Tag Archives: James E. Boasberg

Weekly News Check-In 3/27/20

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Welcome back.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing most protests and actions online. Globally, environmental groups are getting creative with social media to maintain community connections and momentum.

One of this week’s biggest news stories features the Dakota Access Pipeline. Federal Judge James E. Boasberg threw out the project’s environmental permits, finding that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct an adequate environmental review. He will next consider whether flow through the pipeline must stop while proper studies are conducted over the next several years. This is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, who courageously resisted the pipeline’s construction and have continued the fight in court.

The fossil fuel divestment movement is actively targeting investment banks that are the industry’s lifeblood. We offer a recent Guardian article that calls out the biggest players.

Climate science is expected to suffer from the effects of this pandemic, as many projects have scaled back, or suffered interruptions as scientists take necessary precautions. Also on the climate front, we found another interesting article about how lingering stores of banned CFC chemicals are still affecting Earth’s ozone layer and driving climate change.

We expect the pandemic to create serious near-term challenges in the deployment of clean energy. For happier stories, check out the clean transportation and energy storage sections.

News on the fossil fuel industry includes articles about the current global oil & gas glut, which have dramatically depressed prices. The US fracking industry was already in terrible financial condition. Since fracking and plastics are directly connected, this evolving business climate has resulted in significant downgrading of plans to make Appalachia the future U.S. center for petrochemical production.

Finally, plastics bans are under assault, as boosters for single-use bags argue that reusable bags can be a source of contagion, placing grocery workers and others at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

take it online
Coronavirus Halts Street Protests, but Climate Activists Have a Plan
By Shola Lawal, New York Times
March 19, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has prompted climate activists to abandon public demonstrations, one of their most powerful tools for raising public awareness, and shift to online protests.

This week, for example, organizers of the Fridays for Future protests are advising people to stay off the streets and post photos and messages on social media in a wave of digital strikes.

“We are people who listen to the scientists and it would be hypocritical of us to not treat this as a crisis,” said Saoi O’Connor, a 17-year-old Fridays for Future organizer from Cork, Ireland.

Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish activist who inspired the Friday youth protest group, last week stayed at home and tweeted a photo of herself and her two dogs, with a message calling on protesters to “take it online.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions     

OTHER PIPELINES

honor the treaties
Dakota access pipeline: court strikes down permits in victory for Standing Rock Sioux
Army corps of engineers ordered to conduct full environmental review, which could take years
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
March 25, 2020

The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.

The US army corps of engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled that existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.
» Read article
» Read court’s decision

water is life
Federal Judge Tosses Dakota Access Pipeline Permits, Orders Full Environmental Review
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2020

Today, a federal judge tossed out federal permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), built to carry over half a million barrels of Bakken crude oil a day from North Dakota, and ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline project.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg indicated that he would next consider whether to shut down the current flows of oil through DAPL while the environmental review is in process, ordering both sides to submit briefs on the question.

Representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, plaintiffs in the lawsuit, welcomed today’s ruling.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

The Dakota Access pipeline has been in service for nearly three years, following battles over the pipeline’s environmental impacts that raged for years.
» Read article       

Standing Rock court victory
‘Huge Victory’ for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as Federal Court Rules DAPL Permits Violated Law
“This is what the tribe has been fighting for many months. Their fearless organizing continues to change the game.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
March 25, 2020

A federal judge handed down a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota on Wednesday, ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The USACE must complete a full environmental impact study of the pipeline, including full consideration of concerns presented by the Standing Rock Tribe, the judge ruled. The tribe has asked the court to ultimately shut the pipeline down.

The court chastised the USACE for moving ahead with affirming the permits in 2016 and allowing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing the Missouri River after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, without considering the expert analysis put forward by the tribe.
» Read article          

Pennsylvania’s orders to stem coronavirus outbreak pause several gas pipeline projects
By Maya Weber & Jason Lindquist, SP Global
March 25, 2020

Washington — Pennsylvania’s social-distancing orders prompted a temporary halt to construction of several natural gas pipeline projects in the state, but some developers were working to secure waivers to allow more work to continue.

The state, with its large shale deposits, also is home to a number of ongoing midstream projects meant to move gas to market.

After Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf late last week ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close, Energy Transfer was halting new construction on the Mariner East 2 project, but has since gained permission for limited activity, such as maintaining the right-of-way and work sites, and securing, stabilizing, and moving equipment.
» Read article       

» More about other pipelines         

DIVESTMENT

fossil money sources
Study: global banks ‘failing miserably’ on climate crisis by funneling trillions into fossil fuels
Analysis of 35 leading investment banks shows financing of more than $2.66tn for fossil fuel industries since the Paris agreement
By Patrick Greenfield and Kalyeena Makortoff, The Guardian
March 18, 2020

The world’s largest investment banks have funnelled more than £2.2tn ($2.66tn) into fossil fuels since the Paris agreement, new figures show, prompting warnings they are failing to respond to the climate crisis.

The US bank JP Morgan Chase, whose economists warned that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity last month, has been the largest financier of fossil fuels in the four years since the agreement, providing over £220bn of financial services to extract oil, gas and coal.

Fracking has been the focus of intense business activity by investment banks since the Paris agreement, with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America leading £241.53bn of financing, much of it linked to the Permian basin in Texas.

Johan Frijns, director of BankTrack, an NGO which monitors the activities of major financial institutions, said it was time for banks to commit to phasing out financing for all new fossil fuel projects.

“In the last year, banks have been queueing up to proclaim support for the goals of the Paris agreement. Both the Principles for Responsible Banking and the new Equator Principles, each signed by over a hundred banks, acknowledges the global climate goals. Yet the data in Banking on Climate Change 2020 show these laudable pledges making little difference, and bank financing for the fossil fuel industry continuing to lead us to the climate abyss,” he said.
» Read article       

» More about divestment       

CLIMATE

climate science disruptions
Coronavirus Already Hindering Climate Science, But the Worst Disruptions Are Likely Yet to Come
Early fallout includes canceled science missions and potential gaps in long-running climate records, while research budgets could take a hit in the long run.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
March 27, 2020

Along with temporarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions and forcing climate activists to rethink how to sustain a movement built on street protests, the global response to the coronavirus pandemic is also disrupting climate science.

Many research missions and conferences scheduled for the next few months have been canceled, while the work of scientists already in the field has been complicated by travel restrictions, quarantines and other efforts to protect field researchers and remote indigenous populations from the pandemic.
» Read article       

banked CFCs
Long Phased-Out Refrigeration and Insulation Chemicals Still Widely in Use and Warming the Climate
New study concludes that “banked” CFCs have greenhouse gas impacts equal to all registered U.S. cars and slow the shrinking of the ozone hole.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
March 17, 2020

Starting decades ago, international governments phased out a class of chemical refrigerants that harmed the ozone layer and fueled global warming. Now, a new study indicates that the remaining volume of these chemicals, and the emissions they continue to release into the atmosphere, is far larger than previously thought.

The findings point to a lost opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a par with the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the United States, but also highlight a low-cost pathway to curb future warming, researchers say.

The study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, looks at “banked” volumes of three leading chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals whose production is banned but remain in use today in older refrigeration and cooling systems and in foam insulation. CFCs were phased out of production in developed countries by 1996, and in developing countries by 2010, under the Montreal Protocol because of the leading role they played in creating the so-called “ozone hole” in the atmosphere.
» Read article
» Read study

» More about climate          

CLEAN ENERGY

coronavirus disrupts offshore wind
Inside Clean Energy: At a Critical Moment, the Coronavirus Threatens to Bring Offshore Wind to a Halt
The wind farms, in development off several East Coast states, are an essential part of how those states plan to meet emissions reduction targets.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
March 26, 2020

This was going to be the year that offshore wind energy made a giant leap in the United States. Then the coronavirus arrived.

An offshore wind trade group said its main concern is the health of its workers, but the group  also worries that the virus will slow or stop work throughout the chain of suppliers and other service providers.

This could be said for just about any industry, but offshore wind is different in that it is in a formative stage, with almost no projects up and running, and more than a dozen in various phases of development along the East Coast. As a result, the industry faces challenges much greater than simply pausing work in an established supply chain.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

virus NOx out
Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus
By Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, New York Times
March 22, 2020

In cities across the United States, traffic on roads and highways has fallen dramatically over the past week as the coronavirus outbreak forces people to stay at home and everyday life grinds to a halt.

Pollution has dropped too.

A satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks shows huge declines in pollution over major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
» Read article       

electrified big rigs
Big Rigs Begin to Trade Diesel for Electric Motors
Tractor-trailer fleets will take time to electrify, and start-ups and established truck makers are racing to get their models on the road.
By Susan Carpenter, New York Times
March 19, 2020

Two years ago, the [Freightliner] eCascadia was nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation — a virtual rendering to expedite a diesel stalwart into a zero-emissions future for goods movement. Now it’s one of several competing models, from start-ups as well as established truck makers, that are gearing up for production next year with real-world testing. Orders have poured in, from companies eager to shave operating costs and curb emissions, for trucks that won’t see roads for months or even years.

Volvo Trucks North America announced this year that it would test 23 of its VNR battery-electric heavy-duty trucks in and out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Washington-based truck maker Kenworth is already there, operating the beginnings of Project Portal, a 10-truck fleet of semis powered with hydrogen fuel cells. And Daimler Trucks North America is making deliveries in 20 of its preproduction eCascadias with two partner companies, Penske Truck Leasing and NFI.

“We want them quicker than the manufacturers can produce them,” said NFI’s president, Ike Brown. NFI, a freight hauler based in New Jersey, has been operating 10 eCascadias between the port complex, the country’s busiest, and its warehouse in Chino, 50 miles inland.

Mr. Brown’s company makes regional deliveries using a fleet of 4,500 mostly diesel trucks. With a defined daily route of about 250 miles, and trucks that return to the same place every night to recharge, electric trucks “just make sense,” Mr. Brown said.
» Read article       

Tesla catches fire in Europe
Tesla’s Success in Europe Catches Industry Off Guard
The Model 3 outsold some of the most popular luxury models in recent months. BMW, Mercedes and Audi risk missing the transition to electric cars.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 4, 2020

FRANKFURT — Until recently European auto executives regarded Tesla with something like bemusement. The electric car upstart from California was burning cash, struggling with production problems, and hedge funds were betting it would fail.

The car executives are not laughing anymore. Almost overnight, the Tesla Model 3 has become one of the best-selling cars in Europe. In December, only the Volkswagen Golf and Renault Clio sold more, according to data compiled by JATO Dynamics, a market research firm.

Tesla’s surge, assuming it proves sustainable, raises questions about whether traditional carmakers like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz are in danger of missing a striking shift in automotive technology. Despite plenty of warning, they are only beginning to introduce competing electric vehicles.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation       

ENERGY STORAGE

lead-acid makeover
Lead batteries make innovation push to better compete for energy storage projects
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
March 19, 2020

Lead-acid batteries are already a multi-billion-dollar industry and are widely-used in automotive and industrial applications. But for the power sector, they are a small player relative to lithium-ion batteries, which make up over 90% of the global grid battery storage market. One reason for their fast growth is cost — lithium-ion batteries have an estimated project cost of $469 per kWh, compared to $549 per kWh for lead-acid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2019 Energy Storage Technology and Cost Characterization Report.

But at $260 per kWh, lead batteries themselves already have lower capital costs than lithium-ion, which is at $271 per kWh, the DOE report found. If further research can get lead batteries to hit the goal of an average of 5,000 cycles over their lives by 2022, then the technology could be able to reach the DOE’s target of operational costs of 3 cents per cycle per kWh, Raiford said, a milestone that no battery chemistry has consistently reached.
» Read article      
» Read report

» More about energy storage        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

sloshy
A Gusher of Oil and Fewer Places to Put It
A chaotic mismatch between the supply and demand for oil is saturating the world’s ability to store it all.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 26, 2020

The world is awash in crude oil, and is slowly running out of places to put it.

Massive, round storage tanks in places like Trieste, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates are filling up. Vast caves in Louisiana and Texas that hold the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve are being topped up. Over 80 huge tankers, each holding up to 80 million gallons, are anchored off Texas, Scotland and elsewhere, with no particular place to go.

The world doesn’t need all this oil. The coronavirus pandemic has strangled the world’s economies, silenced factories and grounded airlines, cutting the need for fuel. But Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, is locked in a price war with rival Russia and is determined to keep raising production.
» Read article       

Unthinkable becomes thinkable as US shale industry ponders production cuts
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International – Blog Post
March 23, 2020

The unthinkable could soon be thinkable. For years, emboldened by a brazenly pro-Big Oil President, the US shale industry has drilled and fracked, oblivious to the climate crisis, local communities, or whether they’re even generating value.

