Tag Archives: IEA

Weekly News Check-In 3/5/21

banner 17

Welcome back.

This week’s most timely story involves a ham-handed power grab by the building and natural gas industries – forcing a rule change at the International Code Council to deprive thousands of municipal officials of voting rights in future updates to the energy efficiency building code. This mass disenfranchisement appears to be special-interest blowback following the successful 2019 voting round, when record-breaking voter participation resulted in the first significant improvement of base building codes in a decade. The development is particularly unfortunate given recent reports showing that global emissions are still rising while country-level commitments for greenhouse gas reductions are running far below levels necessary to address the climate emergency. Building emissions are a significant part of the problem – especially from the combustion of natural gas for heating, domestic hot water, and cooking.

It’s been 30 years since the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when a burst pipeline spewed 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto Minnesota’s frozen Prairie River. This pipeline is now Enbridge’s Line 3, and the project to replace and reroute it through sensitive wetland habitat is fiercely opposed by local indigenous people, who demand enforcement of Tribal treaties they feel should protect them from this environmental threat.

Another active protest campaign includes opposition to the Formosa Plastics project, a major expansion of the petrochemical industry in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, known as Cancer Alley. Industry abuse of this mostly Black environmental justice community has drawn a sharply critical report from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

We’ve posted a number of reports touting plans and pilot ventures aimed at transitioning coal country into a greener economic model. So far, the efforts have primarily been at the individual, local, and state levels, and disparities are exposing the need for a more coordinated federal program.

As usual, the news gets better when we look at developments in zero-emission technologies. Agricultural land hosting large solar arrays can remain productive by using flocks of sheep to control vegetation, and it’s catching on. Energy storage is looking beyond lithium, especially in the long-duration markets. Thermal storage and non-toxic iron flow batteries are two promising technologies ready to offer grid-scale services. And clean transportation is all about rapidly expanding easily accessible EV charging stations, plus an announcement that Volvo cars and SUVs will be 100% electric by 2030 – five years ahead of rival carmakers’ most aggressive goals.

The news always gets more sobering when we turn our attention back to the fossil fuel industry. A new pilot study shows disturbing health impacts for people living near fracking operations, even while the natural gas industry mounts an all-out effort to block increasingly popular efforts to ban gas hookups in new buildings. Industry leaders seem unable to visualize a business plan that doesn’t involve drilling, piping, and burning planet-cooking toxins. Consequently, they react to any zero-emissions transition plan as an existential threat. Hence today’s lead stories on the assault on energy efficient building codes….

We’ll close by checking in on Massachusetts’ biomass problem, including an opinion article from one of Reading Municipal Light Department’s five elected commissioners explaining how demand for Palmer Renewable Energy’s biomass-generated electricity is far less than it appears.

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

PIPELINES

thirty years later
30 years later, echoes of largest inland oil spill remain in Line 3 fight
By Dan Kraker and Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio
March 3, 2021

Thirty years ago Wednesday, on March 3, 1991, the Line 3 oil pipeline ruptured in Grand Rapids, Minn., spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River.

It’s still the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Because the river was covered with ice, crews were able to keep the oil from reaching the Mississippi, 2 miles away.

“There would be people on the ice, squeegeeing oil on top of the ice, which was weird, everything was weird, it was like some kind of gross landscape,” Scott Hall, a reporter for Grand Rapids public radio station KAXE, told MPR News in 2018 for an episode of its Rivers of Oil podcast, which dove deep into the impacts of the spill.

“And so they had hoses going down, and just sucking as much oil as they could out into these tanker trucks.”

The Lakehead Pipeline Co. owned Line 3, which was built in the 1960s to carry oil from Canada, at the time of the spill. And the company that succeeded Lakehead, Enbridge Energy, is now replacing that same Line 3 with a new pipeline along a different route across the state.

Construction on the new line began in earnest in December. But Native American tribes and environmental groups continue to fight the $4 billion project, on the ground and in court.
» Read article          
» Oil and Water: The Line 3 Debate – full coverage    

Seamus O'ReganLine 5 ‘very different’ from Keystone XL and Canada will fight hard for it: O’Regan
‘The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,’ said natural resources minister
By James McCarten, CBC
March 4, 2021

The federal government won’t let Michigan shut down the Line 5 pipeline, Canada’s natural resources minister said Thursday as he dismissed opposition comparisons to the thwarted Keystone XL project.

Seamus O’Regan sounded almost combative as he vowed to defend the 1,000-kilometre line, which bridges an environmentally sensitive part of the Great Lakes to link Wisconsin with refineries in Sarnia, Ont.

“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident in that fight,” O’Regan told a special House of Commons committee on the relationship between Canada and the United States.

The Enbridge Inc. pipeline carries an estimated 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily, and is vital to the energy and employment needs of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, as well as northern U.S. states, he added. 

“We are fighting on a diplomatic front, and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” he said. “The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.”

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5 to be shut down by May, accusing Calgary-based Enbridge of violating the terms of the deal that allows the line to traverse the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 

The straits, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, boast powerful, rapidly changing currents that experts have said make the area the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Pipeline opponents in the U.S. — many of the same voices who helped make TC Energy’s proposed Keystone XL expansion an environmental rallying point over the last decade — have vowed to see it shut down. 

Enbridge, which has plans to fortify the underwater segment of the line by routing it through a tunnel under the lake bed, is fighting Whitmer’s order in court.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines         

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Sunshine Casino
UN Human Rights Experts Condemn Expanding Petrochemical Industry in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley as ‘Environmental Racism’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
March 3, 2021

Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement on March 2 raising concerns about the further industrialization of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” This largely Black-populated stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is lined with more than a hundred refineries and petrochemical plants. The experts said additional petrochemical development in this region, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows has some of the country’s highest cancer risks from air pollution, constitutes “environmental racism” that “must end.”

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the experts said.

The statement calls for U.S. officials to reconsider allowing FG LA LLC, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, to build its proposed “Sunshine Project” in St. James Parish, in the middle of the region. That development, one of several new petrochemical projects slated for the region, would be a massive complex. Its 14 units would produce two types of plastic and the petrochemical ethylene glycol, which is used to make polyester fabrics and antifreeze.

It is a development that Sharon Lavigne, founder of the faith-based grassroots organization RISE St. James, has been trying to stop ever since learning in 2018 that the company planned to build its complex less than two miles from her home.

If built, “Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical complex alone will more than double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents,” the human rights experts wrote. Their statement also took government regulators to task for their role. “Federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in ‘Cancer Alley,’” they said, calling for the U.S. Government “to deliver environmental justice in communities all across America, starting with St. James Parish,” by stopping the Formosa Plastics project.
» Read article          
» Read the UN statement        

» More about protests and actions         

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

without a map
As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 3, 2021

Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.

In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.

Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.

One rectangle down on the U.S. map, in Colorado, 2019 was the year a new state law passed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent by 2050. In parallel, Colorado established an Office of Just Transition to help the workers and communities affected by now-inevitable coal mine and power plant closures. To comply with that timeline, the state’s two largest electric utilities recently submitted plans, not unlike Pacificorp’s, to retire several coal plants early and replace them with renewables and batteries.

While Colorado regulators have not yet approved the plans, they’ll likely be concerned with whether the utilities will phase out coal fast enough. Meanwhile, the Office of Just Transition has released a plan to help coal communities adapt to the looming changes in their economies and has already begun outreach efforts.

These two examples represent a larger trend in the West: While policies and proposals in some states (like Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry, others (like Wyoming and, to a lesser extent, Montana) are protecting it for dear life. A new study by researchers at Montana State University examines this chasm and connects it to the absence of cohesive national energy transition policy.
» Read article          
» Read the Montana State University study       

» More about greening the economy       

 

CLIMATE

back on trend
New IEA Data Shows World on Path to Resume ‘Carbon-Intensive Business-as-Usual’
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, in DeSmog UK
March 2, 2021

Following warnings that the coronavirus-triggered drop in planet-warming emissions would be short-lived without structural changes, the International Energy Agency released data Tuesday showing that global CO2 emissions from the energy sector were 2 percent higher in December 2020 compared to the same month the previous year.

