Tag Archives: Joe Biden

Weekly News Check-In 12/31/20

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Welcome back.

We’re bidding good riddance to 2020 and wishing everyone a healthy and bright new year. But to properly send this awful year on its way, we need to focus now and act on the urgent threat that the commercial use of woody biomass represents for both health and climate. The Massachusetts legislature will decide in the next week whether roll back existing science-based restrictions and qualify this dirty, carbon-and-soot emitting energy source for renewable energy credits, opening the door to a huge biomass-fueled electricity generating plant to be built in a Springfield neighborhood already bearing a heavy pollution burden. Senators Markey and Warren, plus the Springfield City Council strongly oppose this plant. Attorney General Maura Healey cautions that science was disregarded and the permitting process appears shoddy and inadequate. Finally, Dr. Marty Nathan’s excellent recent editorial offers a look into the science and politics that brought us to this point – and asks us all to immediately make a few phone calls.

The Weymouth compressor station and Mountain Valley Pipeline have generated news, and another bomb train full of Bakken crude blew up in Washington state, reminding us that the Trump administration blocked efforts to make rail transport of that particularly volatile product a little safer.

Protesters are standing in the way of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota, and some are being arrested. Construction is proceeding, in typical fashion for these projects, even before environmental permits are completed. Meanwhile, it’s been a busy year for climate action in the courts – we found a recap.

Divestment news includes another big win: Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has announced a market-wide policy to stop new insurance coverage for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and to pull out entirely by 2030.

An important component of greening the economy will include addressing the systemic racism baked into existing energy policies. Boston’s WBUR aired a story in September that offers insights into some of the issues and challenges.

Huge methane leaks are accelerating the pace of climate change, and one culprit is a failure of regulatory oversight. Add that to to the sky-high stack in President Biden’s inbox on Day One, along with the many suggestions from every environmental group eager to offer advice (and demands) for quick action.

We’re wrapping up the year with a great run of articles on clean energy, energy efficiency, green building materials, energy storage, and green transportation – including a story on the “rotating sail” – a hundred year old invention that adds supplemental wind power to boost the efficiency of powered ships. It’s been modernized for deployment on today’s fleet.

And we close on the subject of fracking – focusing on the damage it’s done to the communities that host its operations, and more generally to the fossil fuel industry itself. We also offer a recording of acclaimed ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber discussing the 7th annual compendium on the continued physical harms of fracking, assembled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

button - BEAT Newsbutton - 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

BIOMASS

biomass ground zero
Mass. Has Strong Rules About Burning Wood For Electricity. In 2021, It Plans To Roll Them Back

By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
December 22, 2020

Just off I-291 in East Springfield is a seemingly unremarkable plot of land. Sandwiched between an electrical switchyard, busy roads and a working class neighborhood, the fenced-in property is mostly barren, aside from some machinery for making asphalt in one corner and a few tall piles of gravel and crushed rock.

But the site, owned by the Palmer Paving Corporation, sits at the center of a long-standing environmental justice fight over a proposed wood-burning, or “biomass,” power plant.

If built, the facility would be the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would burn about 1,200 tons of wood per day in a city the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked the “Asthma Capital” of the country. Until now the plant has been on hold because biomass isn’t profitable in Massachusetts. But this could change early next year with new state rules about who qualified for renewable energy subsidies.

Though touted by supporters as “green” and “renewable,” burning wood for electricity is relatively inefficient and releases a lot of planet-warming greenhouse gases — a megawatt of electricity produced by burning wood actually releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than a megawatt generated from coal.

Critics of biomass also call it “dirty,” since these facilities regularly emit soot and pollutants like mercury and lead. And a biomass plant like Palmer would have diesel-burning trucks delivering wood every hour, adding to the pollution.

The plant’s developer, the Palmer Renewable Energy company, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) say it’s likely the company’s calculation about profitability will soon shift, allowing it to start construction.

That’s because early next year, the Baker administration plans to change how the state awards lucrative renewable energy subsidies.

Under the current rules, a plant like the Palmer facility isn’t eligible for renewable energy credits because it doesn’t meet the state’s efficiency standards. But should the changes go into effect, PFPI policy director Laura Haight estimates that the facility could get $13 million to $15 million a year in subsidies — enough, she says, to make it worth building.
» Read article            

Markey-Warren biomass letterSenators Markey And Warren Call For Pause On Springfield, Massachusetts, Biomass Plant
By Karen Brown, NEPM
December 24, 2020

Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators have asked the state to put a stop to a biomass plant in Springfield, at least until the incoming Biden Administration weighs in on the issue.

The plant was approved by the state almost 10 years ago, though Massachusetts has had strict rules in place that make biomass less profitable. The administration of Governor Charlie Baker is planning to loosen those rules next year.

The industry maintains that biomass, which uses tree waste, is a form of renewable energy. But in a letter to the state Department of Environment Protection (MassDEP), Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey said scientific studies show it releases dangerous pollutants into the air.
» Read article            
» Read the Senators’ letter        

AG letterhead RPS biomass
Letter from Attorney General Maura Healey to Senate Chair Barrett and House Chair Golden

By 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       

Springfield says no biomass subsidies
Springfield City Council passes resolution opposing millions in state subsidies for biomass incineration
   
By Ariana Tourangeau, WWLP, Channel 22
December 22, 2020

The Springfield City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night in opposition to state renewable energy subsidies for wood-burning biomass incinerators in Massachusetts.

According to Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, the vote comes in the wake of final draft regulations being proposed by the state Department of Energy Resources that would weaken existing guidelines for taxpayer and ratepayer-funded subsidies in what is known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

This would potentially allow millions in state funds to flow to proposed biomass waste incinerating power plants for the first time since 2012. Lederman said that continued pending state legislation would incentivize power from such facilities under the premise that they represent renewable energy production.

Councilors Jesse Lederman, Michael Fenton, Tim Allen, Adam Gomez, Orlando Ramos, Justin Hurst, and Melvin Edwards filed the resolution on Friday after learning of the release of the DOER Regulations, which would weaken the existing state regulations in order to allow biomass plants to qualify.
» Read article            

we breathe what PRE burns
Biomass plant will create a ‘sacrifice zone’ in Springfield (Guest viewpoint)
By Marty Nathan, MassLive
December 23, 2020

Marty Nathan MD is a retired family practitioner who worked at Brightwood Health Center. She is a member of Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She thanks Partnership for Policy Integrity for informational support.

If I remember correctly, I was reading a piece describing the cancer and other severe chronic diseases suffered by low income people living in Louisiana’s petrochemical refinery district known as Cancer Alley. The writer said, “You can’t have a polluting industry without a sacrifice zone.”

Words to remember, that immediately flashed through my mind when listening to an explanation of the Baker Administration’s new rules classifying “clean” energy sources under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program (RPS). Technologies that  qualify get lucrative renewable energy subsidies from ratepayers.

And guess what now qualifies for what $13-15 million per year in ratepayer subsidies? Bingo! Industrial biomass! As in Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE), the company that has been pushing for 12 years to construct a massive 42-megawatt electric-generating wood-burning biomass power plant in a low-income part of East Springfield.

If constructed the PRE plant’s 275-foot smokestack will billow tons of pollutants per year to affect the lungs not just of that neighborhood but of those living and working throughout Springfield, which was named the Asthma Capital of the country for two years running. That smoke will include tiny particles that burrow deep into the lungs. It will carry nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and hazardous air pollutants, like  mercury, lead,  and hydrochloric acid. These are the things that make people wheeze and cough and have trouble breathing and predispose them to hospitalization and death from respiratory disease.  Recent studies have shown that low-income communities with high levels of fine particulate air pollution suffer higher fatality rates from Covid-19.

Arise for Social Justice, the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, and other groups fought this proposal, which the late Michaelann Bewsee described as a “zombie biomass plant,” since it was first proposed in 2008 and keeps springing back to life. The affected community and supporters forced a ground-breaking study by the Commonwealth that showed that biomass is counterproductive to the fight against climate change, that it is not carbon-neutral, and not “renewable” in the time that we have left to prevent catastrophic warming. So industrial biomass burning for electricity production was removed from the Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2012, when the state recognized the damage that such plants could cause.

In April 2019, the permit for the Palmer plant was about to run out when the MA Department of Energy Resources proposed rolling back the RPS regulations so that low-efficiency biomass plants like Palmer would once again be eligible for millions in subsidies. Local officials demanded on behalf of the people of Springfield that a hearing be held in Springfield, ground zero for impact of the changes. Over 200 people attended, demonstrated and spoke almost unanimously against the Administration’s plans to make the Springfield plant qualify as renewable energy. The words environmental racism were used repeatedly. So spoke Springfield. Did the Baker Administration listen?

While waiting for the answer, PRE’s permit from the City expired. All who cared about public health in Springfield and a future on a livable planet heaved a sigh of relief.

Then at the end of July, on the last scheduled day of the 2020 legislative session, the House presented a climate bill that , happily, included new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions by municipal light plants (publicly-owned utilities such as Holyoke’s). Unhappily, it listed burning biomass as a “non-carbon-emitting” electricity source, making the Palmer biomass plant eligible to sell power under these proposed rules. And, lo, the City proclaimed that the permit for the biomass plant had not expired after all but had been renewed in oral agreement with PRE. It also was revealed that Palmer had raced around the eastern part of the state signing power purchase contracts with as many MLP’s (located generally in richer, whiter communities) as it possibly could, to make the project viable.

The climate legislation remains locked in conference committee despite widespread demands that the biomass language be eliminated.

Two weeks ago, the other shoe dropped. DOER defied science and citizen demands and announced plans to roll back the 2012 regulations to allow low-efficiency, polluting biomass plants to again qualify for subsidies. Why? When asked, several legislators have responded, “There is a whole lot of money behind this.” With Palmer being the only biomass proposal poised to profit from the changes, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the source.

So, Springfield is the sacrifice zone for biomass industry profit. Palmer Renewable’s lobbyists have lured the legislature and the Baker Administration into creating a profitable “renewable” niche that defies science and public health. Its plant will make a lot of poor, Black and brown Springfielders sick while it contributes to climate change that will hurt all of us. In the name of fighting climate change.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We still have a few short weeks to stop these dangerous policies from happening. You have a voice, to protect the vulnerable whose lives and breathing are threatened. Learn more here. Make two calls today:

  1. Tell your state legislator to urge the climate conference committee to take language calling biomass power plants “non-carbon emitting” out of the climate bill and ask the TUE Committee to hold a hearing on Baker’s proposed RPS rules.
  2. Call Governor Baker at 888-870-7770 and demand that he stop the DOER from issuing rules that are a giveaway to Palmer biomass while making Springfield residents sick and turning our community into a sacrifice zone.

Blog editor’s note: We printed this commentary in its entirety because it does an excellent job presenting what’s at stake. Please make your voice heard by calling your elected officials as suggested above. This is truly urgent.
» Read article            

» More about biomass       

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

regional emergency planRegional emergency plan urged for Weymouth compressor
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
December 29, 2020

A potential major gas leak or explosion at the Fore River Basin’s compressor station might require some North Weymouth residents to evacuate into Quincy.

Weymouth District 1 Councilor Pasacle Burga said a possible evacuation of residents into Quincy illustrates a need for a regional emergency response plan to a potential crisis at the compressor station.

“Quincy is very close to the compressor station,” she said. “That is why we have to be on the same page. They need to be able to handle traffic if people are being evacuated. If you have all those cars going into Quincy, they will have to keep the traffic moving.”

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch’s chief of staff, Chris Walker, said the city’s emergency management department is developing a permanent response plan to address a potential crisis at the compressor.

“We think we have a pretty good handle on it,” he said. “We are well aware of what is necessary for an emergency response and have been working on it for quite some time.”

Walker said Quincy officials understand Weymouth’s concerns about a potential emergency at the compressor station.

“We are in this together,” he said.

Enbridge Inc. owns the compressor, and it experienced natural gas leaks on Sept. 11, Sept. 30.

According to state and local officials, both seepages collectively released 444,000 cubic feet of natural gas in the air and forced emergency shutdowns of the facility.

The leaks are under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
» Read article      

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

PIPELINES

MVP in Franklin County
Mountain Valley Pipeline faces political, regulatory changes in 2021
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
December 27, 2020


The history of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, from the time it was first proposed to its projected completion, will soon span the terms of three U.S. presidents.

So what impact will the incoming administration of Joe Biden — whose views on climate change and clean energy are the polar opposite of President Donald Trump’s — have on the deeply divisive natural gas pipeline?

