Tag Archives: Goldman Environmental Prize

Weekly News Check-In 6/18/21

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Welcome back.

We’re staying on top of developments as opponents of a proposed gas-and-oil peaking power plant prepare for a public forum in Peabody, MA on Tuesday, June 22, to discuss alternatives. Meanwhile, Granite Bridge Pipeline is a story we thought we could stop following after the project was cancelled last year. But the defunct pipeline’s developer, Liberty, recently hatched a plan to recoup several million dollars in project losses from utility ratepayers – something that quite clearly runs counter to New Hampshire state law.

Closer to home, the Longmeadow Select Board approved a pipeline expansion project that runs counter to Massachusetts’ recently-passed climate roadmap, and we’re also keeping an eye on Line 3 in northern Minnesota.

We take a look back at how the movement to ban gas hookups took root in Massachusetts, and also acknowledge this year’s six recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots activism.

Our friends Down East get a big shout-out this week. Maine became the first state to pass a law requiring divestment of all public employee retirement funds from fossil fuels. Some other states are considering similar action. Maine also passed a law requiring regulators to consider climate effects – not just rate and reliability issues – in their decisions about utilities. Equity issues are next on the docket.

The Biden Administration understands that greening the economy will require access to minerals, technologies, and goods that we currently source almost exclusively from abroad – especially from China. It is therefore in the U.S. national interest to bring those supply chains home. Developing local sources of lithium and other key minerals will create jobs, but also environmental risk.

We’ve known for some time that the climate and biodiversity crises are related. Scientists want us to understand that neither problem can be solved independently – we have to tackle both together. We agree, and hope this soon becomes the consensus view of policymakers worldwide.

The natural gas industry has been very busy promoting gas ranges as the preferred way to cook. The goal is to drive public resistance to the concept of all-electric homes and gas hook-up bans. To this end, there’s an abundance of false information maligning induction cooking while sowing doubt about its safety. To counter that propaganda, we offer a sensible article on the merits and safety of induction cooking.

The fossil fuel industry continues to be the subject of investor fraud investigations, in which Big Oil & Gas are accused of inflating the value of reserves while downplaying the climate-related risks associated with their products. And biomass is impossible to defend anymore as either clean or renewable. We’re seeing local ordinances opposing biomass subsidies, and a full-on effort to get the European Union to acknowledge that forest biomass must be removed from their climate mitigation plans.

We close with another look at plastics in the environment – specifically how there’s so much of it floating around in the oceans now that it has become a significant vector for the dispersal of species, where they colonize new territories in sometimes invasive and dangerous ways.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

peaker challengeColumn: The Peabody peaker challenge
By Jerry Halberstadt, The Salem News
June 17, 2021

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), acting for a project consortium of 14 municipal light plants, is proposing to build a 55-megawatt peaker power plant in Peabody to assure a supply of capacity power during times of heavy use and in an emergency.

Their proposed use of fossil fuel blended with hydrogen will be a threat to public health, harm the natural environment, contribute to the climate crisis — and the plant is a risky financial investment.

Municipal light plants provide reliable and inexpensive electric power. But their continued use of fossil fuels threatens to make the electrical system unreliable and expensive.

Although the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP) would only take 30% of the plant capacity, 100% of the pollution caused by the plant would directly and unfairly impact Danvers and Peabody.

Experts in public health, the environment, and energy; advocacy groups; and legislators, including state Sen. Joan Lovely, state Rep. Tom Walsh and state Rep. Sally Kerans, have expressed concern and reasoned objections. More than 1,000 people signed a petition for a halt to the plant.

In response, MMWEC has paused action on the plant and has scheduled a public meeting in Peabody for June 22.

We don’t need to depend on fossil fuel for all our power. Capacity requirements can be met by implementing clean energy alternatives and storage methods, including batteries. Solar and wind power can be used to charge batteries for use when needed. Many of the 42 municipal light plants already use renewable energy sources.

ISO New England allows light plants to satisfy capacity requirements by creating or storing power, purchasing it, reducing local demand or increasing local generation.
» Read article                

breathe clean north shore
Peabody Power Plant Opposition Delivers Petition Ahead Of Forum
Those opposed to the gas and oil plant say they hope the June 22 public forum is a genuine discussion of alternatives to the current plans.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 11, 2021

PEABODY, MA — Climate advocacy representatives opposed to a long-planned natural gas- and oil-powered surge capacity power plant in Peabody said they hope a June 22 public forum on the project will be a discussion about alternatives to the current proposal.

State Rep. Sally Kerans (D-Danvers) joined representatives from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Breathe Clean North Shore and Community Action Works who spoke Friday after delivering a petition with 1,070 signatures to Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Energy Company headquarters in Ludlow asking the utility company to alter or abandon the plans for a fossil fuel-powered plant at the Waters Street substation.

“That’s good news,” Kerans said of the forum announced Thursday and scheduled in two weeks at Peabody’s Torigian Center. “We welcome it. We welcome the chance for people from both Danvers and Peabody to go and share their concerns.

“We hope that it’s a two-way conversation. We hope that the best interest in all of the ratepayers and our climate (are respected).”

MMWEC paused the project, which began in 2015 to meet surge capacity requirements for 13 municipal energy companies across the state — including Peabody Municipal Light Plant and the Marblehead Municipal Electric Light Department — for at least 30 days on May 11 amid growing public concern about the proposed plant that had previously moved through the planning process in relative obscurity.
» Read article                

» More about peaker plants

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

shifting the burden
Liberty wants to charge ratepayers $7.5 million for a project that never happened
By Amanda Gokee, New Hampshire Bulletin
June 17, 2021

Liberty is asking the state to sign off on a $7.5 million bill for ratepayers in connection with the company’s efforts to construct the Granite Bridge pipeline, a move the state’s consumer advocate says runs afoul of well-established New Hampshire law.

The Granite Bridge pipeline was a contentious project that would have cost $340 million in total. After facing significant pushback, Liberty ultimately withdrew the proposal last year. But now the utility is asking the Public Utilities Commission to allow it to recoup some of the costs associated with the now-abandoned project by charging ratepayers.

Consumer Advocate Don Kreis said granting the request would fly in the face of the “bedrock” of New Hampshire law, which clearly states that utilities cannot charge ratepayers for projects that aren’t completed.

The typical standard is that only projects considered “used” and “useful” can be factored into the rates that a utility is charging to its ratepayers. New Hampshire law is more explicit on this point, and the Anti-Construction Work In Progress law – commonly called Anti-CWIP – has been on the books since 1979.

Kreis, who is also an energy attorney, says the law is unambiguous about this issue.

“If there’s one thing about New Hampshire law that is absolutely clear it is that if a utility invests money in a project, and that project is never placed into service, you can’t put it into rates, period,” Kreis said.

For Kreis, the Granite Bridge project, which was never completed, fits this description precisely. He says customers shouldn’t have to pay for something that isn’t benefiting them, and utilities can’t expect to be shielded from all risk.
» Read article                

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline

OTHER PIPELINES

Longmeadow town hallPipeline moves forward, Longmeadow Select Board approves MSBA requests
By Sarah Heinonen, The Reminder
June 16, 2021

LONGMEADOW – Michelle Marantz, chair of the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group, informed the Longmeadow Select Board of movement in the gas pipeline issue.

“Eversource recently told me that they will move forward with the old Columbia Gas plan to build a high-pressure pipeline starting at a proposed metering station on [Longmeadow Country Club (LCC)] property and ending in Springfield.” She said that Eversource plans to announce the pipeline route and get feedback from the town beginning in July.

Eversource confirmed to Reminder Publishing that it is “evaluating options for a Western Massachusetts Reliability Project,” which includes the pipeline through Longmeadow. The project seeks to serve 58,000 customers in Agawam, West Springfield, Southwick, Springfield, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow and Chicopee by replacing the existing pipeline, which Eversource Spokesperson Priscilla Ress described as “aged” and “a significant risk” of future outages. She said the company is exploring safe service to customers “while balancing environmental impacts and cost.”

Marantz stated that Eversource’s plans ignore the state’s 2021 climate bill, “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy,” which sets an emissions reduction mandate of 50 percent by the year 2030. She also balked at the company’s declaration that it is working toward a “clean-energy future.”

She emphasized the potential danger of pipelines by citing the Marshfield Pipeline Fire and held up Easthampton as a model the town should aspire toward. Its municipal buildings are scheduled to run on 40 percent solar power by August.
» Read article                

KXL - the sequel
The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Dead. Next Target: Line 3.
By Bill McKibben, New York Times | Opinion
June 11, 2021

The announcement this week from the Canadian company TC Energy that it was pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted with jubilation by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climate scientists and other activists who have spent the last decade fighting its construction.

The question now is whether it will be a one-off victory or a template for action going forward — as it must, if we’re serious about either climate change or human rights. The next big challenge looms in northern Minnesota, where the Biden administration must soon decide about the Line 3 pipeline being built by the Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc. to replace and expand an aging pipeline.