The Paris-based agency said the figures reflect a lack of concrete action by global governments to follow through on pledges to meet net zero emissions by 2050 and predicted 2021 emissions would continue the upward trend barring sufficiently bold action.

“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide. If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

Birol further warned that the figures “show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual.”

“This year is pivotal for international climate action,” he added, “but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”

While emissions in the U.S. dropped 10 percent in 2020 overall, the downward trend began moving back up after a low point in spring. The nation capped off 2020 with December emissions being nearly the same as those in December 2019.

In India, an increase in emissions began in September with the loosening of Covid-19-related restrictions. China’s emissions began climbing upward in April, and its emissions for the year overall increased by 0.8 percent.

The global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic resulted in a historic drop in global emissions, which climate activists said should be no substitute for real climate action and scientists said would ultimately do little to rein in global temperature increase.

Stressing that there’s “no time to lose” to address atmospheric concentrations of CO2, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in November: “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records.”

“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” said Taalas. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
» Read article          

global inaction
Global Action Is ‘Very Far’ From What’s Needed to Avert Climate Chaos
New climate pledges submitted to the United Nations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent, the world body announced.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
February 26, 2021

The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.

The global political response has been underwhelming so far.

New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.

The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”

The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously.

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called the report “a red alert.”

The tally was all the more damning because fewer than half of all countries submitted fresh targets to the United Nations. The Paris climate accord, designed to limit an increase in global temperatures, had urged them to do so by the end of 2020.
» Read article          

weakening ocean currents
Climate Change is Weakening the Ocean Currents That Shape Weather on Both Sides of the Atlantic
The change in the main ocean heat pump could bring more heat waves to Europe, increase sea level rise in North America and force fish to move farther north.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Since the end of the last ice age, a swirling system of ocean-spanning currents has churned consistently in the Atlantic, distributing heat energy along the ocean surface from the tropics toward the poles, with heavy, cold water slowly flowing back toward the equator along the bottom of the sea.

Collectively known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the currents played a key role in shaping the climate of eastern North America and Western Europe, and thus the development of civilizations there. But in the 20th century, the circulation has weakened more than at any other time during at least the last 1,000 years, new research shows.

Together with other studies showing that global warming is driving the weakening, the new findings suggest that the circulation will lose even more strength in the decades ahead. That could cause heat and cold extremes in Europe and rapid sea level rise along the East Coast of the United States. As it weakens, pools of warm water form. That can lead to ocean heat waves, with increasing evidence that overheating oceans are linked with droughts and heat waves on nearby land areas.

The overturning circulation loops like a 10,000-mile conveyor belt through the North and South  Atlantic, connecting polar regions. It brings cold water up from the deep, sends warmer water across the surface and then drops it back down thousands of miles away as it cools.
» Read article          

» More about climate            

 

CLEAN ENERGY

sheep and shade
Connecticut solar developers enlist sheep to cut grass and ease tensions

Several projects before the state’s siting board propose integrating sheep grazing with photovoltaic installations.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Antalexion / Creative Commons
March 3, 2021

It wasn’t your usual Connecticut Siting Council hearing. 

The petition before the regulators last week concerned a proposed 4.99-megawatt solar project on a tobacco farm in East Windsor. But many of the councilors’ questions for developer Greenskies Clean Energy had little to do with the technicalities of solar. 

Robert Hannon wanted to know how manure would be handled. John Morissette asked about the level of animal noise. And Chair Robert Silvestri wondered if the site would be safe from coyotes and other predators. 

The answers were vague, as this is the first time Greenskies has proposed using sheep to control vegetation on a solar site. 

The siting council is likely to become more savvy about the particulars in coming months as another Connecticut solar developer, Verogy, has proposed using sheep at three projects pending in East Windsor, Southington and Bristol. 

The proposals reflect the growing interest throughout the region in what’s called agrivoltaics — the practice of combining agricultural uses and renewable energy production on the same parcel of land.

The idea is that “we essentially utilize the sheep for vegetation maintenance, and it allows the property to continue in an agricultural use,” said Gina Wolfman, a senior project developer for Greenskies. 

And instead of revenues being paid out to landscaping services, “they are directed to the farming community,” said Bryan Fitzgerald, a co-founder of and director of development at Verogy.

That can help ease tensions around the use of prime farmland for large-scale solar arrays.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

now previewing
Code council approves plan to limit city, state input despite pushback

The International Code Council’s decision to limit direct influence by state and local government officials left some critics speculating about the potential to create an alternative to the organization’s widely used model codes.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
March 5, 2021

The nonprofit responsible for developing model building energy codes used by cities and states nationwide finalized a controversial plan Thursday to strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members — a move clean energy advocates fear will slow progress in achieving more efficient buildings and reducing emissions that fuel climate change. 

The decision, which critics say was made to appease the interests of industry groups representing homebuilders and natural gas utilities, came during a Wednesday meeting of the International Code Council’s board of directors. Unlike with its previous meeting in January, the board did not stream Wednesday’s meeting for the public to view. 

The change to the code-setting process was set in motion last fall when groups including the National Association of Home Builders and Leading Builders of America cried foul over the latest code development cycle, during which state and local government officials voted in record numbers, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade. 

In response to the record voting turnout, industry groups alleged voting irregularities and “improper use of voting guides” that had been distributed by efficiency advocates. (The Code Council conducted a review of the voting process and found no evidence of irregularities.) Industry representatives also said the process needed to change because energy codes were getting more complex, requiring a higher level of expertise among voting members. 

“This is a classic case of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” said Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement following the ICC’s announcement. “It’s extremely troubling that the ICC Board unnecessarily voted to strip the power from local government officials on the very codes they oversee, after they voted overwhelmingly to make our homes and other buildings more energy efficient and avoid harmful pollution from burning fossil fuels inside them.”
» Read article          

code voter supprssion
Cities voted for green building codes. Now developers want to end voting.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Grist
March 1, 2021

Kim Havey had a problem. Minneapolis was generating more and more of its electricity from renewables, dropping climate-warming pollution from power to record lows. But emissions from natural gas, which is used to heat buildings and stovetops, were climbing ― overtaking power plants as the city’s top source of carbon pollution in 2017.

Nearly three-quarters of Minneapolis’ emissions came from buildings, and the city was undergoing a construction boom to accommodate a population growing faster than at any point since the 1950s. So Havey, the city’s sustainability director, helped craft new rules mandating more efficient standards for all those new buildings.

But there was a hurdle. Buildings over 50,000 square feet ― medical offices, corporate headquarters, apartment buildings ― fell under state jurisdiction. And Minnesota, like most states, used the International Code Council’s model national energy code as its standard. The ICC ― which, as one newspaper once put it, like the World Series, primarily concerns the U.S. ― is a nonprofit consortium of construction industry groups, architects and local government officials that creates the standard building codes used in towns and cities in all 50 states.

Then Havey learned that as a government official responsible for buildings and energy codes in his city, he could register to vote on the ICC’s next round of energy codes in November 2019. He wasn’t alone in this endeavor. The slow progress in reducing emissions from buildings and a decade of virtually unchanged ICC codes were frustrating officials across the U.S., and hundreds applied that year to vote in a process that takes place every three years.

By the time votes were tallied, this army of Leslie Knopes had won an overwhelming victory. The ballots went 3 to 1 in favor of mandates to ratchet up energy efficiency and require new homes and buildings to include wiring to hook up electric vehicle chargers and electric appliances.

But the triumph was short-lived. The building industry groups that have long wielded dominance over policy at the ICC soon began challenging not only the approved measures, which they called costly and unrealistic, but the members’ right to vote at all.

The National Association of Home Builders, whose influence over the ICC has drawn scrutiny from Congress, demanded the organization reconsider the eligibility of dozens of city departments that cast ballots in 2019. Havey and his entire department were among them.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY STORAGE

heat batteries
Aalborg CSP Can Retrofit Coal Plants into Thermal Energy Storage
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 28, 2021

Researchers at DLR, and NREL, and the Bill Gates-funded start-up Malta have been investigating converting coal plants into grid-scale thermal energy storage for curtailed intermittent renewable energy, as low-cost heat “batteries.”

