change
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 26, 2019

A secret agreement has allowed the nation’s homebuilders to make it much easier to block changes to building codes that would require new houses to better address climate change, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The agreement shows that homebuilders accrued “excessive power over the development of regulations that governed them,” said Bill Fay, head of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, which has pushed for more aggressive standards. Homes accounted for nearly one-fifth of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions nationwide last year.

The consequences of the [2002] deal between the code council and homebuilders are easiest to measure when it comes to energy efficiency, which came under the influence of the homebuilders’ agreement in 2011.

Until that point, the model building codes had drastically improved the energy efficiency of new homes with each new three-year edition. The 2009 and 2012 development cycles together reduced homeowners’ annual energy costs by 32 percent, according to an analysis by the Department of Energy.

Then, after energy-efficiency codes fell under the agreement between the code council and the homebuilders, that momentum ground to a halt. The 2015 codes, the first to be negotiated after the change, reduced residential energy use and costs by less than 1 percent, the Energy Department found. Savings from the 2018 codes were less than 2 percent.
» Read article     

children's climate lawsuit Canada
15 Canadian Kids Sue Their Government for Failing to Address Climate Change
The young plaintiffs are already dealing with effects of wildfires, flooding and thawing permafrost. They say the government is contributing to the climate crisis.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
October 25, 2019

Fifteen children and teenagers from across Canada sued their government on Friday for supporting fossil fuels that drive climate change, which they say is jeopardizing their rights as Canadian citizens.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Vancouver, is the latest from young climate advocates around the globe who are increasingly leading public protests and filing legal challenges to make their concerns about their future in a warming world heard.

“The federal government is knowingly contributing to the climate crisis by continuing to support and promote fossil fuels and through that they are violating our charter rights,” said Sierra Robinson, 17, a youth climate activist and plaintiff in the case from Vancouver Island, Canada.
» Read article    
» Read complaint

» More on climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

City of Cambridge and Eversource Launch Building Energy Retrofit Program
Eversource News Post
October 28, 2019

The City of Cambridge and Eversource announced a new energy efficiency initiative, called the Cambridge Building Energy Retrofit Program, which targets buildings that are over 25,000 square feet or 50 units for energy-saving improvements. The program, which will proactively connect building owners and facility managers to energy efficiency services, incentives, and technical support, aligns with Cambridge’s Net Zero Action Plan to reduce building greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“In Cambridge, buildings account for 80% of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The Cambridge Building Energy Retrofit program helps large buildings access the resources they need to make energy efficiency upgrades that will reduce their energy use and cut their carbon footprint – an important step in furthering our Net Zero Action Plan,” said Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development.
» Read article     

» More on energy efficiency

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Mayflower Wind location
Mayflower Wind Picked For 800-Megawatt Project Off Of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, on WBUR
October 30, 2019

An offshore wind development that boasts it will deliver “the lowest cost offshore wind energy ever in the U.S.” has been selected by state utilities, in coordination with the Baker administration, to deliver about 800 megawatts of clean power to Massachusetts.

Mayflower Wind, a joint venture of Shell and EDPR Offshore North America, was the unanimous choice of the administration and three utilities to build an array of wind turbines approximately 26 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 20 nautical miles south of Nantucket, state energy officials announced Wednesday.
» Read article     

» More on clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

‘General Motors better wake up’ before China takes EV market, former California Gov. Brown tells Congress
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
October 30, 2019

The Trump administration’s efforts to prevent California from enforcing implementing its own fuel standards is a national threat to the electric vehicle market, say EV advocates. Some 15 states, representing almost 40% of the automobile industry, have adopted California’s standard, which also provides a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that states rely on in part to provide zero emissions vehicle rebates.

“The California waiver is important. It means California can set higher standards. It means California can be a laboratory of energy innovation, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Brown.

Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen in July struck a deal with California that loosened the emissions standard for those four companies, while awarding them additional EV credits to meet those standards. As a result, automakers agreed to cooperate with those emissions benchmarks.

But the president, reportedly incensed by that deal, announced in September he would be revoking California’s ability to implement its own standards, and his Department of Transportation shortly after filed a proposal to act on his directive.
» Read article     

General Motors Sides With Trump in Emissions Fight, Splitting the Industry
Along with Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, the auto giant backed the administration in its clash with California over pollution standards.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
October 28, 2019

Breaking with some of their biggest rivals, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota said Monday they were intervening on the side of the Trump administration in an escalating battle with California over fuel economy standards for automobiles.

