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Weekly News Check-In 1/24/20

WNCI-7

Welcome back.

Concerned citizens and environmental groups continue to speak out against the Weymouth compressor station and also Columbia’s proposed TGP261 upgrade in Agawam. Charlie Baker, in his State of the State address, described his administration as a top-tier climate leader. But the Weymouth compressor station was awkwardly absent from his remarks, and some observers of our regional energy policy were underwhelmed.

Climate is a hot topic at this year’s economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. But while the insurance industry frets over its bottom line after the most expensive year ever for natural disasters and Prince Charles calls for a whole new economic model, the landmark youth climate change lawsuit was thrown out of federal appeals court. We provide a link to that 2-1 decision including the blistering dissent.

We found some interesting news on clean energy, clean transportation, and energy storage. Those generally uplifting stories were chased, unfortunately, by news about risks associated with the booming LNG business.

If you only have time for one article, read this one on the fossil fuel industry. Rolling Stone made a deep dive into the hidden problem of radioactive waste from drilling operations – a remarkable and sobering topic that demands equal parts alarm and action.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

occupy MA-DEP
Weymouth compressor opponents occupy Mass DEP office
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
January 22, 2020

LAKEVILLE – Some members of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station and their allies occupied the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Southeast Regional Office Jan. 22 “to call attention to the Department’s failure to ensure clean air, land, and water.”

FRRACS spokeswoman Laura Ashley said a peaceful occupation was done in the main conference room because the agency has not responded to residents’ emails and phone calls about violations of a contamination clean-up plan at the compressor station site, “reporting inconsistencies, and discrepancies.”

Ashley said the residents presented the DEP a letter which requests agency officials to halt the preliminary construction for the compressor station until “serious ongoing lapses of environmental protection” are remedied in the work area.
» Read article

Enbridge poisoning Fore River
Protests Target a ‘Carbon Bomb’ Linking Two Major Pipelines Outside Boston
Climate and community activists are fighting construction of a natural gas compressor station near two ‘environmental justice’ communities.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
January 17, 2020

WEYMOUTH, Massachusetts — After endless public hearings, drawn-out government appeals and fruitless legal proceedings, a band of community and climate activists was left to this: Sitting in the path of a concrete truck at the site where a large natural gas compressor is being built outside Boston.

“The Fore River Basin is already toxically overburdened with close to 10 different polluting facilities within a one mile radius,” said Alice Arena, president and executive director of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station and a Weymouth resident. “It is highly populated, it is [an] environmental justice [community] and it is unconscionable to be adding another polluting facility.”

According to one estimate by an environmental science professor who was involved in the protest, the compressor and pipeline could enable carbon emissions equivalent to more than one million vehicles per year.

By the time police cleared the site Wednesday morning, nine members of Extinction Rebellion Boston and 350 Mass Action had been arrested for trespassing and disturbing the peace.

The protest occurred just one week after a federal appeals court invalidated a permit for a similar compressor station slated for the historic African American community of Union Hill, Virginia. The court determined that officials in Virginia failed to adequately consider the health and environmental justice concerns of the surrounding residents.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor

TGP 261 UPGRADE

Agawam TGP 261
Agawam residents speak out over gas pipeline project
By Ryan Trowbridge and Audrey Russo, Western Mass News
January 21, 2020

The Tennessee Gas pipeline company is seeking to put more than two miles of pipeline in the ground, next to already existing gas pipelines in the same area.

It’s a deal residents say could put them in danger.

We spoke with residents who told us their biggest concern with what the town has negotiated with Tennessee Gas is a damage release, which they fear could release the gas company from any liability in the future should the project cause damage.
» Read article

» More about the Tennessee Gas Pipeline upgrade

REGIONAL ENERGY

business as usual goals
Baker’s net-zero goal is business-as-usual
It’s not climate leadership, or even followership
By Craig S Altemose, Commonwealth Magazine
January 22, 2020

In his State of the State address, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker laid out a number of ways he seeks to increase the ambition of our state’s efforts to address climate change: embracing the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, increasing funding for the state’s under-funded public transportation system, calling for the execution of his plan to fund needed climate resilience efforts, and pushing his support for a now beleaguered regional transportation carbon pricing system.