Conversion would repurpose most of a coal plant’s assets. Instead of burning coal for the heat, tanks of molten salts would be heated electrically by surplus PV and wind on the grid to “charge” the storage, which could then be “discharged” back to the grid on demand using the former coal plant’s existing power generation and transmission assets.

Now Denmark’s Aalborg CSP A/S has taken a first step to commercialization. Their Integrated Energy System (IES) department, led by Executive Vice President Peter Badstue Jensen now offers their retrofitting of coal plants into thermal energy storage commercially.

The firm’s wide experience in the design and development of complex solar thermal energy and storage systems includes technologies supplying district heating and solar thermal plants operating globally. These include the world’s first seawater desalination solar greenhouse in Australia and seasonal thermal energy storage in Tibet that covers 90% of Langkazi’s annual heating requirement.
» Read article          

ESS all-iron configurable
‘All-iron’ flow battery maker ESS Inc launches ‘configurable’ megawatt-scale product
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
February 15, 2021

ESS Inc, the US-headquartered manufacturer of a flow battery using iron and saltwater electrolytes, has launched a new range of energy storage systems starting at 3MW power capacity and promising 6-16 hours discharge duration.

The company announced the launch of the ESS Inc Energy Center last week, a containerised utility-scale energy storage product aimed at serving front-of-the-meter use cases as well as larger commercial and industrial (C&I) site applications. Based on ESS Inc’s second generation of flow battery modules, the solution is designed to support large-scale renewable energy projects, serve transmission and distribution (T&D) applications and supply peaking energy capacity to replace peaker gas plants.

While other companies in the flow battery space have mostly focused on vanadium or zinc-bromine electrolyte, ESS Inc has been bullish on the potential for its ‘all-iron’ flow battery. It has a claimed 25-year expected lifetime without performance degradation and the company claims it is safe: in a 2018 interview CEO Craig Evans told Energy-Storage.news that a report from a fire marshall on the battery chemistry “was [just] three sentences long on how the fire marshal should handle our battery in case of an event”. Meanwhile the battery’s contents are non-toxic and are not made using rare-earth materials or hazardous chemicals, the company claimed. 

In that 2018 interview Evans had conceded that lithium-ion batteries had the big head start on manufacturing scale and cost reduction on newer battery technologies like his company’s, but that technical advantages such as the ESS Inc flow battery’s operating temperature of 50°C — meaning it doesn’t need HVAC solutions to be deployed in hot environments — and ever-cheaper renewable energy could offer market opportunities.
» Read article          

» More about energy storage            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

streetlight powerKansas City plans curbside charging for electric vehicles on streetlights
The federally funded pilot project could become a model for other cities looking to close gaps in charging infrastructure.
By Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
Photo By Vitaly Vlasov / Creative Commons
March 4, 2021

Kansas City plans to piggyback electric vehicle charging on existing streetlights as a way to improve access in areas currently lacking charging options.

The federally funded pilot project is being led by the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, whose partners include the city and utility Evergy. They hope to install chargers on 30 to 60 streetlights before the end of the year.

Kansas City is a leader when it comes to charging stations — a recent Rocky Mountain Institute analysis ranked it as the region’s top city for electric vehicle infrastructure. But that infrastructure isn’t spread evenly across the city. 

“There are places in the city that don’t have the same access to EV charging as other places,” said Miriam Bouallegue, the energy center’s sustainable transportation project manager. “We’re just trying to fill in some holes.”

As envisioned, the light poles would be equipped with one charger each. Customers would pay for each kilowatt-hour of power, although a rate will have to be established by state utility regulators.

Much of the work so far has involved trying to identify the best locations to install the charging stations. Generally, planners want to locate them near “points of interest” such as stores, apartment buildings, schools and churches. They collaborated with the Missouri University of Science and Technology to map those sites and found about 300 lights that met the criteria.
» Read article          

EV charge station push6 Utilities to Build EV-Charging Network Across 16 States
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
March 4, 2021

Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.

Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, and electrifying the sector is a major opportunity to reduce those emissions through increased efficiency and renewable-generated electricity. Utilities stand to benefit from massively-increased electricity demand driven by widespread EV adoption, but range anxiety — the fear of running out of battery power without being able to reach a convenient charging station — is a barrier to many customers who might purchase (or consider purchasing) an EV.

The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition — made up of American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — is seeking to ameliorate those concerns by creating a network of charging stations from Texas to Indiana to Virginia to Florida. The announcement follows a similar initiative by major midwest utilities last year.
» Read article          

all-electric Volvo
Volvo says it will stop selling gasoline-powered cars by 2030.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 2, 2021

Volvo Cars said it would convert its entire lineup to battery power by 2030, phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles faster than other automakers like General Motors.

Volvo, based in Sweden and owned by Geely Holding of China, has been ahead of larger rivals in converting to electric power. In 2019, all the models it sold were either hybrids or ran solely on batteries.

By 2030, Volvo will “phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Hybrids have better fuel economy than conventional vehicles, but they may not be much better for the climate or for urban air quality if drivers do not use the electric capabilities.

G.M.’s promise to sell only emission-free vehicles, which it made in January, does not take effect until 2035.

Volvo acknowledged that it was responding in part to pressure from governments, many of which have announced bans on internal combustion engines in coming years.

The company said its decision was based “on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

protect our earth
Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities’ mental, physical, and social health.
By EHN Staff, Environmental Health News
March 1, 2021

It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.

And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact—primarily on the state’s poor and rural families—people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by EHN set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.

In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.

Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).

This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.

We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.

The chemicals we found in the air and water—and inside of people’s bodies—are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.

But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They’re about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son’s illness but can’t afford to move; a family that did move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills, and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry, and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.
» Read article          

banning the gas ban
A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved
The fossil fuel industry is using the same playbook to fight city climate plans around the country
By Emily Holden for Floodlight, Amal Ahmed for the Texas Observer and Brendan Gibbons for San Antonio Report, in The Guardian
March 1, 2021

When the city of Austin drafted a plan to shift away from fossil fuels, the local gas company was fast on the scene to try to scale back the ambition of the effort.

Like many cities across the US, the rapidly expanding and gentrifying Texas city is looking to shrink its climate footprint. So its initial plan was to virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water and stoves.

The proposal, an existential threat to the gas industry, quickly caught the attention of Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials.

In its suggested edits, the company struck references to “electrification”, and replaced them with “decarbonization”– a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles”, which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air – both of which might help it to keep burning gas.

Those proposed revisions were shared with Floodlight, the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report, by the Climate Investigations Center, which obtained them through public records of communications between city officials and the company.

The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas. The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-secured changes.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels         

 

BIOMASS

gift to biomass
Baker’s $175m regulatory gift to biomass
Few municipal light plants actually wanted project
By David Talbot, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 20, 2021

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION and much of the Legislature is trying hard to give the developer of a controversial proposed wood-fired “biomass” power plant in Springfield everything it wants—especially a regulatory change that could give the plant $175 million in additional cash from Massachusetts electric ratepayers over 20 years.

To those wondering why Beacon Hill is doing so much—despite opposition on emissions and environmental justice grounds from the Springfield City Council, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, both of our US senators, and five state senators who filed an anti-biomass bill Friday – the answer often comes back that this is what the Commonwealth’s 41 municipal light plants want.

As the story goes, these local electric utilities, anticipating new standards, sought biomass electricity as part of a broader way to meet those standards.

But the actual decisions made by these century-old entities suggest otherwise. When the power contracts for the unbuilt Springfield facility were offered to municipal light plants in late 2019 and early 2020, only eight signed up—and for a total of only 75 percent of the plant’s output—based on information contained in contracts signed in February of 2020.

Low as these numbers are, they overstate the interest. By far the biggest tranche, 25 percent, was taken by the Reading Municipal Light Department, where I am one of five elected commissioners. But the Reading deal was signed at the management level; when our board later learned of this, we voted to examine all options with respect to the contract’s disposition.

In other words, we started looking for exits.

Our board-voted signal meant just seven municipal light plants truly wanted just half of the plant’s output, according to those contracts signed in February 2020.  And though those other local boards were no doubt better informed than ours, it’s not clear how much they knew about the controversy.