The Trump administration has proposed a major weakening of federal auto emissions standards set during the Obama administration, prompting California to declare that it will go its own course and keep enforcing the earlier, stricter standards.

In July, Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW sided with California in the battle, striking a deal with the state to follow more stringent standards close to the original Obama-era rules. That surprise agreement would allow those automakers to meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations.

The pact came as an embarrassment for the Trump administration, which assailed the move as a “P.R. stunt.” In what was widely seen as a retaliatory move, the Justice Department subsequently opened an antitrust inquiry into the four automakers on the grounds that their agreement with California could potentially limit consumer choice, according to people familiar with the matter at the time the inquiry was opened.
» Read article     

» More on clean transportation

BATTERY STORAGE

ESS gets juiced
Iron Flow Battery Startup ESS Raises $30M From SoftBank and Breakthrough
The flow battery survivor marks the latest in a series of recent investments in unconventional long-duration storage technologies.
By Julian Spector, Green Tech Media
October 29, 2019

Iron flow battery startup ESS raised an additional $30 million to take its technology from pilots to commercial scale.

Since 2011, the company has been developing a low-cost, nonflammable long-duration storage technology to compete across domains where the dominant lithium-ion battery chemistries are weaker. Flow batteries have been one of the more prominent lithium-ion alternatives, but companies working in the space have struggled to stay afloat financially and move beyond the pilot stage.

With the new Series C investment, ESS has won a vote of confidence from prestigious and well-heeled backers. SoftBank’s SB Energy and Bill Gates-funded Breakthrough Energy Ventures led the round, which also brought in Evergy Ventures and PTT Global Chemical, in addition to previous investors.
» Read article     

» More on battery storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal bankruptcies
Murray Energy Is 8th Coal Company in a Year to Seek Bankruptcy
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
October 29, 2019

Murray Energy, once a symbol of American mining prowess, has become the eighth coal company in a year to file for bankruptcy protection. The move on Tuesday is the latest sign that market forces are throttling the Trump administration’s bid to save the industry.

The collapse of the Ohio-based company had long been expected as coal-fired power plants close across the country.
» Read article     

Exxon Knew
Massachusetts Sues ExxonMobil For Climate Disinformation, Greenwashing
By Brendan DeMelle, DeSmog Blog
October 24, 2019

Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil today over the company’s misinformation campaign to delay action to address climate change.

Attorney General Maura Healey told reporters in a press conference today that “Exxon has fought us every step of the way,” and was “completely uncooperative,” noting that the company failed to comply with requests for documents and depositions.

“Exxon has yet to produce to our office a single document. They have yet to provide to our office a single witness. So they have been completely uncooperative with our investigation,” Healey told reporters.

ExxonMobil misstated facts and failed to disclose important information to both consumers and investors, according to the complaint, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court by the attorney general’s office.
» Read article   
» Read complaint

» More fossil fuel industry news

BIOMASS

Potential Grows for Biomass Energy
By ERICA GIES, New York Times
October 20, 2009

Woody biomass provides just 0.94 percent of all U.S. energy now, supplying the equivalent of 3.5 million American homes. But Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, a group in Portland, Maine, that represents about 80 plant-burning incinerators in 16 states, says available raw material would allow the industry to double its output. New incinerators are already being planned in many states.

The idea of homegrown, renewable energy, is appealing. It would qualify for tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and could benefit from support for renewables in the climate bill now going through the Senate.

But many environmentalists are worried. Some, like Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, warn that biomass incineration could cause major environmental damage, including the clear cutting of forests and the use of vast quantities of water for cooling. They also say that its combustion emissions are worse than coal’s — a serious charge because in both House and Senate versions of the climate bill, the technology falls into a “biomass loophole.” Categorized as a renewable energy source, biomass would be exonerated from emission caps.
» Read article    

» More on biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

Carbios biorecycling
In this “biorecycling” factory, enzymes perfectly break down plastic so it can be used again
The process lets any plastic—say a polyester shirt—be recycled into any other plastic (like a clear water bottle). It could fundamentally change the market for recycling.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
October 17, 2019

Inside a bioreactor in the laboratory of the France-based startup Carbios, pulverized PET plastic waste—the kind of plastic found in drink bottles and polyester clothing—is mixed with water and enzymes, heated up, and churned. In a matter of hours, the enzymes decompose the plastic into the material’s basic building blocks, called monomers, which can then be separated, purified, and used to make new plastic that’s identical to virgin material. Later this year, the company will begin construction on its first demonstration recycling plant.