All of these proposals are normatively good things in their own right, but they are neither courageous nor creative. They are the types of things environmentalists have literally been calling for for decades. And in the meantime, decades of time have been squandered. That is not Baker’s fault, but it is his responsibility as the man we chose to lead us in this critical time.

As Thunberg laid out in her recent address to the United Nations, the science Baker is citing as moving him toward the net zero by 2050 goal (which absolutely necessitates a 50 percent reduction in climate pollution by 2030 for it to be relevant), only gives humanity a 50 percent chance of avoiding a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperature, something scientists say exceeding would be catastrophic for society and the natural world we rely upon.

As she says: “Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50 percent risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.”
» Read article    
» Read Greta Thumberg’s 2019 UN Climate Action Summit Address    

Kathleen TheoharidesNet-zero target called most aggressive in world: A handful of states, and some countries have similar goal
By Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine
January 22, 2020

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S top energy aide said his proposal for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 puts Massachusetts among a very small group of states and countries attempting to limit the impact of climate change.

Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said Massachusetts is joining Hawaii, New York, and California  in pursuing net-zero emissions by 2050. A number of countries and foreign cities are also pursuing the same target, some on a faster timeline.

Net-zero is an imprecise term. It doesn’t mean the state will cease all greenhouse gas emissions. It means, according to Theoharides, that the state will attempt to reduce emissions as much as possible through the development of renewable, low-emission forms of energy; aggressive energy efficiency programs; and sequestration efforts, including the development of new forests and wetlands. Theoharides said policies could also be developed that would allow polluters to offset their emissions by buying some form of credit, with the proceeds being used to produce more renewable energy generating fewer emissions.
» Read article

» More regional energy issues

CLIMATE

Missouri floodwater
Planet Just Had Costliest Decade for Global Natural Disasters: Insurance Industry Report
The Mississippi Basin floods were among the disasters with a massive price tag.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
January 22, 2020

The planet just closed out the costliest decade ever for natural disasters, insurance broker Aon said Wednesday.

The economic losses from 2010–2019, according to Aon’s Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight: 2019 Annual Report (pdf), hit nearly $3 trillion. That’s up from 1.8 trillion recorded between 2000 and 2009.

“Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the last decade of natural disasters,” said Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist at Aon’s Impact Forecasting team, “was the emergence of previously considered ‘secondary’ perils—such as wildfire, flood, and drought—becoming much more costly and impactful.”

“Scientific research indicates that climate change will continue to affect all types of weather phenomena and subsequently impact increasingly urbanized areas,” he added.
» Read article    
» Read Aon’s Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight: 2019 Annual Report    

Prince Charles at Davos
Prince Charles: We need a new economic model or the planet will burn
By Mark Thompson and Max Foster, CNN Business
January 22, 2020


Davos, Switzerland (CNN Business)Only a revolution in the way the global economy and financial markets work can save the planet from the climate crisis and secure future prosperity, Prince Charles warned on Wednesday.

“We can’t go on like this, with every month another record in temperatures being broken,” he told CNN in an exclusive interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “If we leave it too long, and we have done, just growing things is going to become difficult.”

The heir to the British throne and lifelong environmentalist was speaking to CNN after he threw down a challenge to the global business and finance elites in Davos to lead a “paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary levels and pace” to avert the approaching catastrophe.
» Read article

house on fire
Greta Thunberg’s Message at Davos Forum: ‘Our House Is Still on Fire’
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
January 21, 2020

DAVOS, Switzerland — Greta Thunberg on Tuesday punched a hole in the promises emerging from a forum of the global political and business elite and offered instead an ultimatum: Stop investing in fossil fuels immediately, or explain to your children why you did not protect them from the “climate chaos” you created.

