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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 6/4/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

Plans for a new peaking power plant in Peabody are on hold while the developer and stakeholders explore the feasibility of greener alternatives. Pressure is building to make this exploration more public.

We have recently noticed a development in gas industry messaging – applied both to the Peabody peaker and Weymouth compressor station – that these facilities actually reduce overall fossil fuel consumption because they backstop intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. According to this narrative, readily availability gas-generated power allows the rapid and extensive integration of clean energy onto the grid. That’s true, but we now have reliable, non-emitting alternatives that accomplish the same result, often at lower cost.

So we consider this nothing more than pro-gas propaganda, and suspect that the consistency of the messaging results from gas industry coordination. Expect to see more of it. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its flagship report stating that the climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is unequivocal – stop now. Not “soon”, and not once we’ve crossed some fantastical, conceptual “bridge”.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just published a report describing this clean energy transition in great detail. The report places much higher importance on the development of demand side flexibility in conjunction with battery storage, in preference to the current model that underpins capacity with fossil fuel generation.

That overview sets the stage for a lot of recent news. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities failed to get approval to build its Granite Bridge pipeline, and is now seeking other ways to increase sales of natural gas. Protests and actions continue worldwide, pushing back against continued efforts to add fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes risky activism in Uganda in opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and a big win as a Dutch court told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned. In related developments, a new financial disclosure rule in Switzerland requires large Swiss banks and insurance companies to disclose risks associated with climate change.

This all follows a very bad couple of weeks for the fossil fuel industry, when a combination of court rulings and climate-centered investors generated multiple “End of Oil” headlines. One exception is the Biden administration’s unfortunate approval of a major new Alaska oil drilling project. Contending for a new benchmark in the “absurd” category, ConocoPhillips will install chillers in the soggy permafrost which otherwise is too melty to support drilling rigs. That permafrost, of course, is melting because we have already burned too much fossil fuel and warmed the planet to dangerous levels. The chillers will re-freeze enough of that ground to allow the extraction, transport, and combustion of lots of oil for thirty more years.

Our Greening the Economy, Energy Storage, and Clean Transportation sections are all related this week. They grapple with environmental issues surrounding lithium – the primary component in electric vehicle and most grid-scale storage batteries. Articles explore greener sources and alternative technologies that could reduce the impact. We also launched a new section, Modernizing the Grid, to cover what promises to be a critical and complex project.

Wrapping up, we offer an opinion on how to eliminate recently approved rail transportation of liquefied natural gas, along with a view from North Carolina of the biomass pellet industry’s toll on health and the environment.

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

exploring batteries
Could batteries replace a proposed peaker plant in Massachusetts?   

As a municipal power supplier pauses plans to build a natural gas peaker plant, advocates are urging its backers to consider battery storage instead, but questions remain about whether it’s practical for the site.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2021

Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns. 

“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”

The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution. 

The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.

Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used. 

“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said. 

Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan. 

In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.” 

Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel. 

As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no compressor stationThe Weymouth Compressor Station
By Joseph Winters, The Harvard Political Review
May 24, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2020, residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, gathered on the Fore River Bridge for a socially-distanced rally. Wearing masks and waving hand-drawn posters, they were protesting a natural gas compressor station that had been built in their community by the Canadian oil company Enbridge.

“Shut it down!” their signs read. “Stop Enbridge. Enough is enough.”

It was supposed to be day one of the compressor station’s operation. Despite six years of fierce opposition from community groups, elected officials, and environmental organizations, Enbridge had finally secured the suite of permits necessary to build and operate a natural gas compressor station — a facility needed to keep gas flowing north through the company’s pipelines — in the town of Weymouth, just a few miles south of Boston.

But things had not gone according to plan. Earlier that month, on Sept. 11, a system failure had forced workers to vent 169,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the compressor station, releasing it into the surrounding community. Some of those compounds included toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, damage to the liver and central nervous system, and more. 

Then, on the morning of Sept. 30, just one day before the compressor station was scheduled to begin operating, a roaring sound emanated from the facility, signaling another “unplanned release” of natural gas — a mechanical failure that automatically triggered the compressor station’s emergency shutdown system and vented more gas into the neighborhood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch alerted residents of the September 30 shutdown later that day. “These accidents endangered the lives of local residents,” he said in a tweet, “and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington, and Braintree residents.”

Within hours, a federal agency issued a stay on the compressor’s operation until a safety investigation could be completed. 

So on Oct. 1, as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) gathered on the Fore River Bridge, the compressor station had already been shut down — albeit temporarily. They continued with the demonstration anyway, folding the station’s system failures into their suite of objections to the project, alongside issues of safety, pollution, and environmental justice.

“2 system failures in one month!” one demonstrator’s sign read. “What the FRRACS is going on?”

Besides the long-term health consequences of industrial pollution, FRRACS and its allies have argued that the compressor station imposes an unacceptable risk of disaster onto the community. “They’re trying to plant a bomb in our neighborhood,” one resident said at a public hearing before the station was built.

The possibility of a catastrophic accident is neither negligible nor unprecedented. Most significantly, compressor malfunctions can cause highly flammable natural gas — including significant amounts of methane — to accumulate inside the facilities, raising the risk of a massive fire or explosion. That exact scenario unfolded in December 2020 when a Morris Township, Pennsylvania, compressor station caught fire, burning for more than two hours and causing a temporary evacuation.

Over the past few years, similar explosions have rocked Armada Township, Michigan; West Union, West Virginia; and Ward County, Texas, where a particularly bad explosion in 2018 claimed a man’s life. One report compiled for New York reported 11 more recent accidents at compressor stations across the country, from Utah to New Jersey.

The natural gas pipelines feeding into the compressor station may pose an even scarier safety threat. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines have caused more than 11,000 accidents since 1996, leading to more than $6 billion in damages and killing nearly 400 people.
» Read article            

force majeureWeymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 21, 2021


The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is “performing maintenance work” and anticipates “safely returning the compressor station to service shortly.” He said the maintenance work was “on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions”, but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had “experienced an outage” and in a separate notice declared a “force majeure.” Loosely translated as an “act of God,” a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company’s control.

“It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service,” the spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed.”

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says “routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure,” though she says she’d have to review Enbridge’s customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that “a force majeure usually has to be something [that is not] within the control of the provider.”

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, “there was minimal venting … well below reporting requirements” associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety.”

Markey said he’s asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

new Liberty
Liberty Utilities angles for 20-year natural gas contract
By Amanda Gokee, SentinalSource
May 17, 2021

Last year, Liberty Utilities withdrew what had turned into a very contentious proposal to construct a large, expensive pipeline called the Granite Bridge Project. Critics said it was too big, too expensive, and that it would harm the environment. It led to protests and drew fierce opposition from climate-change activists who oppose building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the wake of that failed proposal, Liberty has put forward another project that is now being considered by the Public Utilities Commission — a 20-year agreement to increase its natural gas capacity in the state by about 20 to 25 percent through a purchase agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The company says it needs to increase its capacity in order to meet customer demand. The new proposal was put forward in January, and it has been proceeding quietly ever since, with none of the dramatic opposition that Granite Bridge garnered. But some environmental advocates still oppose the 20-year contract as an unacceptable option in the face of climate change.

“This is a major step in the wrong direction,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation is one of the parties involved in the docket at the utilities commission.
» Read article               

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop EACOP
Despite Risks, Climate Activists Lead Fight Against Oil Giant’s Drilling Projects in Uganda
“We cannot drink oil. This is why we cannot accept the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
May 28, 2021

Climate campaigners in Africa and around the world on Friday continued demonstrations against Total, with activists accusing the French oil giant of ecocide, human rights violations, and greenwashing in connection with fossil fuel projects in Uganda. 

On the 145th week of Fridays for Future climate strike protests, members of the movement in Uganda global allies drew attention to the harmful effects of fossil fuel development on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. 

Friday’s actions followed protests at Total petrol stations in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda on Tuesday—celebrated each year as Africa Day—against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), now under construction, and the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Total’s fossil fuel developments pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in the Great Lakes and East Africa regions,” said Andre Moliro, an activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during Tuesday’s pan-African protests.

“Communities have been raising concerns on the impact of oil extraction on Lake Albert fisheries and the disastrous consequences of an oil spill in Lake Victoria, that would affect millions of people that rely on the two lakes for their livelihoods, watersheds for drinking water, and food production,” he added.
» Read article               

celebration at The Hague
‘Historic victory’: court tells Shell to slash emissions on Big Oil’s day of climate pain
Group to appeal verdict in Dutch court that activists claim has major implications as trio of supermajors face emissions scrutiny
By Andrew Lee, Recharge News
May 26, 2021

A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, in what climate activists claimed as a landmark ruling with implications for fossil fuel groups globally.

The Shell ruling came on a turbulent day for the world’s oil giants, with fellow supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron also under pressure over their decarbonisation plans.

A Dutch judge ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against 2019 levels, after hearing a case brought by Friends of the Earth and other groups, plus 17,000 Netherlands citizens.

The Anglo-Dutch group has so far committed to a carbon intensity reduction of its products of 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035, compared to 2016 levels, as part of a 2050 net zero push.

But the court said those goals were “insufficiently concrete and full of conditions” as it ordered the far tougher action it said would bring the ambitions into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Although the judgment is open to appeal – which Shell indicated it would – Friends of the Earth labelled it a “historic victory” for climate action that has “enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally” and should embolden other campaigners elsewhere.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.

“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”

The International Energy Agency earlier in May recommended that no more new fossil project investments should be made in order to keep the world on a path to net zero.

Analysts were divided over the implications of the Shell judgment for the global fossil sector.

Liz Hypes, senior environment and climate change analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm, believes the judgement could pave the way for legal action against energy companies.

“This case could mean open-season on heavy-emitters in the oil and gas industry, and it is not a stretch to envisage activists – or even unhappy investors – bringing similar cases against others in the industry and, potentially, their financial backers.

“While cases like this have to date been largely limited to the US and Europe, we’ve seen a rising trend outside of these countries of climate lawsuits ruling in the claimants’ favour.”

Hypes added: “What this signifies to investors and climate activists is that taking companies to court is an increasingly successful means of triggering climate action and, because of this, the number of climate cases faces carbon-heavy corporates will grow. It shows that the risks of inaction – or of what consumers, investors and the public see as ‘not enough’ action – is mounting.”

“It’s no longer a brand image issue for companies – they are facing genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant and it’s triggering a real discussion about what is their fiduciary duty during the climate crisis.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

finma
Swiss watchdog FINMA requires banks, insurers to disclose climate risks
By Reuters
May 31, 2021

ZURICH (Reuters) -Large Swiss banks and insurance companies will have to provide qualitative and quantitative information about risks they face from climate change, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Monday as it released an amended publication here on disclosure.

FINMA’s updated circular on the new obligations, to take effect on July 1, follows similar moves by the European Central Bank, which last year announced plans to ask lenders in the 19-country currency union to disclose their climate-related risks.

The Swiss watchdog said it is fulfilling its strategic goal of contributing to sustainable development of the Swiss financial centre, by laying out how it will supervise banks and insurers on climate-related financial risk.

FINMA said it crafted the disclosure requirement after talking with industry representatives, academics, NGOs and the federal government last year. The watchdog has previously said the risks such as natural catastrophes are substantial for the sector and merited new disclosure standards.

“Banks and insurance companies are required to inform the public adequately about their risks,” FINMA said in a statement. “These also include the consequences of climate change, which could pose significant financial risks for financial institutions in the longer term.”

Credit Suisse has been in the crosshairs of climate activists, including protesters who blocked access to its Zurich headquarters over complaints of its financing of fossil fuel-related projects. Reinsurer Swiss Re said in April the global economy could lose nearly a fifth of economic output by 2050 should the world fail to check climate change.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cleaning up
The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse
With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

IEA gets on board
IT’S THE END OF OIL: Blockbuster IEA Report Urges No New Fossil Development
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 19, 2021

No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action are key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released Tuesday morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output—and emissions reductions—from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International Senior Campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.” OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change’s energy transitions and futures program, wrote in an email. “Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licencing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”
» Read article            
» Read the IEA report                 

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

electrification futures study
Inside Clean Energy: Yes, We Can Electrify Almost Everything. Here’s What That Looks Like.
National lab wraps up groundbreaking project on electrifying the economy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 3, 2021

Many scenarios for averting the worst effects of climate change involve electrifying just about everything that now runs on fossil fuels, and shifting to an electricity system that runs mostly on wind and solar.