It’s unlikely that a single action under Biden’s watch would kill the buried pipeline, much of it already in the ground despite legal action from environmental groups that has delayed construction and inflated its cost to about $6 billion.

But with federal agencies headed by Biden appointees and guided by his climate agenda, pipeline opponents say, the risk of a death by a thousand cuts is more likely.

“The developers behind MVP should be seriously weighing whether this project is still viable in a market and political atmosphere that favors clean energy and climate action,” said Lee Francis, deputy director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
» Read article            

MVP attacked again
Environmental groups make another legal attack on Mountain Valley Pipeline
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
December 22, 2020

In the latest legal strike at the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a coalition of environmental groups is contesting a federal agency’s decision to allow the troubled project to move forward.

At issue is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Oct. 9 order that allowed stalled construction of the natural gas pipeline to resume, and extended for another two years its deadline for completion.

An attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a law firm that represents the seven groups, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review FERC’s decision.

Although the two-page petition does not state the grounds for appeal, attorney Benjamin Luckett raised a number of objections in a brief filed last month with FERC that asked the agency to reconsider.

Since FERC initially approved the project in 2017, new information has surfaced that “drastically alters the picture surrounding the pipeline,” Luckett wrote.

Market conditions cited by FERC in finding there was a public need for the gas to be transported by the 303-mile pipeline have changed, he asserted, while construction has harmed the environment more than was anticipated three years ago.

Allowing construction to resume “ignores the extent of sedimentation, number of major slips [or slope failures], extent of blasting, impacts on threatened and endangered species, and numerous other environmental impacts,” Luckett wrote.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines       

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

2 inch tread
Another Bomb Train Accident Highlights Regulatory Failures
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 23, 2020

A train carrying over 100 cars of volatile Bakken oil derailed in Washington state, causing the evacuation of the town of Custer. At least two of the train cars ruptured and the oil ignited and burned — reminding us once again why these dangerous trains are known as bomb trains. 

Matt Krogh of Stand.earth has been leading efforts to keep these dangerous trains off the tracks for years, so he was well aware of the potential deadly consequences of oil train accidents in populated areas. Krogh could see the smoke from this latest accident from his home in Bellingham, Washington. 

“I think we got lucky today,” Krogh told the Associated Press, echoing the words of others after previous close calls with oil trains — several of which were highlighted in the DeSmog piece Luck Rides the Rails. 

It’s easy to feel lucky after a near miss with an oil train derailment and fire near a populated area because in 2013 an oil train full of Bakken oil derailed and caused catastrophic fires and explosions in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, — killing 47 people and destroying much of the downtown area. Downtown Lac-Mégantic has yet to be rebuilt more than seven years later.

The state of Washington is well aware of the dangers the oil trains pose to the public and the environment and have attempted to address this issue with state regulations. Washington has five oil refineries that all are highly dependent on Bakken crude by rail. Crude-by-rail movements in the U.S. and Canada fluctuate significantly based on market conditions, but the Washington refineries are one destination for Bakken oil that maintain consistent demand for the oil, and rail is the only option to get it to Washington — so the risks to Washington residents who live near the train tracks are ever present.

Washington regulators and politicians tried to take the most important safety step by passing a law that limited the volatility of the crude oil being moved by rail through Washington, a move that would greatly reduce the risk of fires and explosions during derailments. A rule proposed at the end of the Obama administration to limit the volatility was officially withdrawn by the Trump administration in May of 2020.
» Read article            
» Read 2016 article “Luck Rides the Rails”      

» More about virtual pipelines                 

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

tripod sitter
‘A Tangible Way to Fight for the World I Want to Live In’: Water Protector Arrested After Blockading Line 3 Pipe Yard
“Profits for a few are being privileged over the well-being of all communities near and far, present and future.”
By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
December 28, 2020

Water protector Emma Harrison was arrested Monday in Backus, Minnesota after successfully obstructing construction on Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline project for several hours by ascending a tripod in front of a tar sands pipe yard owned by the Canadian company.

“I’m part of the Line 3 resistance movement because this pipeline embodies everything I believe is wrong with the world,” Harrison said before she engaged in civil disobedience.

As Common Dreams has reported, climate justice and Indigenous rights advocates are opposed to the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline, which would send 760,000 barrels of crude oil every day through northern Minnesota, from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin—traversing more than 800 wetland habitats, violating Ojubwe treaty rights, and putting current and future generations at risk of polluted water and a despoiled environment.

Since Enbridge began working on the pipeline in late November despite pending lawsuits, opponents have attempted to halt construction through a series of direct actions, including Monday’s blockade. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has responded “with complete silence,” Line 3 resistance activists said in a statement.

In a New York Times op-ed published Monday morning as people gathered to oppose the Line 3 pipeline, Louise Erdrich—a Minnesota-based novelist and poet as well as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, a Native American tribe in North Dakota—called the project “a breathtaking betrayal” of tribal communities and the environment. 

“This is not just another pipeline,” Erdrich wrote. She continued:

It is a tar sands climate bomb; if completed, it will facilitate the production of crude oil for decades to come. Tar sands are among the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet. The state’s environmental impact assessment of the project found the pipeline’s carbon output could be 193 million tons per year.

That’s the equivalent of 50 coal-fired power plants or 38 million vehicles on our roads, according to Jim Doyle, a physicist at Macalester College who helped write a report from the climate action organization MN350 about the pipeline. He observed that the pipeline’s greenhouse gas emissions are greater than the yearly output of the entire state.

If the pipeline is built, Minnesotans could turn off everything in the state, stop traveling, and still not come close to meeting the state’s emission reduction goals. The impact assessment also states that the potential social cost of this pipeline is $287 billion over 30 years.

On top of the project’s massive carbon footprint, “the extraction process for oil sands is deeply destructive,” Erdrich noted. “The water used in processing is left in toxic holding ponds that cumulatively could fill 500,000 Olympic swimming pools.”
» Read article            
» Read the Louise Erdrich op-ed in New York Times         

climate cases 2020
2020 Was a Busy Year for Taking the Climate Fight to the Courts
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 21, 2020

This year — with its converging crises, from the coronavirus pandemic to longstanding racial injustice to climate-related disasters — was also a remarkably active time for climate litigation. All around the world, communities, organizations, and especially young people turned to the courts in 2020 in strategic attempts to hold governments and polluting companies accountable for exacerbating the unfolding climate emergency.

In particular, this year saw a notable uptick in climate accountability litigation with multiple new cases filed in the U.S. and internationally.

“This extremely challenging year has made clear that people and the planet must come first,” Kristin Casper, general counsel with Greenpeace International, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. “Many are taking action to make it a reality by bringing their demands for climate justice to the courts.”

“We’re seeing climate litigation spring up all over the world. Advocates in many countries are finding it a very useful tactic,” said Michael Gerrard, environmental law professor at Columbia Law School and founder and faculty director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Over the years there have been more than 1,500 climate-related cases in 37 countries, according to a report on climate litigation trends released this summer. And a new wave of cases in recent years has made it clear that courts are emerging as a critical battleground in the climate fight.

This year was notable for the number of new climate cases brought to the courts. At least 20 new cases were filed around the world against governments and fossil fuel companies.
» Read article            

» More about protests and actions      

 

DIVESTMENT

insure our future
Lloyd’s market to quit fossil fuel insurance by 2030
By Julia Kollewe, The Guardian
December 16, 2020

Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has bowed to pressure from environmental campaigners and set a market-wide policy to stop new insurance cover for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and to pull out of the business altogether by 2030.

In its first environmental, social and governance report, Lloyd’s, which has been criticised for being slow to exit fossil fuel underwriting and investment, said the 90 insurance syndicates that make up the market would phase out all existing insurance policies for fossil fuel projects in 10 years’ time. Less than 5% of the market’s £35bn annual premiums comes from insurance policies in this area.

“We want to align ourselves with the UN sustainability development goals and the principles in the Paris [climate] agreement,” said the Lloyd’s chairman, Bruce Carnegie-Brown.

“A lot of syndicates are already doing some of the things we are setting out here but we are trying to create a more comprehensive framework for the whole market.”

The Lloyd’s market will also end new investments in coal-fired power plants, coalmines, oil sands and Arctic energy exploration by 1 January 2022, and phase out existing investments in companies that derive 30% or more of their revenues from this area by the end of 2025.

Carnegie-Brown defended the 2030 target date for ending fossil fuel insurance. “We want to try to support our customers in the transition and we don’t want to create cliff edges for them,” he said.
» Read article            

» More about divestment            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

TCCCBL
How To Create Anti-Racist Energy Policies
By Shalanda H. Baker, WBUR
September 23, 2020

Once you begin to see injustice, you cannot unsee it.

The pandemic has exposed longstanding inequality in our society and revealed how many Americans are one mishap away from losing basic necessities such as food, housing and health care.

The pandemic has also revealed the many burdens communities of color routinely bear as a result of the structure and design of our nation’s energy system. That system disproportionately extracts wealth from the lowest-income Americans, who also tend to live in communities with the poorest air quality and are at a higher risk of the complications of COVID-19. These are the same communities that will be hit first and hardest by climate change.

The time for reckoning with the racialized violence embedded within the current energy system is long overdue. Now is the time to advance anti-racist energy policy. Now is the time for energy justice.

Our system of paying for energy — electricity, natural gas and other fuels — is unfair. The system inequitably burdens people who live in poor and low-income communities, who struggle to pay their utility bills. The poorest families in this country pay far more of their income for energy costs — upwards of 30% — while higher-income families pay about 3% or less. It should come as no surprise that the households paying the highest portion of their income for energy and confronted with difficult decisions about how to pay their utility bills are also disproportionately Black, Latinx and Indigenous. Lower-income families already tend to use less energy.

But the struggle to meet basic energy needs predates the current crisis. A 2015 analysis revealed that 31% of all Americans regularly face some sort of energy insecurity, which includes the lack of ability to pay for energy. This figure jumped to 45% for Latinx respondents and 52% for Black respondents and was still greater for Native American and Indigenous people, who experienced energy insecurity at a rate of 54%. A staggering 75% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander respondents experienced energy insecurity, a rate more than twice the national average. Yet white respondents experienced energy insecurity only 28% of the time.

The legacy of environmental racism also means that Black people are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants than other people, and Black, Latinx and Indigenous people routinely absorb more of the toxic byproducts of our fossil-fuel-based energy system. The same communities are less likely to have access to local, clean energy.

During the pandemic, these environmental injustices create a deadlier set of health risks. As researchers at Harvard Chan School of Public Health recently found, long-term exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of dying from COVID-19.
» Read article            

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

shortfalls in oversight
Large Methane Leaks Reveal Long-Standing Shortfalls in Oversight
New rollbacks could make controlling fugitive emissions from oil and gas infrastructure even harder
By Chiara Eisner, Scientific American
December 21, 2020

Ever since a father and son managed to draw four whiskey barrels of oil from a hand-dug hole near California’s Kern River 121 years ago, productive oil and gas wells have multiplied like mushrooms across the area. Though such wells are expected to emit minimal amounts of greenhouse gases during the oil-extraction process, scientists from a space-related research group were shocked by the size of the methane plumes they detected when they flew an infrared sensor over Kern County in 2015. Repeating the flights three more times in the next three years confirmed the initial reading: some wells were releasing at least six times more of the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in one day than the Environmental Protection Agency had estimated they should emit in a year.

Karen Jones is one of the scientists at the Aerospace Corporation, the California-based nonprofit organization that conducted the aerial survey. She says she felt mystified by what she calls a lack of action among the oil fields’ operators and regulators as she watched the methane—the second-highest contributor to human-caused warming after carbon dioxide—continuously spew over the years. “The gas coming out of Kern County isn’t supposed to be there,” she says.

Revelations like Aerospace’s, which the nonprofit published in a report this past summer, are becoming more common. For years, oil and gas companies have been required to detect and repair methane leaks in their equipment. But scientists have produced dozens of studies over the past decade that suggest the current methods and technology used by industry to detect leaks—and by regulators to estimate how much methane is emitted—are inadequate to catch the actual scale of the problem.

Nonprofit groups and private satellite companies may soon make high-quality data about methane publicly available and ubiquitous, potentially creating more pressure to address the situation. Action to plug leaks and prevent further air pollution may be stymied in the meantime, though: the Trump administration took numerous steps that could weaken environmental protections, including rules outlining how companies monitor for and locate natural gas leaks in their equipment (methane is the main component of natural gas). Whether they will be reversed when the Biden administration enters the White House, and how long that will take if it happens, remains to be seen.