It’s easy to forget now how unlikely the Keystone fight really was. Indigenous activists and Midwest ranchers along the pipeline route kicked off the opposition. When it went national, 10 years ago this summer, with mass arrests outside the White House, pundits scoffed. More than 90 percent of Capitol Hill “insiders” polled by The National Journal said the company would get its permit.

But the more than 1,200 people who were arrested in that protest helped galvanize a nationwide — even worldwide — movement that placed President Barack Obama under unrelenting pressure. Within a few months he’d paused the approval process, and in 2015 he killed the pipeline, deciding that it didn’t meet his climate test.

“America’s now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Mr. Obama said. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.”

And that’s what puts the Biden administration in an impossible place now. Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which runs from Canada’s tar sands deposits in Alberta across Minnesota to Superior, Wis., with a pipeline that follows a new route and would carry twice as much crude. It would carry almost as much of the same heavy crude oil as planned for the Keystone XL pipeline — crude that is among the most carbon-heavy petroleum on the planet.

Call Line 3 Keystone, the Sequel.

If Keystone failed the climate test, how could Line 3, with an initial capacity of 760,000 barrels a day, possibly pass? It’s as if the oil industry turned in an essay, got a failing grade, ignored every comment and then turned in the same essay again — except this time it was in ninth grade, not fourth. It’s not like the climate crisis has somehow improved since 2015 — it’s obviously gotten far worse. At this point, approving Line 3 would be absurd.
» Read article                

Line 3 backward step
Enbridge oil line scores a key win as Minnesota court affirms approval
By Nia Williams, Reuters
June 14, 2021

CALGARY, Alberta, June 14 (Reuters) – The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed a state regulator’s decision that there is sufficient need for Enbridge Inc’s (ENB.TO) Line 3 oil pipeline replacement, handing the company a major victory in its lengthy battle with environmental opponents.

The decision clears another hurdle for the Canadian company’s efforts to replace the aging pipeline that carries Alberta oil sands crude through the state. Environmental and indigenous groups have mounted several campaigns to slow pipeline expansions, the key mode of transport for the oil-and-gas industry, across Canada and the United States in recent years.

A three-judge panel voted 2-1 to affirm the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s decision to grant Enbridge key permits for the project, turning back a legal challenge by environmental and tribal groups.

“After six years of community engagement, environmental review, regulatory and legal review, it’s good to see confirmation of previous decisions on the Line 3 Replacement Project,” said Vern Yu, Enbridge president of liquids pipelines.

Line 3, which entered service in 1968, ships crude from Alberta to U.S. Midwest refiners, and carries less oil than it was designed for because of age and corrosion. Replacing the pipeline will allow Enbridge to roughly double its capacity to 760,000 barrels per day.

Activists have taken aim at numerous projects in recent years. Some proposed lines, such as the massive Keystone XL oil pipe from Canada to the United States, have been cancelled, but others, like the Dakota Access, were completed over the objection of opponents.

The Minnesota Supreme Court could hear a further appeal.

“Today’s court decision is a step backwards, but not the end of this years-long fight to protect the health and livability of our state and climate,” said Brent Murcia, of the Youth Climate Intervenors.
» Read article              

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

drowned trees
The Surprising Root of the Massachusetts Fight Against Natural Gas
Tree lovers are hunting down the cause of arboreal deaths—and may remake the regional energy system in the process.
By Jenessa Duncombe, Eos
May 21, 2021

Ania Camargo’s Beacon Hill street in Boston was once so beautiful that Logan International Airport hung a photo of it on a welcome banner.

It had all the makings of a postcard: Cobblestone alleys. Red brick row houses. Flickering gas lamps. Tall, broad-leaved linden trees.

Camargo misses the way her street used to look. Although the gas lamps in the historic photo are still standing, many of the trees have grown ill and died in the past several years. “I do not believe a photo of our street as it looks, with sickly trees and baby trees, would be in the airport now.”

Camargo and many others blame natural gas leaks as a driving cause of the trees’ afflictions. The city has thousands of gas leaks in old, cracked pipes and joints under sidewalks and streets.

Today Massachusetts has some of the most progressive laws in the country regulating gas leaks. They’re largely thanks to a powerful coalition of organizations and researchers called Gas Leaks Allies taking the state’s energy system to task. The movement to plug leaks has gained steam over the past 2 decades and evolved into a campaign to quit natural gas altogether.

Although the campaign has broad ambitions, the movement started with protecting community trees.

The fight in Boston over the future of natural gas is also playing out across the country. Municipalities like San Francisco have banned gas in new buildings, and President Joe Biden singled out gas leaks in an executive order on combating climate change.

The United States and other countries have just decades to drastically slash emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, according to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The United States is the second-largest producer of methane emissions in the world, behind Russia. These emissions primarily come from leaking oil and from gas production and distribution. To get off gas, whole cities must be redone from the inside out.

“It’s like trying to fix the airplane while you’re in flight,” said Nathan G. Phillips, a tree biologist at Boston University and activist who advocates for moving to renewable [energy].

The way a tree dies from natural gas poisoning is essentially like drowning: It suffocates, unable to access oxygen. Tree roots need oxygen to convert nutrients into energy in a process called respiration. While leaves use carbon dioxide to photosynthesize and give back oxygen to our atmosphere, roots take the sugars produced by photosynthesis and break them down into energy using oxygen.

But if the roots can’t access oxygen—if natural gas fills up tiny soil pores instead—the tree can’t break down its food. Even mature trees can survive for only so long.

Whereas a person might drown in mere minutes, a tree dies over many months, first losing its leaves, then ceding its twigs and branches, and finally sprouting unusual shoots and leaves directly from its trunk in a final desperate gasp to survive.
» Read article                

Goldman prize 20216 ‘Green Nobel Prize’ Recipients Announced
By Kaitlin Sullivan, EcoWatch
June 16, 2021

Nicknamed the “Green Nobel Prize,” the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes grassroots activists from six continents who have moved the needle on environmental issues their communities face. This year’s recipients led the charge on environmental justice, wildlife and rainforest conservation, plastic pollution, dams and coal projects.

“These phenomenal environmental champions remind us what can be accomplished when we fight back and refuse to accept powerlessness and environmental degradation. They have not been silenced — despite great risks and personal hardship — and we must also not be silent, either. It takes all of us,” Susie Gelman, vice president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a press release.

Here are the six everyday environmental heroes and the impact they’ve made.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions         

DIVESTMENT

Maine divestment law
Maine Becomes First State to Pass Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill
The state pension fund has more than $1 billion invested in companies such as Chevron, Exxon, and ConocoPhillips.
By Michael Katz, ai-cio.com
June 15, 2021

Maine has become the first state to pass legislation that bans public investments in fossil fuels. The bill requires the $17 billion Maine Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) to divest $1.3 billion from fossil fuels within five years, and orders the state Treasury to do the same with all state funds.

“Fossil fuels have fanned the flames of the climate crisis, and investing in them is bad for both our retirees and our environment,” State Rep. Margaret O’Neil, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, wrote in the Portland Press Herald. “Continuing to invest state retirement funds in companies that produce fossil fuels runs counter to the ambitious environmental goals Maine has set for itself.”

Under the new law, the state treasurer and the Maine PERS board of trustees are not allowed to invest the assets of any state pension or annuity fund in any stocks or other securities of any fossil fuel industry company. This includes any subsidiary, affiliate, or parent of any companies that are among the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies, as set by carbon in the companies’ oil, gas, and coal reserves. Though Maine is the first state to pass this type of legislation, other states, including New York, have considered similar moves with their pension funds.

Maine PERS currently has more than $1.3 billion invested in fossil fuel companies, such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips, including $850 million invested through private equity investment funds, according to environmental organization Stand.earth.

The bill also requires the treasurer and Maine PERS board to divest any stocks or other securities, whether they are owned directly or held through separate accounts or any commingled funds, by Jan. 1, 2026. However, it also stipulates that this must be done “in accordance with sound investment criteria and consistent with the board’s fiduciary obligations.” Exempt from the restrictions are short-term investment funds that commingle commercial paper or futures.

Additionally, the state treasurer and the Maine PERS board will have to report on the divestment’s progress to the joint standing committee of the legislature that has jurisdiction over appropriations and financial affairs by the first of January in 2023, 2024, and 2025. They are also required to make a final report to the committee by Jan. 1, 2026.
» Read article 

» More about divestment 

LEGISLATION

Maine state house - AugustaMaine utility regulators can’t consider climate in their decisions. A bill headed to the governor can change that
A bill approved this week by Maine lawmakers would expand the Public Utilities Commission’s scope beyond reliability and rate impacts and allow it to consider the state’s climate goals in decision-making. Equity might be next.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
June 16, 2021

Maine utility regulators will be able to consider the state’s long-term climate goals in their decision-making under a proposal headed to the governor’s desk.

The legislation represents a major expansion in the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s mission, which until now has focused primarily on ensuring energy reliability and affordability.

The bill also requires state officials to define “environmental justice populations,” “frontline communities,” and related terms so they might also be added as decision-making criteria later.

The wider scope is expected to improve the case for investing in newer technologies, such as heat pumps or electric vehicles, which the state is counting on to meet its climate goals — but which also come with significant upfront costs. Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation in 2019 calling on the state to decrease emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Originally, the bill would have required utility regulators to consider equity and environmental justice in their decisions. The measure was dropped in recent weeks after testimony revealed a lack of clarity over definitions that some worried could make the commission’s decisions more vulnerable to lawsuits.