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

That’s one of the main findings of the Electrification Futures Study, an ambitious project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that started four years ago and has now issued its final report.

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products, said Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives,” she said.

In a sign of changing times and shifting control in Washington, the report’s introduction mentions “decarbonization” and “climate change mitigation” in its first sentence, something that would have been almost unthinkable from a national laboratory during the Trump administration. 

Zhou didn’t comment about the partisan shift, but she did note how much the conversation about the transition to clean energy had changed since the project started in 2017. The idea of electrifying the economy is much closer to the mainstream now than it was then, she said, as is the broad understanding that a shift to renewable energy can save money, compared to using fossil fuels.
» Read article            
» Read NREL’s final report, Electrification Futures Study                  

where it goes
Where Wind and Solar Power Need to Grow for America to Meet Its Goals
By Veronica Penney, New York Times
May 28, 2021

President Biden has promised to sharply reduce America’s planet-warming carbon emissions, which means changes to the country’s energy system may reshape landscapes and coastlines around the country. 

The United States is now aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050, meaning the country would eliminate as much greenhouse gas as it emits. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms.

One of the most recent studies on the subject, Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Report, charted five pathways to net-zero, and all of them required the United States to exceed the current pace of building for solar panels and wind turbines.

But what will all that energy infrastructure look like, and where could it go? Here’s a look at the factors and forces that will determine where renewable energy projects could be built.
» Read article           
» Read the Princeton University report         

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

TOU rates for Maine
Advocates say Maine needs to expand time-of-use rates to hit climate goals

As more drivers switch to electric cars and buildings convert to heat pumps, changing customer behavior with new rate designs could be key to preventing expensive and polluting new investments in the state’s power grid.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
May 27, 2021

Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree. 

Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating. 

Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels. 

That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.

State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.

A time-of-use rate needs to be structured so it actually encourages customers to shift their electricity use off-peak, said David Littell, a former Maine utilities commissioner who was part of the stakeholder group.

That requires establishing a sufficient difference between what customers are charged off-peak and on-peak, he said. The peak window also has to be reasonably timed: He found in previous research that, based on hundreds of rate pilots and operational rates, customers were more likely to sign up for time-varying rates when the peak windows were only three hours, as opposed to eight to 14 hours.

Littell and others in the stakeholder report also said time-of-use rates should include all aspects of customers’ bills, including supply and capacity.

“Most of what I’m seeing across the country right now is that if a utility is talking about doing a time-of-use rate, they prefer to start with the supply cost,” he said. That’s something utilities can easily do themselves, structuring the rate based on what it costs to deliver energy to customers.

Capacity would be harder, since utilities don’t have jurisdiction over the line items on customers’ bills for the energy itself. In deregulated utility markets like Maine, the energy is provided by suppliers separate from utilities, at a rate called the standard offer. Suppliers would have to implement their own time-of-use rates. But without making it mandatory for them to do that — something the commission could do — they’re not likely to take that path, Littell said, since it’s far easier to stick with the status quo.

In a small market like Maine, suppliers have less incentive to pursue the education and effort necessary to change their rate design without the guarantee that they’ll make money on it. “If it’s not mandated, it’s not going to happen at the standard offer level, full stop,” said Tom Welch, a former Maine utilities commission chair who also contributed to the recent grid modernization report.

Protections will also be necessary for low-income customers who end up paying more under the new rate than they currently pay, but Welch said that’s easily addressed, for example, with refunds for groups of customers that are unable to respond to the price signals.
» Read report            

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

CO2 battery system
‘CO2 battery’ technology getting megawatt-scale demonstrator in Italy
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
May 27, 2021

A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using novel energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

The CO2 battery technology has been developed by Energy Dome, a Milan-headquartered company founded by technologist and entrepreneur Claudio Spadacini and incorporated two years ago. The battery can offer long durations of storage between three to 16+ hours, can be built using off-the-shelf components used in other industries and uses a closed loop thermodynamic process which can enable a high round-trip efficiency, the company claims. It also suffers “little or no degradation” over an anticipated lifetime of more than 25 years.

The battery charges by drawing CO2 from a dome where it is kept, condensing it into a liquid at ambient temperature, while heat created by the compression process is stored in thermal energy storage systems. It then discharges by evaporating and expanding the CO2 back into a gas by heating it using the thermal storage systems. The gas is driven through a turbine to inject power into the grid and then pushed back into the dome, ready to be used for the next charging cycle.

On its website, the company compares the technology as being potentially lower cost than compressed air energy storage (CAES) or liquid air energy storage (LAES), which might be considered competing energy storage technologies. This is because unlike CAES which requires very large underground sealed vessels such as salt caverns to store a large volume of air, or LAES which requires equipment to cool air until it liquifies, the liquid phase CO2 can be stored at ambient temperature, the company said.

Energy Dome also said in a press release this week that its solution could also overcome the limitations of lithium-ion, posing no fire risk, manufacturable without rare earth materials and also even has better performance and lower capital cost. The demonstrator in Sardinia is expected to be launched early next year.
» Read article           

Power Podcast 89
The Benefits of Flow Batteries Over Lithium Ion
By Aaron Larson, Power Magazine
May 27, 2021

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly talked about battery storage technology on the market these days, and for good reason. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, and they are the preferred option when mobility is a concern, such as for cell phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles. But there are different energy storage technologies that make more sense in other use cases. For example, iron flow batteries may be a better option for utility-scale power grid storage.

An iron flow battery is built with three pretty simple ingredients: iron, salt, and water. “A flow battery has a tank with an electrolyte—think of it as salt water to be simple—and it puts it through a process that allows it to store energy in the iron, and then discharge that energy over an extended period of time,” Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc., a manufacturer of iron flow batteries for commercial and utility-scale energy storage applications, explained as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

Iron flow batteries have an advantage over utility-scale Li-ion storage systems in the following areas:

  • Longer duration. Up to 12 hours versus a typical duration of no more than 4 hours for large-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Increased safety. Iron flow batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic, and have no explosion risk. The same is not true for Li-ion.
  • Longer asset life. Iron flow batteries offer unlimited cycle life and no capacity degradation over a 25-year operating life. Li-ion batteries typically provide about 7,000 cycles and a 7- to 10-year lifespan.
  • Less concern with ambient temperatures. Iron flow batteries can operate in ambient conditions from –10C to 60C (14F to 140F) without the need for heating or air conditioning. Ventilation systems are almost always required for utility-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Lower levelized cost of storage. Because iron flow batteries offer a 25-year life, have a capital expense cost similar to Li-ion, and operating expenses that are much lower than Li-on, the cost of ownership can be up to 40% less.

“People have been really interested in flow batteries for a lot of reasons, but the most common one that you’ll hear about is the long duration,” said Dresselhuys.
» Listen to podcast            

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

briny water
The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
By Ivan Penn and Eric Lipton, New York Times
May 6, 2021

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
» Read article               

bunker fuel
Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite
Behind closed doors, shipbuilders and miners can speak on behalf of governments while regulating an industry that pollutes as much as all of America’s coal plants.
By Matt Apuzzo and Sarah Hurtes, New York Times
June 3, 2021

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

An agency lawyer underscored that point last fall in addressing the Saudi complaint. “This is a private meeting,” warned the lawyer, Frederick J. Kenney.

Next week, the organization is scheduled to enact its first greenhouse gas rules since Paris — regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane emissions analysis
Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 2, 2021

As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets.

According to a startling new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production.

In some cases, the companies are buying up high-polluting assets directly from the largest oil and gas corporations, like ConocoPhillips and BP; in other cases, private equity firms acquire risky oil and gas properties, develop them, and sell them quickly for maximum profits.

The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.

These companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters.

“It’s amazing how the small operators manage to constitute a very large part of the problem,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit investor network that commissioned the study together with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better. And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
» Read article              
» Read the Benchmarking Methane analysis           

ExxonMobil Chicago
Engine No. 1’s Big Win Over Exxon Shows Activist Hedge Funds Joining Fight Against Climate Change
“We can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value.”
By Mark DesJardine, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
May 27, 2021

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
» Read article               

Conoco misstep
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
DoJ says decision to approve project in northern Alaska was ‘reasonable and consistent’ and should be allowed to go ahead
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 27, 2021

Joe Biden’s administration is facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in the frigid northern reaches of Alaska.

In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.

This stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by environmental groups aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions. The US president has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead.

The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Environmentalists say allowing the project is at odds with Biden’s vow to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that have sued to stop the drilling. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”

The Arctic is heating up at three times the rate of the rest of the planet and ConocoPhillips will have to resort to Kafkaesque interventions to be able to drill for oil in an environment being destroyed by the burning of that fuel. The company plans to install “chillers’ into the Alaskan permafrost, which is rapidly melting due to global heating, to ensure it is stable enough to host drilling equipment.

Monsell said the attempts to refreeze the thawing permafrost in order to extract more fossil fuel “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic”. Kirsten Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Willow “is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road”.
» Read article               

Nat and Gus
How natural gas propaganda made it into elementary classrooms in deep blue America
The incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
May 19, 2021


Gleb Bahmutov found something strange in his nine-year-old son’s backpack earlier this month. The longer he ruminated on what he discovered, the angrier he got. 

The afternoon started off like most, with the 41-year-old software engineer picking his son up from John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when his son opened his backpack, Bahmutov caught a glimpse of two children’s activity books emblazoned with the logo of Eversource, an energy utility that serves more than 4.3 million customers across New England. The booklets, one of which was titled “Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend,” include natural gas safety tips and portray the fuel as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. Bhamutov immediately noticed one gaping hole in the information provided in the booklets: They didn’t once mention that burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

“To come home and find books aimed at children touting how great gas is and how clean it is, that it’s the cleanest fuel possible, that’s just wrong,” Bahmutov told Grist. “It’s unacceptable.”

The activity books caused concern among parents in the climate-conscious city of Cambridge and prompted apologies from both Eversource and the school district. While the utility claimed it was attempting to promote natural gas safety — a particularly salient issue in Massachusetts, which experienced a series of pipeline explosions north of Boston in 2018 — the incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms. 

Cambridge Public Schools’ Chief Strategy Officer Lyndsay Pinkus told Grist that the booklets were mistakenly distributed to students. Any materials provided by outside organizations are typically reviewed by the deputy superintendent’s office, Pinkus explained, but a new staff member did not follow this procedure with the Eversource materials. “It really was an innocent mistake by a new staff member,” she said. In an email to parents, Tobin Principal Jaime Frost stressed that the booklets are not part of the curriculum and the school does not support the messaging. She wrote that the same booklets were sent to all Cambridge Public Schools two years ago, but were caught before being distributed. 

Eversource’s media relations manager, William Hinkle, wrote in an email that the booklets were created to raise awareness about natural gas safety at home, but acknowledged that the material could be improved. “Moving forward, we will work to include climate change information in future educational materials, as well as continue to provide important natural gas safety tips,” Hinkle told Grist. He said that there are various versions of the book for different grade levels that date back to 2011, and the material undergoes periodic updates.

While Hinkle said the books are provided to schools in Massachusetts or Connecticut upon request, Pinkus from Cambridge Public Schools was adamant that nobody in the district requested them. “There’s no way anybody currently or in any recent history would have requested anything even remotely close to this,” she said. Eversource did not respond for comment on this point.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

derailedRailroaded by the Gas Industry
How the Biden administration could use insurance requirements to halt LNG by rail.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
March 22, 2021

It’s been less than three months since the Northwest dodged a bullet. On December 22, 2020, another oil train derailed and exploded into flames, this one just outside Bellingham, Washington. The crash spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil that burned for eight hours while emergency crews hustled to evacuate neighbors and clean up the site before the oil contaminated groundwater. Yet as alarming as oil train derailments are, they may be only an appetizer for a much more destructive main course: trains loaded with highly explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG).