Scientists say people of color and low-income communities, who already suffer disproportionately from the consequences of air pollution, will continue to bear much of the health brunt of such regulatory rollbacks. And more methane in the atmosphere is also likely to speed up the already accelerating process of global warming.
» Read article            

climate emergency
Groups Provide Biden With Draft Climate Emergency Order to Help Put Out ‘Fire Fanned by Trump’
The president-elect “must take bold action the moment he steps into the Oval Office, without punting to a dysfunctional Congress.”
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
December 16, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden must swiftly move once in office to “avert the climate emergency” with a series of actions to ensure the nation invests in “a just, clean, distributed, and democratic energy system that works for all.”

That’s the demand Wednesday from over 380 groups who’ve sent Biden a draft executive order (pdf) that details how, exercising executive authority, he can rein in greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard the environment while boosting jobs and community wellbeing.

The new effort was convened by organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Indigenous Environmental Network and is backed by a diverse collection of hundreds of state and national groups including Fire Drill Fridays, Breast Cancer Action, the National Family Farm Coalition, and the Sunrise Movement. International organizations including the Center for International Environmental Law and Global Witness are also listed as supporters.

President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration, said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and one of the key authors of the order, has taken a wrecking ball to the climate—making efforts to address the global crisis even more urgent.
» Read article            
» Read the draft executive order            

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen 2020 recap
2020: The Year of Green Hydrogen in 10 Stories
Green hydrogen exceeded expectations in 2020 with a spate of huge projects, binding deployment targets and a handful of gigafactories.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
December 29, 2020

2020 has been notable for the rush of activity in the green hydrogen space.

Using renewable-powered electrolyzers to create low-carbon hydrogen can squeeze emissions out of sectors where direct electrification isn’t going to cut it. Green hydrogen could replace methane to generate heat or power. It could replace high-carbon, or grey, hydrogen in a number of industrial and chemical processes. It could even be used as a fuel in heavy transport.  

As 2020 unfurled and then unraveled, climate change ambition ramped up. ‘Green recovery’ emerged as a favored approach to stoking flagging economies — tackling the unparalleled challenge of climate change to invest our way out of an unrivalled economic test.

Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there were clues that green hydrogen might shift up the agenda. Rob Gibson is the whole system and gas supply manager for National Grid Electricity System Operator in the U.K. He has been tracking the contribution of gas, including hydrogen, for the operator’s 2050 Future Energy Scenarios. When the country was working with an 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050, hydrogen had a smaller role in those forecasts.

When the country first set out the net-zero goal in June 2019, that changed, he told GTM in a recent interview. Economies face a much more costly path to decarbonizing the final 10 to 20 percent of their emissions, making hydrogen a cost-effective alternative for reaching 100 percent carbon-free goals. 

It’s a trend now repeating around Europe with other markets not far behind. Wood Mackenzie declared the 2020s the decade of hydrogen. This is how it began.
» Blog editor’s note: The greenest application of green hydrogen involves its use with fuel cells – extracting the energy as electricity without combustion. We advise readers to approach any news concerning big moves into green hydrogen with considerable skepticism. Much of the current hype (and actual momentum) is being financed by the natural gas industry, as a way to continue the business model of providing volatile gas for combustion. This has great potential for negative health and climate impacts, particularly related to high NOx emissions.
» Read article            
 

UK gas boiler ban coming
New gas boilers to be banned in 15 years to meet emissions target (UK)
By Steven Swinford and Emily Gosden, The Times
December 15, 2020

 

New gas boilers will effectively be banned by the mid-2030s and have to be replaced with low-carbon alternatives such as heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, the government has said.

An energy white paper published yesterday said that the country would have to “transition completely away from natural gas boilers” as part of the target to hit net-zero emissions by 2050.

At present about 1.7 million gas boilers are installed every year.

The government will also launch a consultation on whether it is appropriate to end gas grid connections entirely for new homes. The Times has previously reported that gas boilers for new homes could be banned as soon as 2023.
» Read article             

one-spin wonder
New Offshore Wind Turbine Can Power a Home for a Day in Just 7 Seconds
By John Rogers, Senior energy analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists
December 3, 2020

The first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States may use the largest wind turbine in the world. Here are a few ways to think about what all that might mean.

The developers of the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts have just announced that they’ll be using GE wind turbines—specifically, the GE Haliade-X. That turbine recently got a capacity upgrade, from a world-leading 12 megawatts (MW) to a world-leading-by-even-more 13 MW.

Hearing that 312 MWh number got me thinking about how much electricity the average home uses in these parts, and wondering how it compared. So I did the math: At full power, a turbine that size could cover a whole household’s daily electricity needs in under 7 seconds.

Sure, not every day is that windy, you’d lose some energy transmitting it from the turbine to the home, and you’d need storage to use it the other 86,393 seconds of the day. (So I wouldn’t recommend this approach for DIY home power…)

But still: 7 seconds.

The manufacturer itself offers another way to make the comparison between turbine and home: A single spin of the turbine, says GE, “could power a UK household for more than 2 days”. While specifying “UK” is important, because of their lower per-home electricity use, the math still works out to a single spin of the blades generating enough energy for a day for the average home in at least the 10 or 12 most efficient states in the US.
» Read article            

» More about clean energy                                    

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

view from ESB
How to slash buildings’ growing greenhouse gas emissions
A new UN report gives a blueprint for greener buildings
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 16, 2020

Carbon dioxide coming from the buildings where we live and work set a new record in 2019. What’s more, those planet-heating emissions will probably keep rising after the pandemic, the authors of a new UN report warn. The report urges governments to make structures more energy efficient and speed up a transition to renewable energy. Doing that could be a great way to address both the climate crisis and the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

The building sector was responsible for a whopping 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally in 2019, the report says. For comparison, all the planes, trains, automobiles, and other transportation in the world only pump out about 24 percent of global carbon emissions. Growing prosperity around the world, especially in developing nations that don’t yet have a lot of renewable energy, led to higher-than-normal rise in building sector emissions last year. When economies grow, there’s more construction, larger floor plans for buildings, and more energy-guzzling appliances and electronics filling those spaces.

Air conditioning is one of the biggest worries when it comes to energy-hungry buildings. Economic development in hotter climates comes with a big bump in emissions from air conditioners. Historic heatwaves during 2019, the second hottest year on record, was another reason why that year saw the most building emissions on record, according to the International Energy Agency. “The need for more energy efficient air conditioning is so vital to the future of both emissions [and] the reality of what we’re building,” says Ian Hamilton, lead coordinating author of the new report. “Those lovely, great big glassy towers in hot parts of the world rely so heavily on air conditioning for them to be comfortable, livable.”

Economic prosperity doesn’t need to translate into more planet-heating pollution. About 10 percent of buildings’ environmental footprint comes from their construction and materials. But most of the emissions that buildings are responsible for come from the energy used for heating, cooling, and lighting. Right now, fossil fuels are still a large part of the energy mix — which is what report authors hope to see change.
» Read article            
» Read the UN report          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY / BUILDING MATERIALS

Earthbag domesA Community of Superadobe Earthbag Domes Empowers Its Residents
Built with earth-based materials, these colorful domes were constructed with the help of local residents looking to revive their local economy.
By Kimberley Mok, Treehugger.com
December 17, 2020

In reducing the carbon footprint of both existing and new buildings, there are a number of possible strategies. One approach is to reduce the size of homes, thus reducing the energy needed to heat and maintain them (which is one reason why smaller homes are gaining popularity). Another is to increase their energy efficiency, as we see being done with Passivhaus / Passive House homes. Yet another tack is to change the kinds of materials we use in constructing more eco-friendly homes, swapping out materials with high embodied carbon (a.k.a. upfront carbon emissions) like concrete and steel for more sustainable materials like wood, cork and bamboo.

There’s yet another weapon to add to the growing arsenal of sustainable materials – but it’s not a new one, rather, it’s something that humans have used for millennia – earth. The soil beneath our feet is actually a great building material, whether it’s rammed, or compressed into modular earth blocks. We’ve seen a number of interesting architectural projects using earth-based materials, be they large or small.

On Iran’s Hormuz Island, these distinctive domes were constructed by Tehran-based firm ZAV Architects, using an innovative method called superadobe. Initially developed as a form of earthbag construction by Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili, the technique involves layering long fabric tubes or bags filled with earth and other organic materials like straw to form a compression structure.

Intended as a project that encourages “community empowerment via urban development,” the domes have been built with the help of local residents, who were trained with the necessary construction skills.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficient building materials           

 

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage 2020 recap
Greentech Media’s Must-Read Energy Storage Stories of 2020
An attempted shortlist of the major breakthroughs in the energy storage industry’s biggest year ever.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
December 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic brought the broader economy to a halt, but the energy storage industry didn’t get the memo.

Instead, developers made this year the biggest ever for battery installations in the U.S. More capacity is going into homes than ever before, helping families make better use of rooftop solar investments and keeping the lights on during outages. Large-scale projects reached new heights, including LS Power’s completion of the largest battery in the world, just in time to help California grapple with its summer power shortage.

Just a few years ago, energy storage was a niche item, something people built in the very few locations where a higher force compelled it. Now, utilities across the country are using batteries to solve numerous grid problems and planning far more for the near future. And the most boisterous of power markets, Texas, has finally broken open for storage developers, with major projects already underway.

Here is an attempt at condensing all of these upheavals and breakthroughs into a list of the crucial energy storage storylines from the year. Think of it as a cheat sheet for all things energy storage in 2020.
» Read article            

ESGC published
US Department of Energy publishes its ‘first comprehensive energy storage strategy’
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
December 23, 2020

The US government’s Department of Energy (DoE) has described its just-published Energy Storage Grand Challenge Roadmap as its first comprehensive strategy on energy storage, identifying cost and performance targets to be met in the coming years.

Among other things, it sets out a target for the levelised cost of long-duration energy storage to be reduced by 90% over the next nine years.

The ESGC looks to establish the US as a leader in energy storage and maintain that position; focusing not just on innovative new technologies and research into existing technologies but also on helping them traverse the fabled ‘Valley of Death’ that lies from lab to commercialisation. The Challenge also seeks to enable domestic manufacturing in the sector through secure supply chains.

The overarching goal of the ESGC is to develop and domestically manufacture energy storage technologies capable of meeting all of the needs of the US market by 2030 – a goal which the Department said in a press release is “aggressive but achievable”. The American energy storage industry should also be competitive internationally, including export opportunities, the DoE said.
» Read article            

» More about energy storage              

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

H2 evangelist
The Gospel of Hydrogen Power
Mike Strizki powers his house and cars with hydrogen he home-brews. He is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries.
By Roy Furchgott, New York Times
December 28, 2020

In December, the California Fuel Cell Partnership tallied 8,890 electric cars and 48 electric buses running on hydrogen batteries, which are refillable in minutes at any of 42 stations there. On the East Coast, the number of people who own and drive a hydrogen electric car is somewhat lower. In fact, there’s just one. His name is Mike Strizki. He is so devoted to hydrogen fuel-cell energy that he drives a Toyota Mirai even though it requires him to refine hydrogen fuel in his yard himself.

“Yeah, I love it,” Mr. Strizki said of his 2017 Mirai. “This car is powerful, there’s no shifting, plus I’m not carrying all of that weight of the batteries,” he said in a not-so-subtle swipe at the world’s most notable hydrogen naysayer, Elon Musk.

Mr. Strizki favors fuel-cell cars for the same reasons as most proponents. You can make fuel using water and solar power, as he does. The byproduct of making hydrogen is oxygen, and the byproduct of burning it is water. Hydrogen is among the most plentiful elements on earth, so you don’t have to go to adversarial countries or engage in environmentally destructive extraction to get it. The car is as quiet to drive as any other electric, it requires little maintenance, and because it doesn’t carry 1,200 pounds of batteries, it has a performance edge.

Mr. Strizki is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries. He has faced opposition from the electric, oil and battery industries, he said, as well as his sometimes supporter, the Energy Department. Then there is the ghost of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion, which hovers over all things hydrogen. The financial crash of the high-flying hydrogen truck manufacturer Nikola hasn’t advanced his case.

