Tag Archives: FTI Consulting

Weekly News Check-In 12/11/20

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
December 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

HEALTH RISKS OF INDOOR NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the health risks of using natural gas indoors

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

» More about EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 11/13/20

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Welcome back.

Activists fighting the Weymouth compressor station are keeping pressure on Mayor Robert Hedlund over his recent settlement agreement with Enbridge. We’re also keeping track of pipeline developments, with major projects mired in litigation. These challenges are expected to increase with the incoming Biden administration.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project has been slowed by relentless litigation, but it has also faced fierce opposition from tree-sitters committed to halting progress by taking up long-term residence high in trees along the pipeline’s path. A remnant group has held out for over two years in steep terrain, but faces removal by court order next Monday.

The other end of the protest and action spectrum includes people who make a living creating the illusion of grass-roots support for fossil fuel projects. We found an important report on FTI Consulting, a well-connected firm financed by industry and laying astroturf far and wide.

California now has almost forty municipalities that have legislated natural gas hookup bans in new buildings. With the recent addition of San Francisco, these local laws are becoming so common that California is considering a state-wide rule. Note that Massachusetts law requires gas hookup bans to be addressed differently – through the building code. Several environmental organizations are promoting that change.

Somewhat related to that, Massachusetts natural gas utilities have embarked on a project initiated by Attorney General Maura Healey, to plan for their orderly transition to a decarbonized future. We have a description of the process, which is similar to efforts underway in California, Colorado, and New York.

Much of this week’s climate news explores the significance of President-elect Biden’s plans and approach. We offer articles describing the important immediate pro-climate steps he could take, and also some of the obstacles created by the Trump administration’s four-year frontal assault on the planet.

In clean energy, the east coast is grappling with the transmission requirements posed by the coming massive deployment of offshore wind resources. And a report from down under shows Australia the path to zero emissions without the natural gas “bridge”.

Even as the clean energy transition unfolds at an accelerating rate, the fossil fuel industry is still building out natural gas infrastructure. We highlight a new gas generating plant beginning construction in Oregon, in spite of stiff resistance. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell launched a snarky promotion on Twitter, gaslighting users by asking “What are you willing to change?” for the climate. The blowback was immediate and intense.

The US liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is staggering from self-inflicted wounds. Due to sloppy handling and lax regulations, the combined effect of fugitive methane emissions, flaring, and general inefficiency from wellhead to export terminal puts the fuel’s global warming impact on par with coal. This fuel serves export markets in Europe and Asia, and many of these buyers now require a full accounting of upstream emissions associated with any load of LNG. Contracts are being cancelled, and financing has dried up for some planned LNG export facilities.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth is not for sale
Massachusetts Locals Accuse Town Mayor Of ‘Colluding’ With Enbridge Over Controversial Natural Gas Project
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmo Blog
November 11, 2020

Residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, are raising questions about a deal made between the city and multi-billion dollar Canadian energy pipeline company Enbridge, Inc., with some calling the situation a “complete sell-off” that could jeopardize the health of the community and environment.

Protesters during a demonstration outside the town hall on November 6 accused the mayor of “colluding” with Enbridge by signing a $10 million settlement agreement dropping the town’s official opposition and legal fights against a newly constructed natural gas compressor station in town. Compressor stations, which pump large volumes of fracked gas at high pressure and are critical parts of gas pipeline infrastructure, are prone to hazards due to the extreme pressure by which the gas is processed.

The demonstration also comes after two recent accidental emergency shutdowns at the Weymouth compressor station less than three weeks apart — the facility is now under federal investigation. But despite this pending safety investigation, the Weymouth mayor struck an unexpected deal on October 30 with Enbridge, the owner of the compressor station, leaving town residents, neighboring municipalities, and even the town council without the town’s official support in their ongoing fight against the operation of the station.

In response to the mayor’s settlement agreement, the Weymouth Town Council voted unanimously this week to send a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General asking her to look into the legality of the mayor’s newly agreed contract with Enbridge that effectively censures town officials from continuing to challenge the controverisal compressor station. This apparent silencing of the town’s legislative branch without its consent is potentially in violation of the town’s charter.