“Our process can use any kind of PET waste to manufacture any kind of PET object,” says Martin Stephan, the company’s deputy CEO. It’s a process that could happen in an infinite loop: Unlike traditional recycling, which degrades materials each time you do it, this type of “biorecycling” can happen repeatedly without a loss in quality.
» Read article   

» More on plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 9/6/19

WNCI-7

Welcome back.

We’re pleased to bring you a nice profile article on our friend and ally Pat Martin, who has staunchly resisted the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure while tirelessly advocating for clean, renewable energy.

In local news, Weymouth has another delay in the compressor station approval process, and we have a link to an interesting podcast on last year’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions.

On the climate, we’re approaching a potential tipping point beyond which the Amazon rain forest cannot recover – a prolonged and terminal state of die-back. We also found a provocative and informative video to get everyone calibrated on how much renewable energy we really need as we fully decarbonize – and some uncomfortable choices we’ll face.

We’re making progress on renewables, but a new study finds we’re not moving fast enough. And as promised, the Trump administration appears closer to eliminating California’s independence in setting vehicle emissions standards.

Looking at the fossil fuel industry, we find continuing investments in new infrastructure that will not pay off in the event that the Paris Climate Accords are met. A red flag for investors and also for the planet.

— The NFGiM Team

FEATURE

Pat Martin, A Tireless Advocate for Clean Energy
Paul Cuno-Booth, SentinalSource.com
August 30, 2019

Patricia Martin still remembers the oil crisis of the 1970s. The gasoline rationing, the long lines at gas pumps.

Martin, then a young woman, also absorbed something else: “All the people talking about, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way.’ ”

It stayed with her. In the decades since, Martin has continued to think about energy issues and work on them in her spare time. Now, with humanity facing a much more severe crisis — that of climate change — she’s drawing on a lifetime of passion and expertise to tackle the issue on the local, state and regional levels.

Martin, 69, a Rindge resident, chairs her town’s energy commission. She gives to national climate-advocacy groups. She has been arrested twice in acts of climate-motivated civil disobedience.

Several years ago, she helped fight off the proposed Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline, which would have run through Rindge and other Cheshire County communities. She tracks N.H. Public Utilities Commission dockets and comments on proposed fossil-fuel projects. She’s involved in efforts to bring more solar power to the Monadnock Region.

These days, much of her energy goes toward working with a group called Mothers Out Front, a national organization advocating for a transition to clean energy.
» Read article

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

State Delays Review Of Proposed Natural Gas Compressor Station In Weymouth
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service via WBUR
September 3, 2019

A key state agency’s decision on a natural gas compressor station proposal in Weymouth will not come this week as anticipated following an agreement to delay the review process once again.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs told the News Service on Tuesday that the parties involved agreed to another one-month stay on Aug. 16. Regulators will now restart their review on Sept. 16 and complete it by Oct. 5 unless they seek further delays.
» Read article

» More Weymouth compressor station articles

COLUMBIA GAS / MERRIMACK VALLEY DISASTER

Fire in the Valley
Episode 1: The First Minutes Of A Disaster
By Sean Corcoran, WGBH Podcast
September 6, 2019

Within moments of the first alarms, homes and businesses in the Merrimack Valley are aflame. Hundreds of people call 9-1-1, as thousands of residents in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover run from their homes, seeking safety in the streets. By the time the gas is shut off, 131 buildings are damaged or destroyed, one person is dead, and nearly two dozen are transported to hospitals.
» Play podcast

» More on the 2018 disaster

CLIMATE

burned amazon
‘It’s Really Close’: How the Amazon Rainforest Could Self-Destruct
Climate change and man-made fires could set off a cycle of self-perpetuating deforestation, scientists warn.
By Max Fisher, New York Times
August 30, 2019

As fires rage across the Amazon, a growing number of scientists are raising the alarm about a nightmare scenario that could see much of the world’s largest rainforest erased from the earth.

