We’re following two very positive news developments this week. First, a planned seismic survey for oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a brutal environmental assault – was cancelled when a contractor missed a deadline for counting polar bears in the affected area. The Biden administration will not give them a second chance.
A couple days later we learned of a definitive vote by the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban fracking throughout the entire Delaware River watershed – a huge, environmentally sensitive region from the Catskills to Delaware Bay. This makes a longstanding moratorium permanent.
Meanwhile, folks in Weymouth continue to fight the compressor station. Now that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to review the controversial air quality permit, elected officials are pressing for the community’s health concerns to finally be taken seriously.
We’re showcasing another example of businesses retooling to thrive in a greener economy – a family-owned manufacturer in Virginia, now under third-generation leadership, has pivoted away from making coal mining equipment with plans to go big into battery storage.
Of course the climate is a mess, but we even found some good news here. A Maine startup called Running Tide Technologies is experimenting with carbon sequestration through free-floating kelp farms. Lots of practical and environmental questions have to be answered before the plan can be implemented and scaled up, but the core idea is simple and elegant. Our second bit of climate news will warm the hearts of our policy wonk friends: The Biden administration has reset of the social cost of carbon, and expects to raise it even further. This number, used in cost/benefit analysis around climate mitigation investments, was ridiculously undervalued by the Trump administration.
Since clean energy generation was falsely scapegoated during last week’s weather-related Texas grid failure, we’re offering a report on real lessons that can be learned from that disaster. This is also a good opportunity to consider the other side of the equation – demand for that energy – and the imperative to address energy efficiency in buildings.
We recently ran an article about Highland Electric Transportation, the Massachusetts electric school bus provider with an innovative business model that allows cash-strapped school districts to avoid the steep upfront costs associated with purchasing new electric buses. They’re gaining traction now, attracting investors and landing substantial contracts.
We’ve also been closely following the progress of Massachusetts’ landmark climate legislation as it bounces back and forth between the legislature and governor. Various industry groups lobbied heavily against parts of it, and this is reflected in Governor Charlie Baker’s initial veto and subsequent amendments. We offer a report on these industry influences, and where they’re coming from.
On biomass, we show what it takes to feed trees into Britain’s huge Drax power station. All of the bad ideas making Drax possible are alive and well in Governor Baker’s head, as he pursues the pretzel logic of changing Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to support the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield.
For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!
— The NFGiM Team
WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION
Lawmakers push regulators to reexamine compressor approval
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 24, 2021
Members of Weymouth’s congressional delegation want federal regulators to reconsider their decision to allow the compressor station on the banks of the Fore River to go into service.
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch and U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren recently sent a letter to Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking that the commission rescind the in-service authorization issued for the compressor station in September.
“The site is located within a half mile of Quincy Point and Germantown – “environmental justice communities” that suffer persistent environmental health disparities due to socioeconomic and other factors – as well as nearly 1,000 homes, a water treatment plant and a public park,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “An estimated 3,100 children live or go to school within a mile of the site, and more than 13,000 children attend school within three miles of the compressor station.”
Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, the City of Quincy and other petitioners have also asked the commission to revoke the authorization and reconsider its approval of the project.
“We urge you to review their concerns fully and fairly, and to swiftly move to rehear the approval of the in-service certificate,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
The commission last week voted to take a look at several issues associated with the compressor station, including whether the station’s expected air emissions and public safety impacts should prompt commissioners to reexamine the project.
The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.
Last fall, local, state and federal officials called for a halt of compressor operations when two emergency shutdowns caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.
» Read article
» More about Weymouth compressor station
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Amid lawsuits, Delaware River Basin Commission makes fracking ban permanent
The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge to the drilling moratorium.
By Andrew Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer
February 25, 2021
The Delaware River Basin Commission on Thursday approved a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells along the river, doubling down in the face of new legal challenges.
The DRBC’s vote maintains the status quo — it formally affirms a drilling moratorium imposed in 2010 by the commission, the interstate agency that manages water use in the vast Delaware watershed. But environmentalists hailed the frack ban as historic.