If Beacon Hill’s efforts are not answering demands from local municipal electric utilities, the question begging more investigation is why our elected leaders want to shovel so much money to just one developer (no other such plants are currently proposed in Massachusetts) to build a facility wanted by so few.

The developer, Palmer Renewable Energy, first got permits for the plant more than a decade ago. The company prevailed over certain legal challenges – but still needed more than electricity sales at market rates to make a business case to build the $150 million plant. Gov. Charlie Baker and Patrick Woodcock, Baker’s commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, stepped in to help.

Woodcock, formerly the top energy official under Gov. Paul LePage in Maine, set about gutting the rules for wood-fired biomass plants in the Bay State. The existing ones, in something called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, were stringent. Under them, electricity from the Palmer plant – which would burn 1,200 tons of wood chips per day, hauled in by tractor-trailers potentially from five states—could not be called “renewable.” Only far more efficient versions could do so.

The proposed Baker/Woodcock rewrite puts this giant wood-burning plant on the same “renewable” footing as a fleet of offshore wind turbines or an array of solar panels. And this meant the developer could also sell something called “Class 1 renewable energy certificates,” which is a form of subsidy.
» Read article           

MA-AGO letterhead
Comments on Draft Regulations Amending Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I and II Regulations, 225 C.M.R. §§ 14.00 et seq.and15.00 et seq.( H.5169)

MA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Maura Healey
December 23, 2020

The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease—greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.
» Read letter                        

» More about biomass               

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 6/19/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

We covered a lot of ground this week, but similar themes cropped up with a frequency that made the journey feel like running laps on an oval track.

With the Weymouth compressor station air quality permit recently vacated by court order, Massachusetts’ two U.S. Senators have sent a letter to Federal regulators demanding a halt to construction. Their prior letter sought a stop-work order due to public health concerns related to the construction itself.

In the Merrimack Valley, some attorneys handling settlement claims against Columbia Gas for the 2018 disaster are skimming fees. The practice is being called out as double-dipping at victims’ expense.

We found three great articles for our Protests and Actions section, exploring how fossil fuel supporters along with the conservative lobbying group ALEC are attempting to criminalize non-violent acts of civil disobedience – especially against pipelines and similar infrastructure projects. Louisiana’s Democratic governor recently vetoed such a bill, but in West Virginia some forms of nonviolent direct action are now felony offenses carrying steep fines and jail time.

Other pipeline news includes a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. Farther west, a farm in Nebraska transferred a small plot of land to the Ponca Tribe – a move that will force TransCanada to negotiate under terms of the tribe’s special legal status for Keystone XL pipeline right-of-way.

In divestment news, dozens of Massachusetts lawmakers have asked insurance giant Liberty Mutual to stop investing in or providing coverage for fossil fuel projects – including the Keystone XL and Mariner East pipelines.

Our Greening the Economy section has a critique of the International Energy Agency’s recent report on its vision for a sustainable recovery – plus an essay from CBS News on why America needs social justice. This is all about reversing climate change, which is made doubly difficult by the twin threats of over-abundant cows and anti-science department managers at all levels of government agencies.

Even clean energy and clean transportation face threats from shadowy groups spreading confusion and disinformation. But we found progress there too – like initiatives taking hold in New England to offer rebates on the purchase of electric bikes.

We close with three articles on the fossil fuel industry. The first two describe deceptions and regulatory agency influence aimed at extending fossil’s destructive run. The last shows BP finally dipping a toe into the cool, clear, pool of reality – writing billions of dollars off the value of its reserves in a first, tentative admission to shareholders that the company doesn’t expect to actually burn it all up.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Senators weigh in again
With Air Permit Vacated, Senators Call For Construction To Stop On Weymouth Compressor
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
June 19, 2020

On Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey wrote to federal regulators asking to halt construction of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth. The letter comes after a federal court vacated the compressor’s air permit earlier this month.

“Given the invalidation of the facility’s air quality permit, construction must stop immediately,” the senators wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate gas transmission.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) granted the air quality permit after contentious hearings last May, during which MassDEP admitted that the project’s provisional air permit was based on incomplete data. On June 3, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that MassDEP did not follow its own established procedures, and vacated the permit.
» Read article            
» Read the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor station   

COLUMBIA GAS DISASTER

Gas disaster settlement fees in question
By Jill Harmacinski, Eagle Tribune
June 13, 2020

A total of $26.1 million of the $143 million Merrimack Valley gas explosion class-action settlement was earmarked for payment of legal fees and administrative costs.

And yet, some victims are being asked to pay an 11% fee to get their checks, which are compensation for everything from spoiled food and property damage, to lodging costs, mental anguish and other fallout from the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster.

The first round of checks was recently issued with an average settlement payment of $8,000. Eleven percent of that payment is $880.

As of Friday, a spokesperson for Attorney General Maura Healey said the office had heard from eight recipients about the fee being assessed by attorney David Raimondo of the Raimondo Law Firm. Healey’s office is looking into this.
» Read article             

» More about Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley disaster      

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

assault on accountability
From the Streets to the Courts, Fossil Fuel Is Trying to Outlaw Climate Accountability
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
June 12, 2020

There are a couple ways so-called “average” Americans can try to hold the powerful to account: We can take to the streets or take to the courts. But for decades, powerful industries and their allies in state houses nationwide have been slowly, surgically narrowing those options.

Now, with an alarming number of states moving to criminalize protest, and a renewed effort to push “tort reform,” a euphemism for eroding the public’s ability to hold companies legally and financially liable for the harms they cause, these two key tools are very much in danger.

The social movements of the 1960s and 1970s brought big wins for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and environmental and consumer protections. In a lot of ways, efforts to roll back those wins over the last several few decades have been one long counter-reaction to those initial reforms.
» Read article            

Governor Edwards
Louisiana’s Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Imposed Harsh Penalties for Trespassing on Industrial Land
Activists had argued that the law, if enacted, would intimidate opponents of pipelines and chemical plants by threatening prison sentences for minor infractions.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
June 13, 2020

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday vetoed a bill that would have stiffened penalties for trespassing on pipelines, levees and a long list of other facilities in the state. The veto handed a victory to civil liberties advocates and local organizers, who said the bill would have trampled on their right to protest industrial development.

The legislation would have imposed a mandatory minimum three-year sentence for stepping onto “critical infrastructure” during a state of emergency and expanded the list of what falls under that definition, to include flood control structures, which criss-cross the state.

Advocates said the bill would have extended the reach of an already vague law that imposes harsh penalties for trespassing on oil and gas industry land and other sites.
» Read article             

new WVA felonyA Powerful Petrochemical Lobbying Group Advanced Anti-Protest Legislation in the Midst of the Pandemic
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
June 7 2020

One day after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the governor quietly signed into law the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the law created new felony penalties for protest actions targeting oil and gas facilities, as the state continues to confront opposition to two massive natural gas pipelines designed to cut through delicate forests, streams, and farmland.

If construction is completed, the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would transport gas extracted via fracking in West Virginia to markets in Virginia and North Carolina, passing through the crumbly limestone landscapes known as karst that underly much of the mountainous region. Such projects are key to keeping fracking companies operating at a time when gas prices are at historic lows and allowing a booming petrochemical industry to continue its expansion. Local landowners and residents concerned with environmental issues have attempted to stop construction by locking themselves to equipment and camping out in trees in the pipelines’ paths. Along with more conventional actions such as lawsuits, the protest efforts have cost the projects’ backers billions of dollars in delays.

Now, a person who trespasses on a West Virginia property containing “critical infrastructure” with the intention of defacing or inhibiting operations could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The law creates a new felony and fines of up to $20,000 for any person who conspires to deface or vandalize such properties if the resulting damage is more than $2,500. “Critical infrastructure” is defined as an array of oil and gas facilities including petroleum refineries, compressor stations, liquid natural gas terminals, and pipelines.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions      

PIPELINES

the pipeline stops here
Supreme Court clears way for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

By Lyndsey Gilpin, Grist
June 15, 2020

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday. By a 7 to 2 margin, the court reversed a lower court’s decision and upheld a permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service that the project’s developers could tunnel under a section of the iconic wilderness in Virginia.