During the Obama years, federal regulators granted railroads in Alaska and Florida limited permission to haul small quantities of LNG on specific routes. Although the move garnered little public attention, it was seen by industry observers as the start of a slippery slope toward broader approval of a cargo that was, until 2015, considered too dangerous for railroads to handle. (DeSmog provides an excellent account of the serious risks of LNG rail transport.) As predicted, in 2020, the Trump administration enacted a new rule allowing rail shipments of LNG, despite criticisms that it lacks safeguards.

The Trump administration’s decision was a win for the gas industry that has found itself increasingly stymied by opposition to building new pipelines. It was also a victory for the rail companies that have for years lobbied for permission to carry LNG, including Union Pacific and BNSF, the dominant railways in Oregon and Washington that have been responsible for several hazardous derailments in the past decade. One of the worst was Union Pacific’s eleven-car derailment in Mosier, Oregon that resulted in a fiery explosion and an oil spill along the Columbia River in 2016. BNSF is responsible for its own oil train conflagrations too, including two North Dakota explosions in 2013 and 2015 that prompted towns to evacuate, a derailment in Illinois in 2015, and the recent explosion in Whatcom County, Washington.

LNG is far more dangerous than crude oil. In fact, experts calculate that it would take only twenty-two tank cars loaded with LNG to hold the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. That’s not hyperbole. Even a single LNG rail car igniting could level buildings to deadly effect. It’s no wonder, then, that fifteen state attorneys general, including those in Oregon and Washington, have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of LNG trains, stating that it puts people’s lives at risk.

The risk is real, and federal accident statistics bear it out. Trains derailed no fewer than sixty-two times in Oregon and Washington in 2020, including at least fourteen derailments that were carrying hazardous materials. (These statistics almost certainly undercount derailments, a flaw that becomes clear when one realizes that they do not include the fiery oil train derailment in Custer, Washington in late December.)

What’s less understood than the risk to lives and property is the staggering risk to taxpayers. It’s a risk that could prove to be the endeavor’s Achilles’ heel, and it could give the Biden administration a commonsense way to halt LNG rail transport. As it happens, railroads are severely underinsured for many hazardous substance shipments, especially in urban areas, so simply requiring them to carry insurance proportional to the risk would almost certainly render the entire venture uneconomical.
» Read article               

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

Enviva promo
Communities of Color in Eastern North Carolina Want Wood Pellet Byproducts Out of Their Neighborhoods—And Their Lungs
By Caryl Espinoza Jaen and Ellie Heffernan, INDY week
May 27, 2021

Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. 

When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. 

“We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” 

Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers addressed their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies.

The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of  wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. A bulk of these exports are burned for fuel in European power stations. 

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

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Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20

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Welcome back.

We’re covering a lot of ground, beginning with last week’s announcement that Liberty Utilities has cancelled the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline project. While the utility’s move allows a continued increase of its natural gas footprint in New Hampshire, the very good news is they’ll proceed without a massive new infrastructure buildout. In other pipeline news, an appeals court decided to allow continued oil flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will continue its opposition in defense of its vulnerable water resources.

Another notable protest action is underway in Alvin, a small rural California community at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley. Already burdened with heavy pollution loads from agriculture and oil extraction, the mostly low-income, Latino residents have joined with other communities to demand reasonable setbacks between populated areas and new drilling rigs – and the pollution that comes from them.

Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the related economic crash, and the urgency to address climate change, financial managers are “having a moment”. Divesting from fossil fuels is an easy call considering the sector’s uncanny ability to destroy capital – but what next? We found a report describing how a major investor group is thinking strategically about investments to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

The urgency for climate action continues to be underscored by new research. One study finds that global heat-related mortality may eventually equal deaths from all infectious diseases combined. Another study warns that whatever emissions levels we achieve, we should expect real-world climate response to be on the hot side (worst case) of what models predict for those levels.

Better buildings will be a major factor in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. We found two articles on efforts in the northeast to meet the challenge by improving affordable housing. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has taken a legislative step forward in clean energy and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, while also moving to reduce power plant emissions during peak demand hours. All of which will benefit from continued innovations in energy storage technology.

We spotted a flashing yellow hazard light on the clean transportation speedway, related to the coming huge demand increase for electric vehicle battery materials like lithium and cobalt. We’re seeing a lot of interest in developing deep-sea mining – a new frontier with potentially catastrophic environmental consequences. The European Parliament and at least 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining to allow for the study of potential impacts along with management and mitigation methods.

For our friends in Ohio who may be wondering why their state recently gutted its renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives while simultaneously bailing out several coal and nuclear companies, we found a story that explains the whole sordid affair. It’s one of the worst utility scandals in the country.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to accumulate lawsuits, we see growing recognition among some of the major players that significant portions of their reserves – a primary basis for market valuation – are worthless in the sense that they can never be extracted, sold, and burned. BP leads the pack, along with some of the other European majors – but even Exxon recently admitted that 20% of global oil and gas reserves should be written off. We humbly suggest that number might be on the low side.

Liquefied natural gas is having its own troubles. Once considered a safe investment, the future is looking considerably less certain. In the last six years, 61% of LNG export terminal projects have failed. While many of those failures predated the current pandemic-related demand crash, the future outlook isn’t improving.

The myth of woody biomass as a sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel recently collided with the notoriously clear-eyed analytical thinking of the Dutch. According to a new policy, The Netherlands recognizes that biomass is an indispensable resource in the circular economy, and burning it is “wasteful”. Accordingly, they will rapidly phase out the use of biomass-to-energy plants. The rest of the European Union should follow their lead.

We finish with a story highlighting the challenges associated with recycling plastics, and the lure of the easy fix. While there are still no good solutions to the plastic waste problem, there are definitely bad ones masquerading as “recycling”.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

stop the pipeline and tank
Liberty Utilities nixes Granite Bridge Route 101 pipeline project
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 31, 2020

The utility proposing to construct the controversial Granite Bridge pipeline along Route 101 between Manchester and Exeter is abandoning the project after seeking an alternative plan.

Liberty Utilities filed notice with state Public Utilities Commission Friday afternoon it now intends to enter agreement with the owner of the Concord Lateral pipeline to carry natural gas to its customers in central New Hampshire, ending its pursuit of constructing the Granite Bridge pipeline.

“We’ve been fighting this pipeline for three years,” said Epping resident Joe Perry, who was a driving force behind a 2019 citizens petition opposing Granite Bridge. “It’s a tremendous weight off our shoulders.”
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline        

OTHER PIPELINES

DAPL undead for now
Appeals Court Halts Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown Order
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
August 6, 2020

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline won a reprieve Wednesday when an appeals court canceled a lower court order mandating the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil while a full environmental impact statement is completed.

The shutdown order, which would have gone into effect Wednesday, marked the first time a major oil pipeline was court ordered to cease operations for environmental reasons. But while its reversal is disappointing for pipeline opponents, Wednesday’s decision was not wholly favorable for the pipeline, either. The court refused to halt the initial order for a new environmental review of the pipeline’s crossing under the Missouri River, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fears it will pollute its drinking water and sacred lands if it leaks.

“We’ve been in this legal battle for four years, and we aren’t giving up this fight,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in an Earthjustice press release. “As the environmental review process gets underway in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate.”
» Read article             
» Read the Earthjustice press release

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Committee for a Better Arvin
Tired of Wells That Threaten Residents’ Health, a Small California Town Takes on the Oil Industry
The mostly low-income, Latino residents of Arvin have joined with other communities to demand setbacks for wells. Their slogan: “No drilling where we are living.”
By Julia Kane, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

In Arvin, a small, agricultural town at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, pollution is a pervasive part of life. Pesticides sprayed on industrial-scale farms, fumes drifting from the region’s ubiquitous oil and gas wells, exhaust from the trucks barrelling down Interstate 5—it all gets trapped in the valley, creating a thick haze. This year the American Lung Association ranked Bakersfield, just 15 miles northwest of Arvin, as the worst metropolitan area in the U.S. in terms of annual particle pollution.

Arvin’s residents, like people in many other parts of California, are especially concerned by the oil and gas wells sprinkled throughout their community. These wells, sometimes drilled and operated in close proximity to neighborhoods, schools, and health care centers, release a toxic mix of hydrogen sulfide, benzene, xylene, hexane and formaldehyde into the air.

Studies have linked living near oil and gas extraction to a wide range of adverse health effects, including increased risk of asthma, respiratory illnesses, preterm birth, low birthweight and cancer—serious fears for the more than two million Californians who live within a quarter-mile of operational oil and gas wells.
» Read article 

» More about protests and actions      

DIVESTMENT

Moscow power plant
Investors launch climate plan to get to net zero emissions by 2050
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 5, 2020

An investor group managing more than $16 trillion on Wednesday launched the world’s first step-by-step plan to help pension funds and others align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Many investors have pledged high-level support to the goals of the 2015 Paris deal, but the “Net Zero Investment Framework” is the first to lay out the steps they need to take to ensure the commitment is backed up by the necessary action.

Specific targets could include increasing the percentage of assets invested in low-carbon passive indexes and ensuring the leaders of investee companies link pay to climate-related targets.

“Countries, cities and companies around the globe are committing to achieve the goal of net zero emissions and investors need to show similar leadership,” said IIGCC Chief Executive Stephanie Pfeifer

“The willingness is there, but until now the investment sector has lacked a framework enabling it to deliver on this ambition.”
» Read article

» More about divestment          

CLIMATE

cool-off
Rising temperatures will cause more deaths than all infectious diseases – study
Poorer, hotter parts of the world will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions, research finds
Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 4, 2020

The growing but largely unrecognized death toll from rising global temperatures will come close to eclipsing the current number of deaths from all the infectious diseases combined if planet-heating emissions are not constrained, a major new study has found.

Rising temperatures are set to cause particular devastation in poorer, hotter parts of the world that will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions that will kill increasing numbers of people, the research has found.

The economic loss from the climate crisis, as well as the cost of adaptation, will be felt around the world, including in wealthy countries.

In a high-emissions scenario where little is done to curb planet-heating gases, global mortality rates will be raised by 73 deaths per 100,000 people by the end of the century. This nearly matches the current death toll from all infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, malaria, dengue and yellow fever.
» Read article             
» Obtain the study         

expect the worst
The Worst-Case Scenario for Global Warming Tracks Closely With Actual Emissions
With scientists divided between hope and despair, a new study finds that the model projecting warming of 4.3 degrees Celsius is “actually the best choice.”
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

When scientists in the early 2000s developed a set of standardized scenarios to show how accumulating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will affect the climate, they were trying to create a framework for understanding how human decisions will affect the trajectory of global warming.

The scenarios help define the possible effects on climate change—how we can limit the worst impacts by curbing greenhouse gas emissions quickly, or suffer the horrific outcome of unchecked fossil fuel burning.

The scientists probably didn’t think their work would trigger a sometimes polarized discussion in their ranks about the language of climate science, but that’s exactly what happened, and for the last several months, the debate has intensified. Some scientists say the worst-case, high emissions scenario isn’t likely because it overestimates the amount of fossil fuels that will be burned in the next few decades.

But a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that the high-end projection for greenhouse gas concentrations is still the most realistic for planning purposes through at least 2050, because it comes closest to capturing the effects “of both historical emissions and anticipated outcomes of current global climate policies, tracking within 1 percent of actual emissions.”
» Read article
» Read the PNAS report

» More about climate     

BETTER BUILDINGS

NY home improvement plan
New York is spending $1 billion to help residents conserve energy — and lower their bills
By Angely Mercado, Grist
August 4, 2020

As summer heat waves converge with a surging pandemic and an impending economic collapse, energy-efficient homes are becoming particularly critical to Americans’ well-being. Millions now face tough choices when it comes to energy usage: The longer they stay home to stay safe from both scorching heat and COVID-19, the higher their utility bills climb.

New York’s state government, for its part, is eyeing a long-term solution to this conundrum. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with the region’s investor-owned utilities to provide clean and energy-efficient solutions to more than 350,000 low-to-moderate income households throughout the state.

The collaboration aims to more than double the number of lower-income households that have access to services like voluntary electric load reduction, as well as better insulation and air sealing for more efficient cooling and heating, according to an announcement from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office last week. The initiative will also provide education and community support programs to connect these upgrades to the households most in need.
» Read article

triple-decker design challenge
Getting rid of fossil fuels in buildings
Passive house building too cost effective to resist
By Joan Fitzgerald, CommonWealth Magazine – opinion
August 2, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey recently ruled that Brookline’s clean energy bylaw prohibiting installation of oil and gas lines in new and substantially renovated buildings violates state law. It’s true—state preemption law does not allow cities and towns to pass energy requirements stronger than the state’s code. But cities and towns still have substantial leverage. While we work on changing state law, we have other means to get rid of fossil fuels in buildings.