The commission said it had the authority to ban fracking in order to control future pollution, protect the public health, and preserve the waters in the Delaware River Basin. For more than debate, environmental activists have rallied substantial public opposition in the basin to pressure the commission to enact the ban.
The formal ban came a month after a federal judge set an October trial date to hear a challenge from landowners to the drilling moratorium, which is now a permanent ban. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, along with Damascus Township in Wayne County, also filed a separate federal legal action last month alleging that the moratorium illegally usurps state legislators’ authority to govern natural resources.
Representatives of the governors of four states that are drained by the river — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, all governed by Democrats — voted in favor of the ban. The fifth commission member, a federal government representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, abstained because he said the corps needed additional time to “coordinate” with the new Biden administration.
» Read article
» See Delaware River Basin map
» Read Natural Resources Defense Council blog post
Avowed Climate Champion Gavin Newsom Sued for ‘Completely Unacceptable’ Approval of Oil and Gas Projects in California
“Newsom can’t protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry. We need the courts to step in and stop this.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
February 24, 2021
Accusing California regulators of “reckless disregard” for public “health and safety,” the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.
The lawsuit (pdf) claims that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) failed to adequately analyze environmental and health risks before issuing fossil fuel extraction permits, as required by law. According to the suit, California regulators approved nearly 2,000 new oil and gas permits without proper environmental review.
“CalGEM routinely violates its duty to conduct an initial study and further environmental review for any new oil and gas well drilling, well stimulation, or injection permits and approvals,” the suit alleges. “Instead, CalGEM repeatedly and consistently issues permits and approvals for oil and gas drilling, well stimulation, and injection projects without properly disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the significant environmental impacts of these projects.”
The center noted that “despite Gov. Newsom’s progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California’s dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production.”
“His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking,” the group said in a statement.
» Read article
» Read the Center for Biological Diversity complaint against CalGEM
» More about protests and actions
GREENING THE ECONOMY
This Virginia coal-mining equipment supplier sees a future in clean energy
Under third-generation leadership, a family-owned company has pivoted to energy storage and sees opportunity for other southwest Virginia companies to follow.
By Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
Photo By Lawrence Brothers Inc. / Courtesy
February 22, 2021
When Melanie Lawrence packed her bags for the University of Tennessee in 1998 to major in Spanish and English, she aspired — not at all maliciously — to leave Tazewell County in the dust.
The Virginian flourished in Knoxville.
Her academic aptitude was her ticket to Spain and then Brussels for a graduate degree in international law and relations. She traveled the world — including a year spent aiding refugees on the Ethiopia-Sudan border — practicing humanitarian law. By 2007, she was married to fellow globetrotter Fernando Protti and living in a Washington, D.C., suburb.
A year later, home called. The family business, which manufactured battery trays for coal-mining equipment, was seeking leadership from the third generation.
The oldest of four sisters, Protti-Lawrence somewhat surprised herself by saying yes, aware that the wide gap between the nation’s capital and Appalachia isn’t measured in mere mileage.
For the last dozen years, Melanie, president, and Fernando, CEO, have fearlessly focused on diversifying Lawrence Brothers Inc.’s product line beyond less-and-less-relevant coal. Now, just 10% of its business is coal-related, a severe and intentional drop from 95% in 2008.
“If we had stuck solely with coal, we would be out of business,” Protti-Lawrence said. “You can’t strategically plan or grow if you’re relying on one industry. We made an absolute effort to go beyond our wheelhouse.”
That grit and innovation inspired an “aha” energy storage moment for Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices and Vivek Shinde Patil of Ascent Virginia.
Both nonprofit thinkers have been dogged about linking an oft-forgotten slice of their state to the wealth of jobs and knowledge blooming in the booming renewable energy industry. Why couldn’t companies in Tazewell and Buchanan counties pivot to exporting advanced batteries and other components that fuel cars in Asia, light homes in California or store energy generated by wind farms in Europe?