Climate change, along with the fires and other man-made forces, appear on the verge of triggering a significant change in the Amazon’s weather system.

No one knows for sure whether and when this might happen, though some scientists who study the Amazon ecosystem call it imminent. If it does happen, a body of research suggests, the Amazon as a whole would cross a tipping point and begin to self-destruct — a process of self-perpetuating deforestation known as dieback.

If that is left unchecked, half or more of the rainforest could erode into savanna, according to some estimates, and then the rainforest, which has long absorbed the world’s greenhouse gases, could instead begin to emit them.
» Read article

First Gigawatt Down (Part II)
Video by Footprint to Wings
Published on July 30, 2019

Climate solutions like you’ve never seen them before. Are you ready to race to zero carbon? What’s your favorite play? Do you have what it takes to move your team to get a first gigawatt down in that play?
» Blog editor’s note: video contains excellent examples of what massive deployment of renewable energy sources like wind and solar entail. The conclusion to temporarily maintain nuclear energy in the mix is controversial but deserves sober consideration. Note that the video does not promote development of new nuke sites.
» Watch video

» More climate articles

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Renewable Energy’s Booming, But Still Falling Far Short of Climate Goals
Power sector emissions would have been 15 percent higher in 2018 without the past decade’s renewable energy growth, a UNEP report shows.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
September 6, 2019

Renewable energy capacity quadrupled worldwide over the past 10 years, with an estimated $2.6 trillion invested in its growth, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme shows. But the speed of that growth still falls far short of what researchers say is needed to keep global warming in check.

To meet the Paris climate agreement aim of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that the world would need to invest an average of about $3 trillion to $3.5 trillion every year between 2016 and 2050.

“There is certainly a global shift,” said Kathy Hipple, an analyst with the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). “The question is, ‘Is it moving fast enough from a climate perspective?’ And arguably it’s not.”
» Read article

» More clean energy alternatives articles

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

CARB independence
White House Prepares to Revoke California’s Right to Set Tougher Pollution Rules
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
September 5, 2019

President Trump is strongly considering a plan to revoke California’s legal authority to set state tailpipe pollution standards that are stricter than federal regulations, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The potential challenge to California’s authority, which would be a stinging broadside to the state’s governor and environmentalists, has been widely anticipated. But what’s notable is that the administration would be decoupling its challenge to California from its broader plan to weaken federal fuel economy standards, the latest sign that its plans for that rollback have fallen into disarray.
» Read article

» More clean transportation articles

FOSSIL FUEL NEWS

stranded fossil investments at 2C
New Oil Projects Won’t Pay Off If World Meets Paris Climate Goals, Report Shows

Not a single tar sands project is likely to pay back investors under a 2°C global warming scenario, Carbon Tracker found.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
September 6, 2019

The world’s leading oil companies increasingly have argued that they must be part of the world’s transition to a low-carbon future. But a new report shows that despite their rhetoric, they continue to spend their money as if that transition may never come.

In just the past year, the biggest global companies committed billions of dollars to projects that will likely lose money if the world slashes fossil fuel use fast enough to meet the Paris climate accord goals, the report, released Thursday night, shows. That poses serious risks to investors.
» Read article

2020 Looks Like the Breakout Year for Building Decarbonization in California
Policymakers are coalescing around electrification as the solution for squeezing carbon out of buildings. Is the market ready?
By Justin Gerdes, Greentech Media
August 23, 2019

California has just 25 years to achieve its economywide carbon-neutrality target. Buildings account for about a quarter of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, so concerted efforts will be needed to squeeze carbon out of the sector, especially existing buildings.

State policymakers are increasingly coalescing around a solution: electrification. As a recent California Energy Commission (CEC) report put it: “There is a growing consensus that building electrification is the most viable and predictable path to zero-emission buildings.”

Recent events underscore this sentiment. California regulators just overhauled a legacy policy that acted as a brake on building electrification. New incentives for electric appliances could be available by the end of this year. Meanwhile, local governments across California are moving to adopt bans on new natural-gas hookups, grabbing the attention of the state’s powerful oil and gas industry.
» Read article

» More fossil fuel articles

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