The town of Weymouth and the mayor had together opposed the compressor project for the last five years.

Wendy Cullivan, a Weymouth resident who attended the Friday demonstration, said the town’s 180-degree-manuever left community members and the town council high and dry in the battle with Enbridge. “From my perspective I’ve always looked to the town of Weymouth as the leader in the fight. When they relinquished themselves from that role last week, they didn’t tell anybody. They just dropped us like a hot potato,” she explained. “The way the agreement works is it carves out our town council from being active in the fight.”
» Read article               

Weymouth protests the settlement deal
Opponents demonstrate against Weymouth compressor station deal
About 70 opponents held a demonstration outside Weymouth Town Hall on Friday.
By  Fred Hanson, The Patriot Ledger
November 8, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Opponents of the newly constructed natural gas compressor station have a message for Mayor Robert Hedlund.

They say the host agreement that the mayor has reached with Enbridge, the owner of the station, is a bad deal and doesn’t go far enough to protect the safety of the community.

“We are not going away,” said Alice Arena, the leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.

About 70 people gathered in front of Weymouth Town Hall on Friday night, carrying signs with messages of their continued opposition to the compressor station.

Some of the signs read, “A bribe by any other name would smell as bad” and “Hedlund to Weymouth: Drop Dead.” Some passing drivers honked their horns as a show of support for the demonstrators.

Arena said the group will be organizing similar events as time goes on.

The host community agreement would provide the town an upfront payment of $10 million and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years.

The upfront payment can be spent on expenses for public safety, health and environmental needs, general infrastructure improvements for North Weymouth, coastal resiliency infrastructure and information technology.

Arena said the agreement is “selling out our lives and community for a lousy $10 million.”

District 1 Town Councilor Pascale Burga told the group that the council had no involvement in the negotiations for the agreement.

The mayor did not appear at the demonstration.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

MVP restored landMountain Valley Pipeline faces another legal roadblock. What does that mean for the long-embattled project?
By Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury
November 12, 2020

On Monday the Richmond-based 4th Circuit issued a ruling that effectively bars Mountain Valley from continuing any construction related to its crossing of hundreds of streams, rivers and wetlands in Virginia and West Virginia until a broader case about the validity of its water-crossing permit is settled.

Project opponents — which include the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, among others — had argued that “irreparable harm” to the environment would result if stream-crossing work wasn’t halted before the resolution of the larger case. In August, Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of Mountain Valley developer Equitrans Midstream, told analysts on an earnings call that the company intended to try to cross “critical” streams “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”

MVP attorney George Sibley told the 4th Circuit that the developer’s haste is in recognition “that our opponents are implacable.”

“We have the authorizations,” he said Monday. “We are not going to wait to get sued and wait for those lawsuits to be resolved.”

Mountain Valley has argued that its stream-crossing permit is valid and that by delaying construction, the company is suffering severe financial harm amounting to losses of $20 million per month. Derek Teaney, an attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates representing MVP’s opponents, however, characterized those losses as “self-inflicted” because of ongoing deficiencies with agency approvals.
» Read article                

DAPL future uncertain with Biden
Future of Dakota Access pipeline uncertain as Biden presidency looms
By Laila Kearney, Reuters
November 12, 2020

The election of Democrat Joseph Biden could create more headaches for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) owners, who are already embroiled in legal battles to keep the main conduit for flowing oil out of North Dakota running.

The $3.8 billion DAPL ships about 40% of the crude oil produced from the Bakken shale region in North Dakota to refiners in the Midwest and exporters in the U.S. Gulf. Without the 557,000-barrel-per-day line, getting oil out of the area, which has about 1 million bpd of output, would be much more difficult left to smaller existing pipelines and rail.

DAPL’s controlling owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP, is fighting to keep the pipeline running after a judge threw out its permit to run the line under a South Dakota lake that is a water source for Native American tribes that want the pipeline shut.