“The equity piece is still in there; it’s just in a different form,” bill sponsor Rep. Victoria Doudera said. The original equity component is a “noble goal,” she said. “But what we realized in the public hearing was that the definitions … really require a lot of study and careful thought.”

While the idea of broadening regulators’ decision-making criteria is still new in many states, “we think as we move more toward electrification and decarbonization, any PUC in any state will need to consider climate and equity in whatever decisions that they make,” said Jeff Marks, who directs policy in Maine for Acadia Center. Massachusetts’ recent climate law expands utility commissioners’ scope there to include both climate and equity considerations.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

supply chain solutionsAs US aims to boost clean energy supply chain, critical minerals gap largely human-caused, analysts say
There’s no shortage of rare earth minerals needed to transition to a clean energy economy, experts say. The problem is getting them out of the ground — and out of China.
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
June 17, 2021

For many American businesses — and consumers — the onset of COVID-19 was an unexpected wake-up call as supply chains collapsed and store shelves emptied. But potential for supply-chain logjams existed before the pandemic.

The International Energy Agency issued a report last month that IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said revealed a “looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realizing those ambitions.” This isn’t exactly new information, according to Jordy Lee, program manager of the Supply Chain Transparency Initiative at the Colorado School of Mines’ Payne Institute for Public Policy. Experts have known the U.S. faced a minerals shortage for decades, if not longer, he said.

COVID-19, Lee said, alongside trade tensions between the U.S. and China, has finally brought the issue to the forefront, triggering political concern and an executive order from President Biden on supply chain research.

Preliminary results from the task force assembled by that executive order noted that demand for lithium will grow by more than 4,000% by 2040 if the world achieves its climate goals, and demand for graphite, also used to build large batteries, will grow by 2,500%. While the U.S. assumed certain dynamics of global markets to be inevitable, “especially the fear that companies and capital will flee to wherever wages, taxes and regulations are lowest,” other countries made key policy decisions that allowed them to capture ever-greater market share of these budding industries, according to the June 8 preliminary report. As a result, while China controls 60% of the world’s lithium production, U.S. battery production is expected to fall far short of its needs over the next few years.

“COVID kind of made people realize that even if you have the money and the demand for something, it doesn’t mean you will get it,” Lee said. “And that was kind of shocking for the U.S. because … the U.S. can go anywhere in the world and has a ton of money. Why shouldn’t it be able to source these things?”

But Lee and other experts agree there’s some misconception about the nature of the problem: there is no global shortage of critical materials needed to produce renewable energy. The world has sufficient natural resources. The real challenge, they say, is figuring out how to extract those materials from the ground, and how to address the environmental, economic and social ramifications of doing so.
» Read article                

battery builders
The US wants to fix its broken lithium battery supply chain
A clean energy future depends on it
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 8, 2021

The Department of Energy (DOE) released a “national blueprint” today outlining how it plans to boost America’s ability to make lithium batteries. Demand for these batteries has already skyrocketed for electronics and electric vehicles. Spruced-up electricity grids will also need large batteries to accommodate increasing amounts of solar and wind power. In its blueprint, the DOE even makes a case for battery-powered planes to take to the skies.

Right now, the US is a small player in the global battery industry. China dominates both battery manufacturing and mineral supply chains. On its current trajectory, the US is expected to be able to supply less than half the projected demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles on its roads by 2028.

“These projections show there is a real threat that U.S. companies will not be able to benefit from domestic and global market growth,” the blueprint says. “Our supply chains for the transportation, utility, and aviation sectors will be vulnerable and beholden to others for key technologies.”

A lot of what’s holding the US back, according to the DOE, is a lack of a national strategy. So to turn things around, the DOE laid out its priorities for federal investment in the technology this decade. One of the biggest problems to tackle is how to nab enough key minerals. There’s a looming shortage of lithium, cobalt, and nickel used in batteries. To make things worse, these things are only mined in a few places, and labor and human rights abuses are common. That makes finding new mineral sources and designing batteries that use less of these materials pretty urgent.
» Read article               
» Read the DOE’s National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

migrating cranes
Our Response to Climate Change Is Missing Something Big, Scientists Say
Yes, planting new trees can help. But intact wild areas are much better. The world needs to treat warming and biodiversity loss as two parts of the same problem, a new report warns.
By Catrin Einhorn, New York Times
June 10, 2021

Some environmental solutions are win-win, helping to rein in global warming and protecting biodiversity, too. But others address one crisis at the expense of the other. Growing trees on grasslands, for example, can destroy the plant and animal life of a rich ecosystem, even if the new trees ultimately suck up carbon.

What to do?

Unless the world stops treating climate change and biodiversity collapse as separate issues, neither problem can be addressed effectively, according to a report issued Thursday by researchers from two leading international scientific panels.

“These two topics are more deeply intertwined than originally thought,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chairman of the scientific steering committee that produced the report. They are also inextricably tied to human well being. But global policies usually target one or the other, leading to unintended consequences.

“If you look at just one single angle, you miss a lot of things,” said Yunne-Jai Shin, a marine biologist with the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development and a co-author of the report. “Every action counts.”

For years, one set of scientists and policymakers has studied and tried to tackle the climate crisis, warning the world of the dangers from greenhouse gases that have been building up in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. The lead culprit: burning fossil fuels.

Another group has studied and tried to tackle the biodiversity crisis, raising alarms about extinctions and ecosystem collapse. The lead culprits: habitat loss because of agriculture, and, at sea, overfishing.

The two groups have operated largely in their own silos. But their subjects are connected by something elemental, literally: carbon itself.

The same element that makes up heat-trapping carbon dioxide, methane and soot is also a fundamental building block of the natural world. It helps form the very tissue of plants and animals on earth. It’s stored in forests, wetlands, grasslands and on the ocean floor. In fact, land and water ecosystems are already stashing away half of human-generated emissions.

Another connection between climate and biodiversity: People have created emergencies on both fronts by using the planet’s resources in unsustainable ways.
» Read article               
» Read the report            

Pine Island glacierPolar concerns rise as ice now melts ever faster
An Antarctic glacier gathers pace. In the north, the Arctic ice thins faster. Racing climate heat is feeding polar concerns.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
June 15, 2021

LONDON − An Antarctic glacier has begun to move more quickly towards the open ocean, as the shelf of sea ice that once held it back starts to collapse. The water in that one glacier is enough to raise global sea levels by half a metre. And that’s not all that’s raising polar concerns across the scientific world.

At the other end of the Earth global heating is accelerating the loss of Arctic ice. A new study reports that the thinning of sea ice in three separate coastal regions could now be happening twice as fast.

Both findings are linked to the inexorable rise in global average temperatures as the profligate use of fossil fuels heightens the ratio of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

Antarctic scientists have been worrying about warming in Antarctica for years. And they have been anxiously watching the Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica for decades.

Glaciers move at the proverbial glacial pace towards the sea, to be held in check, in the polar oceans, by vast shelves of sea ice. Between 2017 and 2020 the ice shelves have undergone a series of collapses and lost one fifth of their area, possibly because the glacier has been accelerating.

“We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things could actually go much quicker than expected,” said Ian Joughin, of the University of Washington in the US.

“The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace. Things could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

He and his colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that the Pine Island glacier has already become Antarctica’s biggest contributor to sea level rise. The pace of flow remained fairly steady from 2009 to 2017, but they found that data from Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite system showed an acceleration of 12% in the past three years.

The Pine Island glacier contains roughly 180 trillion tonnes of ice, enough to raise global sea levels by 0.5 metres. Researchers had calculated that it might take a century or more for slowly-warming polar waters to thin the ice shelves to the point where they could no longer stem the glacier flow. But it now seems that the big player in the shelf ice collapse is the glacier itself, as the flow rate increases.

“The loss of Pine Island’s ice shelf now looks possibly like it could occur in the next decade or two, as opposed to the melt-driven sub-surface change playing out over more than 100 or more years,” said Pierre Dutrieux of the British Antarctic Survey, a co-author. “So it’s a potentially much more rapid and abrupt change.”
» Read article                

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

induction hobIs Induction Cooking Safe?
By The Rational Kitchen
February 26, 2021

Is induction cooking safe? Because induction stoves are electrical, they have all the hazards of every other electrical appliance in your home. That is, they emit electromagnetic fields (EMFs). But how hazardous are these EMFs, and how dangerous is an induction stove? Depending on who you ask, they might be very hazardous to human health, linked to all sorts of ailments from headaches and nausea to malignant tumors. Or, they might be completely harmless, just another aspect of the normal backdrop of modern life.

Here at The Rational Kitchen, we love induction cooking, so yeah, we’re biased. But above all, we are interested in what the science has to say. And the truth is that the science supports our belief that induction cooking is safe.

