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.
— The NFGiM Team
PEAKING POWER PLANTS
Column: 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
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
GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE
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
Pipeline 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
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
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
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
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
6 ‘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
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
Maine 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
GREENING THE ECONOMY
As 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
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
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.
Polar 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
Is 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
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
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.”
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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.”
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Resolutions 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.
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Forest 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.”
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» Read the Forest Defenders Alliance open letter to VP Timmermans
PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
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”.
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