“I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing the climate chaos you knowingly brought upon them?” Ms. Thunberg, 17, said at the annual gathering of the world’s rich and powerful in Davos, a village on the icy reaches of the Swiss Alps.

Her remarks opened a panel discussion hosted by The New York Times and the World Economic Forum.
» Read article    
» Read full speech transcript       

youth climate suite 0-1
Court Quashes Youth Climate Change Case Against Government
By John Schwartz, New York Times
January 17, 2020

A federal appeals court has thrown out the landmark climate change lawsuit brought on behalf of young people against the federal government.

While the young plaintiffs “have made a compelling case that action is needed,” wrote Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz in a 32-page opinion, climate change is not an issue for the courts. “Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power. Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.”

In an interview, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Julia Olson, said she would appeal the ruling. The next step sends the case to the full Ninth Circuit for reconsideration and what is known as an en banc hearing. The case, she said, is “far from over.”
» Blog editor’s note: Judge Staton’s dissent begins, “In these proceedings, the government accepts as fact that the United States has reached a tipping point crying out for a concerted response—yet presses ahead toward calamity. It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses.”
» Read article   
» Read opinion and dissent       

proforestation
Why Keeping Mature Forests Intact Is Key to the Climate Fight
Preserving mature forests can play a vital role in removing CO2 from the atmosphere, says policy scientist William Moomaw. In an e360 interview, he talks about the importance of existing forests and why the push to cut them for fuel to generate electricity is misguided.
By Fen Montaigne, Yale Environment 360
October 15, 2019

While Moomaw lauds intensifying efforts to plant billions of young trees, he says that preserving existing mature forests will have an even more profound effect on slowing global warming in the coming decades, since immature trees sequester far less CO2 than older ones. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Moomaw explains the benefits of proforestation, discusses the policy changes that would lead to the preservation of existing forests, and sharply criticizes the recent trend of converting forests in the Southeastern U.S. to wood pellets that can be burned to produce electricity in Europe and elsewhere.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

A Trump administration ruling could quash Maryland’s renewable energy efforts, regulators say in appeal
By Scott Dance, Baltimore Sun
January 22, 2020

Maryland is challenging a Trump administration ruling that officials say could hinder the state’s efforts to expand renewable energy generation.

The Maryland Public Service Commission has asked federal regulators to reconsider a December decision that effectively raises the cost of solar, wind and other renewable energy that receives state subsidies, making it easier for fossil fuels to compete. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruling applies to PJM Interconnection, the power grid that covers Maryland, 12 other states and the District of Columbia.

The ruling infringes on the state’s right to ensure it can keep the lights on under energy and environmental policies as it sees fit, said Jason Stanek, chairman of the Public Service Commission. Maryland and many other states in PJM and across the country subsidize renewable energy to help it compete with coal, gas and other fossil fuels, aiming to speed adoption of the technology and drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

Stanek said the federal commission’s decision could effectively bar solar and wind farms from participating in PJM’s regular auctions. In the auctions, power plants are paid upfront for promises to help the grid meet power needs three years in the future, and the cheapest bids win.

The federal ruling could take away much of the economic advantage renewable energy providers enjoy in those auctions because of state subsidies.
» Read article

SF city bldg gas ban
SF bans natural gas in new city buildings, plans all construction ban
By Mallory Moench, San Francisco Chronicle
January 17, 2020

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to ban gas appliances in new and significantly renovated city buildings. It’s just the beginning, officials say: The board also passed a law to give incentives for all-electric construction, paving the way for a possible gas ban in all new buildings this year.

“I look forward to collaborating with environmental advocates, labor unions, developers and all stakeholders to end the use of natural gas in new buildings in San Francisco,” Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who plans to introduce the follow-on legislation, said in a statement.