For example, the passive house building standard, promoted by the Commonwealth’s own three-year energy efficiency plan, released in October 2018, is one key element. The plan includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing. Even if energy codes are unchanged, this technology is becoming too cost-effective to resist.

A passive-house building is designed to keep heat in, using super-insulation, triple-pane windows, and similar measures. It consumes about 90 percent less energy for heating and 60 percent less energy overall than a typical building and usually does not require active heating and cooling systems. The buildings also use air exchangers that use the heat produced from lighting, cooking, and other sources to warm incoming cold air.

Dozens of European cities require the passive-house standard for some new construction—particularly in Germany, where it was developed. The passive-house standard is technologically and economically feasible for both new construction and retrofitting existing buildings, even in cold climates. By definition, passive house construction can be fossil-fuel free if it uses electric heating and appliances.

It’s been slow to catch on in the US, but Massachusetts is poised to become a leader—and gearing it to low-income housing. In 2017, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, launched the Passive House Design Challenge to demonstrate that the standard can be employed at little extra cost. In 2019, the Clean Energy Center funded eight projects to the tune of $1.73 million that will build 540 units of affordable passive housing.

Joan Fitzgerald is a professor in the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Her latest book, Greenovation: Urban Leadership on Climate Change, was published by Oxford University Press in March.
» Read article

» More about better buildings      

CLEAN ENERGY

fundamentally flawed
Massachusetts set to pass landmark clean energy law to reach net-zero by 2050
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News, in Energy News Network
August 6, 2020

Massachusetts is expected to pass clean energy and climate legislation in the coming months that would require the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, dividing conservative groups and environmentalists in atypical ways.

The state House and Senate, which are both controlled by Democrats, have yet to agree on final language. But both chambers have passed bills backing the net-zero goal, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has declared that his administration is planning to meet it.

If enacted, the law would place Massachusetts among a handful of states requiring a carbon-neutral economy by midcentury.

One environmental group, Environment Massachusetts, has set itself apart from most clean energy organizations in the state by opposing the net-zero bills.

Instead of simply mandating emissions reductions and allowing for energy officials to regulate the technologies involved, the state should create 100% mandates for renewable power, electric cars and other zero-carbon technologies, the group has argued.

“The underlying framework of this bill is fundamentally flawed,” said Ben Hellerstein, the group’s state director, adding that it could “leave Massachusetts dependent on dirty energy for decades to come.”
» Read article

clean peak passes
Massachussets policy to decarbonise grid at times of peak demand gets underway
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 5, 2020

A “first-in-the-nation” policy called the Clean Peak Standard has been launched in Massachusetts, US, whereby a proportion of electricity used on the grid at times of highest demand must be considered ‘clean’.

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito’s administration announced the launch yesterday of the Standard, with Baker calling it an “innovative approach to create a cleaner and more affordable energy future for residents and businesses across the Commonwealth, while serving as a national role model for making meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”. The plan was first introduced in 2018, as part of the administration’s Bill H4857, ‘An act to advance clean energy’.
» Read article

float a loan
Floating Offshore Wind on Cusp of Unlocking Big Source of Finance, Experts Say
Non-recourse finance is the largest source of funding for offshore wind, and lenders are becoming more comfortable with floating turbines.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
August 3, 2020

A major source of finance for offshore wind projects may soon open up to the industry’s most important technological frontier: floating turbines.

Non-recourse finance, which allows lenders to be repaid from the profits of a project and have no claim over the assets of the borrower, will likely be available to upcoming floating wind projects as the market reaches an initial stage of maturity, experts say. That would help to lower the cost of projects. Non-recourse lending accounts for the majority of funding flowing to conventional European offshore wind projects today.

So far, no floating projects have secured pure non-recourse finance, “but the market is becoming ready for it,” said Clément Weber, a floating wind expert at renewable energy financial advisory firm Green Giraffe.
» Read article

» More about clean energy     

ENERGY STORAGE

Voltstorage SMART
‘World’s only’ home vanadium battery storage provider Voltstorage nets €6 million funding
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
July 31, 2020

Germany company Voltstorage, claiming to be the only developer and maker of home solar energy storage systems using vanadium flow batteries, raised €6 million (US$7.1 million) in July.

Voltstorage claims that its recyclable and non-flammable battery systems, which also enable long cycle life of charging and discharging without degradation of components or electrolyte, can become a “highly demanded ecological alternative to the lithium technology”. Its battery system, called Voltstorage SMART, was launched in 2018 and comes with 1.5kW output and 6.2kWh capacity. At the time of its launch, company founder Jakob Bitner claimed that Voltstorage had been “the first to automate the production process of redox-flow battery cells,” enabling the production of “high-quality battery cells at favourable cost”. The company also claims that around 37% less CO2 is emitted in the production of its systems versus comparable lithium-ion storage.
» Read article

» More about energy storage     

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

step away from the edge
Could Deep Sea Mining Fuel The Electric Vehicle Boom?
By MINING.com
August 3, 2020

The world is hungry for resources to power the green transition. As we increasingly look to solar, wind, geothermal and move towards decarbonization, consumption of minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper, which underpin them, is set to grow markedly.

One study by the World Bank estimates that to meet this demand, cobalt production will need to grow by 450% from 2018 to 2050, in pursuit of keeping global average temperature rises below 2°C.

The mining of any material can give rise to complex environmental and social impacts. Cobalt, however, has attracted particular attention in recent years over concerns of unsafe working conditions and labour rights abuses associated with its production.

New battery technologies are under development with reduced or zero cobalt content, but it is not yet determined how fast and by how much these technologies and circular economy innovations can decrease overall cobalt demand.

Deep-sea mining has the potential to supply cobalt and other metals free from association with such social strife, and can reduce the raw material cost and carbon footprint of much-needed green technologies.

On the other hand, concerned scientists have highlighted our limited knowledge of the deep-sea and its ecosystems. The potential impact of mining on deep-sea biodiversity, deep-sea habitats and fisheries are still being studied, and some experts have questioned the idea that environmental impacts of mining in the deep-sea can be mitigated in the same way as those on land.

In the face of this uncertainty, the European Parliament, the prime ministers of Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and more than 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining, until its potential impacts and their management methods are further investigated. [Emphasis added by blog editor.]
» Read article

sit in traffic
Environmental Advocates Call for Ban on SUV Ads
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
August 3, 2020

To meet its climate targets, the UK should ban advertisements for gas-guzzling SUVs, according to a report from a British think tank that wants to make SUVs the new smoking, as the BBC reported.

The UK has set the ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050, but that will be difficult to achieve if the public’s appetite for large, private cars does not subside.

The report, called Upselling Smoke, from New Weather Institute and climate charity Possible, says that SUV advertising should be compared to tobacco advertising, blaming the vehicles for creating a “more dangerous and toxic urban environment.”
» Read article             
» Read the New Weather Institute report

» More about clean transportation         

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Ohio scandal explained
The Ohio Utility Scandal, Explained
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
August 5, 2020

Leah Stokes, author of Short Circuiting Policy and a political science professor at University of California at Santa Barbara, has been following utilities corruption for years. Back in 2013 Stokes started looking into what utility FirstEnergy was doing in Ohio, so when Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder was arrested last month in connection with a utility bribery scandal she knew exactly what had happened. Householder was the architect of a piece of state legislation in Ohio called HB six, which passed in July 2019. That bill essentially gutted Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives and bailed out several coal and nuclear companies. It turns out it was a bill that was bought and paid for by FirstEnergy.

In this Q&A with the Drilled podcast, Stokes explains the whole sordid tale.
» Read transcript or listen to podcast 

» More about electric utilities        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Title XVII fraudEnergy Dept. Sued Over Hiding Details of Loan Guarantee for Appalachian Gas Liquids Project
DOE refuses to release documents that could shine light on how a massive petrochemical storage facility would be eligible for a nearly $2 billion loan guarantee under a clean energy program
By Food and Water Watch – press release
August 6, 2020

The national advocacy group Food & Water Watch filed suit against the Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today, charging the agency has refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to a massive loan guarantee for a fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The controversial $1.9 billion loan guarantee was sought by the Appalachian Development Group to support its plan to build a massive ethane gas liquid ‘storage hub’ in Appalachia – a project meant to stabilize feedstock prices for future petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.

The loan guarantee was sought as part of the DOE’s Title XVII program, which requires that eligible projects must meet several criteria, including a provision that facilities must “avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases.” A facility that would store ethane, a plastics feedstock derived from fracked gas, in order to utilize those gas liquids in petrochemical manufacturing would plainly not qualify on those grounds.
» Read press release             
» Read the complaint

oil due for a haircut
Exxon: 20 Percent Of Global Oil And Gas Reserves May Be Wiped Out
By Julianne Geiger, oilprice.com
August 5, 2020

After a grim Q2 season for Big Oil, the world’s third-most valuable energy company is warning that 20% of the world’s oil and gas reserves may no longer be viable, according to Bloomberg.

According to Exxon Mobil, one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves will no longer qualify as “proved reserves” at the end of this year if oil prices fail to recover before then.

A flurry of oil and gas companies have written off billions in oil and gas assets as the value of those assets in the current oil price climate is no longer what it once used to be. Exxon was not among them.

Exxon is currently reviewing its oil and gas assets, the results of which should be available by November.
» Read article

BP greening-ish
BP Reports a Huge Loss and Vows to Increase Renewable Investment
The European oil giant has plans for a future with more electrical generation.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
August 4, 2020

BP reported a $16.8 billion quarterly loss on Tuesday, and cut its dividend in half — the first reduction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago.

But what caught the attention of analysts and, apparently, investors, was the ambitious plan that Bernard Looney, the chief executive, set out for making over the London-based oil giant into a diversified purveyor of cleaner energy within a decade. BP’s share price jumped by more than 7 percent during trading Tuesday.

On a webcast with analysts Mr. Looney described a transformation plan that Stuart Joyner, an analyst at the market research firm Redburn, said in a note to clients was “major, positive, thoughtful and largely unexpected.”
» Read article

end game for oil
We have entered the “end game” for oil — with “permanent demand destruction”
What the industry denied for years, that its assets have become liabilities, has become a reality.
By Andy Rowell, Oil Price International – blog post
Photo by Pete Markham
July 30, 2020

With many countries and regions trying to open up their economies after COVID-19 lockdowns, many in the oil industry had been hoping that as hundreds of millions of people resume as normal a life as possible, demand for oil would pick up to pre-COVID levels.

This is not going to happen. The “old normal” is not coming back. As we have been repeatedly saying for months, we are witnessing the end of the oil age. Even once great giants are now crumbling at their core.

Today, oil giant Shell, a titan of the industry, revealed a net loss of USD 18.3 billion for the second quarter of this year, down from a net profit of USD 3 billion over the same period last year. This means Shell business is down USD 20 billion from last year.

Meanwhile, another titan, French oil company Total, has announced a USD 8 billion write-down on the value of its assets, including USD 7 billion from dirty Canadian tar sands Canadian operations.

The company stated, “Total now considers oil reserves with high production costs that are to be produced more than 20 years in the future to be ‘stranded.’”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels        

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG carriers
Global LNG terminal survey casts doubt on industry as ‘safe bet’
The failure rate for proposed LNG export terminal projects between 2014 and 2020 is 61 per cent, study says
By Carl Meyer, National Observer – in Terrace Standard
July 7, 2020

A new report is raising questions about the long-term viability of the liquefied natural gas export industry around the world as the Trudeau government continues to signal support for one such project in B.C.

The natural gas industry is facing multiple headwinds, from a collapse in demand due to COVID-19 disruptions, to competition from renewable energy sources, and protests against fossil fuel expansion such as those in support of Wet’suwet’en against the Coastal GasLink pipeline through B.C.

A global survey of LNG terminals released Monday by the San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor research network outlines the central risk facing the hundreds of billions of dollars in sunk investments in LNG infrastructure: That some of these structures could become underused, or stranded, long before the end of their useful lives.