But as the global public health emergency worsens – Covid-19 – it appears to be reshaping energy policy in a way that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago. As travel and commercial activity slowed, oil demand has plummeted, and so has the oil price. The ensuing price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has created the perfect storm for the already fragile US oil industry.
» Read article       

Project Tundra
North Dakota’s Carbon Capture Project Tundra Another “Expensive Greenwashing” Attempt to Bail Out Coal Power
By Laura Peterson, DeSmog Blog
March 21, 2020

Carbon capture technology has generated a lot of controversy–but little private investment–due to its lack of profitability and efficiency. So why is a proposal to retrofit an aging coal-powered plant in North Dakota with smokestack scrubbers receiving millions of federal taxpayer dollars?

Ask Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who has directed more than $30 million in Department of Energy funding to Project Tundra.

The project would install a carbon capture system at the Milton R. Young Station, a two-unit plant that has run on lignite coal from the nearby Center Mine since it began operating in 1970. The captured carbon would then be piped to the Bakken region for injection into oil wells in a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery.
» Read article      

drilling for C-19
American Oil Drillers Were Hanging On by a Thread. Then Came the Virus.
Energy companies were major issuers of junk bonds to finance expansion. But now they are in trouble as capital has dried up and oil prices have cratered.
By Matt Phillips and Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 20, 2020

Wall Street supercharged America’s energy boom of the past decade by making it easy for oil companies to finance growth with cheap, borrowed money. Now, that partnership is in tatters as the coronavirus pandemic has driven the fastest collapse of oil prices in more than a generation.

The energy sector has buckled in recent weeks as the global demand for oil suddenly shriveled and oil prices plunged, setting off a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Oil prices are now one-third their most recent high, trading as low as $24 a barrel, and could fall further.

The crisis has been a body blow to the American oil and gas industry. Already heavily indebted, many companies are now struggling to make interest payments on the debt they carry and are finding it challenging to raise new financing, which has gotten more expensive as traditional buyers of debt have vanished and risks to the oil industry have grown.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels       

THE PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

Belmont Cty Nevermind
Market Headwinds Buffet Appalachia’s Future as a Center for Petrochemicals
A proposed $5.7 billion ethane plant in Belmont County, Ohio, was seen as a likely casualty even before coronavirus cratered oil prices and collapsed the economy.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
March 21, 2020

And in a new study, analysts at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a nonprofit think tank that works toward a sustainable energy economy, have found that the plant faces a damaging, cumulative set of risks, all raising doubts about whether it will ever be financed.

The plant’s fate is seen by both the IEEFA and IHS Markit as a harbinger of trouble for the broader vision of Appalachia as a major petrochemical hub.  A string of significant setbacks and delays now seem more important amid the coronavirus pandemic, a crashing economy, cratering oil prices, slowing demand for plastics and what could be the final months of a fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration.

Activists who have been fighting fracking and the planned petrochemical boom say they hope the industry’s mounting woes, which are sure to be worsened by a coronavirus-related economic stall, will lead to a long enough pause for leaders to decide whether the nation’s former steel belt should continue to embrace another heavily polluting and fossil-fuel dependent industry.
» Read article      
» Read IEEFA study    

» More about the plastics / fracking connection   

PLASTICS BANS

bag the ban
In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans

By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 26, 2020

They are “petri dishes for bacteria and carriers of harmful pathogens,” read one warning from a plastics industry group. They are “virus-laden.”

The group’s target? The reusable shopping bags that countless of Americans increasingly use instead of disposable plastic bags.

The plastic bag industry, battered by a wave of bans nationwide, is using the coronavirus crisis to try to block laws prohibiting single-use plastic. “We simply don’t want millions of Americans bringing germ-filled reusable bags into retail establishments putting the public and workers at risk,” an industry campaign that goes by the name Bag the Ban warned on Tuesday, quoting a Boston Herald column outlining some of the group’s talking points.

The Plastics Industry Association is also lobbying to quash plastic bag bans. Last week, it sent a letter to the United States Department of Health and Human Services requesting that the department publicly declare that banning single-use plastics during a pandemic is a health threat.
» Read article       

» More about plastics bans and alternatives      

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