DAPL was a controversial project that sparked massive demonstrations starting in 2016 in North Dakota by native tribes and climate activists opposed to its completion.

President Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, blocked a permit that would have allowed construction under South Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a critical water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The line was finished in 2017 after Trump, upon taking office, approved a final permit allowing construction under the lake to be completed.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

tree-sitters face removal order
Judge orders tree-sitters down after more than 2 years
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
November 12, 2020

After spending two years, two months and seven days in the trees — where they have maintained an aerial blockade of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — protesters were told Thursday that they have four more days.

A temporary injunction issued by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Robert Turk ordered the three unidentified tree-sitters and 10 of their supporters to be gone by Monday.

While Mountain Valley has a legal right to a 125-foot-wide easement on which the natural gas pipeline will be built off Yellow Finch Lane, it has been unable to cut trees out of fear that it will harm the protesters in and around them.

If the defendants do not leave the property that has been occupied since Sept. 5, 2018, by Monday, “the Sheriff’s Office shall thereupon take such measures as are necessary to remove them,” the order entered by Turk reads.

Left unsaid in the order and during a two-hour hearing that preceded it was how the protesters might be extracted from tree stands about 50 feet off the ground on a steep, wooded slope near Elliston.
» Read article                

astroturf centralHow One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil
FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that can appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
November 11, 2020

In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market.

All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people.

On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels.

An examination of FTI’s work provides an anatomy of the oil industry’s efforts to influence public opinion in the face of increasing political pressure over climate change, an issue likely to grow in prominence, given President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pledge to pursue bolder climate regulations. The campaigns often obscure the industry’s role, portraying pro-petroleum groups as grass-roots movements.

As part of its services to the industry, FTI monitored environmental activists online, and in one instance an employee created a fake Facebook persona — an imaginary, middle-aged Texas woman with a dog — to help keep tabs on protesters. Former FTI employees say they studied other online influence campaigns and compiled strategies for affecting public discourse. They helped run a campaign that sought a securities rule change, described as protecting the interests of mom-and-pop investors, that aimed to protect oil and gas companies from shareholder pressure to address climate and other concerns.
» Read article               

Rise and Resist
With Biden’s Win, Climate Activists See New Potential But Say They’ll ‘Push Where We Need to Push’
Advocacy groups are preparing for the challenges of a likely Republican Senate and planning their next moves.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
November 8, 2020

Even before Joe Biden won the presidential election on Saturday, climate activists and environmental groups began vowing to push the new president for aggressive action on climate and strategizing for a Biden administration.

“We’ve seen that Biden, in his final debate speech, committed to a transition off of fossil fuels. We’re excited to hold a Biden administration accountable to that promise,” said Emily Southard, a campaign manager with 350 Action. “We’ll push where we need to push.”

If the Senate remains in Republican hands, the chances of passing transformative climate policies are slim, worrying many advocates who say any compromise on policy will be insufficient to tackle the deepening climate crisis.

But with time running out for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, every possible action—from local green ballot initiatives to a new federal position of “climate czar” to financial regulatory reforms—is on the advocacy agenda. Already, climate advocates are celebrating a shift in momentum.

“Simply because we have a Republican Senate that isn’t representative of the majority of Americans who want action on climate change, doesn’t mean that things like a Green New Deal aren’t happening already,” Southard said, noting that green ballot initiatives passed in several cities. “The Green New Deal isn’t just a piece of legislation; it’s a vision for an economy that moves us off of fossil fuels. There’s a lot Biden can do, from stopping the Keystone Pipeline to banning fracking on public lands.”
» Read article                

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Sanfran- gas banSan Francisco’s gas ban on new buildings could prompt statewide action
The vote adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban in July 2019.
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
November 12, 2020

San Francisco this week became the latest, and perhaps the largest, U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring new residential and commercial building construction to utilize all-electric power, starting with projects that file permits next year. This ordinance will cover about 60% of the city’s current development pipeline in an effort to reduce city carbon emissions and tackle climate change, said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in the meeting.