» Read article
» More about greening the economy
Maine Startup Aims To Pull Carbon Out Of The Atmosphere By Growing — And Then Sinking — Kelp Farms
By Fred Bever, Maine Public Radio, on WBUR
February 16, 2021
The fight against climate change has long focused on scaling back humanity’s emissions of planet-warming carbon-dioxide. But a movement is growing to think bigger and find ways to actually pull existing CO2 out of the air and lock it up somewhere safe.
One Maine startup has an innovative approach that’s drawing attention from scientists and investors: grow massive amounts of seaweed and then bury it at the bottom of the deepest sea, where it will sequester carbon for thousands of years.
On a fishing boat a few miles out in the Gulf of Maine, Capt. Rob Odlin and Adam Rich are tossing buoys into the water. Each is tethered to a rope entwined with tiny seeds of kelp, a fast-growing seaweed.
“We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” Odlin says.
The project is experimental R&D for a company called Running Tide Technologies, based on the Portland waterfront.
Marty Odlin, the boat captain’s nephew and the CEO of Running Tide, explains the company’s mission.
“Essentially what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” he says.
Odlin wants to mimic the natural processes that turned ancient plants into carbon-storing fossil fuels — and do it in a hurry. He sees individual kelp microfarms floating hundreds of miles offshore, over the deepest parts of the world’s oceans.
The kelp soaks up carbon, via photosynthesis, and grows. After about seven months, the mature blades get too heavy for their biodegradable buoys, and sink.
“The kelp will sink to the ocean bottom in the sediment, and become, essentially, part of the ocean floor,” Odlin says. “That gets you millions of years of sequestration. So that’s when you’re making oil. That’s got to be the ultimate goal.”
» Read article
How Much Does Climate Change Cost? Biden Expected to Raise Carbon’s Dollar Value
The administration is expected to temporarily increase the “social cost” of carbon, at least to the level set by Obama, but climate-concerned economists say that’s not high enough.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
February 19, 2021
In fact, it calculated that the benefits of action on climate change added up to as little as $1 per ton of carbon dioxide, and it set policy accordingly. Almost any steps to reduce greenhouse gases seemed too costly, given the paltry potential gain for society.
President Joe Biden’s White House is moving forward on a crucial first step toward building back U.S. climate policy and is expected to direct federal agencies to use a figure closer to $52 per ton as their guidance for the so-called “social cost of carbon” number on a temporary basis.
That figure, applied during the Obama administration, is likely to serve as a baseline while the Biden administration works on developing its own metric amid calls by climate-focused economists for a value that is at least twice as high.
» Read article
» More about climate
Inside Clean Energy: The Right and Wrong Lessons from the Texas Crisis
The state experienced an “all-of-the-above” failure, and previewed a future of winter peaks in energy demand. The Ted Cruz scandal was also instructive.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021
Now that the power is back on in Texas, we are entering a phase with investigations of all the systems that failed.
But some of the biggest lessons are already apparent.
Here are some of the things I learned, or relearned:
» Read article
» More about clean energy
5 Things to Know About Carbon-Free Buildings and Construction
By Stuart Braun, Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
February 24, 2021
We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.
But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.
To ensure that the Paris climate targets are met, the building and construction industry needs to become a climate leader by moving towards net-zero construction. Its CO2 emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 for building stock to be carbon-free by 2050, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
In response, a raft of new net-zero building initiatives are focused on curbing emissions across the whole building lifecycle.
A report released by C40 in October 2019 showed that the construction industry alone could cut emissions from buildings and infrastructure by 44% by 2050. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have since committed to take a leadership role in creating a global market for low-emission construction materials and zero-emission machinery.
Oslo, for instance, aims to make all city-owned construction machinery and construction sites operate with zero emissions by 2025. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s bold plan to be climate-neutral by 2025 will draw heavily on its commitment to zero-carbon construction. This will be achieved in part through “fossils- or emission-free construction machinery in construction projects,” said Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen.