Mr. Strizki’s expertise has made him a cult figure in hydrogen circles, where he has consulted on notable projects for two decades. He has worked on high school science projects as well as a new $150,000-ish hydrogen hypercar that claims to get 1,000 miles per fill-up.

“Hydrogen is in some ways safer than gasoline,” said JoAnn Milliken, director of the New Jersey Fuel Cell Coalition, a volunteer group, who knew Mr. Strizki from her time at the Energy Department. She cited a 2019 study from Sandia National Laboratories that found a hydrogen car to have no more fire hazard than a conventional vehicle.

Ever since Mr. Musk called fuel cells “staggeringly dumb,” there has been a fierce rivalry between lithium-ion and hydrogen backers. Cooler heads see a place for each. Electric is suitable for people with a garage who travel limited distances and can charge overnight. But for long-haul trucks, hydrogen doesn’t add weight or reduce cargo space the way batteries do. Furthermore, hydrogen tanks can be refueled in minutes.
» Blog editor’s note: Mr. Strizki is advocating for hydrogen fuel cells, in which hydrogen does not undergo thermal combustion. That’s a great use of solar-produced green hydrogen. Problems with NOx emissions only occur when you burn it.
» Read article            

Flettner rotor
Rotating Sails Help to Revive Wind-Powered Shipping
A century-old concept, Flettner rotors, gets a fresh look as shippers cut back fuel
By Lynn Freehill-Maye, Scientific American
December 1, 2020

In 1926 a cargo ship called the Buckau crossed the Atlantic sporting what looked like two tall smokestacks. But these towering cylinders were actually drawing power from the wind. Called Flettner rotors, they were a surprising new invention by German engineer Anton Flettner (covered at the time in Scientific American). When the wind was perpendicular to the ship’s course, a motor spun the cylinders so their forward-facing sides turned in the same direction as the wind; this movement made air move faster across the front surface and slower behind, creating a pressure difference and pulling the ship forward. The rotating sails provided a net energy gain—but before they could be widely adopted the Great Depression struck, followed by World War II. Like the electric car, the Flettner rotor would be abandoned for almost a century in favor of burning fossil fuel.

Now, with shippers under renewed pressure to cut both costs and carbon emissions, the concept is getting another shot. In one notable example, the 12,000-gross-ton cargo vessel SC Connector is adding 35-meter Flettner rotors that can tilt to near horizontal when the ship passes under bridges or power lines. The new rotors need electrical power to spin, but manufacturer Norsepower says they can still save up to 20 percent on fuel consumption and cut emissions by 25 percent.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation       

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking killing US oil and gas
How The Fracking Revolution Is Killing the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2020

After over a decade of the much-hyped U.S. fracking miracle, the U.S. oil and gas industry is having to deal with years of losses and falling asset values which has dealt the industry a serious financial blow. This is despite the fracking revolution delivering record oil and gas production for the past decade, peaking in 2019.

While the pandemic has hurt the industry, companies have also benefited from excessive bailouts from pandemic relief programs but these bailouts are a stop gap financial band-aid for the struggling industry.

The oil and gas industry has always required huge amounts of money to explore for and produce oil and gas but up until now the industry made returns on those investments

The industry made a huge bet on fracking shale deposits to unleash the oil and gas reserves in that shale. It worked from a production standpoint; the industry produced record amounts of oil and gas. The difference is that, unlike traditional oil and gas production, the cost to produce fracked oil and gas was more than what the market was willing to pay for it.

As a result, the U.S. fracking industry has lost over $300 billion. Fracking was supposed to be the future of the U.S. oil and gas industry — instead it has dealt the industry a major financial blow which has likely sped up the energy transition away from oil and gas towards a lower carbon future.
» Read article            

fracking boom oral historyThe Rise and Fall of a Fracking Boom Town: An Oral History
Rock Springs, Wyoming, sits on vast underground stores of natural gas and shale oil. But what was meant to be a blessing turned into a curse.
By J.J. Anselmi, New Republic
December 21, 2020

It’s always feast or famine in Rock Springs. In the 1970s, this wind-worn mining town in southwest Wyoming was the site of an immense energy boom. Men from across the country moved in to make fast money in coal, oil, gas, or trona (the raw material for soda ash, which in turn is used to make glass, paper, baking soda, and other products). My dad worked at the Jim Bridger power plant for nearly 15 years, first dumping huge trucks of coal ash, then laboring in the warehouse. He met my mom during the ’70s boom.

Then the oil fields dried up. Demand for trona fell sharply, and soon workers were getting laid off at Jim Bridger (thankfully for us, my dad was able to keep his job). As one resident, Tammy Morley, told me, “It seemed to me like the boom left all at once. The town was dead. The oil fields got sucked dry. All the rest just went away.”

I graduated high school in 2004 and tried to go to school in Colorado, but I dropped out. When I came back to Rock Springs in 2005, the hydraulic fracturing boom had begun. The town and its surrounding areas sit on vast underground stores of natural gas and shale oil. And the mad rush to extract this untapped store of energy changed everything.

Suddenly, every hotel was filled with roughnecks from across the country. Rent got much more expensive, and stucco neighborhoods sprouted up like an invasive plant species. Guys with huge work trucks blasted around town. Most of my friends got jobs with Halliburton or one of the other companies doing fracking out in the massive Jonah Field. At the time, we had the biggest Halliburton fracking facility in the country, its arsenal of red trucks and heavy-duty equipment on militaristic display. Schlumberger had its own battery of blue trucks and equipment on the other side of town. 

There was suddenly, too, a lot of money. But this blessing, as so much else in this country, would turn out to be a nightmare in disguise. This is the story of Rock Springs’ last boom, as told by the people who lived through it (some of their names have been changed or withheld to protect their privacy).
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuel             

 

HAZARDS OF FRACKING

harms of fracking - update
Sandra Steingraber, ‘The Harms of Fracking’ Update
Green Radio Hour with Jon Bowermaster, WKNY Radio
December 27, 2020

Join me in conversation with Sandra Steingraber on the eve of the release of the 7th annual compendium on the continued physical harms of fracking, assembled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York. When the first tracking of the harms was published seven years ago, it easily fit in a manila envelope. Today it’s grown to 500 pages and more than 1,900 footnotes. Obviously the harms just keep mounting!
» Listen to broadcast          

» More about fracking hazards       

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Weekly News Check-In 7/17/20

banner 04

Welcome back.

Last week’s news was all about pipeline projects scuttled by fierce popular resistance, smart litigation, and economic reality. This week, proponents of big gas/oil and business-as-usual struck back by further slashing environmental regulations in the hope of greasing the skids for future projects. And with the Dakota Access Pipeline held up indefinitely, a lot more volatile crude may soon be moving by rail on trains and track near you – having never effectively addressed all those “bomb train” safety issues.

Some of the biggest banks financing fossil fuel projects are prime targets of the divestment movement. Many are also backing Rocky Mountain Institute’s new Center for Climate-Aligned Finance. The Center’s mission is to guide banks operating in carbon-heavy sectors, with the goal of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050. Conflict of interest? Environmental organizations will be watching closely.

The Biden campaign released an ambitious plan that aims to green the economy while rescuing it from the Covid-19 collapse. And while the climate reels from unchecked methane emissions – posting another record – scientists are launching a new satellite system supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning to pinpoint and track global carbon emissions in real time. This will allow direct measurement for the first time – and presents an opportunity for effective management and stronger international agreements.

Some good news in clean energy involves the rescue of rooftop solar net metering from an attempt by the shadowy New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) to move policy decisions from State to Federal jurisdiction. And now that natural gas is no longer seriously considered a clean bridge fuel, we’re facing the tricky question of how best to trim back its role in generating power and heating buildings. Massachusetts, New York, and California are leading the way.

Energy storage and clean transportation are increasingly synergistic. Expect to see robust growth in both sectors, with topped-up EVs providing storage services to the grid, and retired EV batteries finding their way into stationary storage installations – especially now that a new generation of lithium-ion batteries is expected to last much longer than a typical vehicle’s life on the road.

The fossil fuel industry is promoting “renewable” natural gas, derived from non-fossil methane sources. We offer an analysis of this niche fuel, and how it’s being used as cover for the continued use of fossil methane. Also a must-read article from the Times, discussing the huge and growing problem of methane leaks from abandoned oil and gas wells, at a time when fracking companies are failing and leaving cleanup costs to taxpayers.

The wood pellet industry is booming, thanks to policies in both Europe and the U.S. that treat woody biomass as a carbon neutral fuel. A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency may make the problem worse, and that’s bad news for the climate and forests.

We reported last week that plastics industry lobbyists had pounced on the opportunity presented by uncertainty around modes of disease transmission in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis – convincing states to roll back municipal plastic bag bans in the interest of public safety. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has now reinstated those bans, since we now understand that Covid-19 transmission from surfaces is a low risk. We close with a report on plastics in the environment – everywhere.

— The NFGiM Team

OTHER PIPELINES

orange is the new stupid
President Trump just made it harder to stop new pipelines
Trump moved to speed up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 15, 2020

President Trump today gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, a move that many environmental advocates worry will make it harder for people to have a say in how major infrastructure projects would affect them. The new rules speed up permitting for large infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways by truncating the environmental review process.

Environmental reviews are designed to figure out if a project will significantly change the environment around the project in some way. The process can take years and involves scientific studies, intense analysis, and time for the public to comment on the proposals. The new rules, first proposed in January, limit the timeline for environmental reviews to two years — even though the process frequently takes twice as long. The changes would also allow projects that aren’t primarily federally funded to bypass the environmental reviews entirely. The revised rules also permit federal agencies to ignore climate change when making their assessments.

NEPA helped Native American tribes and pipeline opponents secure recent victories. A federal judge decided in March that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA in granting a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and earlier this month ordered the pipeline to shut down pending an environmental review. Pipeline opponents successfully asserted in 2018 that developers of the Keystone XL pipeline violated NEPA.

While today’s changes won’t affect pipeline decisions that have already been made, environmental advocates and attorneys argue that it will become harder for people to contest a major new infrastructure project in the future.
» Read article          

Return of the Bomb Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 12, 2020

On July 6th Reuters published an article on the potential for a resurgence of moving crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota across the country by rail, due to a judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline over permit issues.

July 6th also was the 7th anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec when a train full of Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded — resulting in 47 fatalities and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic.

And while the timing was just coincidence, it is a stark reminder of the dangers of moving Bakken crude (and Canadian crude) oil by rail and the risks that a resurgence of this industry poses to the 25 million people living along the tracks these oil trains traverse.

After the Lac-Mégantic disaster, regulators in Canada and the U.S. worked to put in place new safety regulations to prevent another such disaster from happening. However, as we have documented here on DeSmog and in my book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk, the oil and rail industries have effectively blocked or forced the repeal of any meaningful safety regulations.

Regulations for modern electronically controlled pneumatic brakes were repealed by the Trump administration. State regulations to require the volatile Bakken oil to be stabilized to remove the natural gas liquids in the crude oil that make it so dangerous were overruled by the Trump administration.

There still are no regulations about rail track wear and replacement even though track failure is a leading cause of train derailments and is suspected of causing the two most recent oil train derailments that resulted in large spills and fires. There still are no regulations on the length of the trains, even though longer trains derail more often and train operators — the men and women driving the trains — say that longer trains are harder to operate.

And the new tank cars that were supposed to be safer have failed in every major oil and ethanol train derailment they have been involved in to date.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines              

DIVESTMENT

RMI bedfellows
JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs back launch of climate finance center
By Dan Ennis, Utility Dive
July 15, 2020

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy nonprofit, launched the Center for Climate-Aligned Finance on Thursday with financial backing from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs.

With the goal of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, the center aims to collaborate with banks to design guidance for working with carbon-heavy sectors such as steel or utilities, and to help banks determine which climate benchmarks and data to follow.

Banks are increasingly seeing the value — not just in optics but in revenue — of environmentally responsible investment.

Paul Bodnar, chair of the center and managing director of the institute, said the Poseidon Principles, which encourage financing of more environmentally friendly shipping vehicles, influenced the center’s creation.

“One sector provides the lifeblood that powers all the others, and that is finance,” he told American Banker.

Climate activists indicated the center is an initiative to watch.

“It could drive real steps toward banks aligning with 1.5°C,” Jason Opeña Disterhoft, senior climate and energy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement emailed to Banking Dive, referring to a goal of limiting global temperature increase. “But it could also be used as an excuse for banks to keep supporting the world’s worst climate polluters.