The case looked at whether the Forest Service had authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant rights-of-way within national forest lands traversed by the Appalachian Trail. “A right-of-way between two agencies grants only an easement across the land, not jurisdiction over the land itself,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s opinion. So the Forest Service had enough authority over the land to grant the permit. The dissent, by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, argued that the “outcome is inconsistent with the language of three statutes, longstanding agency practice, and common sense.”

Though this decision is significant, it doesn’t determine the ultimate fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. While the Supreme Court has granted the Forest Service the ability to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ striking down of the Forest Service’s permit still stands. Dominion is required to look at other routes that avoid parcels of protected federal land, and the Forest Service is prohibited from approving a route across these lands, if reasonable alternatives exist, according to [Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center].
» Read article            
» Read the Supreme Court decision        

Ponca land acquisition
‘Historic First’: Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
June 15, 2018

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government’s long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

At a deed-signing ceremony earlier this week, farmers Art and Helen Tanderup transferred to the tribe a 1.6-acre plot of land that falls on Ponca “Trail of Tears.”

Now, as the Omaha World-Herald explained, rather than battling the farmers, “TransCanada will have to negotiate with a new landowner, one that has special legal status as a tribe.”

The transfer was celebrated by members of the Ponca Tribe as well as environmental advocates who oppose the construction of the pipeline and continue to demand a total transition to renewable energy.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines        

DIVESTMENT

Liberty unveiled
Massachusetts lawmakers ask Liberty Mutual to stop financing fossil fuels
As other major insurers commit to backing off oil and gas projects, activists say Liberty Mutual isn’t keeping pace.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By User54871 / Wikimedia Commons
June 18, 2020

Dozens of Massachusetts state legislators have sent a letter asking Boston-based insurance giant Liberty Mutual to stop investing in or providing coverage for fossil fuel projects. The demands are the latest move in an ongoing campaign to fight climate change by undermining financial support for fossil fuel extraction and development.

“Arguably, the main reason that these projects keep getting built is because there are still companies willing to provide the insurance for what is becoming more and more of a risky project,” said state Sen. James Eldridge, one of the lawmakers who organized the effort. “It really doesn’t make environmental or financial sense.”

Liberty Mutual is the fifth-largest property-casualty insurance company in the United States, with just under $39 billion in premium revenue in 2019. While other major insurance companies, especially in Europe, have announced plans to stop covering and investing in fossil fuel projects, Liberty Mutual’s commitment has not kept pace, activists argue.

Liberty Mutual’s clients include some major, and controversial, fossil fuel projects, including the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada and the Pacific Northwest, and the Mariner East II natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania. Further, the insurer has $8.9 billion invested in fossil fuel companies or utilities that make extensive use of fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about divesting from fossil fuels        

GREENING THE ECONOMY

IEA sustainable recovery
Oil Change International Response to IEA Sustainable Recovery Report
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International, Press Release
June 18, 2020

“The IEA again misses the mark where it matters the most, completely ignoring the link between sustainable recovery and staying within 1.5°C of warming. Nowhere in the report is there mention of the critical 1.5-degree warming limit, let alone analysis of what’s needed for a recovery plan to be fully aligned with it.

“As trillions of dollars shift as part of the COVID-19 recovery, governments need clarity on the bold and decisive steps required to halve carbon emissions within this decade, the key guidepost laid out by climate scientists for staying within 1.5°C. This report does not deliver it.

“While eventually concluding the obvious, that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the best recovery investments, the IEA does not assess how governments can drive a transition to those solutions at the pace and scale needed to meet global climate goals. Moreover, the IEA sends confusing messages by considering measures that would prolong, rather than phase out, fossil fuels.
» Read full press release                
» Read the IEA report           

NY for clean power
Why America Needs Environmental Justice
By Jeff Berardelli, CBS News
June 16, 2020

In recent weeks, our nation has been forced to come to grips with the variety of ways in which inequality harms minority communities, from the death of George Floyd at the hands of police to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. A recent Harvard study concluded that air pollution — which is typically worse in areas with larger minority populations — is linked to higher coronavirus death rates, along with a slew of other health problems.

This is just one form of environmental injustice, which Peggy Shepard has dedicated the better part of her life to combating. Shepard is the co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York City nonprofit organization that’s been working to improve the environment of local communities since 1988. The mission of WE ACT is to “build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.”

Environmental justice has become a mainstream topic recently as awareness grows of the worsening impacts of climate change and the proposal for a Green New Deal. So this week CBS News asked Peggy Shepard to discuss how environmental issues disproportionately impact minority communities and what needs to be done to fix that. Here is a portion of that conversation.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy     

CLIMATE

cow burps
Don’t have a cow, but Big Dairy’s climate footprint is as big as the UK’s
By Joseph Winters, Grist
June 18, 2020

If dairy cows were a country, they would have the same climate impact as the entire United Kingdom. That’s according to a new analysis from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), which considered the combined annual emissions from the world’s 13 largest dairy operations in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available.

The institute’s report follows up on a similar analysis the organization undertook for 2015. That year, the IATP found that the five largest meat and dairy companies combined had emissions portfolios greater than those of some of the world’s largest oil companies, like ExxonMobil and Shell. Most of the emissions were from meat, but this latest report finds that dairy remains a significant and growing source of emissions: In the two years between reports, the 13 top dairy companies’ emissions grew 11 percent — a 32.3 million metric ton increase in greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions that would be released by adding an extra 6.9 million cars to the road for a year.

Dairy emissions come mostly from the cows themselves — specifically, from their notorious burps. Fermentation processes in cows’ stomachs produce the byproduct methane, which doesn’t stick around in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide but absorbs more heat. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says methane from ruminants like cows are an important contributor to the increase of atmospheric methane levels.
» Read article            
» Read the IATP analysis
» Read the 2015 IATP analysis on meat & dairy emissions

agency corrosion
A War Against Climate Science, Waged by Washington’s Rank and File
Efforts to block research on climate change don’t just come from the Trump political appointees on top. Lower managers in government are taking their cues, and running with them.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
June 15, 2020

WASHINGTON — Efforts to undermine climate change science in the federal government, once orchestrated largely by President Trump’s political appointees, are now increasingly driven by midlevel managers trying to protect their jobs and budgets and wary of the scrutiny of senior officials, according to interviews and newly revealed reports and surveys.

Government experts said they have been surprised at the speed with which federal workers have internalized President Trump’s antagonism for climate science, and called the new landscape dangerous.

“If top-level administrators issued a really clear public directive, there would be an uproar and a pushback, and it would be easier to combat,” said Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, which supports scientists. “This is a lot harder to fight.”

An inspector general’s report at the Environmental Protection Agency made public in May found that almost 400 employees surveyed in 2018 believed a manager had interfered with or suppressed the release of scientific information, but they never reported the violations. A separate Union of Concerned Scientists survey in 2018 of more than 63,000 federal employees across 16 agencies identified the E.P.A. and Department of Interior as having the least trustworthy leadership in matters of scientific integrity.
» Read article            
» Read the inspector general’s report

» More about climate             

CLEAN ENERGY

Boulder panels
Inside Clean Energy: Rooftop Solar Could Lose Big in Federal Regulatory Case
Regulators are considering a proposal one opponent called “pretty close to saying solar is illegal.”
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
June 18, 2020

Rooftop solar as we know it is under threat from a case before federal regulators, and a broad array of clean energy advocates and state officials are getting nervous.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering a request from an obscure consumer group that wants to end net metering, which is the compensation mechanism that allows solar owners to sell their excess electricity to the grid. By selling the electricity they don’t need, solar owners get credits on their utility bills, producing savings that help to cover the costs of solar systems.

Monday was the deadline to file comments in the case, and those who responded were overwhelmingly opposed to the petition, but clean energy advocates say there is still a real chance that FERC will decide to throw out state laws that allow net metering.
» Read article            

growth spurt
GE will make taller wind turbines using 3D-printing
Turbines with a 3D-printed base could be taller than the Seattle Space Needle
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 17, 2020

GE announced today that it’s developing skyscraper-sized wind turbines with massive 3D-printed bases. The conglomerate plans to work with partners in the construction industry to produce both a printer and materials that could eventually be deployed around the world.