We could end the article there, but that wouldn’t be very helpful, would it? It would simply be our word against the anti-induction people who have a huge Internet presence (frequently under the guise of scientific organizations, so watch out!) On the other hand, to really, fully, completely answer this question, we would have to have a fairly lengthy conversation about a lot of complicated things like the Electromagnetic Spectrum and the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

We’re going to try to have that conversation, as simply as we can yet still explain enough for you to make an informed decision. Because to really understand the issues involved with induction cooking, you have to have some background information. But you don’t need to become a physicist.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

this is a lie
Shale Oil Fraud Case Reveals Executives Ignore Their Own Engineers and Mislead Investors
An increasing number of investor lawsuits shine a light on how oil industry leadership has been demanding optimistic predictions of oil production that turn out to be fraudulent.
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
June 11, 2021

In April, a judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by former investors in the shale oil company Alta Mesa could proceed. Their case alleges multiple instances of fraud and reveals that not only did engineers in the company warn executives that they were lying to investors about oil production estimates but that executives went on to ignore those warnings.

Alta Mesa is among a string of oil and gas companies that in recent years have either been accused or found guilty of fraud, including ExxonMobil and Miller Energy.

Many of these emerging fraud cases show a consistent pattern of employees warning leadership that they were misleading investors about how much oil the companies could reasonably produce in the future, but rather than changing course the employees were ignored or fired.

This scenario is repeatedly playing out in the shale oil and gas industry where the people who are paid to estimate how much oil is in the ground — the petroleum engineers — are told their estimates are not high enough, and executives then claim more optimistic numbers instead.

Most cases of oil industry fraud involve a simple concept. Oil companies are able to raise money based on how much oil they say is in the land they own — that’s known as oil reserves. The higher the value the company claims for its reserves, the more money it can borrow or attract from investors.

These fraud cases are very similar to housing appraisal fraud. What some of these oil companies are doing is the equivalent of owning a house worth $250,000, telling the bank it’s worth $500,000, and then borrowing money based on that inflated value. These oil executives then pay themselves high salaries and often cash in large amounts of stock options, until the investors’ money runs out and it’s revealed that the overly optimistic oil reserves predictions were not true.

ExxonMobil is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for overvaluing assets despite reports that employees disagreed with the valuations. There are also two separate whistleblower filings with the SEC that accuse Exxon of intentionally overstating the value of its oil and gas–producing properties by tens of billions of dollars.

In January, the Wall Street Journal reported on the case that spurred the SEC investigation and reportedly resulted in the firing of at least one ExxonMobil employee, who later filed one of the whistleblower complaints. According to that complaint, an employee who was pressured to redo oil well production forecasts numbers to make management happy reportedly named a file with the inflated numbers, “This is a lie.”
» Read article                

Alberta Net-Zero
Fossils’ ‘Net-Zero’ Alliance Has No Phaseout Plan, Relies on Shaky Carbon Capture Technology
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
June 13, 2021

Canada’s five big tar sands/oil sands companies are raising eyebrows with their plan to form an Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero alliance aimed at cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 without reducing their actual oil production.

The five companies—Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, MEG Energy, and Suncor Energy—”said they will work with the Canadian government and the provincial government of Alberta to roll out technologies that will enable them to cut emissions from their extraction and production process,” writes Climate Home News. “But they made no mention of phasing out production,” and “the ‘net-zero’ strategy does not extend to emissions from consumers burning the oil, which are many times larger than those from the extraction process.”

The Scope 3 emissions that occur when a shipment of oil reaches its final destination and is used as directed account for about 80% of the product’s life cycle carbon pollution. Earlier this year, when fossil giant ExxonMobil had to disclose its Scope 3 emissions, they added up to 730 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent in 2019.

Exxon subsidiary Imperial Oil is one of the five companies joining the new alliance. Together, they account for about 90% of Canada’s bitumen production, Climate Home states.

While Thomson Reuters says the companies are “generating billions more in free cash flow in a faster-than-expected pandemic rebound,” the expectation is that they’ll be hunting for federal and provincial subsidies to fund the transition they have in mind. Their release says they want to “develop an actionable approach” to reduce their emissions while “preserving the more than C$3 trillion” they claim their industry will contribute to the Canadian economy through 2050.

“Every credible energy forecast indicates that oil will be a major contributor to the energy mix in the decades ahead and even beyond 2050,” added Alberta Energy Minister and former pipeline executive Sonya Savage, conveniently sidestepping last month’s International Energy Agency projection that showed the precise opposite.

“Alberta is uniquely positioned and ready to meet that demand,” Savage said. “This initiative will also pave the way for continued technological advancements, ultimately leading to the production of net-zero barrels of oil.”

Climate campaigners with their hands on the actual data on emissions and carbon budgets were decidedly more realistic in their assessments of the plan.

“This kind of greenwash is worse than meaningless—it’s dangerous,” Alex Doukas, senior consultant at the Denmark-based KR Foundation, told Climate Home. “It fails to cover emissions associated with the tar sands products themselves. Nobody should cheer this nonsense.”
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

local biomass resolutionsResolutions against subsidies for biomass plants coming before Franklin County voters
By ZACK DeLUCA, Greenfield Recorder
June 11, 2021

A handful of Franklin County towns are voicing their opposition to state subsidies and incentives for biomass plants with resolutions that seek to protect the health of the environment and residents.

Most recently, Montague voters approved “A Resolution in Opposition to State Subsidies and Incentives for Biomass Plants” at their Annual Town Meeting on May 22. Now, Colrain voters have a chance to follow suit with their own resolution to be considered at their Annual Town Meeting on June 16. Other Western Massachusetts communities to approve similar resolutions include Leverett and Springfield.

According to the resolution passed in Montague, “wood-burning biomass plants are a highly polluting form of energy generation, known to release pollutants including fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.”

Ferd Wulkan of Montague and David Greenberg of Colrain, along with other members of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution’s Climate Task Force, have been including the resolutions in opposition to biomass plants on their respective Annual Town Meeting warrants through citizen’s petitions. Greenberg said language for the petitions was drawn from the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, which formed to protest a proposed Springfield biomass plant.

On April 2, the state Department of Environmental Protection revoked the approval necessary for the construction of Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed 42-megawatt biomass electricity generating plant in Springfield. Palmer Renewable Energy has since filed an appeal looking to reverse the decision.

While the Springfield plant has been halted, Greenberg said there is still work to be done to ensure the state doesn’t provide subsidies for these plants.

“This was a victory for the people of Springfield and all around Western Mass., who fought this plant for over a decade,” Wulkan said. “It is also a victory for our climate.”

According to Wulkan, biomass plants may accelerate global warming because wood-burning power plants emit more carbon dioxide than fossil fuel power plants per unit of energy generated. In a letter to the editor last month, Leverett resident Ann Ferguson voiced support for her town’s approval of the resolution, stating that biomass plants that burn wood generate more harmful pollutants than even fossil fuels.

“The point is, that although wood is a renewable energy source and fossil fuels are not, we should not support wood as a major energy source for electricity or heating schools and other businesses,” Ferguson wrote.

She and Wulkan both said local living forests sequester carbon pollutants, and cutting them down is thus counterproductive. Ferguson wrote that area towns need to oppose the changes to the Renewable Portfolio Standard proposed by the Baker administration that would allow biomass plants to receive taxpayer subsidies.
» Read article                

Frans TimmermansForest advocates press EU leader to rethink views on biomass and energy
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
June 15, 2021

“Please get the science right,” forest advocates implored last week in an open letter sent to the most influential European Commission leader on climate, as the European Union reevaluates its renewable energy policies this month.

That letter comes at a crucial moment which will determine whether the continent hits its ambitious voluntary carbon-reduction target under the Paris Agreement, and also whether it does so without relying on an existing EU carbon reporting loophole that allows the burning of forest biomass to make electricity, with the resulting greenhouse gas releases counted as generating “zero emissions.”

The June 7 letter posted by the global Forest Defenders Alliance, is part of an intensifying campaign putting pressure on Frans Timmermans, European Commission executive vice president. Timmermans role is manyfold: he is the EU’s point person on its European Green Deal, the lead on its Biodiversity Strategy, on setting the EU’s 55% carbon-emission reduction target by 2030, and in this case, reviewing the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) as it pertains to burning and subsidizing woody biomass for energy and heat.

To date, activists are concerned over Timmermans’ hedging regarding RED II forest biomass burning to make electricity.

In mid-May, a half dozen forest advocates pressed Timmermans during an hour-long virtual call regarding forest ecology, the importance of protecting Europe’s remaining intact forests and biodiversity, and the hazards of substituting wood pellets for coal as a climate solution. (Wood is dirtier than coal per unit of electricity made, and is not carbon neutral according to scientists, a finding which contradicts forest industry claims.)

Later, Timmermans appeared to contradict himself in an interview with Euractiv, a European news agency, which prompted the open-letter response. While defending forests during that interview, Timmermans also promoted the burning of biomass; advocates say he can’t have it both ways. The biomass industry harvests tens of thousands of hectares of intact forests annually in regions including the U.S. Southeast, western Canada and across Europe to meet a surging demand for wood pellets among the 27-nation EU.

That wood, long classified as a renewable energy resource on par with zero-carbon wind and solar, is being burned instead of coal. Under that definition, wood pellet carbon emissions are not counted at the smokestack, thus giving member countries an on-paper-only emissions reduction under EU law.