“The four founding partner banks include three of the top four fossil banks in the world, and together are responsible for more than $700 billion in fossil financing since Paris,” he added. “The four of them bank a clear majority of the companies doing the most to expand oil, gas and coal.”
» Read article           https://www.utilitydive.com/news/jpmorgan-bank-of-america-wells-fargo-goldman-sachs-back-launch-of-climat/581599/

» More about divestment      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

build back better
Biden’s $2 Trillion Climate Plan Promotes Union Jobs, Electric Cars and Carbon-Free Power
The former vice president linked a new green economy with America’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, saying the nation needs to “Build Back Better.”
By Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers, Ilana Cohen, Judy Fahys, and Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
July 15, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion clean economy jobs program Tuesday that marked a significant expansion in his plan for tackling climate change, with jobs-creation and environmental justice as its pillars.

With a blue “Build Back Better” placard on his lectern, the former vice president sought to signal that the coronavirus crisis will not displace the imperative to act on climate. Instead, he framed the immediate and long-term crises as linked, requiring the same sort of government intervention: a massive program to ramp up electric vehicles, carbon-free power and energy efficiency throughout the economy.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

TRACE by COP-26
The entire world’s carbon emissions will finally be trackable in real time
The new Climate TRACE Coalition is assembling the data and running the AI.
By David Roberts, Vox
July 16, 2020

There’s an old truism in the business world: what gets measured gets managed. One of the challenges in managing the greenhouse gas emissions warming the atmosphere is that they aren’t measured very well.

“Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” says Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Without this information “you cannot devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions,” she says, and “you cannot track them to see if you are making progress against your goals.”

The lack of good data also complicates international climate negotiations. “It’s frustrating that nearly three decades after countries committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to publish national GHG emissions inventories, we still don’t have recent, comprehensive, and consistent inventories for all countries,” says Taryn Fransen of the World Resources Institute.

The ultimate solution to this problem — the killer app, as it were — would be real-time tracking of all global greenhouse gases, verified by objective third parties, and available for free to the public.

When countries began meeting under the UNFCCC in the mid-1990s, that vision was speculative science fiction. It was basically regarded as science fiction when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. But science moves quickly — in particular, artificial intelligence, the ability to rapidly integrate multiple data sources, has advanced rapidly in recent years.

Now, a new alliance of climate research groups called the Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition has launched an effort to make the vision a reality, and they’re aiming to have it ready for COP26, the climate meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 (postponed from November 2020). If they pull it off, it could completely change the tenor and direction of international climate talks.
» Read article          

no peak for methane
Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High
Scientists expect emissions, driven by fossil fuels and agriculture, to continue rising rapidly.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 14, 2020

Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday.

And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects.

The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals, underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning.

“There’s a hint that we might be able to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions very soon. But we don’t appear to be even close to peak methane,” said Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford University who heads the Global Carbon Project, which conducted the research. “It isn’t going down in agriculture, it isn’t going down with fossil fuel use.”
» Read article          

number cooker
G.A.O.: Trump Boosts Deregulation by Undervaluing Cost of Climate Change
The Government Accountability Office has found that the Trump administration is undervaluing the cost of climate change to boost its deregulatory efforts.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 14, 2020

A federal report released on Tuesday found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates. Reducing that metric, known as the “social cost of carbon,” has helped the administration massage cost-benefit analyses, particularly for rules that allow power plants and automobiles to emit more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
» Read article          
» Obtain GAO report          

Maureen Raymo
She’s an Authority on Earth’s Past. Now, Her Focus Is the Planet’s Future.
The climate scientist Maureen Raymo is leading the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia. She has big plans for science, and diversity, too.
By John Schwartz, New York Times
July 10, 2020

Columbia University is taking new steps to make climate change, which has been studied there for decades, an even more prominent part of the school’s mission. And Maureen Raymo is a big part of that.

On July 1, Dr. Raymo, one of the world’s leading oceanographers and climate scientists, became interim director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Founded in 1949 and perched on hills overlooking the Hudson River 18 miles north of Manhattan, the observatory has been one of the world’s leading centers of scientific exploration into earth sciences and climate change. It was a Lamont researcher, Wallace Broecker, who brought the term “global warming” to public attention in a landmark 1975 paper.

And while there are more women represented at Lamont today than when Dr. Raymo was a graduate student there in the 1980s, she comes to her leadership position at a time when addressing other issues of diversity and equity in the field, and within the institution, is overdue.

Having experienced discrimination in her own career, she said an important way to address it is to “get into a position where you can change things.” She has dedicated fans among Lamont students, who value not just her scientific prowess but also her attention to social justice issues.
» Read article          

rescue debate
A Rescue Plan for the Planet? Watch Our Debate Here.
A virtual event with eight speakers and one question: Has Covid-19 created a blueprint for combating climate change?
By The New York Times
July 10, 2020

The devastation of Covid-19 has forced swift and startling change around the globe. To combat the coronavirus, governments poured money into rescue programs, companies adapted their goals and production, central banks permitted exceptional stimulus packages and many societies mobilized to shield the most vulnerable.

The New York Times hosted a debate on July 9, 2020, to explore the hard-earned lessons of Covid-19 and how to apply them to climate change. Have these dramatic actions against the coronavirus given us a blueprint for mobilization against climate change? Is this an opportunity for a new path forward that puts accelerated climate solutions at its center?
» Watch debate          

» More about climate               

CLEAN ENERGY

NERA path still open
FERC shuts down petition to upend net metering, McNamee signals issue could return
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 17, 2020

The New England Ratepayers Association’s (NERA) petition was opposed by a wide swath of industry leaders, environmentalists, bipartisan government officials, legal experts and others. In total, almost 50,000 groups and individuals issued comments in opposition, while just 21 supported it.

“NERA’s petition to attack rooftop solar investments and gut energy savings during a health and financial crisis was ill-conceived,” Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, said in a statement. Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors drove over 20,000 comments in opposition to the petition by the filing deadline.

FERC dismissed the NERA petition on the grounds that the group was unable to point to a particular harm.

Instead, NERA “asked the commission to make certain jurisdictional determinations regarding energy sales from rooftop solar facilities, and other distributed generation located on the customer side of the retail meter,” said Chatterjee. “Declaratory orders to terminate a controversy, or remove uncertainty, are discretionary. We exercise that discretion today and find that the issues presented in the petition do not warrant a generic statement from the commission at this time.”

But NERA saw the commission’s order and the two commissioner’s concurrence statements as a sign the issue could be raised again.

“While we are disappointed by FERC’s decision to dismiss our [p]etition on procedural grounds this issue is far from resolved,” Marc Brown, president of NERA, said in a statement. “FERC demonstrably leaves the door open for NERA to address the concerns raised by the Commissioners in its order.”
» Read article          

scripting the endgameThe Natural Gas Divide
States are confronting the future of gas in buildings — and facing a set of high-stakes questions.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
July 15, 2020

In early June, the attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, filed a petition with state utility regulators advising them to investigate the future of natural gas in the Commonwealth. Healey described the urgent need to figure out how the gas industry, which helps heat millions of homes throughout freezing Northeastern winters, fits into the state’s plan to zero-out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — especially considering the fuels burned for indoor heating and hot water are responsible for about a third of the state’s carbon footprint.

Eliminating emissions from this sector means venturing into uncharted waters. While many states are rapidly developing wind and solar farms to cut carbon from their electric grids, few are tackling the thornier challenge of reducing the gas burned in buildings. Officials in California and New York, which both have binding economy-wide net-zero emissions laws, have recently come to the same conclusion as Healey: Meeting state climate goals is going to require changes to the way gas utilities are regulated. Earlier this year, both states opened up precisely the kind of investigation that Healey is requesting in Massachusetts.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, has long been called a “bridge” to a cleaner energy future because burning it has a much lower carbon footprint than burning coal or oil. But research has called that narrative into question by showing that methane leaking across the natural gas supply chain raises its climate impact significantly. Recent developments have called the economics of natural gas into question, too: In early July, the developers of the high-profile Atlantic Coast Pipeline decided to abandon the project after an onslaught of lawsuits made the pipeline too expensive to build.

California, Massachusetts, and New York haven’t decided whether — or to what extent — natural gas can remain in their energy mixes. But the point of these investigations is much larger than those questions. There’s no established roadmap for managing the transition to zero-emissions buildings, and there are serious consequences to getting it wrong — huge cost burdens on residents, mass layoffs and bankruptcies at utilities, and of course, climate disaster.
» Read article          

pushing 2836
Massachusetts lawmakers face pressure to pass 100% renewable bill this session
Gov. Charlie Baker supports a goal of net-zero by 2050, but a growing list of stakeholders say that’s not good enough.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Timothy Vollmer, Flickr / Creative Commons
July 15, 2020

As the end of Massachusetts’ state legislative session draws near, activists, municipal officials, businesses, and civic organizations are urging lawmakers to take action on a bill that would require a 100% renewable electricity transition by 2045 — and making plans for next steps if the measure is not passed this year.

“We want to make sure that this year does not go by without strong and decisive action on clean energy at the Statehouse,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in January committed to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Many, however, argue that this target will be impossible to hit without stronger measures to accelerate the switch to renewable energy. If current standards are not changed, the transition to clean energy would not be complete until the turn of the next century.

To address this disparity, state Rep. Marjorie Decker and state Rep. Sean Garballey sponsored a bill (H.2836) that calls for all the state’s electricity to be renewably sourced by 2035, and all energy used for transportation and heating to be renewable by 2045.
» Read article          
» Read Bill H.2836

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage second life
California Awards $10.8M to Reuse EV Batteries in Solar & Microgrid Projects
By Elisa Wood, Microgrid Knowledge
July 15, 2020

The California Energy Commission (CEC) awarded $10.8 million to four projects that will explore repurposing used batteries from electric vehicles (EV), partly to support microgrids.

The awards approved in meetings in June and July stemmed from a solicitation for research and development projects showing how used batteries could cost-effectively integrate solar at small-to-medium commercial buildings.

With a goal of having 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, the commission is looking for ways to give degraded car batteries a second life. Typically, EV batteries are retired when they lose 70 percent to 80 percent of their capacity. However, they can be used for other applications like energy storage.
» Read article          

841 upheld
‘Enormous Step’ for Energy Storage as Court Upholds FERC Order 841, Opening Wholesale Markets
Federal regulators — not utilities and states — get to decide how batteries engage in transmission-scale power markets, the appeals court rules.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
July 10, 2020

In a victory for the energy storage industry, a federal appeals court has upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841, clearing the way for transmission grid operators across the country to open their markets to energy storage, including aggregated batteries connected at the distribution grid or behind customers’ meters.

Friday’s court opinion (PDF) declared that FERC has jurisdiction over how energy storage interacts with the interstate transmission markets it regulates, even if those systems are interconnected to the grid under regulations set by the states.

The court also rejected arguments by utility groups and state utility regulators seeking to opt out of allowing energy storage resources (ESRs) to participate under Order 841, which allows for units as small as 100 kilowatts to access wholesale markets.

Instead, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with FERC’s contention that “[k]eeping the gates open to all types of ESRs — regardless of their interconnection points in the electric energy systems — ensures that technological advances in energy storage are fully realized in the marketplace, and efficient energy storage leads to greater competition, thereby reducing wholesale rates.”
» Read article          
» Read the Circuit Court opinion

» More about energy storage             

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

dig this
Next Up for Electrification: Heavy-Duty Trucks and Construction Machinery
Electrified transport is not just about cars anymore, as California’s landmark Advanced Clean Trucks regulation shows.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
July 13, 2020

Electric models of work trucks, commercial vehicles, and construction machinery are hitting the market in greater numbers than ever before, and policymakers are growing increasingly optimistic about the sector. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s powerful air quality regulator, voted last month to require that every new truck sold in the state by 2045 be zero-emission, with truck makers forced to begin the transition in 2024.

Part of the challenge in electrifying transportation is simply getting enough good models on the market to attract customers and foster competition. In that realm, things are advancing: By 2023, there will be 19 all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell versions of heavy-duty trucks in production in North America, up from five Class 8 models available today, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

In Europe, meanwhile, there are early signs of progress on electrifying off-road construction equipment, with electric versions of excavators, loads and dumpers now available from a range of manufacturers including Hitachi, Komatsu and Volvo. Oslo launched the world’s first zero-emission construction site last year, and Norway’s capital city has mandated that by 2025 all public construction sites will operate only zero-emission construction machinery.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation             

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

greenwashing RNG
Report: Push for Renewable Natural Gas Is More Gas Industry ‘Greenwashing’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2020

“Renewable natural gas,” or RNG, is an alternative gas fuel that comes from landfills, manure, or synthetic processes. That’s opposed to the fossil gas that drillers traditionally pump out of underground reserves in oil and gas fields.