Taller turbines can capitalize on stronger winds at higher altitudes, and the structures support larger blades that generate more power. But building bigger turbines makes transporting the pieces needed to put it together a logistical nightmare. GE hopes to 3D print the base of a turbine wherever they want to place it, so that they won’t need to haul around such a gigantic hunk of concrete or steel. The company says its onshore turbines could reach up to 200 meters tall, which is taller than the Seattle Space Needle and more than double the average height for wind turbines in the US today.
» Read article            

CCUS subsidies
Carbon Capture Will Require Large Public Subsidies to Support Coal and Gas Power
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
June 15, 2020

In April, the Center for Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University released a report concluding that, without major new subsidies from the American public, technologies for capturing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas-fired power plants will remain uneconomical.

However, CGEP, which has a history of strongly supporting the interests of the fossil fuel industry, concludes in this report that the government should implement new publicly financed policies in order to ensure investors are willing to take the risk of investing in carbon capture — and use the public to backstop that risk so those investors make money.

While prices for renewable energy continue to fall, this report is suggesting that prices for gas and coal-fired power will have to increase if CCUS is implemented.

The report also leaves no doubt that this will require significant policy changes and subsidies, concluding that “additional incentives are needed to stimulate private investment in CCUS projects and to scale deployment.”

Carbon capture is currently a favored approach for the fossil fuel industry because it is premised on long-term use of fossil fuels. One reason investors are hesitant to put their money into risky carbon capture projects is the fact that renewable power generation offers a better investment opportunity — while also being carbon free.
» Read article           
» Read the CGEP report

» More about clean energy                 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

RapidRide
Transportation Fairness Alliance Revealed: Behind the Oil Industry’s Latest Attack on Electric Cars
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
June 18, 2020

Earlier this spring, while much of the nation’s attention focused on the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. oil and gas industry quietly launched a new coalition using messaging that invokes “transportation fairness.” Like other petroleum interest front groups that have campaigned against clean transportation measures, this new coalition appears poised to counter policies designed to accelerate the transition away from petroleum-powered transportation.

The Transportation Fairness Alliance (TFA), as the new coalition is called, describes itself as “a diverse partnership of businesses, associations, and organizations that support a competitive and equitable transportation sector. Collectively, we represent our nation’s manufacturers, small business owners, farmers, and folks who pay utility bills.”

Despite claims of “diversity” and “equity,” the coalition is comprised mainly of oil and gas trade associations with a vested interest in maintaining the petroleum-dependent transportation system status quo. Logos for these trade associations appear near the bottom of the website’s “About Us” section, making it no secret who is funding and driving this new alliance.

The coalition outlines its policy positions and statements of principle on its website. Many rely on easily debunked talking points and cherry-picked data that have been perpetuated by the oil industry for years.
» Read article            

e-bike rebate
In New England, declining car sales prompt call for electric bike rebate
s
Supporters in Connecticut argue that e-bike incentives, like those in Vermont, would be a timely investment.
By Lisa Prevost and David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Richard Masoner / Flickr / Creative Commons
June 17, 2020

As interest in cycling rises and electric vehicle sales drop off amid the pandemic, advocates are calling on Connecticut officials to extend the state’s rebate program to include electric bicycles.

About 80 organizations, businesses and individuals have signed a letter to state officials seeking rebates for e-bikes, which use an electric motor to amplify the rider’s pedal force and are seen as a way to replace car trips. The state’s existing electric vehicle rebate program is “inequitable,” they argue, because it only applies to electric cars, which are unaffordable for many middle- to lower-income households.

The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program, or CHEAPR, has $3 million in annual funding. Spending that money may be a challenge this year with car sales depressed, and that makes the addition of e-bike rebates particularly timely, said Anthony Cherolis, an avid cyclist and coordinator of Transport Hartford, which is leading the effort.

“I could see an e-bike rebate from $200 to $500 as a game-changer for the equity and mobility of low-income households, particularly in Connecticut’s large cities,” said Cherolis, who noted that about a third of households in Hartford do not own a car.
» Read article          
» Read the sign-on letter         

» More about clean transportation          

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

cookin with gas
The gas industry is paying Instagram influencers to gush over gas stoves
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones, in Grist
June 19, 2020

Amber Kelley has a “super-cool way” to make fish tacos. “You’re going to start with the natural gas flame,” the teenage one-time Food Network Star Kids winner explained in a professionally produced video to her 6,700 Instagram followers, adding, “because the flames actually come up, you can heat and cook your tortilla.”

Kelley’s not the only Instagram influencer praising the flames of her stove. “Chef Jenna,” a 20-something with cool-girl rainbow hair and 15,800 followers, posted, “Who’s up for some breakfast-for-dinner? Chef Jenna is bringing you some stovetop Huevos Rancheros this evening! Did you know natural gas provides better cooking results? Pretty nifty, huh?!” The Instagram account @kokoshanne, an “adventurous mama” with 131,000 followers, wrote in a post about easy weeknight dinners that natural gas “helps cook food faster.”

The gas cooking Instatrend is no accident. It’s the result of a carefully orchestrated campaign dreamed up by marketers for representatives with the American Gas Association and American Public Gas Association, two trade groups that draw their funding from a mix of investor- and publicly owned utilities. Since at least 2018, social media and wellness personalities have been hired to post more than 100 posts extolling the virtues of their stoves in sponsored posts. Documents from the fossil fuel watchdog Climate Investigations Center show that another trade group, the American Public Gas Association, intends to spend another $300,000 on its millennial-centric “Natural Gas Genius” campaign in 2020.
» Read article            

Bill Cooper DoE
From Hurricane Maria to COVID, Gas Lobbyist-turned-Trump Energy Lawyer Uses Crises as ‘Opportunity’
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
June 14, 2020

Among a string of recent environmental rollbacks, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) aims to vastly narrow the scope of environmental reviews for those applying for liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits. The proposal has been guided by Bill Cooper, a former oil and gas industry lobbyist who’s now a top lawyer for the DOE.

On May 1, the DOE issued a proposal to limit environmental reviews for LNG export permit proposals so that the review applies to only the export process itself — literally “occurring at or after the point of export.” The rule would take off the table for consideration lifecycle greenhouse gas analyses, broader looks at both build-outs of pipelines and power plants attached to the export proposals, and other potential environmental impacts.

It comes as many larger forces up the pressure on LNG projects: The oil and gas industry is facing financial crisis, exports of fracked gas to the global market are steeply waning, and the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic nosedive are marching on in the United States.
» Read article           

BP or not to BP
“Historic moment” as BP writes-off billions of reserves as stranded assets
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 16, 2020

For years, climate activists have been warning Big Oil and their loyal investors that there would come a time when their most prized assets, their oil, would become their greatest liability, due to climate change. They came up with a term for the concept: stranded assets.

At first, activists were dismissed out of hand. Oil majors and pundits said the world would always need more oil. And so companies carried on drilling. But slowly, the concept gained traction amongst influential climate scientists, investors, and bankers such as Mark Carney, the ex-Governor of the Bank of England.

In 2015, Carney warned about the risks of climate change — or as he called it — the “tragedy of the horizon.” Carney cautioned that “the vast majority of reserves” of oil, gas, and coal could become “stranded” and literally become “un-burnable.”

Climate reality has finally caught up with BP’s corporate dreamland that it could carry on drilling forever. Bernard Looney, chief executive of BP, said, “we have reset our price outlook to reflect that impact and the likelihood of greater efforts to ‘build back better’ towards a Paris-consistent world.”
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuels

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 4/17/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

We kick off with a note acknowledging that the relentless drive to build pipelines hasn’t yielded to a mere pandemic. The Keystone XL is pushing south into Montana with an initial work crew of 100 – many more to come.

Our climate section leads with a remembrance from Drilled News of notorious climate change denier Fred Singer, who passed away at 95. During his long career he spun layers of falsehoods and confusion in service of the planet’s biggest polluters.

Because improving the energy efficiency of buildings is critical to achieving necessary emissions reductions, it’s notable that the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulation and Standards (BBRS) appears skeptical of building design experts – apparently favoring developers who prefer existing methods and performance levels. We offer an excellent CommonWealth Magazine article to explain the headwinds faced by the net-zero building code campaign.