“LNG was once considered a safe bet for investors,” said research analyst Greig Aitken, one of the report’s five authors. “Suddenly, the industry is beset with problems.”

[The] survey suggests that the reputation of LNG as an “environmentally benign” fuel that is less dirty than coal has been debunked by scientific studies highlighting the serious impact of methane on global warming.

Methane, a greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas, is 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Scientific studies have connected a rise in global methane levels with the fracking boom, and say this rise in atmospheric methane is undercutting efforts to hold the global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
» Read article

» More about LNG   

BIOMASS

not sustainable
The Dutch have decided: Burning biomass is not sustainable
The Netherlands should phase out the use of biomass for generating electricity as soon as possible, the advisory board of the Dutch government said in a report presented earlier this month.
By Davine Janssen’ EURACTIV.com
July 21, 2020

Biomass is an “indispensable” resource for the circular economy, but burning it is wasteful.

That is the main message of the report issued on 8 July by the Socio-Economic Council (SER), an independent advisory board of the Dutch government consisting of entrepreneurs, employees and independent experts.

In the chemical industry, the building sector and agriculture, biological materials are crucial for the transition to a circular economy, the council writes. But sustainably produced biomass is too scarce to keep using it for the production of heat or electricity, for which other low-carbon and renewable alternatives exist, the report states.

Accordingly, the billions worth of subsidies that were intended for biomass combustion plants should be phased out as well, the advisors say, calling however for measures to preserve “investment security” when designing a phase-out plan.
» Read article            

» More about biomass      

PLASTICS RECYCLING

not recycling
This ‘solution’ to the plastic crisis is really just another way to burn fossil fuels
By Joseph Winters, Grist
August 3, 2020

Amid an escalating plastic pollution crisis that threatens “near permanent contamination of the natural environment,” the fossil fuel and plastics industries say they have a not-so-surprising solution: recycling.

To be more precise, they’re advocating for “chemical” or “advanced” recycling. The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group whose members include ExxonMobil, Dow, and DuPont, has promoted state-level legislation to expand it nationwide. Policymakers have taken note, and bills easing regulations on chemical recycling facilities have already been passed in eight states and introduced in at least five more.

But environmental activists say the word “recycling” is misleading. Rather than repurposing used plastic into new plastic products, most processes that the industry calls “chemical recycling” involve turning plastic into oil and gas to be burned. In a new report criticizing the practice, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, GAIA, didn’t pull any punches, calling chemical recycling an “industry shell game” that keeps single-use plastics in production, contributes to climate change, and produces toxic chemicals that disproportionately harm marginalized communities.
» Read article           
» Read the GAIA report
» Read the no-burn.org legislative alert (includes legislation introduced in MA)

» More about plastics recycling   

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Weekly News Check-In 7/31/20

banner 06

Welcome back.

Candidate positions on the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline may be a significant factor determining New Hampshire’s next governor. The contested status of other pipelines is also roiling related industries and enlivening local politics wherever they exist.

Two new nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may finally rebalance its makeup, which has been operating for much of the year with four of its five commissioners – only one of whom is a Democrat.

The recently-launched nonprofit Rewiring America has released its first major report on greening the economy and the jobs that could be created by a full-on effort at electrification. It’s an exciting prospect that requires a post-Trump political ecosystem. We found a related investigative report from DeSmog Blog, exposing efforts by the natural gas industry to delay electrification of the building sector.

Now that we’re heading into the home stretch of this political season, articles we’re finding on climate all project a jittery edginess around the stakes of the November election. Given the urgent need for sharp emissions reductions and a kind of global leadership that’s only possible when America is at its best, Bill McKibben’s suggestion that this election is about the next 10,000 years lacks even a hint of hyperbole.

We caught some encouraging glimpses of steady advances in clean energy and transportation  – things coming our way despite the best efforts of the Trump administration and fossil fuel industry. News from that sector, as usual, amounts to flashing red lights warning of an impending financial implosion.

We wrap up with two stories about “green energy” that is anything but. While Europe continues to insist – contrary to science – that woody biomass is effectively carbon neutral in the short term, American forests are being felled for pellets to fuel their converted coal power plants. This is all based on a carbon accounting error that originated with the Kyoto Climate Agreement, and was grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. It’s turned out to be a stubbornly difficult problem to correct.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

Breaking news: shortly after we published this post on 7/31, Liberty Utilities announced the cancellation of its Granite Bridge Pipeline project. Look for coverage in the upcoming Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20.

USD 400M misstep
Gas pipeline fuels debate among NH gubernatorial candidates
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 24, 2020

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky called the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline a ”$400 million step in the wrong direction” during a press conference in front of the Town Hall Friday.

Volinsky said Liberty Utilities’ proposed 16-inch liquefied natural gas pipeline for the Route 101 corridor between Exeter and Manchester will exacerbate climate change while other high-profile projects, like the Dakota Access pipeline, were being halted around the country.

“A key part of why I’m running for governor is to combat climate change, and part of that effort is to be opposed to fracked gas pipelines projects, like the Granite Bridge pipeline,” said Volinsky, a member of the state Executive Council. “Last municipal election, Exeter went on record as opposed to the pipeline. Fracking is especially dangerous for the environment, ratepayers would have to pay for that project for 20 or 30 years, and to what purpose? To line the pockets of Liberty Utilities and Granite Bridge shareholders.”

The Granite Bridge application is stalled at the state Public Utilities Commission after being filed in December 2017. The project includes a 150- to 170-foot high tank capable of storing 2 billion cubic feet of LNG in an abandoned quarry in West Epping.
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline

OTHER PIPELINES

risky business
Dakota Access Pipeline Saga Stalls Oil Production Recovery In The Bakken

By Tsvetana Paraskova, oilprice.com
July 29, 2020

The uncertainty surrounding the future operations of Dakota Access, the key pipeline carrying crude out of the Bakken, is stalling oil companies’ plans to invest in bringing back online the output they had curtailed after the pandemic-driven crash in oil demand and prices, executives told Reuters.

A federal judge ruled on July 6 that the Dakota Access Pipeline, in operation since 2017, must be emptied and shut down by August 5, until a new comprehensive environmental review is completed.

A week later, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Dakota Access can continue to operate while the court considers whether the pipeline should be shut down as ordered by a lower court’s ruling.

Until the new saga with the Dakota Access pipeline is resolved, oil drillers in the Bakken are not rushing to restore production as they see the move as too risky in case Dakota Access were to shut down.
» Read article

Ashland Select Board wins court case against Eversource over gas pipeline
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
July 23, 2020

Eversource must remove a decommissioned gas pipeline if it gets the go-ahead to install a new, wider pipeline through Ashland, a state Land Court judge has ruled.

Associate Justice Michael D. Vhay issued the judgment earlier this week, supporting the Town of Ashland’s position.

In Ashland and Hopkinton, Eversource wants to decommission a 6-inch-wide, 3.7-mile underground gas line that passes through both towns and replace it with new 12-inch pipeline. In Ashland, the gas line runs for 2.5 miles, cutting through more 80 house lots, town-owned properties, wetlands, the Chestnut Street Apartments and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.

Town officials and many residents adamantly oppose the project, saying it will have no direct benefit for Ashland residents and runs counter to the town’s sustainability goals.

In a Facebook status posted on the town’s Facebook page,Town Manager Michael Herbert shared the news of the court’s decision.

“Rarely does a small suburban town of 17,000 people take on a corporate giant like Eversource Gas and come out on top,” he said.
» Read article             

JC permit reversal
Land use permit for Jordan Cove pipeline is reversed
By Amanda Slee, KCBY.com
July 21, 2020

NORTH BEND, Ore. — The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has reversed a land-use permit approved by the city of North Bend.

The permit is for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal.

The Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition was the petitioner in the appeal. The decision by the North Bend City Council was to approve a temporary dredging material transport pipeline and dredging offloading facility.
» Read article             

» More about other pipelines        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC nominations
Trump makes two FERC nominations, potentially rebalancing commission
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
July 27, 2020

President Trump made two nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Monday, bowing to pressure from Democratic lawmakers who have pushed to maintain the bipartisan split in the commission.

Trump nominated Allison Clements, Democrats’ preferred nominee, alongside Mark C. Christie, who currently serves as chairman of Virginia State Corporation Commission. If confirmed, the two would regulate electricity and natural gas markets alongside other major energy projects.

FERC’s five-member board is supposed to have no more than three members of any one party, but for much of the year it’s been operating with just four members — three Republicans and one Democrat.

Clements currently serves as the founder and president of Goodgrid, LLC, an energy policy and strategy consulting firm. She previously worked for a decade at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She also spent two years as director of the energy markets program at Energy Foundation, which advocates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Christie is one of the nation’s longest-serving state utility regulators, having served for 16 years on Virginia’s board overseeing utilities and other industries.

The nominations come as Commissioner Bernard McNamee’s term expired at the end of June.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

big green jobs machine
New Analysis Shows How Electrifying the U.S. Economy Could Create 25 Million Green Jobs by 2035
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
July 30, 2020

A report released Wednesday by a new nonprofit—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic disaster, and calls for a green recovery from those intertwined crises that prioritizes aggressive climate policies—lays out how rapidly decarbonizing and electrifying the U.S. economy could create up to 25 million good-paying jobs throughout the country over the next 15 years.

Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America envisions a dramatic transformation of the nation’s power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors by 2035 to meet the global heating goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The first project of the newly launched Rewiring America is “based on an extensive industrial and engineering analysis of what such a decarbonization would entail.”
» Read article             
» Read the report

» More about greening the economy

BETTER BUILDINGS

unplugged
Unplugged: How the Gas Industry Is Fighting Efforts to Electrify Buildings
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 28, 2020

Just over a year ago, the city of Berkeley, California, passed into law a first-in-the-nation ordinance prohibiting natural gas hookups in new buildings, a move that alarmed the gas industry. This alarm has since boiled over into a full-fledged opposition campaign to counter the rising tide of similar measures meant to restrict gas in favor of constructing all-electric buildings and cutting carbon pollution.

Natural gas constitutes a vast majority, about 80 percent, of the direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sectors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Transitioning away from direct fossil fuel use in buildings is key for de-carbonizing and meeting climate targets, experts say.

Initiatives are starting to emerge at the local level on the West Coast and in the Northeast to support this transition, with 31 cities in California committed to phasing out gas use in buildings, as of July 8, and several Massachusetts communities in the Boston area doing the same. Policies for electrifying buildings are also in the works in New Jersey as well as Seattle and other cities.
» Read article             

Mass. gas ban backers press ahead after state strikes down 1st East Coast bylaw
ByTom DiChristopher, S&P Global
July 24, 2020

Boston-area lawmakers intend to continue pursuing building electrification ordinances, but they acknowledged their path forward is uncertain after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the commonwealth’s first building gas ban.

Healey’s decision undermines the effort to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations in Arlington, Cambridge and Newton — all of which modeled their legislation after the rejected bylaw in neighboring Brookline, Mass.

The Board of Building Regulations and Standards — the state agency that Healey argued has exclusive control over building permits — is one potential avenue, [Cambridge City Councilmember Quinton] Zondervan said. The board regularly updates the state building code and could include a stretch code that allows towns and cities to require certain buildings be fossil fuel free. Bay State climate activists are already pushing for a stretch code allowing net-zero building energy requirements.

Brookline and environmental groups have already called for state-level action in light of Healey’s decision, in which the attorney general expressed support for the policy of limiting gas use.

“The attorney general’s opinion makes clear that the state does have the authority to stop this fracked gas infrastructure if it wants,” Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter Director Deb Pasternak said in a statement. “The fact is that we need an equitable statewide plan here in Massachusetts to close down the fracked gas energy system.”

The Sierra Club, along with ratepayer advocates and other climate activists, have recently presented regulators with plans for building electrification proceedings and gas distribution system phase-outs.