With “renewable” in the name, it may sound like a promising alternative to the fossil-based “natural” gas commonly used for heating and cooking in buildings. According to a new report from Earthjustice and Sierra Club, however, these fuels pitched as “renewable ” and environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil gas amount to a PR campaign meant to distract from efforts to convert the building sector to all electric power.

The report, published July 14, argues that RNG is an example of fossil fuel industry greenwashing and is not a viable solution for simply replacing fossil gas in buildings. According to the report, RNG is touted by gas utilities for the purpose of countering building electrification policies that restrict the use of gas in buildings for uses like heating, hot water, and cooking. Converting buildings to all-electric usage is recognized as a key climate strategy to shift away from fossil fuels, because electricity can be generated from a variety of sources that do not produce globe-warming emissions.
» Read article          
» Read the report

MDC methane leak
Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears
Oil and gas companies are hurtling toward bankruptcy, raising fears that wells will be left leaking planet-warming pollutants, with cleanup cost left to taxpayers.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2020

Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up.

Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.

The industry’s decline may be just beginning. Almost 250 oil and gas companies could file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next year, more than the previous five years combined, according to Rystad Energy, an analytics company. Rystad analysts now expect oil demand will begin falling permanently by decade’s end as renewable energy costs decline, energy efficiency improves, and efforts to fight climate change diminish an industry that has spent the past decade drilling thousands of wells, transforming the United States into the biggest oil producer in the world.

The environmental consequences of the industry’s collapse would be severe.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels                   

BIOMASS

pellet boom
The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.
Trump’s EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring burning biomass to be carbon neutral, as industry looks to expand its domestic markets.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
July 13, 2020

In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them.

On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia.

While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it’s still boom time.

The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of the U.S. Congress, is expected to propose securing that loophole with a new rule that details how burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, at least in the United States.

The industry wants to see regulations that will keep their businesses growing, including expanding U.S. energy markets that now barely exist. But some scientists and environmental groups argue that new EPA rules that are favorable to the industry would put the climate at further risk, along with forest ecosystems across biologically rich landscapes.
» Read article        

» More about biomass              

PLASTIC BAG BANS

reusable bags OK again in MA
Environmental groups hail Baker’s lift on reusable bags, and plastic bag ban suspension
By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
July 11, 2020

Shoppers once again can bring their own reusable bags to grocery stores and pharmacies and no longer will have the option to use single-use plastic bags in places with municipal bans on them.

Environmental groups are thrilled. They have been wary of what they say is an opportunistic plastics industry that, early on, used the coronavirus pandemic to stoke fear about the safety of reusable bags in an attempt to kill plastic bag bans.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday rescinded his March 10 emergency order that temporarily lifted the ban on plastic bags supplied in stores to protect the public and essential workers from infection with the coronavirus, back when there was less certainty about the risk of catching the virus from touching surfaces.
» Read article       

» More about plastic bans             

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

serious situation
‘Our life is plasticized’: New research shows microplastics in our food, water, air
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
July 15, 2020

In 1997, Charles Moore was sailing a catamaran from Hawaii to California when he and his crew got stuck in windless waters in the North Pacific Ocean. As they motored along, searching for a breeze to fill their sails, Moore noticed that the ocean was speckled with “odd bits and flakes,” as he describes it in his book, Plastic Ocean. It was plastic: drinking bottles, fishing nets, and countless pieces of broken-down objects.

“It wasn’t an eureka moment … I didn’t come across a mountain of trash,” Moore told Mongabay. “But there was this feeling of unease that this material had got [as] far from human civilization as it possibly could.”

Moore, credited as the person who discovered what’s now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, returned to the same spot two years later on a citizen science mission. When he and his crew collected water samples, they found that, along with larger “macroplastics,” the seawater was swirling with tiny plastic particles: microplastics, which are defined as anything smaller than 5 millimeters but bigger than 1 micron, which is 1/1000th of a millimeter. Microplastics can form when larger pieces of plastics break down into small particles, or when tiny, microscopic fibers detach from polyester clothing or synthetic fishing gear. Other microplastics are deliberately manufactured, such as the tiny plastic beads in exfoliating cleaners.

“That’s when we really had the eureka moment,” Moore said. “When we pulled in that first trawl, which was outside of what we thought was going to be the center [of the gyre], and found it was full of plastic. Then we realized, ‘Wow, this is a serious situation.’”

Plastic waste isn’t just leaking into the ocean; it’s also polluting freshwater systems and even raining or snowing down from the sky after getting absorbed into the atmosphere, according to another study led by Steve and Deonie Allen. With microplastics being so ubiquitous, it should come as no surprise that they are also present in the food and water we drink.
» Read article       

» More about plastics in the environment      

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Weekly News Check-In 7/3/20

banner 02

Welcome back.

There’s continued interest in the recent arrest of two environmental activists in Louisiana on felony terrorism charges for their non-violent action delivering a box of “nurdles” to a plastics industry lobbyist. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

We’re happy to report that the Holleran family has been compensated by the Williams Companies for hundreds of trees cut on their Pennsylvania farm to make way for a pipeline that was never built. The Constitution Pipeline was recently scrapped when New York refused to permit it. As a side note, we’re pretty sure Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker could use a similar argument to stop the Weymouth compressor.

Future cases like the Holleran family’s tree loss may have been averted by a recent DC Circuit Court ruling that found the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can no longer continue its use of “tolling orders” to indefinitely delay hearing landowner complaints, even while trees are cleared and pipelines are built across their properties.

This week, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a sweeping and serious new climate proposal, including measures for greening the economy in the post-pandemic recovery. The Trump administration and Senate Republicans declared the bill dead on arrival. You can express your opinion of that by voting on or before Tuesday, November 3, 2020…. Meanwhile, the need for transformative action is especially acute in coal country. A gradual contraction of that mining economy has recently morphed into freefall – with relief and a new economic model desperately needed.

Some of us have noticed recently that the latest generation of climate models occasionally predicts substantially more warming than prior models did. We found an interesting article exploring that anomaly, and revealing the devilish complexities around cloud effects. We also have a fascinating story of coal-driven climate change from 250 million years ago, plus encouraging news indicating that the Heartland Institute – a major force in climate denial – appears to be losing influence.

Electricity will not entirely replace fuels in the foreseeable future because some processes and modes of transport are just too energy intensive. Hydrogen is a strong alternative candidate, but it’s currently produced using fossil fuels. “Green” hydrogen is coming – our Clean Energy section offers a primer.

Energy efficiency upgrades, especially in commercial and industrial sectors, are among the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions. That is not necessarily true for existing low-income housing, but taken as a component of redressing social injustice, it’s a compelling program that deserves high priority. Another priority is greening the transportation sector. It’s at once the largest greenhouse gas emitter and Big Oil’s best customer. We’re seeing both progress and push-back.

We wrap up with a few articles about the fossil fuel industry. It’s a gutter tour through financial collapse, attempted influence against green legislation, and a tightening circle of litigation calling out years of fraud.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

outrage after terror charges
Outrage after “Cancer Alley” activists face terrorism charges for anti-plastics stunt
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 29, 2020

For decades, those on the frontline of the environmental justice struggle have faced legal intimidation and harassment for speaking out against chronic pollution in “Cancer Alley,” an 85-mile stretch of oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana.

According to the Times-Picayune, “[Anne] Rolfes was booked with terrorizing, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. [Kate] McIntosh was booked with principal to terrorizing.” Each was released after posting a USD 5,000 bond.

So what had they done to deserve a felony terrorism charge and potentially face years in prison?

Over six months ago, in December, they left a highly symbolic sealed box containing plastic pellet waste on the doorstep of a local oil and gas lobbyist to highlight the issue of chronic pollution in the region, which is home to some of the most impoverished and vulnerable communities in the United States.

In that sense [the charges] are SLAPPs — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. We know legal intimidation is getting worse in the US.

Indeed, as Earther points out: “In the past four years, 21 states have introduced criminal penalties for demonstrating near oil and gas infrastructure with many of those laws mirroring text drafted by the industry-backed American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2019, the federal government proposed legislation that would prescribe up to two decades in prison for ‘inhibiting the operation’ of pipelines — or even just ‘conspiring’ to do so. But even by those standards, these charges seem utterly gratuitous.”
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no eminent domain for corporate gain
Family that lost hundreds of trees to failed pipeline project settles with company, gets land back
Constitution pipeline builder cut 558 trees to make way for line that never got built
By Susan Phillips, NPR – State Impact
July 3, 2020

A Northeastern Pennsylvania family who watched as work crews, accompanied by armed federal marshals, destroyed their budding maple tree farm to make way for the failed Constitution Pipeline has settled with the company Williams for an undisclosed amount. A federal court has also vacated the eminent domain taking of about five acres, reversing an order it made more than five years ago.

“We’re really glad that it’s ended,” said Catherine Holleran, co-owner of the 23-acre property that has been in the family for 50 years. “We’ve gotten our land returned to us. That was our main objective right from the first.”

The Constitution Pipeline project would have carried Marcellus Shale gas  from Pennsylvania to New York state. Though the project received federal approval and the necessary permits from Pennsylvania regulators, New York blocked the pipeline by not issuing permits. Williams dropped the project in February.
» Read article     

» More about other pipelines             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

tolling orders in the dock
DC Circuit: FERC can’t indefinitely delay action on gas pipeline challenges
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
Updated July 1, 2020

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-1 on Tuesday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lacks authority to postpone rehearing decisions on natural gas projects through the issuance of tolling orders. The practice has delayed parties that oppose FERC rulings from challenging those decisions in court.

FERC Commissioner Richard Glick called the decision a “resounding victory” for landowners impacted by FERC’s pipeline orders. “It is important that these parties can go to court before a company can take their land & build a pipeline affecting their communities,” he said in a tweet.

Tolling orders are an accessible tool for FERC to delay judgement on rehearing requests when more time is needed to consider arguments regarding the legality of the commission’s actions. FERC attorney Robert Kennedy said tolling orders are “generally entered almost as a matter of routine.”

Petitioners argued that pipeline projects have been completed while opponents were unable to litigate because a tolling order was in place.

“This case is exceptionally important because it brings to light a habitual practice by [FERC] that raises serious questions of fairness, due process and legality. And the commission’s defense in no way addressed how [a FERC order] can be final for some but not for others,” NRDC’s Giannetti told Utility Dive.
 » Read article         

fifty k to twenty
NERA counters broad opposition to FERC net metering petition, reveals utility-linked member
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

Lawyers representing the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) on Tuesday filed their response to the almost 50,000 comments opposing the group’s petition to federal regulators to effectively upend net metering policies nationwide.

NERA has generated significant attention in the power sector with its April petition asking FERC to declare “exclusive” jurisdiction over behind-the-meter energy generation.

Bipartisan groups of state legislators, regulators, attorneys general, governors and other officials filed almost 100 comments in opposition. Advocacy groups, legal experts and academics filed over 500 comments, while almost 50,000 individuals also commented on the filing, all in opposition to the proposal.

Meanwhile, just 21 groups filed in support, 15 of which echoed comments written out by the Heartland Institute.

Net metering compensates customers who have rooftop solar or some other form of behind-the-meter resource for the energy it provides to the grid. Opponents of the practice say it can overcompensate distributed resource customers, leaving remaining customers to absorb the additional costs. The focus of the petition, however, is not on the merits of net metering, but whether FERC should have jurisdiction over those sales.
» Read article         
» Read the NERA filing with FERC          

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Democrat climate plan
Democrats to unveil bold new climate plan to phase out emissions by 2050
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
June 29, 2020

House Democrats will unveil an aggressive climate crisis “action plan” on Tuesday to nearly eliminate US emissions by 2050, according to summary documents reviewed by the Guardian.

The net-zero emissions goal is what United Nations leaders and the scientific community say the world must achieve to avoid the worst of rising temperatures, and it’s what the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, says he would pursue if he were to win the White House in November.

The more than 538-page report will include hundreds of policy recommendations focused on 12 key pillars, according to a separate outline.