The pandemic highlights a multitude of fractures in American society. Clean energy development may offer a rare opportunity to lift people up from under-served and vulnerable communities. The economic potential is huge for post-pandemic recovery. We found a hopeful vision of how benefits might be broadly shared.

Now that the Trump administration has gutted vehicle emissions requirements, clean transportation may still be saved by California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards, combined with the likelihood that a future administration will put transportation sector decarbonization back on track.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been busy under Administrator Andrew Wheeler – continuing its planetary assault while a raging pandemic diverts public attention. In a particularly elegant bit of regulatory jujitsu, the agency rewrote a mercury pollution rule by leaving current standards in place but changing “how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains.” This subtle language has significant implications for many classes of pollutants and their future environmental impact.

Our fossil fuel industry section is particularly interesting. We found the usual press coverage of its precarious financial condition – already on the edge of insolvency even before the Saudi-Russian price war and sudden economic shutdown. Now there are emerging calls for a federal government takeover. And why not? The whole industry is in crisis, and a bargain at current share prices. If it were under federal control, a climate-minded administration could manage the phase-out and transition to a carbon-free future. It’s arguably a good investment, considering the massive costs associated with alternative, business-as-usual or go-slow climate scenarios.

We close on a  related topic. The pandemic and global economic crash have dealt a serious blow to expansion plans for the liquefied natural gas market. Australia is feeling that now, with LNG exports facing an uncertain future down under.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Keystone corona style
Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
April 07, 2020

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.

As EcoWatch reported, last week Canada-based TC Energy said it would start construction despite the climate impacts of the pipeline and the concerns about transporting construction crews during the coronavirus outbreak.

The construction that began yesterday involved around 100 workers in a remote border crossing between Montana and Canada, which is home to cattle ranches and wheat fields, according to a spokesperson from TC Energy, as the AP reported. The number of people involved in the construction is supposed to grow into the thousands as construction advances.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines    

CLIMATE

ding dong FSFred Singer Has Passed. He Took Pleasure In Bullying Scientists. May He Rest.
­Why speak well of the late climate denier Fred Singer, who spent over half a century attacking credible science and scientists?
By Paul Thacker, Drilled News
April 16, 2020

A chief talent of Fred Singer, the world-famous climate denier who died on April 6 at 95, was bullying scientists whose work he could never match, and whose findings threatened the bottom lines of his corporate polluter clients.

Singer was a physicist, whose most notable scientific work involved contributions to planetary science, as well as early satellite and rocket technologies. But beginning in the 1950s, and for a half-century thereafter, Singer offered up to the media his takes on the shortcomings of other sciences and scientists, especially those studying the impacts of toxic chemicals, air pollution, and smoking on the environment or public health. Singer’s opinion pieces appeared in newspapers all across the country, and he relished providing that perfect contrarian quote to a reporter on deadline who needed to “balance” a story about environmental regulations.

Singer seemed to take special pleasure in discrediting scientists who investigated the ways that human activity threatens public health and the safety of our planet, the sort of research that informs regulations to solve problems ranging from acid rain’s toll on forests to DDT’s impacts on wildlife, as well as — of course — the effects of climate change on us all.
» Read article     

cooperate and commit
Strengthen worldwide climate commitments to improve economy, study finds
Global economy could lose out by $600tn by end of century on current emissions targets
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

Every country in the world would be economically better off if all could agree to strengthen their commitments on the climate crisis through international cooperation, new research has found.

But if countries go no further than their current CO2 pledges – which are too weak to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and would lead to dangerous levels of global heating – then they face steep economic losses.

The global economy would lose out by as much as $600tn (£476tn) by the end of the century, on current emissions targets, compared with its likely growth if countries meet the Paris goals, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.
» Read article     
» Download the study       

credibility gap
To advise on green stimulus, the IEA needs to upgrade its own climate toolbox
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International / Blog Post
April 9, 2020

Oil Change International (OCI) has tracked how the IEA has historically hindered the bold climate ambition we need by normalizing and promoting fossil fuel-friendly scenarios and investments. In this post, we delve deeper into key shortcomings the IEA needs to correct in its own modelling toolbox in order to credibly advise governments on crafting ambitious, climate-proof economic recovery plans.
» Read article     

» More about climate    

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

BBRS and Net Zero
Cracking the climate code
Battle raging over building energy standards
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 8, 2019

AN ARCANE STATE BOARD, known to few outside the world of design and construction, is the setting of a furious clash the outcome of which could influence the amount of climate-curdling emissions that pour out of chimneys, as well as the future supply of housing in Massachusetts, where affordable homes are already scarce.

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards might seem an odd venue for the drama that has unfolded there. The BBRS adopts and administers the statewide building code and the building energy code, sets of rules that are important but would bore the average reader to tears. It is the domain of professionals who think in cubic feet, seismic loads, and kilowatt hours. Now, the problems of the world are before it.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency      

CLEAN ENERGY

get it right
Advocates call for methodical approach to make sure offshore wind benefits all
Low-income populations and people of color were largely left out of Massachusetts’ biotechnology and cannabis booms.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo by Wind Denmark / Flickr / Creative Commons
April 13, 2020

With offshore wind expected to add as much as $100 billion to the economy along the East Coast over the next 30 years, activists and business leaders in Massachusetts are urging the state to take steps ensuring that low-income populations and people of color are able to share in the benefits of the burgeoning industry.

“There will be a lot of economic opportunity and jobs,” said Elizabeth Henry, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Think about what even just a fraction of that could do for communities that have been persistently left behind — it’s really exciting.”
» Read article     

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

impact on EVs
Trump’s new fuel-efficiency rule: The devil is in the details for electric cars
By Bradley Berman, Electrek
April 10, 2020

It’s well known that on March 31, the Trump administration gutted fuel-economy and greenhouse gas rules for model years 2021 to 2026. But what does it mean specifically for electric vehicles? Environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond broke down the new rule, shedding light on provisions for EVs.

Beveridge & Diamond warns that automakers who immediately start disregarding California ZEV standards “do so at their own risk.” The lawsuits are only beginning, and if the administration changes next year, it will likely invalidate the rules.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation    

EPA

change in calculations
Trump’s EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution Rule
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 17, 2020

As many Americans fight for their lives in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, the Trump administration Thursday axed the justification for a mercury pollution rule that saves more than 10,000 lives and prevents as many as 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

The new rollback leaves mercury emission standards in place for now, but changes how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains, The New York Times reported. The move provides a legal opening to challenge other pollution controls even as evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution might increase one’s chances of dying from the new coronavirus.

“This is an absolute abomination,” former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head under Obama and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) president Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This final rule will increase the risk of more kids with asthma and brain damage, and more people with cancer. Undermining these vital safeguards now also directly threatens the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even harder to breathe and putting people with respiratory illnesses at even higher risk.”
» Read article    

quicksilver play by EPA
E.P.A. Weakens Controls on Mercury
The agency is changing the way it calculates the benefits of mercury controls, a move that would effectively loosen the rules on other toxic pollutants.
By Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 16, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday weakened regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants, another step toward rolling back health protections in the middle of a pandemic.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution that environmental lawyers said would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.

By reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.

“That is the big unstated goal,” said David Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. “This is less about mercury than about potentially constraining or handcuffing future efforts by the E.P.A. to regulate air pollution.”
» Read article     

science schmience
Ignoring Scientists’ Advice, Trump’s EPA Rejects Stricter Air Quality Standard
The decision flies in the face of large-scale studies that indicated tightening the standard would save tens of thousands of lives.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
April 15, 2020

Sweeping aside a broad body of evidence that air pollution is killing as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year, the Trump administration on Tuesday rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for fine soot.

The proposal to maintain the current standard for PM 2.5—microscopic particles known as fine particulate matter—in the face of alarming new science documenting its potentially deadly health effects, is a win for the fossil fuel industry. It comes amid a frenzy of major decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say is designed to secure the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy in the face of an uncertain future.

The Trump EPA has raced to loosen or reject a slew of clean air protections, even as the nation has been brought to a virtual standstill by a highly contagious virus that can produce serious or even fatal respiratory symptoms. In the last month, the Trump EPA has weakened fuel economy standards, advanced a proposal to discount the findings of scientific studies on health in rulemaking and announced a blanket suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws.