Healey herself has petitioned the DPU to open a proceeding to overhaul gas infrastructure planning in Massachusetts, with a goal of aligning the regulatory framework with state climate goals and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about better buildings

CLIMATE

regime change starts at home
The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years
By Bill McKibben, YES! Magazine, in EcoWatch – opinion
July 27, 2020

Every election that passes, we lose leverage—this time around our last chance at limiting the temperature rise to anything like 1.5 degrees would slip through our fingers. Which is why we need to register and vote as never before. It’s also, of course, why we need to do more than that: many of us are also hard at work this year taking on the big banks that fund the fossil fuel industry, trying to pull the financial lever as well as the political one. And even within the world of politics, we need to do much more than vote: no matter who wins, Nov. 4 and 5 and 6 are as important as Nov. 3; we have to push, and prod, and open up space for the people we work to install in office.
» Read article             

boot the joker
How the global climate fight could be lost if Trump is re-elected
The US will officially exit the Paris accord one day after the 2020 US election and architects of that deal say the stakes could not be higher
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 27, 2020

It was a balmy June day in 2017 when Donald Trump took to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden to announce the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the only comprehensive global pact to tackle the spiraling crisis.

Todd Stern, who was the US’s chief negotiator when the deal was sealed in Paris in 2015, forced himself to watch the speech.

“I found it sickening, it was mendacious from start to finish,” said Stern. “I was furious … because here we have this really important thing and here’s this joker who doesn’t understand anything he’s talking about. It was a fraud.”

The lifetime of the Paris agreement, signed in a wave of optimism in 2015, has seen the five hottest years ever recorded on Earth, unprecedented wildfires torching towns from California to Australia, record heatwaves baking Europe and India and temperatures briefly bursting beyond 100F (38C) in the Arctic.

These sorts of impacts could be a mere appetizer, scientists warn, given they have been fueled by levels of global heating that are on track to triple, or worse, by the end of the century without drastic remedial action. The faltering global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off further calamity hinges, in significant part, on whether the US decides to re-enter the fray.

“The choice of Biden or Trump in the White House is huge, not just for the US but for the world generally to deal with climate change,” said Stern. “If Biden wins, November 4 is a blip, like a bad dream is over. If Trump wins, he seals the deal. The US becomes a non-player and the goals of Paris become very, very difficult. Without the US in the long term, they certainly aren’t realistic.”
» Read article             

better than last year
House climate change bill calls for roadmap
Measure differs from more prescriptive Senate approach
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 29, 2020

The House unveiled a climate change bill on Wednesday that directs the executive branch of government to create a roadmap for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and includes sections dealing with solar power subsidies, grid modernization, clean energy jobs, and municipal light plants.

The bill is expected to be taken up in the House on Thursday and then go to a conference committee that will be charged with sorting out differences with a Senate bill that is broader in scope and far more detailed in its instructions.

The House bill requires the administration to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and sets interim goals for 2030 and 2040. It charges the administration with coming up with a roadmap of policies, regulations, legislative recommendations, and carbon pricing mechanisms to reach the targets.

The Senate bill is far more detailed and prescriptive. It requires the administration to meet statewide emission targets every five years and also requires the setting of emission reduction targets for individual sectors, including transportation, buildings, solid waste, and natural gas distribution. The Senate bill calls for phased-in carbon pricing on automobile and building fuels and requires all MBTA buses to be electrified by 2040.
» Read article             

tell the truth
Mainstream News Prioritises Big Business and Opponents of Climate Action – Study
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2020

Statements from large business associations and opponents of climate action are twice as likely to be included in climate change coverage by national newspapers than pro-climate action messaging, according to a new study. The findings suggest mainstream media bias favors entrenched economic interests and that journalistic norms of objectivity and balance have skewed the public conversation around climate change.

“I wanted to specifically look at which interest groups get a say in this debate, what voices are dominating the national conversation about climate change, and how is that reflected in media coverage,” study author Rachel Wetts, Assistant Professor of Environment and Society and Sociology at Brown University, told DeSmog.

The study also found that climate-related messaging from scientific and technical experts was least likely to be picked up in national news. Messaging from business coalitions and large businesses on climate change, on the other hand, received heightened media visibility.

“In terms of this question of whose voices are being heard and who gets to dominate the national conversation around climate change, I find that opponents of climate action and large business interests are the groups that are getting the most visibility, while organizations with scientific expertise are getting very low visibility,” Wetts said in an interview with DeSmog. “This says something about whose voices are being heard that could potentially help explain why we’ve been so slow to adopt any [national] policy to address this issue.”
» Read article             
» Obtain the study            

scud
What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?
Scientists are studying the extreme weather in northern Argentina to see how it works — and what it can tell us about the monster storms in our future.
By Noah Gallagher Shannon, New York Times
July 22, 2020

Every storm is composed of the same fundamental DNA — in this case, moisture, unstable air and something to ignite the two skyward, often heat. When the earth warms in the spring and summer months, hot wet air rushes upward in columns, where it collides with cool dry air, forming volatile cumulus clouds that can begin to swell against the top of the troposphere, at times carrying as much as a million tons of water. If one of these budding cells manages to punch through the tropopause, as the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere is called, the storm mushrooms, feeding on the energy-rich air of the upper atmosphere. As it continues to grow, inhaling up more moisture and breathing it back down as rain and hail, this vast vertical lung can sprout into a self-sustaining system that takes on many different forms.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

welcome mat
Colorado’s Eastern Plains is big-time producer of renewable energy, ripe for even more, report says

New report highlights renewable energy’s economic benefits for eastern Colorado: thousands of jobs, millions of dollars a year
By Judith Kohler, The Denver Post
July 29, 2020

Along with wheat, corn and cattle, Colorado’s Eastern Plains grow another big crop: more than 95% of the state’s renewable energy capacity that produces thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in benefits each year.

A report released Tuesday by The Western Way, a conservative organization that promotes environmental stewardship, in partnership with PRO 15 and Action22, policy and economic development organizations, highlights the importance of renewable energy to eastern Colorado.

Greg Brophy, a former state legislator and Colorado director of The Western Way, said he hopes the report demonstrates how valuable renewable energy is to the area’s economy and that it encourages other eastern Colorado counties to “roll out the welcome mat” for wind, solar and battery storage projects.
» Read article       
» Read the report

Sununu Blocks Bill To Expand N.H.’s Required Renewable Energy Use, Now Lowest In New England
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
July 24, 2020

Gov. Chris Sununu handed down another expected veto of a clean energy plan Friday.

He rejected a bill that would expand New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and increase how much solar power utilities must use.

Right now, the state caps that solar requirement at 0.7% from this year on out. The bill Sununu vetoed would have increased that to nearly 19% by the year 2040.

Sununu says it represented a handout to the state’s fledgling solar industry. Democrats decried the veto as another effort by the governor to block clean energy expansion.

The bill also would have increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard, to make clean energy cover nearly 57% of New Hampshire’s fuel mix by 2040.

The current standard levels out at around 25 percent in 2025 – the lowest percentage, at the earliest date, of any New England state.
» Read article             

green ammonia
How stored electricity can make cleaner fuels
EU industry is seeking ways to save surplus power. Now it’s also hunting for methods to use that stored electricity to make green fuels.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
July 21, 2020
   
With renewable energy now the cheapest way of mass-producing electricity, the race is on to find the best way to conserve the surplus for use at peak times, and also to use the stored electricity to develop new fuels for transport.

And European Union companies are competing to devise lucrative ways to use this cheap power just as more solar and wind energy is being produced than the market demands.

Large batteries are currently the favoured method, because they are already cost-effective when used with pumped storage. This uses cheap electricity to move water uphill into reservoirs, to be released later to drive turbines when extra electricity is needed to meet peak demand.

Both these technologies take advantage of buying power at rock-bottom prices, and make their profits by storing it – until they can sell it back at much higher prices when the peak arrives.

The newer technologies under development seek to use the cheap surplus electricity to create so-called green hydrogen, and now green ammonia – both for use as substitutes for fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

plagued by controversy
E.P.A. Inspector General to Investigate Trump’s Biggest Climate Rollback
The agency’s watchdog office said Monday it would investigate whether the reversal of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards violated government rules.
By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 27, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog said Monday it had opened an investigation into the agency’s weakening of Obama-era regulations that would have limited automobile emissions by significantly raising fuel economy standards.

The yearlong effort to write the Trump administration rule was plagued with controversy. Just weeks before the final rule was published, the administration’s own internal analyses showed that it would create a higher cost for consumers than leaving the Obama-era standard in place and would contribute to more deaths associated with lung disease by releasing more pollution into the air.

“This is really serious,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s rare for E.P.A.’s inspector general to conduct an investigation of the agency’s rule-making.”
» Read article             

E-ferry
Danish electric ferry reports successful first year in service
By Nick Blenkey, MarineLog
July 13, 2020

In its first year of operation on a 22 nautical mile route, the pioneering Danish all-electric ferry Ellen has notched up some noteworthy milestones, according to Danfoss Editron .

Operating between the Danish islands of Ærø and Fynshav, the vessel was designed by Jens Kristensen Consulting Naval Architects and built by the Søby Værft shipyard. Just under 60 meters long and with a breadth of approximately 13 meters, the ferry travels at speeds of 12-12.5 knots, and is capable of carrying 198 passengers in summer months, with this capacity dropping to 147 during winter. It can also carry 31 cars or five trucks on its open deck.

With a 4.3 MWh capacity battery pack, the largest currently installed for maritime use, it is the first electric ferry to have no emergency back-up generator on board.

The E-ferry is the result of a project supported by the EU Horizon 2020 program that set out to achieve two main objectives. The first was to design and build an innovative fully-electric vessel which would incorporate an energy-efficient design, lightweight equipment and materials, and state-of-the-art electric-only systems with an automated high-power charging system. The second objective was to validate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the concept to the industry and ferry operators. The fully-electric ferry had to be able to cover distances of up to 22 nautical miles in the Danish part of the Baltic Sea that were, at the time, only operated on by conventional diesel-powered vessels.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL

hang it up
As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 30, 2020

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Today, the shale boom of the 2010’s is officially bust, battered not only by the US’s outsized failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks and an oil price war in which foreign producers proved their ability to steer oil prices, but also a wave of multi-billion dollar write-downs by oil giants — write-downs that predated both the price war and the pandemic and resulted from the industry’s perpetual struggles to generate profits from shale drilling and fracking regardless of the price of oil.

In April, Scott Sheffield, the chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, testified before the Texas Railroad Commission (which serves as the state’s oil regulator) that the shale rush had been “an economic disaster.”

“Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste,” Sheffield testified, warning that without state intervention, “we will disappear as an industry, like the coal industry.”

Indeed, before the pandemic struck, the shale industry’s financial foundations were stunningly shaky, with experts questioning the ways companies calculated their reserves, their ability to generate free cash flow from their drilling operations, and ratings agencies grading shale debts at junk levels. The entire fossil fuel industry’s long-term future is also deeply uncertain, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly visceral and the global need to cut emissions from oil and gas more urgent.
» Read article             

pipeline uncertainty for oilsands
Regardless of COVID, the outlook for the oilsands gets dimmer year after year
The pandemic has cost the industry billions, but in the long term, it has bigger challenges
By Kyle Bakx, CBC News
July 29, 2020

The latest forecast for oilsands production growth was released on Tuesday, and it continues a trend over most of the last decade of industry experts having a less optimistic outlook for the sector.

The new report by IHS Markit expects oilsands production to reach 3.8 million barrels per day of oil in 2030, compared to last year’s projection of production climbing to 3.9 million bpd.

It’s a relatively small change to the forecast the firm released in 2019, but notable because of yet another downward revision. That pattern has occurred just about every year since 2014, when the main oilpatch industry group forecast oilsands output climbing to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030.

For context, oilsands production at the beginning of this year was about 2.9 million barrels per day.

Analysts with IHS Markit lowered their latest forecast predominantly because of pipelines. There is still doubt about when and if new export pipelines will be built, and that uncertainty will weigh on the confidence level of companies looking to invest the significant funds needed to build new oilsands facilities.
» Read article             

tick-tick report-zoom Fossil fuel “fraud” regarding climate risks is a “ticking time bomb” to financial system
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 27, 2020

If the fossil fuel industry had acted decades ago, we would not be in a climate emergency. And some believe that this climate emergency is going to cause a financial emergency too.

A new report, published last week by U.S. National Whistleblower Center (NWC), entitled “How fossil fuel industry fraud is setting us up for a financial implosion – and what whistleblowers can do about it,” does not mince its language.

It outlined what it called “widespread deception by fossil fuel executives regarding the financial risks of climate change [which] represents a ticking time bomb that, if not addressed, could contribute to worldwide economic devastation.”