“San Francisco has taken climate change seriously for a long time and today — on the heels of yet another catastrophic fire season, a record string of unhealthier days, extreme heat waves, and even a day when the sun didn’t come up — we San Franciscans have an opportunity to make one more incremental but important move to help save our planet,” he told his colleagues in the meeting.

The board’s unanimous vote concludes nearly a year of deliberation with the Zero Emissions Building Taskforce, Mandelman said, which brought together affordable housing and mixed-use developers, architects and engineers, labor and building trades and community advocates to craft the legislation. It complements the approval of the city’s electric preference ordinance, passed last fall to require higher energy efficiency standards from natural gas buildings, and an ordinance passed earlier this year requiring all-electric construction for new municipal projects.

The vote also adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban on natural gas infrastructure July 2019. Experts say San Francisco’s measure could hold enough weight to pressure similar legislation from cities such as Los Angeles, and could even push Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, toward statewide action.
» Read article                

» More legislative news

GAS UTILITIES

gas transition gets real
Can gas utilities survive the energy transition? Massachusetts is going to find out.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
November 4, 2020

Massachusetts may be a climate leader in the U.S., with a goal to reduce economy-wide emissions in the state to net-zero by 2050, but it will face a major obstacle along the way: More than 1.3 million of its households make it through those cold New England winters by burning natural gas. Roughly one-third of the state’s emissions come from the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking.

Now the state is responding to pressure from its attorney general, Maura Healey, to take a look at what the path to net-zero in the building sector might look like, particularly for the gas companies whose entire reason for existing could be eliminated in the process. Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) officially opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers. As the number of people using the gas system shrinks over time, the cost of maintaining reliable service for remaining ratepayers could balloon.

“It’s a really complicated set of issues as you look at what’s going to be happening on the gas side as people peel off,” said Susan Tierney, a senior advisor and energy expert at the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm. “There’s real trade-offs about affordability of supply, safety of service.”

The Massachusetts DPU joins regulators in California and New York, and now Colorado, who have all initiated similar investigations into these trade-offs and the future of natural gas in their states.

To aid in its inquiry, the DPU is requiring gas distribution companies in the state to jointly hire an independent consultant who will review two climate “roadmap” documents the state plans to release for various sectors later this year. The consultant will then analyze the feasibility of the proposed pathways in those roadmaps and offer additional ideas for how each company might comply with state law, using a uniform methodology. Ultimately the consultant must produce a single, comprehensive report of their findings for all companies. By March 2022, the companies are required to submit new proposals with “plans for helping the Commonwealth achieve its 2050 climate goals, supported by the Report,” for the DPU to review.

Tierney called this a “clever approach,” since often in utility rulemakings, each stakeholder will hire its own expert and use its own set of assumptions, leading to a data war of sorts where it’s hard to know whose numbers to go on. In this case, the DPU, utilities, ratepayers, and environmental advocates will at least have a common set of facts on which to base discussions.
» Read article                

» More about gas utilities              

CLIMATE

be the ClimatePresident
Biden Urged to Be #ClimatePresident by Taking These 10 ‘Game-Changing’ Steps in First 10 Days in Office
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams, reposted in DeSmog Blog
November 9, 2020

With Democrats anxious about the probability that President-elect Joe Biden will be forced to grapple with a Republican-led Senate after taking office in January, a coalition of more than a dozen climate action groups are calling on Biden to take every possible step he can to help solve the planetary emergency without the approval of Congress.

Even in the face of a Senate controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republican Party, Biden can and must still be a “Climate President,” say the groups, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.

The organizations originally released the Climate President plan nearly a year ago during the Democratic primary, and are now calling on Biden to take “ten steps in [his] first ten days in office” to help “form the necessary foundation for the country’s true transformation to a safer, healthier, and more equitable world for everyone.”