The decision to maintain the status quo on PM 2.5 was especially striking in the context of the pandemic, and came just days after Harvard researchers released preliminary results of a study showing that U.S. counties with high PM 2.5 levels have higher coronavirus death rates.
» Read article     

fine particles - EPA
Trump administration declines to stiffen US clean air standards
EPA chief Wheeler says current soot regulations are adequate despite research that shows stricter rules could save thousands of lives
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

The Trump administration has said it will not tighten rules for soot pollution, despite research showing that doing so could save thousands of lives each year.

The fine particles, which come from the burning of coal, oil and wood, penetrate the respiratory system and are linked with heart and lung diseases, higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and cancer.

Under the current standard, which was set in 2012, polluters can emit enough soot to measure 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Strengthening the standards to 11 micrograms could save about 12,000 lives per year, according to one Harvard study of US seniors.

Other research, noted in the government’s own analysis, found that maintaining the soot standard at its current level could allow as many as 52,000 deaths a year in just 47 urban areas.
 » Read article     

evidence
‘Unbelievable’ Timing: As Coronavirus Rages, Trump Disregards Advice to Tighten Clean Air Rules
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 14, 2020

WASHINGTON — Disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates, the Trump administration declined on Tuesday to tighten a regulation on industrial soot emissions that came up for review ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew R. Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency will not impose stricter controls on the tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, a regulatory action that has been in the works for months. The scientific evidence, he said, was insufficient to merit tightening the current emissions standard.
» Read article     

» More about the EPA        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

CARES Act oil bailout
Fed’s Corporate Debt-Buying Could Mean Billion-Dollar Big Oil Bailout
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams in EcoWatch
April 16, 2020

As calls for a People’s Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country’s Big Oil companies “stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout” thanks to the Federal Reserve’s plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.

The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
» Read article     
» Read FOE analysis         

the case for public ownership
Discussion Paper: The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
April 14, 2020

The U.S. fossil fuel industry continues to seek bailouts during the COVID-19 crisis, as global oil demand craters and crude oil floods an already oversupplied market.

During this crisis, the U.S. government should assert long-term ownership and control over fossil fuel companies to safeguard long-term economic security for workers, avoid taxpayer-funded windfalls for fossil fuel executives, restore communities exploited by fossil fuel corporations, save taxpayer dollars, and ensure an eventual managed phase-out of coal, oil, and gas production.

Bailing out the oil, gas, and coal industries with no strings attached would return our economy to a precarious status quo in which the fossil fuel industry’s volatile and environmentally destructive business model worsens our economic and environmental crises. It would allow a handful of executives and wealthy shareholders to continue to extract the vast majority of profits, while taxpayers, workers, and exploited communities shoulder the burden of corporate and social risks and externalities.
» Read overview    
» Download discussion paper
» Read related press release        

late 80s bad
Big Banks Pull Financing, Prepare To Seize Assets From Collapsing Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 13, 2020

While banks seizing assets from borrowers who can’t repay loans is common for industries like real estate — especially residential real estate — it is an unusual move for the oil and gas industry. Reuters reported that the last time it happened was during the oil price crash of the late 1980s. In the most recent oil price crash, when oil dropped from prices over $100 a barrel to $40 a barrel, there was a rash of bankruptcies, but the banks did not seize assets.

One difference now is that shale oil companies have continued to increase debt — thanks to loans from the banks — to the point where most of these companies are not viable with low oil prices. As one industry observer recently noted in the New York Times, “This is late ’80s bad.”

One new angle that didn’t exist in the 1980s is a dramatic change in sentiment from parts of the investment community about the viability of the oil industry as an investment. Television investment advisor Jim Cramer of CNBC was saying oil stocks were in the “death knell phase” in January, before oil prices crashed to the current lows and the coronavirus had crushed global oil demand.

More recently, in a remarkable opinion piece for Seeking Alpha, Kirk Spano advised investors to get out of the industry now with a unique twist on why this was urgent.

“We are about to see a massive wave of shale oil bankruptcies by thieving executives who have borrowed against assets and paid themselves bonuses for years without regard to shareholder value.”

While DeSmog has commented on issues of potential industry fraud and executives paying themselves while the companies they ran lost money, it is a decided shift in sentiment when sites like SeekingAlpha are calling for investors to get out and then “sue the dirt out of the executives who have almost all broken fiduciary duties.”

Which is why banks are now considering seizing the assets of the failed oil  companies — it is a bad option for the banks but it is the best one left.
» Read article     

cuts are complicated
Oil Nations, Prodded by Trump, Reach Deal to Slash Production
The deal will reduce output by 9.7 million barrels a day. While significant, the cut falls far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 12, 2020

HOUSTON — Oil-producing nations on Sunday agreed to the largest production cut ever negotiated, in an unprecedented coordinated effort by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States to stabilize oil prices and, indirectly, global financial markets.

Saudi Arabia and Russia typically take the lead in setting global production goals. But President Trump, facing a re-election campaign, a plunging economy and American oil companies struggling with collapsing prices, took the unusual step of getting involved after the two countries entered a price war a month ago. Mr. Trump had made an agreement a key priority.

It was unclear, however, whether the cuts would be enough to bolster prices. Before the coronavirus crisis, 100 million barrels of oil each day fueled global commerce, but demand is down about 35 percent. While significant, the cuts agreed to on Sunday still fall far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
» Read article     

wink and nod
Coronavirus May Kill Our Fracking Fever Dream
America’s energy independence was an illusion created by cheap debt. All that’s left to tally is the damage.
By Bethany McLean, New York Times Opinion
April 10, 2020

Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the idea of energy independence, which in its grandest incarnation meant freedom from the world’s oil-rich trouble spots, has been a dream for Democrats and Republicans alike. It once seemed utterly unattainable — until the advent of fracking, which unleashed a torrent of oil.

In reality, the dream was always an illusion, and its collapse was already underway. That’s because oil fracking has never been financially viable. America’s energy independence was built on an industry that is the very definition of dependent — dependent on investors to keeping pouring billions upon billions in capital into money-losing companies to fund their drilling. Investors were willing to do this only as long as oil prices, which are not under America’s control, were high — and when they believed that one day, profits would materialize.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, the spigot was drying up. Now, it has been shut off.
» Read article     
Ms. McLean is the author of “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World.”

climate deception
Baltimore, Rhode Island Argue They’re Suing Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Deception
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 10, 2020

At a time when fossil fuel companies are using a public health crisis to demand financial and regulatory support, the governments of Baltimore and Rhode Island are calling out a “decades-long campaign of deception” by these companies in urging courts to advance lawsuits trying to hold polluters responsible for climate damages.

Over a dozen of these climate liability lawsuits are currently pending, brought by cities, counties, one state, and one trade association seeking payments to help cover climate change-related costs. The lawsuits target major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, alleging they deliberately deceived the public and policymakers on the dangers of fossil fuels.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels        

LNG

LNG hits pause down under
Australia’s booming LNG industry stalls after fall in oil prices amid coronavirus
More than $80bn of investment decisions are delayed due to a collapsed oil price and a geopolitical price war
By Adam Morton, The Guardian
April 12, 2020

The extraordinary growth in Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, the main cause of recent rises in national greenhouse gas emissions, has stalled indefinitely, with decisions on more than $80bn of investments delayed due to a collapsed oil price sunk by coronavirus and a geopolitical price war.

The price of Brent crude oil is less than half what it was in early January, having fallen again on Friday despite the Opec oil cartel and its allies reaching a supply deal to stop Saudi Arabia and Russia flooding the world with more oil than it can use. The Asian spot price for LNG, which is linked to the oil benchmark, is down about two-thirds in six months.

The unprecedented crash had already prompted oil and gas giants to defer investment decisions on projects including Woodside’s massive Burrup Hub expansion off the Western Australian coast and Santos’ $7bn Barossa project 300km north of Darwin. A decision on the first parts of the Burrup Hub expansion, including a $17bn development of the Scarborough gas field, has been pushed to 2021.
» Read article     

» More about LNG         

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!