“We know you want to do the right thing on climate and ecosystem restoration, but you’re scaring us, because your recent statements… suggest you’re still not clear on certain key principles around forests and biomass energy,” says the open letter which was drafted by ecologist Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity. “We need policymakers to treat climate change and ecosystem restoration with the seriousness they’d treat national defense or terrorism,” the letter states.

Instead, Booth wrote, “this whole biomass thing” comes across as being merely inconvenient, “instead of posing an existential threat to the EU’s forests and hopes for climate mitigation.”
» Read article              
» Read the Forest Defenders Alliance open letter to VP Timmermans     

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

ocean raft
Plastic rafting: the invasive species hitching a ride on ocean litter
There is now so much ocean plastic that it has become a route for invasive species, threatening native animals with extinction
By Russell Thomas, The Guardian
June 14, 2021

Plastic rafting poses a huge and mostly unknown danger. Invasive species that ride plastic litter to new shores can reduce habitats for native species, carry disease (micro-algae is a particular threat), and put further strain on ecosystems already pressured by overfishing and pollution. According to David Barnes, marine benthic ecologist at the British Antarctic Survey and visiting lecturer at Cambridge University, rafting increases “extinction risk [while] reducing biodiversity, ecosystem function and resilience”.

Rafting – or oceanic dispersal – is a natural phenomenon. Marine organisms attach themselves to marine litter and travel hundreds of kilometres. Free-floating clumps of seaweed such as sargassum, sometimes 3 metres thick, provides a home for certain “rafting species” in the Atlantic, such as reef fish, or pipefishes and seahorses, which are both poor swimmers.

But while it is relatively rare for a non-native species to successfully survive in a new environment, the huge increase in waste being dumped at sea, as well as abandoned fishing gear, enables biofouling: aquatic organisms attaching themselves where they are not wanted.

This turns “a rare, sporadic evolutionary process into a quotidian one”, says Prof Bella Galil, curator at Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv University. Invasive species can threaten biological diversity, food security and human wellbeing. Sea grapes from Australia arriving in the Mediterranean in 1990, for example, displaced other marine algae – setting off a domino effect that ultimately led to a reduction in native gastropods and crustaceans.

“Plastic, particularly, has massively increased the transport possibilities in terms of how much flotsam there is, its variety (in size and structure), where it goes and how long it floats for,” he says. “Furthermore, plastic can increase local spread of invader species when they do arrive and establish.” One compilation from 2015 listed 387 species, from micro-organisms to seaweeds and invertebrates, found to have rafted on marine litter, in “all major oceanic regions”.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 12/4/20

banner 04

Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station is taking another run at becoming operational. Recall that their first attempt failed because of back-to-back unplanned gas releases caused by equipment failures. They now have Federal approval to try again, beginning today, and that comes with further – planned – releases of methane into the community as part of the process of voiding air from the lines.

In news about other pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to extend the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024. The upshot is they’ll need to apply again for that extension in a year or two, while the economic and environmental arguments against new pipelines continue to harden.

Legal action against the fossil fuel industry could be less effective if cases are heard in federal court, rather than at state level. That’s why the industry is pushing a strategy to make that happen, with an eye toward the very conservative US Supreme Court. Shifting gears to a whole different type of action, we found a great article on activist trolling of fossil fuel companies – taking it to the greenwashers through social media and calling them out for their propaganda.

And the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize was awarded to six environmental activists for grassroots work all over the world. Read about them at the end of this section.

The sunsetting Trump administration is trying to make divestment more difficult, by bullying banks into financing Arctic oil extraction. This follows announcements by all the major US banks that they won’t finance expansion into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What the Trump camp apparently doesn’t understand, is that banks are backing off purely out of economic interest. They have concluded that extracting oil and gas from the Arctic is a lousy business proposition.

Nonetheless, we’re still pumping a gusher. Articles in our Climate section warn that the pandemic-related emissions drop is both minor and temporary – and that the world is on track to extract and burn increasing amounts of oil and gas well into the future. Opposing that seemingly-inevitable trend are a few court rulings, mostly in Europe, that begin to force countries to take their climate commitments seriously.

The geothermal micro-district concept is a way to provide emissions-free heating and cooling to entire neighborhoods. Two pilot projects are underway in Massachusetts. Aside from being a super-efficient use of clean energy, its deployment offers a natural transition for existing utilities – a way to leverage the electrical and pipe fitting skills of their current workforce into green jobs.

Our Energy Efficiency section gives a shout-out to Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, for her vision and persistence in launching the ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program. While it isn’t aimed directly at increasing home energy efficiency, it helps homeowners finance some of the exterior repair work that often must be done prior to insulation and sealing. Its a welcome complement to existing energy efficiency programs like Mass Save.

Energy Storage covers new residential batteries, while our Clean Transportation section considers how to recycle old ones. We also found another article on the huge problem of aftermarket emissions control defeat devices installed in diesel vehicles – especially pickup trucks. A new EPA report estimates this problem is much worse in terms of total emissions than the notorious Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal from a few years ago.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was gutted and politicized under Trump, some devoted career scientists still remain. They’re mounting a concerted effort to resist the administration’s last-ditch assault on the environment, with an eye toward clearing a path for the incoming Biden administration to quickly reverse some of the worst damage. Dissent is also bubbling up at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), where commissioners are beginning to stake out positions that seem to anticipate coming changes.

Fossil fuel industry news includes a lot of buzz about the Trump administration’s upcoming sale of extraction leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But banks have signaled a distinct lack of interest in financing future operations and environmentalists are ready with lawsuits. Meanwhile, oil refineries are showing financial stress, with many offered for sale and few interested buyers.

We close with an update on biomass. The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would reclassify energy from burning woody biomass as carbon neutral. The value of renewable energy credits resulting from that reclassification would tip the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield from the “loser” to the “winner” column. After twelve years of protest, it would finally be financed and built. A massive effort is underway to prevent this environmental and public health disaster from happening. We offer a link to a petition you can sign, in opposition.

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

compressor station photoWeymouth Compressor May Vent Gas As Part Of Its Startup Week
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
December 1, 2020

Crews at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth could vent natural gas into the community several times during the first week of operations at the site set to begin on Friday.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the energy company that built the controversial facility, said Tuesday that the process to place the compressor into service will officially start on Dec. 4 after federal regulators gave the final stamp of approval last week.

That process will involve “controlled, planned venting of natural gas” to remove any air in the station’s pipes, according to the spokesperson, Max Bergeron.

“The controlled venting of natural gas may occur intermittently between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on December 4 through December 11, 2020,” Bergeron said in an email. “The controlled venting of natural gas is a safe and routine procedure, and the gas which is vented will naturally dissipate. Algonquin Gas Transmission representatives will be on site during this work, and monitors that constantly measure the levels of natural gas will be used.”

Community leaders as well as environmental and public health groups have battled the proposed facility for years, but a federally ordered pause in operations at the site following two emergency shutdowns ended after about seven weeks.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has been at the center of the opposition campaign announced it would mark the start of compressor service with an “Elf effigy” in Kings Cove Park near the facility.
» Read article             

Feds Give Compressor Station Approval to Start Up
Emergency Shutdowns Tied to O-Ring, Electrical Issues
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
November 25, 2020

Enbridge will start pumping natural gas through its Weymouth compressor station next month after federal regulators on Wednesday gave the final green light, ruling that the company sufficiently corrected any issues behind two emergency shutdowns this fall.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration signed off Wednesday on a plan to restart operations at the site with gas pressure limited to 80 percent of the levels before the most recent incident.

With the agency’s Thanksgiving eve approval, the controversial project appears set to begin operating in the next few weeks after years of opposition from community groups and elected officials.

News that the contentious project was again on the verge of completion sparked immediate criticism from opponents, including U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

“This project is a threat to public safety, health, and the environment, and I will continue to fight it,” Markey tweeted.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Not so fast - FERC
Federal agency refuses to extend construction deadline for National Fuel pipeline
By Thomas J. Prohaska, The Buffalo News
December 2, 2020

National Fuel was premature in requesting an extension of its deadline to complete a new $500 million pipeline to carry natural gas from northern Pennsylvania to Canada through Western New York.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to push the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024.

Although FERC said it was too soon for the company to ask for such an extension, it rejected National Fuel’s Oct. 16 request “without prejudice,” meaning the company is free to ask again when the question is more timely.

“We remain fully committed to this project and, as indicated in the FERC comments, we are able to file again,” National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said.

“We’re glad they denied it,” said Diana Strablow, vice chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group.

The seven-page FERC ruling noted that 64 comments, all negative, were received during a 15-day public comment period.

“I think they had an impact,” Strablow said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has tried to block the pipeline project by refusing to grant a water quality permit that would allow the 24-inch-wide pipeline to cross 192 streams in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Erie counties.
» Read article             

hands off Oregon
When Can Pipelines Take Private Land? Jordan Cove LNG Project a Test for Eminent Domain
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 24, 2020

In 2005, Deb Evans and her husband Ron Schaaf bought a piece of property in Klamath County, Oregon, where they hoped to build a house and selectively harvest timber on the land. They saw it as a long-term investment. About a month after they closed on the property, they went to walk through portions of it where they considered building a home, but they noticed orange survey tape hanging from the trees. “We had no idea who had put it there or why,” Evans said.