“If the world is to have any reasonable chance of staying below 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the next president of the United States must demonstrate national and global leadership and take immediate and decisive action to launch a rapid and just transition off of fossil fuels economy-wide,” reads the website set up by the coalition, ClimatePresident.org. “Recognizing the steps that the next president can take without any additional action from Congress is critical because these are the ‘no excuses’ actions that can be taken immediately to set the nation on a course to zero emissions.”

The organizations list 10 action items which would help the Biden White House single-handedly put the U.S. on the path to meaningfully fighting the climate crisis:
» Read article                

what Trump left us
What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage
President-elect Biden can restore many of the 100-plus environmental regulations that President Trump rolled back, but much of the damage to the climate cannot be reversed.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 9, 2020


WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will use the next four years to try to restore the environmental policies that his predecessor has methodically blown up, but the damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.

Most of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies, which erased or loosened nearly 100 rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere, can be reversed, though not immediately. Pollutants like industrial soot and chemicals can have lasting health effects, especially in minority communities where they are often concentrated. But air quality and water clarity can be restored once emissions are put back under control.

That is not true for the global climate. Greenhouse pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, so the heat-trapping gases emitted as a result of loosened regulations will remain for decades, regardless of changes in policy.

“Historically, there is always a pendulum to swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations on the environment, and, theoretically, the environment can recover,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration. “You can put rules back in place that clean up the air and water. But climate change doesn’t work like that.”

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.

At home, Mr. Biden may find it more difficult than his former boss, President Barack Obama, to use executive authority to create tough, durable climate change rules because the six-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to look unfavorably on policies that significantly expand federal agencies’ authority to regulate industry.

And abroad, the influence that the United States once had in climate talks was almost certainly damaged by Mr. Trump’s policy rollbacks and withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Those actions slowed down international efforts to reduce emissions and prompted other governments to follow the American lead in weakening emissions rules, though none have followed the United States out of the agreement.

All of that means that as Mr. Biden works to enact domestic climate change rules and rejoin the Paris accord, emissions attributable to Mr. Trump’s actions will continue, tipping the planet further into a danger zone that scientists say will be much harder to escape.
» Read article                

climate policy reversalA Biden victory positions America for a 180-degree turn on climate change
New administration will seek to shift U.S. off fossil fuels and expand public lands protections, but face serious opposition from Senate GOP.
By Juliet Eilperin, Dino Grandoni and Darryl Fears, Washington Post
November 7, 2020

Joe Biden, the projected winner of the presidency, will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards President Trump abolished and launch the boldest climate change plan of any president in history. While some of Biden’s most sweeping programs will encounter stiff resistance from Senate Republicans and conservative attorneys general, the United States is poised to make a 180-degree turn on climate change and conservation policy.

Biden’s team already has plans on how it will restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters; ratchet up federal mileage standards for cars and SUVs; block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country; provide federal incentives to develop renewable power; and mobilize other nations to make deeper cuts in their own carbon emissions.

In a victory speech Saturday night, Biden identified climate change as one of his top priorities as president, saying Americans must marshal the “forces of science” in the “battle to save our planet.”

“Joe Biden ran on climate. How great is this?” said Gina McCarthy, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during President Barack Obama’s second term and now helms the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’ll be time for the White House to finally get back to leading the charge against the central environmental crisis of our time.”

Biden has vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. That massive investment plan stands a chance only if his party wins two Senate runoff races in Georgia in January; otherwise, he would have to rely on a combination of executive actions and more-modest congressional deals to advance his agenda.

Still, a number of factors make it easier to enact more-ambitious climate policies than even four years ago. Roughly 10 percent of the globe has warmed by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature rise the world has pledged to avoid. The price of solar and wind power has dropped, the coal industry has shrunk, and Americans increasingly connect the disasters they’re experiencing in real time — including more-intense wildfires, hurricanes and droughts — with global warming. Biden has made the argument that curbing carbon will produce high-paying jobs while protecting the planet.