With Stockholm also part of a cross-border tender for sustainable procurement of mobile construction machinery, such unified demand is designed to send a signal to the market, according to Victoria Burrows. The end result will be to “create a ripple effect” that will help kickstart the net-zero building transition.
» Read article
» Read the UN report on building sector emissions
» More about energy efficiency
Highland Electric Raises $235M, Lands Biggest Electric School Bus Contract in the U.S.
Maryland county taps startup’s all-inclusive EV fleet leasing model to break up-front electrification cost barriers.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
February 25, 2021
Electric school buses don’t just eliminate the carbon and pollution emissions of their diesel-fueled counterparts, they cost less to fuel and maintain over the long haul.
Unfortunately for cash-strapped school districts, an electric school bus still costs more than twice as much as a diesel bus today. And that’s not counting the cost of new charging infrastructure, or the risk that those charging costs may drive a district’s electric bills through the roof.
Highland Electric Transportation says it can remove those barriers to school districts and transit authorities, by taking on the financing and management of an EV school bus fleet in exchange for a fixed annual leasing fee. In the past week, the Hamilton, Mass.-based startup has won two votes of confidence in its business model.
The first came last week, with the close of a $253 million venture capital investment led by Vision Ridge Partners with participation by previous investors and Fontinalis Partners, the venture fund co-founded by Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford.
The second came this week, when Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded Highland a contract to supply it with what will be the country’s largest electric school bus fleet. The deal will start with 326 buses to be delivered over the next four years, along with charging systems at five bus depots.
The cost of that service, $169 million, will be spread out over 16 years, and will fit into the existing budget structures for its existing diesel bus fleet, said Todd Watkins, the district’s transportation director. After seven years of budget neutrality, the contract will end up saving the district money compared to what it could have expected to spend on its existing bus fleet, he said.
» Read article
» More about clean transportation
Andrew Ahern: ‘Who’s delaying climate action in Massachusetts?’
By Andrew Ahern, Telegram & Gazette | Opinion
February 17, 2021
On Jan. 28, the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a major climate change bill, sending it to Governor Baker for him to sign. The “Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” would be the first major piece of climate legislation passed into Massachusetts law since the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
That may sound surprising to some. In a state with so many progressive voters and an active climate scene, a 13-year gap on climate action seems counterintuitive. Add the fact that within those 13 years, we’ve seen accelerated global warming and record temperatures, it becomes worse than surprising, but maddening. Why such a delay?
Now, we might have some (definitive) answers. In mid-January, Brown University’s Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) released a report titled “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings.” The report, using data from over 1,187 pieces of testimony and over 4,000 lobbying records regarding clean energy, has some pretty remarkable findings.
Of the 12 findings, five discuss lobbying efforts from groups and organizations who actively fight against climate policy and clean energy.
Take our investor owned utilities as an example. In “Finding 3: On lobbying, clean energy advocates are outspent more than 3.5 to 1,” the report finds that trade associations representing real estate, fossil fuels and power generation industries are among the top 10 groups opposing climate and clean energy legislation over a six-year period (2013-2018).
National Grid and Eversource, Massachusetts’ two largest utility companies, opposed 56 and 32 climate and clean energy bills respectively, spending over a combined $3.5 million in lobbying efforts to do so. Others, like ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute add to this, with climate action obstructors outspending climate action advocates 3.5 to 1.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The report finds that Eversource and National Grid actively oppose solar energy. While the report notes that both utility companies showed some support for expanding wind energy and hydropower, both were active in opposing solar net-metering, which would allow an expansion of solar energy in the commonwealth.
» Read article
» Read the Brown University CSSN Research Report, “Who’s Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts? Twelve Findings”
» More legislative news
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Seismic Survey of Alaskan Arctic Refuge Won’t Move Forward
A missed deadline for flights to look for polar bears means the work to locate oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is effectively killed.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 22, 2021
An Alaska Native group failed to meet a critical deadline as part of its proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Interior Department announced. The failure effectively kills the survey, which would have determined the location of oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge in anticipation of drilling there.