After calling around, they soon found out that a company wanted to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Coos Bay on the Oregon coast, and run a natural gas pipeline to California — and Evans’ land was in the way. If the company’s plans worked out, the pipeline would travel right through their property.

A decade and a half — and two White House administrations — later, there’s still no pipeline.

But the project still looms over Evans and Schaaf, limping along in a zombie-like fashion. The Jordan Cove LNG project, now overseen by Canadian company Pembina, just won’t seem to die — even after it had been rejected by federal regulators twice and had key environmental permits denied. Now, in a final attempt to stop the pipeline that would supply the LNG terminal, local residents are suing to protect their property.

Evans and a group of about two dozen landowners, represented by the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., are appealing the Trump administration’s approval of the pipeline (reversing an Obama-era rejection) in a case that will be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021. The outcome could have far-reaching ramifications for how pipelines get built in the U.S., and how pipeline companies can use eminent domain to take private land.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines     

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

SCOTUS bait and switch
Here’s How Big Oil Wants The Supreme Court to Help Delay and Derail Climate Lawsuits
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 2, 2020

On January 19, 2021 — just one day before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office — the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a climate change accountability lawsuit brought by Baltimore, Maryland, against almost two dozen fossil fuel corporations.

Like over a dozen other climate lawsuits, Baltimore’s case seeks to hold major oil and gas companies including Chevron and ExxonMobil accountable for fueling the climate crisis through the extraction and sale of their products and for spreading climate disinformation and downplaying the dangers of fossil fuels to the public and shareholders in order to boost corporate profits.

And similar to other cases brought at the municipal or state level, Baltimore’s lawsuit demands that oil majors help pay for things such as seawalls to better protect the city from the impacts of climate change like more dramatic flooding. Proving the alleged corporate deception around the reality and severity of climate change is at the heart of the lawsuits lodged by communities like Baltimore which are facing enormous costs and damages from the unfolding climate crisis.

Seeking help from the fossil fuel companies to pay for these sorts of climate adaptation efforts, however, can likely only be done by keeping the case at the local level rather than trying it in higher federal courts.

This is why fossil fuel companies and their allies are currently waging a procedural battle to punt these cases from state to federal court. The upcoming hearing in the Supreme Court — which has dismissed climate lawsuits in the past — could determine whether or not the Baltimore lawsuit can remain at the state level. A ruling in favor of the fossil fuel industry will at the very least delay Baltimore’s case and similar climate cases from advancing in state court, and could derail these cases altogether if the Supreme Court determines they must be brought in federal, rather than state, courts.

In a series of legal briefs recently filed with the Supreme Court, several trade and lobby groups, and more than a dozen government bodies, are backing Big Oil’s argument that the case should only be heard in federal court.

This includes the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (The Chamber of Commerce and NAM, whose members include fossil fuel companies, both regularly intervene on the industry’s behalf in court.)

Two conservative law organizations — the Atlantic Legal Foundation and the Washington Legal Foundation — also filed briefs, along with an organization of defense lawyers called DRI – Voice of the Defense Bar and Energy Policy Advocates, a shadowy initiative that files public records requests on behalf of fossil fuel interests.

On top of that, two retired military officers filed briefs as well as the U.S. federal government and 13 politically conservative states, including Alaska, Louisiana, and Texas. Under Trump, the Justice Department has regularly intervened on industry’s behalf in court cases — and its recent brief in the Baltimore case echoes arguments made by the fossil fuel industry.

Alyssa Johl, legal director with the Center for Climate Integrity, an initiative that supports holding polluters accountable for climate harms, described the oil companies’ Supreme Court plea as a “bait and switch.”

“Big Oil and their allies are asking the justices to bypass the narrow issue before them and instead issue a sweeping decision that would send all related climate damages cases to federal court,” she said. “Since the oil defendants have repeatedly failed to win that argument in lower courts, this really feels like a Hail Mary pass to escape accountability.”
» Read article             

greentrolling
Greentrolling: A ‘maniacal plan’ to bring down Big Oil
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 19, 2020

Mary Heglar has a “maniacal plan” to save the planet. It doesn’t involve shutting down pipelines or protesting in the streets. Heglar has simply been “trolling the shit out of fossil fuel companies” on social media.

Heglar is known for her essays about climate change and for being one half of the duo behind Hot Take, a newsletter and podcast she co-hosts with the journalist Amy Westervelt. Her strategy started taking shape after the oil giant BP shared a carbon footprint calculator on Twitter last fall.

“Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!” the oil company tweeted.

Hegar’s reply went viral. “Bitch what’s yours???”

“They can just walk out on the biggest arena in the world and pretend that they’re something that they’re not,” Heglar told Grist. “And it’s really persuasive. If I didn’t know better, I would believe that BP was on the right side of history.”

Heglar was tired of climate-conscious people turning against one other, shaming others for flying or eating meat. Instead, she wanted to direct their anger at the companies responsible for the largest share of global greenhouse gas emissions. So she started prowling the social media feeds of Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips every day to point out their hypocrisy. (She can’t see Exxon’s tweets anymore, because she got blocked.) “I’m petty like that,” she said. “I am a Scorpio and I am vindictive.”

“Greentrolling,” as Heglar describes it, is a way of letting off steam. But there’s a deeper motivation behind it. The point isn’t to convince oil companies to do better. It’s to make sure that people aren’t misled by corporate PR teams — to try and shatter the idea that they’re champions of the environment, and point out the ways they shift blame to individuals to avoid accepting responsibility for their role in the climate crisis.

Greentrolling is catching on. Earlier this month, Shell tweeted a poll asking “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?” Every corner of Climate Twitter had something to say about it. “This you?” said climate activist Jamie Margolin, sharing a photograph of a 2016 Shell oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Sunrise Movement tweeted, “omg cute!! we’re still gonna prosecute your execs for lying to the public about climate change for 30 years though!!!” Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York also chimed in.
» Read article             

Goldman Prize 20206 Grassroots Activists Win ‘Green Nobel Prize’
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
November 30, 2020

Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the “Green Nobel Prize,” this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continents.

This year’s winners include an Indigenous Mayan beekeeper who led a coalition to ban genetically modified soy in seven Mexican states, a French activist who pressured France’s three largest banks to stop financing coal, a woman who harnessed youth activism to enact a ban on single-use plastics in the Bahamas, an Indigenous Waorani woman who organized legal action preventing oil extraction in a huge expanse of Amazon rainforest, an Indigenous Karen organizer who spearheaded the formation of the world’s first peace park in an active conflict zone, and an activist who prevented the construction of what would have been the first coal-fired power plant in Ghana.

“These six environmental champions reflect the powerful impact that one person can have on many,” John Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a statement. “Even in the face of the unending onslaught and destruction upon our natural world, there are countless individuals and communities fighting every day to protect our planet. These are six of those environmental heroes, and they deserve the honor and recognition the Prize offers them — for taking a stand, risking their lives and livelihoods, and inspiring us with real, lasting environmental progress.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

forced investment
Trump Administration Accused of Trying to Bully Banks Into Financing Arctic Fossil Fuel Extraction
“Contrary to the claims of oil-backed politicians, banks don’t want to finance more drilling in the Arctic not because of some vast liberal conspiracy, but because it’s bad business,” said a Sierra Club leader.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
November 20, 2020

Responding to grassroots pressure and shareholder activism, five of the six largest U.S. banks have decided they want no part of financing fossil fuel drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—but that isn’t stopping the Trump administration from what critics on Friday called bullying banks into funding oil and gas extraction.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Friday proposed a new rule that would bar financial institutions from refusing to lend to entire categories of lawful businesses. In the name of “fair access,” the proposed rule would force banks to finance not only the fossil fuel industry that is largely responsible for the ever-worsening climate emergency, but also other highly controversial sectors such as for-profit private prisons and firearms manufacturers.

“We need to stop the weaponization of banking as a political tool,” Brian Brooks, the acting comptroller, told the Journal. “It’s creating real economic dislocations.”

Under the proposal—which came on the heels of complaints by Republican politicians that banks are discriminating against Big Oil—institutional lenders would only be permitted to decline loans if an applicant failed to meet “quantitative, impartial, risk-based standards established by the bank in advance.”

The proposal will be open for public comment until January 4, 2021 before it is subject to final approval. That would leave Brooks just over two weeks to enact the measure before President Donald Trump leaves office on January 20. The financial services industry is likely to push back against the proposal, fearing it could force banks to finance individuals, entities, or endeavors against their will.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

lost hills
UN Report: Despite Falling Energy Demand, Governments Set on Increasing Fossil Fuel Production
Top countries are projected to produce twice the limit on oil, gas and coal required to meet Paris climate agreement goals.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
December 2, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has sent global energy demand plummeting, and led many analysts and oil executives to conclude that a transition away from fossil fuels is marching nearer. But a new United Nations report says the world’s leading fossil fuel producers still appear set on expanding their output to levels that would send temperatures soaring past global climate goals.