Biden’s advisers are well aware of the potential and pitfalls of relying on executive authority to act on climate. Obama used it to advance major climate policies in his second term, including limits on tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks and the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Trump has overturned them, along with 125 others.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski pointed to California — which has already adopted a low-carbon fuels standard and requirement that half its electricity come from carbon-free sources within five years — as a model. “You look at where California is now going, the federal government needs to get there.”

Some of the new administration’s rules could be challenged in federal court, which have a number of Trump appointees on the bench. But even some conservative activists said that Biden could enact enduring policies.
» Read article                

Iris launch
New Technology Claims to Pinpoint Even Small Methane Leaks From Space
Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way.
By Paul Tullis, New York Times
November 11, 2020

Methane, the powerful, invisible greenhouse gas, has been leaking from oil facilities since the first wells were drilled more than 150 years ago. Most of that time, it was very difficult for operators to measure any emissions accurately — and they had little motivation to, since regulations are typically weak.

Now, technology is catching up just as there is growing alarm about methane’s role driving global warming. A Canadian company, GHGSat, last month used satellites to detect what it has called the smallest methane leak seen from space and has begun selling data to emitters interested in pinpointing leaks that previously were harder to spot.

“The discovery and quantification of gas leaks from space is a game-changer in the interaction of atmospheric sciences and climate change mitigation,” said Thomas Roeckmann, professor of atmospheric physics and chemistry at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and coordinator of a project, called MEMO2, to measure methane leaks at ground level. “We will likely be able to detect smaller and thus potentially many more leaks from space in the near future.”

Soon the company may have competition. Bluefield Technologies, based in New York City, plans a group of satellites for launch in 2023 that promises an even finer resolution. And the Environmental Defense Fund hopes to launch MethaneSAT in the next couple of years, which is designed to pick up small perturbations in methane across large areas.

Until a few years ago, measuring methane from small areas such as a fracking well required ground-based sensors. They were good at determining gas concentrations at a site, but considering the millions of oil-and-gas facilities worldwide and the high cost of checking and rechecking, finding leaks could be time consuming and complicated, even with the use of airplanes and drones. In 2002, satellites from Japan and the European Space Agency began taking stock of global emissions, but the resolution was too low to identify point sources.
» Read article                

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

offshore wind transmission
A Looming Transmission Crunch for the US East Coast’s Offshore Wind Ambitions
Planning and cost-sharing disconnects could stymie states’ plans for 29 GW of offshore wind. But there are solutions, experts say.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 11, 2020

Building the transmission grid needed to grow U.S. renewable energy capacity is complicated enough on solid ground. It’s even more complicated for the nascent offshore wind industry.

But if East Coast states want to hit their goals of nearly 29 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next 15 years, they’ll need to find solutions. A key first step will be working with federal regulators and regional grid operators to find ways to share the costs of building offshore transmission, rather than going it alone.

That’s the key message from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s technical conference on offshore wind integration last month, featuring representatives from utilities and states trying to plan ahead for an unprecedented undersea high-voltage transmission system build-out.

Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts are calling for a combined 28.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035. That will cost roughly $100 billion, of which about $15 billion and $20 billion will go into offshore transmission, according to an October report from the Business Network for Offshore Wind advocacy group.

But today’s constructs for allocating transmission costs are unlikely to lead to those investments being completed in time, workshop participants warned.

“The current ‘generator-lead’ approach that states have used to date,” in which individual offshore wind projects and offtakers bear the costs of building individual transmission corridors needed to bring their power to shore, “is unsustainable,” Stuart Nachmias, CEO of the transmission unit of New York utility Con Edison, said in his opening remarks.

Instead, Nachmias promoted a “transmission-first” approach that shares costs among multiple offshore wind project investors, utilities, states and the ratepayers that will end up paying for them.
» Read article               
» Read the BNOW report         

look AU - no gasAustralia will benefit from shift to zero emissions, with no gas required
By Michael Mazengarb, RenewEconomy
November 10, 2020

New analysis published by the Climate Action Tracker initiative has detailed how Australia could take action on climate change consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, in a way that would leave it economically stronger, and with gas not needed as a transition fuel

In a new report titled Scaling up Climate Action, the Climate Action Tracker initiative found that Australia would be economically better off if governments adopted an ambitious switch to zero emissions energy sources, including an almost complete transition of the electricity system to renewable energy sources by 2030.