Modeling on a subset of those recommendations by the firm Energy Innovation showed they would cut net US greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2010 levels in 2030, and 88% below 2010 levels in 2050, according to the report outline. The remaining 12% of emissions cuts would have to come from hard-to-decarbonize sectors, including heavy-duty truck transportation, industry and agriculture.

The proposal outline recommends a clean energy standard for net-zero electricity by 2040 and net-zero new buildings by 2030. It calls for only zero-emitting new vehicles to be sold by 2035, and it advocates for doubling funding for public transit.
» Read article         

slippery slope for coal country
A Call for Massive Reinvestment Aims to Reverse Coal Country’s Rapid Decline
The plan targets devastated communities from Virginia to Arizona. “There is a debt to be paid,” said one proponent.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
June 30, 2020

The global coronavirus that’s put tens of millions of Americans out of work and plunged the nation into a recession is speeding an ongoing transition away from coal.

With devastation in communities left behind, 80 local, regional and national organizations on Monday rolled out a National Economic Transition Platform to support struggling coal mining cities and towns, some facing severe poverty, in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and elsewhere.

Although it comes just four months before the presidential election in November, the platform doesn’t mention the Green New Deal, the proposed massive shift in federal spending to create jobs and hasten a transition to clean energy that’s divided Republicans and Democrats.

But Heidi Binko, executive director of the Just Transition Fund, which drafted by the plan with a wide range of partners, including labor unions, community organizations, business groups and environmental and tribal nonprofits, said it could be used as a template for part of the Green New Deal or any other legislative initiatives aimed at helping coal communities.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

running hot
Are New Extreme Global Warming Projections Correct?
By Jeff Berardelli, Yale Climate Connections, in EcoWatch
July 2, 2020

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world’s top climate modeling groups have been “running hot” – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

“It is concerning, as it increases the risk of more severe climate change impacts,” explains Dr. Andrew Gettelman, a cloud microphysics scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado.

As a result, there’s been a real urgency to answer this important question in climate science: Are there processes in some new models that need correcting, or is this enhanced warming a real threat?
» Read article         

Siberian Traps
Ancient coal fires led to prehistoric extinctions
Did eruptions set ancient coal fires burning? Global heating happened 250 million years ago, just as it is happening now.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
June 29, 2020

Geologists have linked one of the planet’s most devastating events to the burning of fossil fuels, as ancient coal fires set in train a global extinction wave.

Emissions from the fires on a massive scale can be connected to catastrophic events that extinguished most of life on Earth – and this time, humans were not to blame.

It all happened more than 250 million years ago, at the close of the  Permian period. And this time the match that lit the flame was [a] massive but slow volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia, a burning that continued for two million years.
» Read article

heartland twilight
Hard Times in the Climate Denial Business for the Heartland Institute
Shorter Conference, Fake Sponsor, Low Attendance, and a Lot of Gray Haired Men
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2019

Last week, the Heartland Institute was again trumpeting climate science denial at its 13th “International Conference on Climate Change” at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. But by a number of measures, the Chicago-based free market think tank’s science denial doesn’t exactly seem to be a growing — or cohesive — movement at this point.

That’s even with more media coverage than five years ago, and with friends in high places. In early 2017, following the election of President Trump, attendees of the Heartland Institute conference were clearly excited to have a climate denier in the White House. Frontline reported that the mood at the conference was “jubilant.”

Even last year, the organization was projecting an air of optimism. Former Congressman Tim Huelskamp was still Heartland president and confidently declaring victory for the climate denial movement.

“It took a while, but we think we’ve won the battle — Al Gore was wrong,” Huelskamp said.

So, how are things going for Heartland these days?
» Read article         

fading winters
Fading Winters, Hotter Summers Make the Northeast America’s Fastest Warming Region
Connecticut’s average temperature has risen 2 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, double the average for the Lower 48 states.
By Abby Weiss, InsideClimate News
June 27, 2020

Connecticut is one of the fastest-warming states, in the fastest warming region, in the contiguous United States. An analysis last year by The Washington Post found that neighboring Rhode Island was the first state among the lower 48 whose average annual temperature had warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius since 1895. New Jersey was second, the Post found, followed by Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts.

The Post analysis also found that the New York City area, including Long Island and suburban counties in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, was among about half a dozen hot spots nationally where warming has already exceeded 2 degrees. The others are the greater Los Angeles area, the high desert in Oregon, the Western Rocky Mountains, an area from Montana to Minnesota along the Canadian border and the Northeast Shore of Lake Michigan.

Climate scientists don’t fully understand why Connecticut and the other Northeast states have warmed so dramatically, but they offer an array of explanations, from warm winters that produce less snow and ice (and thus reflect less heat back into space) to warming ocean temperatures and  changes in both the jet stream and the Gulf Stream.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen explained
So, What Exactly Is Green Hydrogen?
For a colorless gas, hydrogen gets described in very colorful terms. A new GTM series helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
June 29, 2020

According to the nomenclature used by market research firm Wood Mackenzie, most of the gas that is already widely used as an industrial chemical is either brown, if it’s made through the gasification of coal or lignite; or gray, if it is made through steam methane reformation, which typically uses natural gas as the feedstock. Neither of these processes is exactly carbon-friendly.

A purportedly cleaner option is known as blue hydrogen, where the gas is produced by steam methane reformation but the emissions are curtailed using carbon capture and storage. This process could roughly halve the amount of carbon produced, but it’s still far from emissions-free.

Green hydrogen, in contrast, could almost eliminate emissions by using renewable energy — increasingly abundant and often generated at less-than-ideal times — to power the electrolysis of water.

A more recent addition to the hydrogen-production palette is turquoise. This is produced by breaking methane down into hydrogen and solid carbon using a process called pyrolysis. Turquoise hydrogen might seem relatively low in terms of emissions because the carbon can either be buried or used for industrial processes such as steelmaking or battery manufacturing, so it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere.

However, recent research shows turquoise hydrogen is actually likely to be no more carbon-free than the blue variety, owing to emissions from the natural-gas supplies and process heat required.
» Read article         

looking ahead
‘Simple’ or a ‘band-aid’? ISO-NE leans toward Eversource/National Grid $49M solution for Mystic plant replacement
New England’s grid operator chose the lowest-cost proposal, but one developer says that doesn’t make it the most effective or efficient.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

ISO New England in June identified National Grid and Eversource’s “Ready Path Solution” as the most cost-effective way to address transmission reliability issues following the planned retirement of the Mystic Generating Station in 2024.

The $49 million project is inexpensive and relatively simple compared to 35 other proposals, which carried price tags up to $745 million.

The ISO is expected to issue a final decision July 17 and is accepting comments through today. At least one competing developer is unhappy with the grid operator’s initial determination: Officials at Anbaric Development Partners say the Ready Path approach is a “band-aid” that will not address the region’s longer-term energy needs.

According to Anbaric, its project would eliminate the need for $620 million in near-term system upgrades the ISO will need to address to incorporate offshore wind being procured by the region.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

low income EE
Utility efficiency programs offer model to merge climate, racial justice solutions
Many states require utilities to help low-income customers conserve energy despite higher costs and barriers.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
Photo By Dennis Schroeder / NREL
July 2, 2020

As urgency grows to simultaneously address climate change and racial justice through proposals like the Green New Deal, low-income energy efficiency programs provide a potential example of how to merge the priorities.

The time is right to bolster such programs since the pandemic’s economic effects mean more households will likely need assistance with energy bills, advocates say.

Studies — including a recent one by Lawrence Berkeley Livermore National Laboratory — show that dollar for dollar, the biggest efficiency gains can be made by investing in commercial and industrial energy conservation, while efficiency programs targeting low-income customers are among the least cost-effective.

However, many consumer groups, utilities, researchers and other stakeholders agree: The benefits provided by helping low-income customers are wide-ranging, and especially important to advance racial equity and protect vulnerable people in times like these.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

not for the US market
Europe’s Demand for Electric Cars May Get a Jolt From COVID-19 Response

Stimulus packages, falling costs and rising environmental awareness may rev Europe’s EV market quicker than expected, analysts say.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
July 3, 2020

Far from depressing the market, the response to the COVID-19 outbreak looks set to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles across Europe.

The combined market share of EVs and plug-in hybrids jumped 6.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, faster than the 2.5 percent growth seen in the same quarter last year, according to sales figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA).

And that was before big pandemic-recovery stimulus plans began targeting the EV market. In contrast, total sales of new passenger plunged 41.5 percent between mid-March and the end of May, according to the ACEA.

But in the U.K., where monthly data is available from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, battery electric vehicles are performing well. In May, new petrol and diesel registrations were down around 90 percent compared to the same time last year. BEVs were up 21.5 percent. A tax break for corporate buyers that started in April won’t have hurt.

“In the very short term, we have seen that EV uptake rates have been immune to the drop-off in new car sales,” John Murray, head of EV research at the consultancy Delta-EE, said in an interview.
Blog editor’s note: Sadly, the VW ID-3 featured in the photo will not be available in the U.S., because Americans no longer buy enough small cars to justify the marketing and U.S.-specific design expenses.
» Read article          

house green transport bill
Oil Industry and Allies Look to Pump Brakes on Democrats’ Plans to Move Transportation Off Petroleum
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 2, 2020

This week Congressional Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives put forward policies, including passing a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill on July 1, aimed at cleaning up the number one source of carbon pollution in America — the transportation sector. The oil and gas industry and its supporters quickly weighed in, framing “the critical role” of the industry in addressing climate pollution and in some cases outright attacking these plans’ efforts to move away from petroleum-powered transport.

It is the first time a body in Congress has set a deadline for selling 100 percent zero-emission vehicles, which include electric or fuel cell cars. Over a dozen countries have already set timetables for phasing out conventional petroleum-powered vehicles.

The chances that the infrastructure package and many other policies outlined in the Democrats’ climate plan will become law under the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump are very slim to none. According to The Hill, Trump slammed the infrastructure package as “full of wasteful ‘Green New Deal’ initiatives” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called it “nonsense.” Both Trump and McConnell receive sizable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Oil industry trade associations and front groups funded by the oil and gas industry are already coming out against the Democrats’ climate plan and infrastructure package.
» Read article          

barnstorm buzz
The largest electric plane ever to fly
As electric planes pass another milestone, Future Planet asks how long will it be before they are ready for everyday aviation? And just how far can they go?
By Chris Baraniuk, BBC / Future Planet
June 17, 2020

At a large airfield surrounded by farmland in central Washington State, an electric aeroplane recently made history. It is the biggest commercial plane ever to take off and fly powered by electricity alone. For 30 minutes on 28 May, it soared above Grant County International Airport as crowds of onlookers clapped and cheered.

The biggest electric plane ever, huh? Well, it was a modified Cessna Caravan 208B – which can take a maximum of nine passengers. And the test aircraft only had a seat installed for the pilot.

It’s a far cry from the 200-300-seater jet that takes you on weekend city breaks or work trips, never mind the huge double-decker planes that cross continents. But the “eCaravan” test flight was a success. The two companies behind it, AeroTEC and magniX, which supplied the electric motor, are chuffed with the results. Roei Ganzarski, chief executive of magniX, pointed out in a statement that the price of flying the Cessna clocked in at a mere $6 (£4.80). Had they used conventional engine fuel, the 30-minute flight would have cost $300-400 (£240-320).
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

over-hyped gas
“Gas is over-supplied, over-hyped, and out of time”
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 2, 2020

For years, Big Oil denied there was a problem with climate change and carried on drilling, deliberately creating doubt over the science. They could have acted decades ago, but they did not.

As our climate crisis intensified, the industry shifted its public relations strategy and started touting natural gas as a so-called “clean” bridge fuel, a stepping stone if you like, from dirty oil to renewables. There were major flaws in that argument, that gas is neither green nor clean, as OCI and others have repeatedly pointed out.

The other blatantly obvious flaw that climate activists pointed out was that the climate emergency was so urgent that we did not have time to carry on the fossil fuel age in any shape or form, whether oil or gas, and we should be investing in renewables now.

Two weeks ago, there was what I termed an “historic moment” when BP slashed up to USD 17.5 billion off the value of its assets after lowering its longer term price assumptions in the wake of COVID-19. In the words of the Financial Times, BP “expects” the pandemic “to hasten the shift away from fossil fuels.” BP’s assets were essentially stranded.