The report, published Wednesday by the U.N. Environment Program and written by researchers from several universities, think tanks and advocacy groups, looked at national plans and projections for fossil fuel production. It found that top producing governments were set to produce twice as much oil, gas and coal by 2030 as would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious goal of the Paris climate agreement. The countries are on track to expand output by 2 percent per year, the report said, while production needs to decline by about 6 percent per year to meet the Paris goal.

The government projections that underpin the U.N.’s second annual Production Gap Report were published mostly before the pandemic transformed global energy markets and sent fossil fuel production down by about 7 percent this year. But while this sharp drop, and trillions of dollars in government stimulus programs, present an opportunity to shift the global energy system, far more money has been directed toward activities that encourage burning fossil fuels than toward reducing emissions.

“So far, all indications are that, overall, governments are planning to expand fossil fuel production at a time when climate goals require that they wind it down,” the report said. “If governments continue to direct Covid-19 recovery packages and stimulus funds to fossil fuels, these plans could become reality.”
» Read article            
» Read the report

no Covid emissions relief
Covid-19 Shutdowns Were Just a Blip in the Upward Trajectory of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Emissions will drop by 4 to 7 percent for 2020, but carbon dioxide will continue to increase, the annual World Meteorological Association bulletin finds.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
November 23, 2020

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will drop by 4 percent to 7 percent in 2020 because of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, but that decline won’t stop the continued overall buildup of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The carbon dioxide level will continue to increase, “though at a slightly reduced pace,” according to the annual greenhouse gas bulletin, published today by the World Meteorological Organization. The impact on CO2 concentrations from pandemic-related economic disruptions is no bigger than the normal year-to-year fluctuations from natural ocean or plant cycles, the report concluded.

The bulletin is based on global average figures for 2019, but 2020 data from individual stations in the greenhouse gas monitoring network show that atmospheric CO2 continued to increase this year. At sampling sites on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and Cape Grim in Australia, the average September 2020 CO2 concentrations rose by about 2 parts per million from the previous year, passing 410 parts per million for the first time on record.
» Read article             

France held accountable‘Historic’ Court Ruling Will Force France To Justify Its Climate Targets
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
November 20, 2020

A French court this week issued what climate campaigners are calling a “historic decision” in the fight to hold national governments accountable for insufficient action to address the climate crisis.

The decision finds that France in recent years has exceeded its “carbon budgets” — the upper limit of allowable carbon emissions to help keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The French government must now justify within the next three months how its refusal to take more stringent measures to curb emissions in line with the Paris Agreement puts the nation on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.

This is the first court ruling of its kind in France — and it could influence other ongoing climate lawsuits in the country. The decision is the latest in a string of successful legal challenges to European governments’ inadequate policies to tackle the climate crisis, including in Ireland and most famously in the Netherlands, which was the first time a court anywhere in the world ruled that a national government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.

While the decision this week in France does not order the French government to take more aggressive climate action (as was the case with the Dutch government), it is one step away from that. If the court finds the French government’s justification for its less-ambitious targets insufficient, it could order the nation to take action to rapidly slash emissions. France ranks among the top 20 carbon polluters in the world, according to 2018 data analyzed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

micro-district concept MA
Innovative geothermal micro-district concept moves ahead in Massachusetts
Utilities could prove useful partners in the projects, which involve drilling, trenching and laying pipe to bring underground heat into buildings.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Chris Sullivan / NREL
December 3, 2020

Two pilot projects in Massachusetts will attempt to deploy geothermal heating across entire neighborhoods — an innovative model that aims to slash fossil fuel use while providing an economic transition for gas utilities and their workers.

“The more we’ve learned, the more incredible it has seemed,” said Audrey Schulman, co-founder and co-executive director of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that developed and promoted the geothermal micro-district concept.

The first pilot is slated for the Merrimack Valley, an area in northeastern Massachusetts hit by a series of gas explosions and fires in September 2018 that federal investigators blamed on inadequate management by Columbia Gas. The $56 million settlement the company agreed to this fall included $4 million to implement a geothermal test project.

A second project is being developed by utility Eversource, which plans to spend $10.3 million constructing a district geothermal system in a densely populated, mixed-use area that has not yet been selected.

“We’re really thinking about how we can be a catalyst for clean energy in the region,” said Michael Goldman, director of energy efficiency for Eversource.

Geothermal systems — also referred to as ground-source heat pumps — are not a new concept. They work by running pipes filled with antifreeze liquid as far as 500 feet into the ground, to a depth at which the temperature is relatively stable, usually lingering in the low 50s Fahrenheit in Massachusetts. Heat is extracted from the earth and carried through the liquid-filled pipes to warm buildings.

The same principle allows for geothermal cooling as well: On hot days, a heat pump extracts heat from the air in the building and transfers it into the liquid in the pipes. The warmed liquid travels downward and its heat is released into the ground.
» Read article             

ILSR study
How Renewable Energy Could Power Your State
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in EcoWatch
November 20, 2020

How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?

According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.

The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.

And that’s just a start: The report found that there’s so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.

So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)

The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

at home in Pittsfield
‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program overcomes earlier City Council opposition
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
November 24, 2020

PITTSFIELD — Nearly two years after she proposed it, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer won support Tuesday for a plan to help residents fix up the outsides of their homes through use of potentially forgivable loans.

When Tyer’s “At Home in Pittsfield” program was defeated in April 2019 by a different City Council, opponents said Pittsfield should not be pulling money from an economic development fund that’s a legacy of the General Electric Co.’s departure from the city.

Two of those councilors, Kevin Morandi of Ward 2 and Christopher Connell of Ward 4, remained against the plan. But with two other opponents no longer on the body, the measure passed 8-2. It needed and secured a supermajority to pass. Council President Peter Marchetti recused himself due to a conflict.

After seeing her idea sidelined in 2019, Tyer vowed to try again, arguing that helping residents invest in their homes not only builds equity and family wealth for borrowers who qualify, it is good for the whole city, particularly in distressed neighborhoods.

And more than a year later, that campaign came through.

Tyer told councilors Tuesday that she would not come back to the panel seeking additional funding beyond the $500,000 approved Tuesday for the program, which will allocate loans to qualifying applicants over the next two or three years.

The program is designed to help homeowners who might not otherwise qualify for financing for repairs. Four local banks are partners. Applicants without mortgages can apply through the city.

Loans can be used for exterior improvements that prevent deterioration, such as repairs to porches, roofs, windows or chimneys.
» Blog editor’s note: This program addresses a problem that often prevents energy efficiency upgrades from happening. Many of the repairs funded by ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ are required to properly prepare a building envelope for insulation upgrades and sealing, but homeowners often struggle to pay for them. Kudos to Mayor Tyer for her leadership and persistence – this is a big win.
» Read article             

green line
Retroactive energy efficiency loans offer pandemic lifeline for some businesses

Green banks are offering businesses a chance to borrow against previous investments in energy-saving upgrades.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Green Line Pharmacy / Courtesy
November 23, 2020

The Green Line Apothecary in Rhode Island is known for its old-school flair: Both locations in Wakefield and Providence boast authentic soda fountains where customers can sit and chat over root beer floats.

“We wanted to reestablish the days when the pharmacy was more than just a place to pick up your pills,” said Ken Procaccianti, who runs Green Line with his wife Christina, a pharmacist, and is also a builder. “It used to be a community gathering place.”

But when it came to readying the space for their Providence location, which opened just last year, the couple took a decidedly forward-thinking approach. The North Main Street site was so rundown it required a gut rehab. Beyond replacing the roof, plumbing and windows, however, the couple also invested in more than $300,000 in energy-saving upgrades, including LED lighting, spray-foam insulation, and high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

It was only after the project was finished that they learned they could borrow against those energy improvements, providing their growing business with valuable liquidity. And so earlier this fall, the Procacciantis closed on a $327,584 retroactive loan through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank’s C-PACE financing program.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

sonnenCore
Sonnen launches ‘affordable’ all-in-one home battery storage system in US
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
November 23, 2020

Germany-headquartered residential battery storage manufacturer sonnen has launched an “all-in-one” system in the US which comes at a recommended retail price of US$9,500.

The company, owned by oil and gas major Shell since last year, has just brought out sonnenCore, a home energy storage system (HESS) which comes with a free 10 year or 10,000 cycle warranty to an expected lifetime throughput of 58MWh.

SonnenCore has 4.8kW of continuous AC output or 8.6kW peak output and 10kWh usable capacity to 100% depth-of-discharge (DoD). The system, which uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, has been listed to UL 9540 standards for fire safety and sonnen said it is suitable for applications including time-of-use load shifting, solar self-consumption and emergency backup power.