Tuesday’s action is the latest in a controversial wave of laws across the Bay Area to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by phasing out gas. San Francisco’s Environment Department said buildings produced 44% of the city’s emissions in 2017, the most recent year data were available.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

old yeller
Making Yellow School Buses a Little More Green
Some school districts are replacing diesel buses with electric models to benefit students and the environment. But the change is expensive so utilities like Dominion Energy are helping offset the cost.
By Ellen Rosen, New York Times
January 22, 2020

A small but growing number of school districts are beginning to replace older fossil fuel models with new electric buses. Motivated by evidence of the harmful effects of particulate emissions on both students’ health and performance and in an effort to reduce fuel costs and save on maintenance, a few innovative districts are making the transition.

The biggest obstacle is the significantly higher cost of electric buses, which can be at least two to three times as expensive as replacement buses powered by diesel or another alternative fuel (there are also costs associated with installing charging equipment). Districts are getting help to offset the extra costs from sources including grants and legal settlements. And several utilities, motivated by environmental concerns as well as the potential to help lighten the electrical grid load, have stepped up to help hasten the process.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

ENERGY STORAGE

oak ridge thermal storage
Grid – Below-ground balancing
By Oak Ridge National Laboratory
January 6, 2020

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers created a geothermal energy storage system that could reduce peak electricity demand up to 37% in homes while helping balance grid operations.

The system is installed underground and stores excess electricity from renewable resources like solar power as thermal energy through a heat pump. The system comprises underground tanks containing water and phase change materials that absorb and release energy when transitioning between liquid and solid states.
» Read article

» More about energy storage

LNG

LNG risks
Climate and Health Risks of Liquified Natural Gas

By Physicians for Social Responsibility – white paper
November, 2019

The U.S., having entered the LNG export market in the past few years, is now rap-idly building out its export capacity.

As of May 2019, there were 10 LNG export terminals in North America pro-posed to FERC, as well as several more projects in pre-filing stages. This is in addition to 14 import/export terminals, most of them in the Gulf of Mexico, that have already been approved by either FERC or the Maritime Administration/ U.S. Coast Guard.

This expansion would increase polluting and potentially dangerous extraction and transport processes, while sinking billions of dollars into infrastructure that would lock the U.S. into greenhouse emissions for decades to come and squeeze out clean, safe, health-protective renewable energy sources.
» Read PSR white paper

» More about liquified natural gas

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

hot stuff everywhere
America’s Radioactive Secret
Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America
By Justin Nobel, Rolling Stone Magazine
January 21, 2020

“Essentially what you are doing is taking an underground radioactive reservoir and bringing it to the surface where it can interact with people and the environment,” says Marco Kaltofen, a nuclear-forensics scientist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “Us bringing this stuff to the surface is like letting out the devil,” says Fairlie. “It is just madness.”
» Read article     https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/oil-gas-fracking-radioactive-investigation-937389/

check it out
1982 American Petroleum Institute Report Warned Oil Workers Faced ‘Significant’ Risks from Radioactivity
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
January 22, 2020

Back in April last year, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency decided it was “not necessary” to update the rules for toxic waste from oil and gas wells. Torrents of wastewater flow daily from the nation’s 1.5 million active oil and gas wells and the agency’s own research has warned it may pose risks to the country’s drinking water supplies.

On Tuesday, a major new investigative report published by Rolling Stone and authored by reporter Justin Nobel delves deep into the risks that the oil and gas industry’s waste — much of it radioactive — poses to the industry’s own workers and to the public.

“There is little public awareness of this enormous waste stream,” Nobel, who also reports for DeSmog, wrote, “the disposal of which could present dangers at every step — from being transported along America’s highways in unmarked trucks; handled by workers who are often misinformed and underprotected; leaked into waterways; and stored in dumps that are not equipped to contain the toxicity.”
» Read article

plastic production risingA surge of new plastic production is on the way
By Beth Gardiner, Yale Environment 360 via GreenBiz
Friday, January 17, 2020

As public concern about plastic pollution rises, consumers are reaching for canvas bags, metal straws and reusable water bottles. But while individuals fret over images of oceanic garbage gyres, the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tons of plastic than they now pump out.

Companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, account for 14 percent of oil use and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says (PDF). The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.
» Read article    
» Read IEA Report The Future of Petrochemicals, 2018 

» More about fossil fuels

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