The report found that as many as 76,000 new jobs could be created over the next ten years within the renewable energy sector alone, through more ambitious emissions reduction policies.

“This report shows how Australia can get on a pathway to net zero emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C, increasing employment and ratcheting up its 2030 target from the currently inadequate 26-28% to a 66% emissions reduction,” CEO and senior scientist at Climate Analytics Bill Hare said.

“We show how this is feasible. But it needs real climate policy across all sectors of the economy. An important first step to achieving this is a planned and managed phase out of coal from power generation by 2030.”

The report finds that Australia’s current emissions reduction targets are not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aims of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, and both a commitment to a zero net emissions target, and a stronger 2030 interim target  are a necessary, but achievable, to bring Australia into line with the Paris Agreement.

The analysis detailed an economically and technically feasible pathway for transitioning the electricity system to renewable energy sources, that would help Australia achieve the 66 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article               
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

wind chaser protest
Oregon Allows a Controversial Fracked Gas Power Plant to Begin Construction

Having fought the plant for years, environmentalists expressed surprise that the state has greenlighted a major new greenhouse gas polluter.
By Ilana Cohen, Inside Climate News
November 5, 2020

Columbia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Columbia Gorge asked a Multnomah County court on Monday to review a “grievously” unlawful decision by the Oregon Department of Energy to allow construction of the controversial Perennial Wind Chaser Station power plant. If built, the plant would be one of the state’s largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The nonprofit environmental groups alleged that the state allowed developers to avoid required stormwater and air pollution permits and meet a Sept. 23 construction deadline by breaking the construction into “phases.” They claimed that grading the site in preparation for an access road represented “phase 1” of the plant construction in a way that was never approved by a state siting panel.

If completed, the 415-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant, near Hermiston in rural Umatilla County, 160 miles east of Portland, would provide additional power to the power grid to complement intermittent renewable sources, like wind and solar, at times of peak energy demand.

According to Columbia Riverkeeper, the plant would generate more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually, in addition to increased air pollution linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness.

Five years out from the plant’s initial approval in 2015, developers have yet to secure a buyer for the electricity the plant would produce, though they remain in dogged pursuit.

Finding a market for the plant’s output in Oregon, where hydropower and other renewable energy sources account for a majority of the state’s utility-scale net electricity generation, has probably become more difficult amidst stricter statewide energy standards and a pandemic that has depressed overall natural gas demand.

Environmentalists contend this lack of a market should be proof enough that the plant need not go forward. Still, they say, they find themselves having to use every legal device at their disposal to keep it from proceeding.
» Read article                

Shell endless greenwashShell’s climate poll on Twitter backfires spectacularly
Oil giant accused of gaslighting after asking users: ‘What are you willing to change?’
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
November 3, 2020

A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell has backfired spectacularly, with the oil company accused of gaslighting the public.

The survey, posted on Tuesday morning, asked: “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”

Though it received a modest 199 votes the tweet still went viral – but not for the reasons the company would have hoped. The US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one high-profile respondent, posting a tweet that was liked 350,000 times.

[I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet]

Greta Thunberg accused the company of “endless greenwash”, while the climate scientist Prof Katharine Hayhoe pointed out Shell’s huge contribution to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is heating the planet. Shell then hid her reply, she said.

Another climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, was more direct, and said the company was gaslighting the public by suggesting individual actions could stop the climate crisis, rather than systemic change to the fossil fuel industry. Some Twitter users saw irony in this, while others asked if the company was “out of its mind”.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG scrutinized
French government puts U.S. gas imports on ice
By Chathurika Gamage & Georges Tijbosch, Green Biz
November 12, 2020

A move by one of the largest European energy companies shows that both markets and governments are beginning to pay attention to methane emissions and factor them into business decisions. France’s Engie has halted its commitment to a long-term U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract with NextDecade Corp estimated at $7 billion.