It claims it is the “first-ever analysis of legal strategies for exposing climate risk fraud by the fossil fuel sector,” and says it is a “call to action” for executives of fossil fuel companies and others with knowledge of improper accounting and disclosure practices, such as external auditors, to blow the whistle on the decades of deception.
» Read article             
» Read the NWC report         

‘It’s Past Time’: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders Unveil Bill To Strip Fossil Fuel Funding
The legislation aims to cut off oil, gas and coal companies reaping billions from federal COVID-19 relief and annual subsidies.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
July 24, 2020

In the richest and most powerful nation in history, doctors beg for basic protective gear amid a deadly pandemic, 21% of children live in poverty and 84-year-olds take jobs scrubbing motel toilets to survive.

Yet, as fossil fuel emissions cook the planet and wreak a mounting toll of destruction, the federal government gives oil, gas and coal companies nearly $15 billion per year in direct federal subsidies and already directed billions more in support through coronavirus relief programs this year.

New legislation from five of the country’s top progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aims to cut the fossil fuel industry off, HuffPost has learned.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

burning down the houseBurning down the house? Enviva’s giant U.S. wood pellet plants gear up
By Saul Elbein, Mongabay
July 29, 2020

When biomass manufacturer Enviva completes its two newest U.S. Gulf Coast plants on opposite sides of the Alabama-Mississippi state line, likely by 2021, they will be the largest “biomass for energy” manufacturing plants on the planet.

Every year, the two factories will grind the equivalent of a hundred square miles of forest into 2.7 million metric tons of combustible wood pellets, to be burned at former coal plants in Europe and Asia — with all the resulting carbon released into the atmosphere.

These U.S. biomass plants, and the wood pellets they churn out, will thrive atop a shaky Jenga tower of political, economic and environmental paradoxes, according to environmentalists. Unable to compete with carbon fuels like coal or natural gas on price, Enviva’s wood pellet plants will stay afloat because of direct and implicit subsidies coming from the European Union, whose members agreed to derive 32% of their energy from renewables by 2030 — a category that they deemed to include biomass.

Those subsidies, say scientists, are based on now debunked research first conducted and used as guidance for making policy incorporated into the Kyoto Climate Agreement, a policy then grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Agreement. They say the mistake that makes biomass economically viable today is the contention that burning up the world’s forests to produce energy is carbon neutral, an inconvenient untruth that, critics contend, the United Nations has dodged facing at every annual international meeting since Paris.

And so the EU renewables quotas — with their claim of biomass carbon neutrality — have meant a boon for companies like Enviva that sell wood pellets to energy producers and countries now leery of more traditional power sources, ranging from nuclear to coal to hydropower, and who want to squeeze a few more decades out of existing coal burning power plants — now converted to burning wood pellets on an industrial scale.
» Read article             

what it looks like
House Climate Crisis Action Plan Gets a Lot Right on Biomass

By Sasha Stashwick, National Resources Defense Council – blog post
July 9, 2020

Biomass refers to the use of any plant or organic matter to produce energy. Too often, in places that have incentivized biomass use to generate electricity like the European Union, biomass is incentivized to generate electricity in dedicated power plants, or old coal plants converted to run partially or fully on biomass. The fuel demand of these plants is so large that the only source of biomass supply big enough to meet is, unfortunately, wood from forests.

Established science now shows that burning biomass from forests for electricity is not a climate solution within timeframes relevant to addressing climate change. Here in the US, it’s therefore critical that federal climate plans do not repeat the same mistakes as the E.U. in adopting flawed policies based on the debunked assumption of biomass “carbon neutrality.”

In 2018, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out its report describing the climate action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, it explained that countries would have to cut their CO2 emissions, such as from power plants, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping “well before 2030” and be on track to fall by roughly 45% by around 2030. Scientists are clear that what we do over the next decade is incredibly consequential in this fight.

That is why the timeframe used to evaluate the climate impacts of biomass systems is so critical. Evaluate the carbon impacts of biomass-burning over a long enough timeframe, and it may look good. Eventually, if new trees are replanted, they can suck up the carbon that was emitted when older trees were harvested and burned as fuel for energy production. But trees take many decades to grow back. In the meantime, biomass electricity actually loads the atmosphere with more CO2 than fossil fuels (because wood is a less energy dense fuel, so more of it needs to be burned to generate the same amount of electricity).
» Read article             

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 2/14/20

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

BU professor Nathan Phillips made news this week by ending his hunger strike and successfully calling attention to climate and environmental justice issues associated with the Weymouth compressor station project. A little farther north, citizens of Exeter, NH will have a chance to express opposition to the Granite Bridge pipeline simply by voting at Town Meeting on March 10th. The petition, appearing on the ballot as Article 25, states in part, “the scope of the project vastly exceeds the current and future energy needs of New Hampshire. The likely changes in energy production could result in ratepayers paying for technology that will be obsolete before it’s operational.”

Kinder Morgan / Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s Connecticut expansion project includes a stretch near Sandisfield, MA that was contested by the Narragansett Indian Tribe because it threatened ceremonial stone groupings. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted permission for construction before the case could be heard, and 73 sites were destroyed.

News about other pipelines includes a story from Oregon, where a proposed project has split a community between people who welcome the desperately-needed jobs and those who maintain those benefits are short-term and outweighed by environmental costs.

Climate news is all about the stunning weather event reported last week, when record high temperatures were recorded on Antarctica’s Trinity Peninsula.

One piece of our clean energy future is about to be demonstrated through a pilot project in Boston, in 140 housing units built on a 10-acre tract of land and heated/cooled by a micro-district geothermal system. This will entirely eliminate the need for natural gas in those homes. An unrelated article describes the problem of retired wind turbine blades piling up in landfills – a reminder that there’s no truly benign way to meet human energy demand.

Can carbon offsets qualify air travel as acceptably clean transportation? In an attempt to stay ahead of the flight-shaming movement, jetBlue is hoping you think so. Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department dropped its anti-trust probe against a group of automakers that said they’d comply with California’s progressive emissions targets.

We found some riveting stories on the fossil fuel industry. With financial analysts warning of a global industry collapse, European regulators scrutinizing overall emissions in the natural gas production and delivery chain, and new legislation proposing a U.S. ban on fracking… somehow the natural gas industry thinks its main problem is public relations. Be sure to also read The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia,  a three-year-old article from The Guardian that we include here because it’s relevant to other stories.

Finally, a look at Dart Container Corporation’s hardball play to save the ubiquitous foam coffee cup.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

strike over
‘I Feel Victorious’: BU Professor Ends Hunger Strike Over Weymouth Compressor
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
February 11, 2020

Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips will end the hunger strike he began two weeks ago over what he called “serious public health and safety violations” at the Weymouth natural gas compressor construction site.

“The demands that I had for my hunger strike — we have made some progress,” Phillips said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Boston. “Yet the reason for my action was to put the spotlight on [environmental justice] and on the officials that are accountable and responsible. I think, and I hope, we’ve reached a tipping point in public awareness.”
» Read article

crossing the line
Crossing the Line: A Scientist’s Road From Neutrality to Activism
Nathan Phillips, who just ended a 14-day hunger strike, said he was compelled to action by dissatisfaction with academia’s passivity and the fervor of his students.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
February 11, 2020

The hunger strike—which he ended at about 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon—carried physical risks. Lanky to begin with, the 53-year-old Korean American professor has lost 22 pounds since he stopped eating on Jan. 29, and has been subsisting on unsweetened tea, sea salt and vitamin supplements.

The protest also carried professional risks. He has been challenged by colleagues and his increasing activism—Phillips has been arrested for non-violent protests against fossil fuel projects three times since October—may lead other scientists, including some potential research collaborators, to question his methods and objectivity.

Phillips says they are risks he has to take.

“There’s really no other recourse that me or others fighting this battle have because the state and federal regulatory and executive agencies have failed the community,” he said. “They have washed their hands of this.”
» Read article

Phillips hunger strike
Dr. Nathan Phillips—Hunger Strike
By Carolyn Shadid Lewis, Vimeo
February 10, 2020

Dr. Nathan Phillips speaks with Carolyn Shadid Lewis about his personal journey with the Weymouth Compressor and his decision to go on hunger strike.
» View report

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

Granite Bridge citizen petition
Exeter voters to weigh in on proposed Granite Bridge pipeline
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
February 6, 2020

EXETER — A citizen’s petition on the March 10 Town Meeting ballot calls for residents to oppose the Granite Bridge pipeline project, currently under review by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Granite Bridge is the proposed $414 million, 27-mile, 16-inch natural gas pipeline from Exeter to Manchester to be constructed by Liberty Utilities within the Route 101 right of way, designated by law as a state Energy Infrastructure Corridor. The project, which includes constructing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tank in an abandoned quarry in Epping, is more than a year into the PUC review process.

The petition, appearing on the March ballot as Article 25, states in part, “the scope of the project vastly exceeds the current and future energy needs of New Hampshire. The likely changes in energy production could result in ratepayers paying for technology that will be obsolete before it’s operational.”
» Read article

» More about the Granite Bridge Pipeline

CT EXPANSION NEWS

Court rules against Narragansett Tribe in pipeline dispute
By Providence Journal
February 7, 2020

PROVIDENCE (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled against a Rhode Island tribe Friday in a dispute over a natural gas pipeline built in Massachusetts on land with ceremonial stone groupings.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a petition by the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s historic preservation office for lack of jurisdiction.

The tribe argued that in authorizing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. to build a pipeline across landscapes with sacred significance, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied it procedural protections of the National Historic Preservation Act. The tribe took issue with a nearly 4-mile-long pipeline segment near Sandisfield, Massachusetts.

The court found the tribe lacks standing to seek relief because the ceremonial landscapes had been destroyed by the time it filed its petition for review,.
» Read article

» More on the CT expansion project    

OTHER PIPELINES

Natural gas pipeline proposal fractures Oregon community
By Christopher Booker, Connie Kargbo, Sam Weber, PBS
February 9, 2020

A protracted battle in Oregon over a proposal to build a 229-mile natural gas pipeline and processing terminal in the southern part of the state is pitting those hungry for economic development against those wary of the project’s environmental risks. But as NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports, that fight is drawing closer to a conclusion.
» Listen to report or read transcript                  

» More about other pipelines    

CLIMATE

warmest January
Earth just had hottest January since records began, data shows
Average global temperature 2.5F above 20th-century average
Antarctic has begun February with several temperature spikes
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 13, 2020

Last month was the hottest January on record over the world’s land and ocean surfaces, with average temperatures exceeding anything in the 141 years of data held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The record temperatures in January follow an exceptionally warm 2019, which has been ranked as the second hottest year for the planet’s surface since reliable measurements started. The past five years and the past decade are the hottest in 150 years of record-keeping, an indication of the gathering pace of the climate crisis.
» Read article    

hot spot
Antarctica just hit 65 degrees, its warmest temperature ever recorded
By Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post
February 7, 2020

Just days after the Earth saw its warmest January on record, Antarctica has broken its warmest temperature ever recorded. A reading of 65 degrees was taken Thursday at Esperanza Base along Antarctica’s Trinity Peninsula, making it the ordinarily frigid continent’s highest measured temperature in history.

The Argentine research base is on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Randy Cerveny, who tracks extremes for the World Meteorological Organization, called Thursday’s reading a “likely record,” although the mark will still have to be officially reviewed and certified.

The balmy reading beats out the previous record of 63.5 degrees, which occurred March 24, 2015.
» Read article

» More about climate    

CLEAN ENERGY

district geothermal in Mattapan
Geothermal heating district could rise in Mattapan
City officials say they’re backing the project because it would further Boston’s ‘commitment to climate action’
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
February 11, 2020

The redevelopment of the old Boston State Hospital in Mattapan has added hundreds of modest-priced residences to the city during the past two decades.

But now the state has put the final 10-acre slice of this sprawling 175-acre campus up for grabs. And the Walsh administration has weighed in, singling out one of the bidders for its unusual component: a more environmentally friendly way to heat and cool our homes.