A department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwarz, said that the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, had not undertaken reconnaissance flights to detect polar bear dens in the proposed survey area as a prelude to sending trucks and other survey equipment rolling across the refuge’s coastal plain this winter.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, had required that three flights be conducted before Feb. 13 as part of the corporation’s request for an authorization that would require extensive efforts to avoid the animals during the full seismic survey.
As a result of the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said that the corporation had been advised “that their request is no longer actionable, and the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization.”
Separately, another Interior agency, the Bureau of Land Management, has been reviewing the corporation’s application for an overall permit to conduct the survey. The decision not to act on the polar bear authorization makes the issuance of the broader permit moot, effectively killing the proposal.
The demise of the seismic survey does not have a direct effect on the oil and gas leases in the refuge that were sold in January, the last-minute culmination of the Trump administration’s efforts to open the area to development. Those leases are currently being reviewed by the Biden White House, which is opposed to drilling there.
» Read article
The battle over climate change is boiling over on the home front
Municipalities want new buildings to go all electric, spurning gas-fired stoves and heating systems. The gas industry disagrees.
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post
February 23, 2021
A new front has opened in the battle over climate change: The kitchen.
Cities and towns across the country are rewriting local building codes so that new homes and offices would be blocked from using natural gas, a fossil fuel that when burned emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. New laws would force builders to install heat pumps instead of gas furnaces and electric kitchen stoves instead of gas burners.
Local leaders say reducing the carbon and methane pollution associated with buildings, the source of 12.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is the only way they can meet their 2050 zero-emission goals to curb climate change.
But the American Gas Association, a trade group, and its members are campaigning in statehouses across the country to prohibit the new local ordinances. Four states last year adopted such laws, and this year similar legislation has been introduced in 12 more.
“Logically the natural gas industry does not want to see its business end, so it’s doing what it can to keep natural gas in the utility grid mix,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “But long term, if cities are serious about their climate goals, electric buildings are inevitable.”
Most of the gas industry, however, is fighting back.
» Read article
» More about fossil fuel
Drax Purchase Would Implicate the United Kingdom in Loss of Canadian Forests
The operator of the world’s largest wood-burning power station is doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model.
By Elly Pepper Jennifer Skene Sasha Stashwick, NRDC | Blog
February 25, 2021
Today, Drax—which operates the world’s largest wood-burning power station—released its earnings report, continuing to greenwash with its claims that biomass is a “green” energy source.
But, in reality, Drax is simply doubling down on its destructive wood-burning business model, as evidenced by its recent decision to purchase Pinnacle—Canada’s largest wood pellet manufacturer—to become the world’s third-largest manufacturer of wood pellets.
While the U.K. attempts to burnish its environmental record ahead of hosting the COP 26 and push countries toward protecting at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 (30×30) at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), its wholesale support for biomass, including £2 million per day in subsidies to Drax, smacks of hypocrisy.
Here are the top reasons this deal makes absolutely no sense:
It will worsen climate change. Biomass energy is already a climate boondoggle since it creates emissions every step of the way, from the time trees are cut down for biomass in the forest to the smokestack when trees are burned to generate electricity. On the landscape, replacing older trees with saplings after harvest reduces the amount of carbon stored in the regrowing forest (even under the best-case scenario in which trees are replanted and regrow immediately). This is a significant source of emissions, known as foregone carbon sequestration. Biomass harvest in forests also releases carbon from the soil. Next, power plants like Pinnacle’s generate emissions by burning fossil gas (or more wood) to manufacture their pellets from the cut wood. And from there, the carbon footprint only grows, with the transport of wood pellets across the globe and the massive carbon emissions from Drax’s smokestacks. Sadly, under the government’s rules, which categorize biomass as a “renewable energy,” Drax can treat its smokestack emissions as zero. With an accounting flourish, Drax’s roughly 13 million tons of CO2 emissions per year just magically disappear in the ledger. And policymakers get to take credit for delivering “low-carbon electricity.”
» Read article
» More about biomass
» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
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