The company said it comes with a newly-developed sonnen inverter and includes custom energy management software (EMS) which sonnen claimed enables “comprehensive end-to-end system integration and optimisation”.
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV timebomb
The Race To Crack Battery Recycling—Before It’s Too Late
Millions of EVs will soon hit the road, but the world isn’t ready for their old batteries. A crop of startups wants to crack this billion-dollar problem.
By Daniel Oberhaus, Wired
November 30, 2020

Every day, millions of lithium-ion batteries roll off the line at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. These cells, produced on site by Panasonic, are destined to be bundled together by the thousands in the battery packs of new Teslas. But not all the batteries are cut out for a life on the road. Panasonic ships truckloads of cells that don’t pass their qualification tests to a facility in Carson City, about a half hour’s drive south. This is the home of Redwood Materials, a small company founded in 2017 with an ambition to become the anti-Gigafactory, a place where batteries are cooked down into raw materials that will serve as the grist for new cells.

Redwood is part of a wave of new startups racing to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist yet: How to recycle the mountains of batteries from electric vehicles that are past their prime. Over the past decade, the world’s lithium-ion production capacity has increased tenfold to meet the growing demand for EVs. Now vehicles from that first production wave are just beginning to reach the end of their lifespan. This marks the beginning of a tsunami of spent batteries, which will only get worse as more electric cars hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts an 800 percent increase in the number of EVs over the next decade, each car packed with thousands of cells. The dirty secret of the EV revolution is that it created an e-waste timebomb—and cracking lithium-ion recycling is the only way to defuse it.

Redwood’s CEO and founder J. B. Straubel understands the problem better than most. After all, he played a significant role in creating it. Straubel is cofounder and, until last year, was the CTO at Tesla, a company he joined when it was possible to count all of its employees on one hand. During his time there, the company grew from a scrappy startup peddling sports cars to the most valuable auto manufacturer on the planet. Along the way, Tesla also became one of the world’s largest battery producers. But the way Straubel sees it, those batteries aren’t really a problem. “The major opportunity is to think of this material for reuse and recovery,” he says. “With all these batteries in circulation, it just seems super obvious that eventually we’re going to build a remanufacturing ecosystem.”
» Read article             

diesel tuners
Illegal Tampering by Diesel Pickup Owners Is Worsening Pollution, E.P.A. Says
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 25, 2020

The owners and operators of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks have been illegally disabling their vehicles’ emissions control technology over the past decade, allowing excess emissions equivalent to 9 million extra trucks on the road, a new federal report has concluded.

The practice, described in a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Enforcement, has echoes of the Volkswagen scandal of 2015, when the automaker was found to have illegally installed devices in millions of diesel passenger cars worldwide — including about half a million in the United States — designed to trick emissions control monitors.

But in this case no single corporation is behind the subterfuge; it is the truck owners themselves who are installing illegal devices, which are typically manufactured by small companies. That makes it much more difficult to measure the full scale of the problem, which is believed to affect many more vehicles than the 500,000 or so estimated in the report.

In terms of the pollution impact in the United States, “This is far more alarming and widespread than the Volkswagen scandal,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, the research group that first alerted the E.P.A. of the illegal Volkswagen technology. “Because these are trucks, the amount of pollution is far, far higher,” he said.

The E.P.A. focused just on devices installed in heavy pickup trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado and the Dodge Ram 2500, about 15 percent of which appear to have defeat devices installed. But such devices — commercially available and marketed as a way to improve vehicle performance — almost certainly have been installed in millions of other vehicles.
» Read article            
» Read the EPA report

» More about clean transportation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

surge in resistance
E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
November 27, 2020

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.

Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.

“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”

With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.

The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.
» Read article             

» More about EPA

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC dissents
FERC Dissents Reveal Continued Political Tension on Clean Energy Policy
FERC’s sole Democrat blasts New England market and PURPA decisions, warns of legal challenges.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 20, 2020

Thursday’s meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission started off with expressions of comity between its three commissioners. It ended with another round of dissents from its sole Democrat, who warned of possible legal challenges to FERC decisions approved by its Republican majority over his objections.

Questions of political pressure on the avowedly nonpartisan agency have swirled around FERC over the past weeks after the Trump administration demoted Neil Chatterjee from his two-year tenure as FERC chairman to appoint fellow Republican James Danly to the leadership position.

But Chatterjee was gracious to Danly in welcoming him as chair and thanked Democrat Richard Glick for finding “common ground” amid “our fair share of political disagreements.” He also congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory, making him one of the few Trump-appointed federal officials to do so.

Glick, in turn, noted that he’s had a “very good and open level of discussion” with his Republican colleagues, despite their disputes.

Glick was less sparing, however, in his dissents regarding two decisions to deny pleas from states and clean energy groups to reconsider two key FERC decisions — one applying to federally regulated wholesale energy markets in New England and the other to clean-energy facilities competing in states with vertically integrated utility regulatory structures.

Glick, who is considered a likely pick to chair FERC under the incoming Biden administration, said both decisions will have a negative impact on clean energy resources and noted that Thursday’s decisions are both open to legal challenges in federal court.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR lease sale scheduled
Administration Schedules Lease Sale for Arctic Wildlife Refuge
Environmental groups blasted the move and warned that petroleum companies bidding on leases will face legal battles “fraught with high costs and reputational risks.”
By Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News
December 3, 2020

Even in the final weeks of his administration, President Donald Trump is trying to make good on his early promise to bring oil development to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, not bothering to wait for the public comments that are customary before such a move.

The Bureau of Land Management announced on Thursday that the administration plans to hold an oil leasing sale for the refuge on Jan. 6. This is far sooner than environmental organizations expected, and the announcement met with immediate criticism from groups that have been fighting to keep drilling out of what is known as the “crown jewel” of the nation’s wildlife refuge system.

Just over two weeks ago, the Bureau of Land Management issued a “call for nominations,” asking oil companies to let them know which tracts of the refuge they might want to drill on. That process typically involves a 30-day public comment period, and is usually followed by a period of analysis—often several weeks—in which the bureau decides what tracts to offer up. Based on that timeline, it seemed that the earliest a lease sale could happen would be a few days before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“This timing is highly unusual and breaks with protocol,” said Kristin Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Though Biden has said that protecting the refuge from drilling is a priority, once the leases are sold, the process of getting them back is complicated. That may be one reason the administration is rushing to get them sold before Trump’s term ends.

“This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
» Read article             

With Bank of America Announcement, Every Major US Bank Has Ruled out Funding for Arctic Drilling
By Gabby Brown, Sierra Club
November 30, 2020

Bank of America has reportedly joined its peers and ruled out funding for new drilling in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi have all announced similar policies this year. Bank of America has faced mounting pressure in recent months from Indigenous communities, environmental advocates, and shareholders to follow suit.

The Trump administration is racing ahead with plans to hold a lease sale in the delicate coastal plain of the refuge in the final days before President-Elect Biden’s inauguration, but industry analysts have raised questions about whether oil companies, or the financial institutions that fund them, will be interested in making such a risky investment. Biden has pledged to protect the Arctic Refuge from drilling.

“It has long been clear that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would trample Indigenous rights, threaten vulnerable wildlife, and worsen the climate crisis. Now that every major American bank has stated unequivocally that they will not finance this destructive activity, it should be clearer than ever that any oil company considering participating in Trump’s ill-advised lease sale should stay away,” said Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Ben Cushing.
» Read article             

no refinery buyers
Oil Companies Can’t Find Any Buyers For Refineries Struggling Amid Pandemic Crisis
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2020

Major players in the U.S. petroleum refining industry — which is experiencing a historic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic — are attempting to sell refineries, with little luck. Unable to find any buyers, several refineries are becoming stranded assets as they are permanently shut down.

The pandemic continues to set new records in the U.S. almost daily — more than 250,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since February. This mounting crisis is leading to a second round of shutdowns and measures that will limit economic activity and slow the consumption of fuel. Amid this, the refining industry is expected to face a prolonged downturn.

In the second week of November 2019, U.S. refinery inputs totaled 16.0 million barrels per day (mbpd). In the same week in 2020, the total was 13.6 mbpd — a 15 percent decrease.

Expectations are for the economy and fuel consumption to return to 2019 levels at some point in the future, with one caveat: The demand for very profitable jet fuel (which accounted for 9 percent of total U.S. refinery output last year) may never return. This change poses a major threat to the basic business model of many refineries.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

Palmer RE rendering
Activists Look To Beacon Hill To Stop Biomass Power Plant Project
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
December 2, 2020

Environmental activists are keeping up their efforts to block construction of a long-proposed wood-burning power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

With the end of the legislative session on Beacon Hill a month away, opponents of a biomass power plant proposed more than a decade ago are lobbying furiously to get language stricken from a climate bill that would provide valuable financial incentives to the project’s developer.

The efforts include phone calls to the offices of legislators, letter-writing, and an online petition with close to 3,000 signatures, so far, requesting removal of language from the climate bill labeling biomass a “non-carbon emitting” energy source.

Plans to build a 35-megawatt plant that would burn woody biomass to generate electricity in an industrial section of East Springfield were first disclosed about 12 years ago.  From the start it faced stiff resistance from nearby residents, local activists, and statewide environmental organizations.

“We call it the zombie project because it keeps coming back to life,” said  Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

He said the plant would cause air pollution not just from the wood that would be burned, but also from the trucks that would drive to and from the site daily.

“Its destructive to the local residents sound and air quality,” said McArthur.
» Read article
» Sign the petition

» More about biomass

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