That bidder is Thomas F. Welch & Associates, whose proposal for the 140-unit Orchard Village project at first looks like other residential projects of its size — with one major exception: The entire assemblage of apartments and townhouses would be heated and cooled by geothermal energy, not natural gas. City officials say they’re backing the project because it would further Boston’s “commitment to climate action.” They see its potential to become a model for other micro-district heating systems, a success story that could be replicated elsewhere.
» Read article

Vineyard Wind delayed
Vineyard Wind Announces New Delay In Offshore Wind Project
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, on WBUR
February 11, 2020

Vineyard Wind no longer expects its 800-megawatt project to become operational by 2022, the company said Tuesday after federal officials announced a new — and longer-than-anticipated — timeline for their review of the project and offshore wind sector generally.

“We have received updated information from the Department of Interior that indicates the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Vineyard Wind I project will be published later than what was previously anticipated,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a statement.

“While we need to analyze what a longer permitting timeline will mean for beginning construction, commercial operation in 2022 is no longer expected. We look forward to the clarity that will come with a final EIS so that Vineyard Wind can deliver this project to Massachusetts and kick off the new US offshore energy industry.”
» Read article    

Saugerties solar
New solar array at old Saugerties landfill ready to start generating
By Christina Coulter, Hudson Valley One
February 7, 2020

Some 7,000 gleaming new solar panels uniformly line the site of the now-capped Town of Saugerties landfill and should be online in the next month, according to developers from East Light Solar.

The Town of Saugerties, the board of which approved the 2.8-megawatt project last March, will purchase 40 percent of the project’s total energy output, according to Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. Approximately 800,000 kilowatts of the town’s cut will power 80 percent of town facilities and the savings will ultimately extend to taxpayers, Costello said.

The remainder of the energy produced will be sold to an estimated 150 Saugerties homes and businesses. The impressive array was erected in just three months, with construction beginning in November.
» Read article

retired blades
Wind Turbine Blades Can’t Be Recycled, So They’re Piling Up in Landfills
Companies are searching for ways to deal with the tens of thousands of blades that have reached the end of their lives.
By Chris Martin, Bloomberg Green
February 5, 2020

A wind turbine’s blades can be longer than a Boeing 747 wing, so at the end of their lifespan they can’t just be hauled away. First, you need to saw through the lissome fiberglass using a diamond-encrusted industrial saw to create three pieces small enough to be strapped to a tractor-trailer.

The municipal landfill in Casper, Wyoming, is the final resting place of 870 blades whose days making renewable energy have come to end. The severed fragments look like bleached whale bones nestled against one another.

Tens of thousands of aging blades are coming down from steel towers around the world and most have nowhere to go but landfills. In the U.S. alone, about 8,000 will be removed in each of the next four years.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Jet Blue offsets
Could the Flight Shaming Movement Take Off in the U.S.? JetBlue Thinks So.
The airline is the first American carrier planning to purchase “offsets” for carbon emissions from all domestic flights, a move some activists denounce as a stunt.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
February 7, 2020

In January, JetBlue became the first major U.S. airline to announce plans to become carbon neutral as a way to assuage customer concerns over the impact of commercial flying on the climate. In a press release, the airline said it hopes by July to offset greenhouse gas emissions from all of its domestic flights by funding projects that help reduce emissions elsewhere.

The very notion of “green” flights strikes some climate activists as absurd. Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and “low-carbon travel” activist, said there’s no more potent way hour-for-hour to warm the planet than flying. He considers offset schemes suspect, and he believes offsets might do more harm than good because they make people believe they can fly without contributing to climate change. Kalmus notes that he speaks only on his own behalf, not NASA’s.

But Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council told InsideClimate News that the offset market has made major strides toward becoming more standardized, transparent and effective.
» Read article

CARB limits OK
Justice Department Drops Antitrust Probe Against Automakers That Sided With California on Emissions
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 7, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has dropped its antitrust inquiry into four automakers that had sided with California in its dispute with the Trump administration over reducing climate-warming vehicle pollution, deciding that the companies had violated no laws, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation, launched last September, had escalated a dispute over one of President Trump’s most significant rollbacks of global warming regulations. The Justice Department’s move was one of a slew of seemingly retributive actions by the White House against California, as the state worked with the four automakers — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — to defy Mr. Trump’s planned rollback of national fuel economy standards.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL

Arctic Lady
EU Plans to Measure True Climate Impacts of LNG Imports From US Fracked Gas
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
February 12, 2020

With growing evidence that the climate impacts of natural gas are comparable to coal, the European Commission is planning to study ways to reduce methane emissions across the life cycle of natural gas production and consumption, with potential implications for fracked gas producers in the U.S.

“Work has started on the methane emissions linked to the energy sector, including oil and gas production and transport, but also coal mines and we are planning on presenting the strategic plan still this year,” said an unnamed official working with European Union (EU) energy commissioner Kadri Simson, as reported by Euractiv.

The EU obtains natural gas from many sources, both in gas form via pipeline and as liquefied natural gas (LNG). One area of this EU study will be methane emissions over the life cycle of LNG imports from U.S. fracked natural gas.

Bloomberg recently analyzed the climate impact of U.S. LNG production facilities and reported that “an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.”

Nevertheless, the oil and gas industry is putting serious ad dollars into positioning natural gas as a climate solution. As renewables have become more cost-competitive, the industry has shifted its language away from selling natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewables and toward gas as a “foundation fuel.”
» Read article

oil sands divestment
Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
February 12, 2020

In April, voters elected a provincial leader who promised to punish companies that stopped financing the oil sands. Then, in December, Alberta opened what it called a war room to attack anyone perceived as criticizing the industry.

“We have been targeted by a foreign-funded campaign of special interests,” Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, said after winning office last year. “When multinational companies like HSBC boycott Alberta, we’ll boycott them.” HSBC, the largest bank in Europe, has said it will stop financing new oil sands developments.

Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday.

The brawl over billions of dollars in lending and investment, while centered on Alberta’s oil sands, shows the potential power of the financial industry to speed the shift to cleaner energy sources, even as the world’s government fail in their pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It also shows how quickly financial-industry pressure can instill a degree of political panic.

But financial institutions worldwide are coming under growing pressure from shareholders to pull money from high-emitting industries. At the same time they are waking up to the fact that they have underestimated the climate-change risk in their portfolios.
» Read article

gas PR
Report Attacks Industry Campaign to Fix Natural Gas’s Climate PR Problem
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
February 9, 2020

A new report from advocacy group Food and Water Watch argues that fracking and continued reliance on natural gas is detrimental to addressing climate change. The report, which calls out the fossil fuel industry’s misleading narratives around natural gas, comes at a time when progressive members of Congress like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are introducing a bill to ban fracking and when the industry is ramping up its public relations push around gas.

According to Food and Water Watch’s (FWW) report, greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the power sector over the past decade are not as great as the gas industry claims. FWW researchers found that combined emissions from coal and gas power plants declined 10.4 percent over the last decade. If emissions continue to decline at this roughly 10 percent pace, the report says, they will not reach zero until 2100.

The report examines data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an academic emissions inventory, and a recent Cornell University study. FWW developed a model that evaluates life-cycle emissions of power production, including methane emissions from coal and natural gas production, processing, transportation, and end use. The organization’s analysis is also based on a comprehensive synthesis of methane leak research.
» Read article    
» Read report    

oil glut
Saudi-Russian Alliance Is Strained as Coronavirus Saps Demand for Oil
OPEC is still trying to forge an agreement on new output cuts to sop up an oil glut.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
February 7, 2020

An alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia has helped prop up oil prices for the last three years. But the two big oil producers were not in perfect harmony this week, as they have tried to recalibrate production targets to cope with reduced demand from China, whose economy has been crippled by the coronavirus epidemic.
» Read article

grand staircase escalante
Trump Opens National Monument Land to Energy Exploration
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday finalized plans to allow mining and energy drilling on nearly a million acres of land in southern Utah that had once been protected as part of a major national monument.

The Interior Department’s release of a formal land-use blueprint for the approximately 861,974 acres of land will allow oil, gas and coal companies to complete the legal process for leasing mines and wells on land that had once been part of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, established by President Bill Clinton.

To date, no oil, gas or coal companies have taken any of the legal first steps required to mine or drill on the land, although they could have done so at any time in the months following Mr. Trump’s proclamation that he was removing protection from the land, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department said.

“There has been almost no interest in mining and drilling on the lands excluded from Grand Staircase,” said Kimberly Finch, the spokeswoman.

Environmentalists decried the latest step in the Trump administration’s efforts to open public lands to energy exploration.
» Read article

tight oil
Government Agency Warns Global Oil Industry Is on the Brink of a Meltdown

We are not running out of oil, but it’s becoming uneconomical to exploit it—another reason we need to move to renewables as quickly as possible.
By Nafeez Ahmed, Vice
February 4, 2020

A government research report produced by Finland warns that the increasingly unsustainable economics of the oil industry could derail the global financial system within the next few years.

The new report is published by the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK), which operates under the government’s Ministry of Economic Affairs. GTK is currently the European Commission’s lead coordinator of the EU’s ProMine project, its flagship mineral resources database and modeling system.

The report says we are not running out of oil—vast reserves exist—but says that it is becoming uneconomical to exploit it. The plateauing of crude oil production was “a decisive turning point for the industrial ecosystem,” with demand shortfall being made up from liquid fuels which are far more expensive and difficult to extract—namely, unconventional oil sources like crude oil from deep offshore sources, oil sands, and especially shale oil (also known as “tight oil,” extracted by fracking).

These sources require far more elaborate and expensive methods of extraction, refining and processing than conventional crude mined onshore, which has driven up costs of production and operations.

Yet the shift to more expensive sources of oil to sustain the global economy, the report finds, is not only already undermining economic growth, but likely to become unsustainable on its own terms. In short, we have entered a new era of expensive energy that is likely to trigger a long-term economic contraction.
» Read article
» Read report

fracking ban bill
Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez bill would outlaw fracking by 2025
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
February 3, 2020

A bill introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) helped craft would ban fracking nationwide by 2025, according to its newly unveiled text.

The legislation would immediately prevent federal agencies from issuing federal permits for expanded fracking, new fracking, new pipelines, new natural gas or oil export terminals and other gas and oil infrastructure.

A House version of the legislation is being spearheaded by Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

By Feb. 1, 2021, permits would be revoked for wells where fracking takes place and that are within 2,500 feet of a home, school or other “inhabited structure.” The wells would be required to stop operations.

Fracking for oil and natural gas would become illegal “on all onshore and offshore land in the United States” by Jan. 1, 2025.
» Read article

the sponsors
The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia
Corporate capture of academic research by the fossil fuel industry is an elephant in the room and a threat to tackling climate change.
By Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran, The Guardian
March 13, 2017

The very experts we assume to be objective, and the very centers of research we assume to be independent, are connected with the very industry the public believes they are objectively studying. Moreover, these connections are often kept hidden.

To say that these experts and research centers have conflicts of interest is an understatement: many of them exist as they do only because of the fossil fuel industry. They are industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.

After years conducting energy-related research at Harvard and MIT, we have come to discover firsthand that this pattern is systemic. Funding from Shell, Chevron, BP, and other oil and gas companies dominates Harvard’s energy and climate policy research, and Harvard research directors consult for the industry. These are the experts tasked with formulating policies for countering climate change, policies that threaten the profits – indeed the existence – of the fossil fuel industry.

Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors – have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge.
» Blog editor’s note: this article was referenced in “Crossing the Line”, the InsideClimate News article we carried about BU Professor Nathan Phillips, who has been actively opposing the Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article

» More about the fossil fuel industry     

PLASTICS, HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT

 

foam cups strike back
Your Foam Coffee Cup Is Fighting for Its Life
The Dart Container Corporation, which makes foam products, is a manufacturing behemoth and produced a fortune for the family behind it. Environmentalists say its products are polluting the globe.
By Michael Corkery, New York Times
February 10, 2020

Shortly after Maryland voted to ban foam, Dart shut down its two warehouses in the state, displacing 90 workers and sending a signal to other locales considering similar laws. San Diego recently decided to suspend enforcement of its polystyrene ban in the face of a lawsuit by Dart and a restaurant trade group, which argued the city should have conducted a detailed environmental impact study before enacting the law. The city is now performing that analysis.

“We don’t believe there are good, objective reasons to single out certain materials,” Dart’s chief executive officer, Jim Lammers, said in a recent interview at the company’s headquarters.
» Read article

» More about plastics and the environment  

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