This is being done under pressure from the French government, which holds a 23.6 percent stake in Engie. The delay was driven in large part by concerns over the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of U.S. gas production, particularly from the Permian Basin, which will feed NextDecade’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export plant in Texas. While we cannot ignore the geopolitical considerations also at play, these concerns reflect the growing consensus that all natural gas cannot be seen as equal in terms of its impact on the climate.

There has long been debate about reducing emissions within the oil and gas sector. Earlier this year, Singapore’s biggest buyer of LNG, Pavilion Energy Pte Ltd, asked all LNG sellers to quantify the GHG emissions associated with each LNG cargo produced, transported and imported into Singapore.

This latest halted contract comes on the back of the European Commission’s (EC) newly proposed EU Methane Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. The strategy prioritizes improved measurement and reporting of emissions of methane, a powerful climate pollutant, for member states and the international community. In the recent announcement, the EC called out energy imports as a major source of methane emissions, and committed to explore possible targets, incentives or standards for energy imports into the EU.

Engie’s decision demonstrates a trend toward increased scrutiny of gas deals within and beyond the EU. From the outside looking in, the United States does not seem to stand up to such scrutiny. The Trump administration’s rollback of many climate policies and EPA rulings, including those pertaining to oil and gas methane emissions reporting, monitoring and repair, are just a few of nearly 100 environmental rules being dismantled.

Continuing down this route may make it difficult for U.S. gas producers and exporters to lock in deals with overseas markets, which could have big economic consequences for the U.S. gas industry. In 2019, 38 percent of the United States’ domestically produced LNG was exported to Europe, equating to about $2.9 billion in revenue (based on the median 2019 price at export). The export volume to Europe has increased substantially over the last five years, paving the way for the approval of 15 new LNG export terminals in North America beyond the six main terminals that exist today. These new terminal projects may face delays or even cancellation of final investment decisions based on the market’s consideration of climate impact.
» Read article                

Bigfoot on the waterGas Export’s Dirty Secret: A Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal’s
By Catherine Traywick, Stephen Cunningham, Naureen Malik and Dave Merrill (Bloomberg), in gCaptain
January 23, 2020

In May, while President Donald Trump toured a new $10 billion plant designed to prepare natural gas for export, he made a vow. Such facilities would be good for the environment, he said, or they won’t get approved.

The president has greenlit 11 projects so far, bringing the U.S. total to 18. Environmentalists once touted the fuel, nicknamed “freedom gas” by the Trump administration, as a better energy alternative, but an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.

Not all the export terminals are completed and in use, but if they were, simply operating them could spew 78 million tons of CO2 into the air every year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from environmental filings. That’s comparable to the emissions of 24 coal plants, or 18 gigawatts of coal-fired power—more than Kentucky’s entire coal fleet. And those numbers don’t account for the harm caused by transporting the gas from wellheads to processing facilities and then overseas, which can be significant.

“The emissions from these projects can’t be squared with the sorts of drastic, drastic reductions we need in order to avoid catastrophic climate change,” says Nathan Matthews, a senior Sierra Club attorney.

As long as natural gas stays in the pipeline, emissions remain relatively low. But the sprawling terminals that export the fuel use ozone-depleting refrigerants to supercool it into liquid form, called LNG. They also belch toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide and burn off excess methane, a greenhouse gas more immediately destructive to the atmosphere than CO2.

Proponents of exporting natural gas, including government officials, argue that it will help wean other countries off coal, and that additional emissions here are offset by lower emissions abroad. But natural gas’s role in global warming is complicated. While the fuel has been key to reducing U.S. emissions as it displaces coal-fired power, the electricity industry’s growing dependence on it has nevertheless “offset some of the climate gains from this coal decline,” according to the Rhodium Group. With the effects of climate change already supercharging wildfires and flooding some coastal communities, the surprise that emissions from LNG terminals rival those of coal plants is not a pleasant one.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

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