Whereas BP’s write-offs were largely in dirty heavy oil and offshore, what will be sending shocks waves through the industry is that Shell’s write-downs are in gas.
» Read article          

shell too
BP and Shell Write-Off Billions in Assets, Citing Covid-19 and Climate Change
The moves were seen as a possible turning point as plummeting demand makes big oil companies admit they’re not worth what they used to be.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
July 2, 2020

Two of the world’s largest energy companies have sent their strongest signals yet that the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate a global transition away from oil, and that billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel assets could go to waste.

This week, Royal Dutch Shell said it would slash the value of its oil and gas assets by up to $22  billion amid a crash in oil prices. The announcement came two weeks after a similar declaration by BP, saying it would reduce the value of its assets by up to $17.5 billion. Both companies said the accounting moves were a response not only to the coronavirus-driven recession, but also to global efforts to tackle climate change.

Some analysts say the global oil and gas industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation and is finally being forced to reckon with a future of dwindling demand for its products.
» Read article          

Senator Barrett
Fossil Fuel Lobby Is Targeting the State Senate’s Climate Bill
Mike Barrett represents the towns of Bedford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Concord, Lincoln, Waltham, Weston, large parts of Lexington and Sudbury
By State Senator Mike Barrett, Patch
June 29, 2020

On Thursday, June 25, an organization named the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy criticized Massachusetts State Senate climate legislation now pending before the House of Representatives. In response, State Senators Mike Barrett and Jason Lewis issued the following statement.

In January of this year, the Massachusetts State Senate passed An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy, now pending before the House of Representatives. The Senate’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is radical not in its ideology but in its seriousness; we’re determined to get emissions down across the Massachusetts economy, transportation and buildings included.

We should add that the senators who wrote the legislation sat down with a good many commercial interests, listened to what they had to say, and made changes. At the time of the bill’s final passage — with the votes of both Democrats and Republicans, and with only two dissents in the 40-member Senate — its seriousness of purpose seemed to impress the business community without unsettling it.

But that was then. With the onset of COVID-19, conservative elements are eager to exploit an opening. Two years ago, an investigative report in the Huffington Post blasted the then-new Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy as a “front for gas interests,” identifying, as major funders of the group, Eversource, National Grid, and Enbridge, the pipeline conglomerate behind the natural gas compressor station project in Weymouth.

Last week the Coalition surfaced anew, patching together a limp critique of Next-Gen that seems less about the bill and more about the Coalition’s longer-range objective, which is to keep fossil fuels at the heart of Massachusetts energy policy.
» Read article           

Joe Camel meets Don Fuego
Oil and gas coloring books teach kids safety, fossil fuel dependence
By Kate Yoder, Grist
June 29, 2020

It’s finally summer: The time of year when your kids run through the sprinklers, munch on watermelon, and whip out their crayons to scribble in coloring book pages of fracking wells and gas pipes. Wait, what?

Last week, Puget Sound Energy, the Seattle-area utility, shared an odd activity on Twitter: “Color your way through Natural Gas Town and learn how natural gas provides energy to your neighborhood!” The tweet, later deleted, linked to an online coloring page showing a detailed map of how natural gas lines run underneath your yard and into your home. The image is from Energy Safe Kids, a national program that teaches children safety tips — like how to sniff out a gas leak and avoid pummeling natural gas meters with water balloons.

The Energy Safe Kids site includes an interactive coloring page for the friendly gas flame named “Don Fuego,” a video game called “Gas Dash” in which your character hurdles gas meters and fire extinguishers while riding a bike, and a word search that challenges you to find “butane,” “pilot light,” and “cogeneration.”
» Read article

arrival of the reckoning
Fracking pioneer Chesapeake files for bankruptcy protection
By CATHY BUSSEWITZ and TALI ARBEL, Associated Press
June 28, 2020, Associated Press

Chesapeake Energy, a shale drilling pioneer that helped to turn the United States into a global energy powerhouse, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Oklahoma City-based company said Sunday that it was a necessary decision given its debt. Its debt load is currently nearing $9 billion. It has entered a plan with lenders to cut $7 billion of its debt and said it will continue to operate as usual during the bankruptcy process.

The oil and gas company was a leader in the fracking boom, using unconventional techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground, a method that has come under scrutiny because of its environmental impact.

Other wildcatters followed in Chesapeake’s path, racking up huge debts to find oil and gas in fields spanning New Mexico, Texas, the Dakotas and Pennsylvania. A reckoning is now coming due with those massive debts needing to be serviced by Chesapeake and those that followed its path.
» Read article           

we sued - DC
Both Minnesota and D.C. sue Big Oil for “campaign of deception” over climate change
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 25, 2020

Big Oil’s decades-old campaign to deny, deceive, and delay action on climate change has been thrust into the spotlight again after both Attorney Generals for Minnesota and the District of Columbia (D.C.) launched legal action against the industry within twenty-four hours of each other.

First yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed the suit against Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and three Koch Industries for pushing climate denial for decades.

The 84 page document did not mince its words, arguing, “that the economic devastation and public-health impacts from climate change” in Minnesota “were caused, in large part, by a campaign of deception that Defendants orchestrated and executed with disturbing success.”

Dating back decades, instead of warning Minnesota about the risks of climate change, the “Defendants realized massive profits through largely unabated and expanded extraction, production, promotion, marketing, and sale of their fossil-fuel products.”

The suit cited scientific evidence dating back to the fifties and sixties. “By 1965, Defendants and their predecessors-in-interest were aware that the scientific community had found that fossil-fuel products, if used profligately, would cause global warming by the end of the century, and that such global warming would have wide-ranging and costly consequences,” the suit said.

Instead of acting responsibly, the companies repeated the playbook of the tobacco industry and funded “fraudulent scientific research” in order to create uncertainty.

And instead of acting in the public interest, and investing in alternatives to fossil fuels, the Defendants just carried on drilling for oil and gas, making extreme profits.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 5/29/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

This week’s post is all about opposing forces.

Presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit if elected – signaling an about-face from the Trump administration’s blanket support for fossil fuel infrastructure build out. We explored further to look broadly at the road to a greener economy – finding obstacles already positioned by financial, corporate, and political interests deeply invested in the high-carbon status quo.

An interesting article describes how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) embraced the discredited research findings of contrarian scientist James Enstrom to justify its recent refusal to tighten clean air regulations of fine particulate pollution – ignoring the strong recommendations of credible environmental scientists. Also on the subject of federal regulatory agencies disregarding public interest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is being challenged by Congress and environmental groups on net metering and gas infrastructure issues.

The idea that the climate crisis can be resolved by simply planting a trillion trees has gained traction recently, especially among groups who see it as a free pass from having to decarbonize the economy. We offer an article that looks under the surface of that appealing message to reveal a much more complicated reality. Spoiler alert: we need to decarbonize the economy and do lots of work on forests.

Along those lines, our clean energy and clean transportation sections offer some looks ahead, and we take a peek backward to review the recent history of high performance batteries.

Last week, we carried an article about solar and wind projects on Federal lands, blindsided by a sudden demand for retroactive rent payments. In a pairing that puts fossil fuel industry influence into perspective, a report shows that public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide royalty relief for oil and gas companies during the coronavirus pandemic. Life is bland without irony, so we provide links to both stories.

We close with a report on emerging plastics alternatives from sustainable sources like seaweed and mushrooms.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

XL pull the plug
Biden White House would yank Keystone XL permit
The Monday statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how he would handle the project.
By Ben Lefebvre, Politico
May 18, 2020

Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project, his campaign told POLITICO on Monday.

The statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how the presumptive Democratic nominee would handle the project that has been stalled for over a decade if he wins the White House in November.

Biden’s opposition also raises the stakes for the TC Energy’s efforts to start construction on the cross-border portion of the pipeline this year that would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the U.S.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines            

GREENING THE ECONOMY

G20 fossil finance
New Report Details How G20 Nations Spend $77 Billion a Year to Finance Fossil Fuels
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
May 28, 2020

Even after the world’s largest economies adopted the landmark Paris agreement to tackle the climate crisis in late 2015, governments continued to pour $77 billion a year in public finance into propping up the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Wednesday.

Despite their public commitments to the Paris agreement, “G20 countries continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry even as it makes bad business decisions that hurt people and the planet,” FOE U.S. senior international policy analyst Kate DeAngelis said in a statement.

“Our planet is hurtling towards climate catastrophe and these countries are pouring gasoline on the fire to the tune of billions,” she said. “We must hold G20 governments accountable for their promises to move countries toward clean energy. They have an opportunity to reflect and change their financing so that it supports clean energy solutions that will not exacerbate bad health outcomes and put workers at greater risk.”
» Read article      
» Read the report

bad bet on fossils
Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Bad Bet
The Fed should not be directing money to further entrench the carbon economy.
By Sarah Bloom Raskin, New York Times – Opinion
May 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable the United States is to sudden, catastrophic shocks. Climate change poses the next big threat. Ignoring it, particularly to the benefit of fossil fuel interests, is a risk we can’t afford.

The Fed is singularly poised to seed strategic investments in future economic stability. Oil, gas and coal companies are set or are seeking to receive billions in federal aid — including at least $3.9 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program and at least $1.9 billion in tax credits tucked into the CARES Act passed by Congress. Their allies in Congress and the administration have lobbied for changes to several of the Fed’s lending programs, including relaxing the Main Street Lending Program. Among those eligible for government assistance are many fossil fuel companies that were in deep financial trouble long before the pandemic began.

These concessions to the fossil fuel industry are a risky investment in the past. The Fed is ignoring clear warning signs about the economic repercussions of the impending climate crisis by taking action that will lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when even in the short term, fossil fuels are a terrible investment.
» Read article       

Spain to join group of first movers off oil and gas
By Romain Ioualalen, Oil Change International
May 26, 2020

On May 19, 2020, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved a Draft Bill on Climate Change and Energy Transition which sets out the country’s overarching climate policies. If the law is adopted, Spain will join a growing group of countries and financial institutions putting an end to oil and gas production.

Faced with the twin challenges of an unprecedented economic and social crisis and an ever-worsening climate emergency, governments have a duty to build a resilient economic model that protects their citizens’ future. There is no room in that future for a volatile industry whose products are directly responsible for the climate crisis and that is faced with a bleak future as demand for oil reaches its peak.

While the proposed emissions reductions trajectory is not in line with the cuts required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Spain’s proposed measures are nonetheless a welcome example of how countries can plan a fossil-free recovery. Under the proposed law, Spain would tackle both the demand for (by promoting electric vehicles, establishing alternative fuel targets for the air transport) and supply of fossil fuels thus highlighting the need to combine both approaches to address fossil fuel lock-in.
» Read article       

far out
Labor Helps Obama Energy Secretary Push and Profit from ‘Net Zero’ Fossil Fuels
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
May 24, 2020

Progressive activists have called for a Green New Deal, a linking of the U.S. climate and labor movements to create an equitable and decarbonized economy and move away from fossil fuels to address the climate crisis. But major labor unions and President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary have far different plans.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) — a nonprofit founded and run by former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — launched the Labor Energy Partnership. Unlike those calling for a Green New Deal, though, this alliance supports increased fracking for oil and gas, as well as other controversial technologies that critics say prop up fossil fuels. It’s also an agenda matching a number of the former Energy Secretary’s personal financial investments.
Blog editor’s note: There will be headwinds on the way to a greener economy. Not all will originate from the usual suspects – here’s something to keep an eye on.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

J Enstrom
How a Contrarian Scientist Helped Trump’s EPA Defy Mainstream Science
James Enstrom’s work on particle pollution’s health effects contradicts the findings of dozens of studies, but that hasn’t stopped the agency from relying on it.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

When, last month, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the agency’s decision that it would not raise the standards for air pollution because the science of PM 2.5 was too uncertain to justify doing so, he was relying in part on Enstrom’s work. Enstrom’s research was among the studies cited by Wheeler’s hand-picked committee of science advisers to raise doubts about the PM 2.5 consensus.

More broadly, Enstrom’s work has helped provide the underpinning for the Trump administration’s wide-ranging assault on environmental protection policy, from its retreat on climate change to its current effort to restrict the type of science used by the EPA by disqualifying studies that critics say are some of the most important in human health science.
» Read article       

» More about EPA        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

net metering and FERC
24 Congressional Democrats urge FERC to reject net metering overhaul
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
May 28, 2020

A group of Democratic senators and representatives on Tuesday wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, urging the regulatory body to shut down a net metering proposal that experts say would effectively overturn the policy nationally.

The proposal at hand would subject any behind-the-meter, or customer-sited, energy generation to FERC jurisdiction, arguing that power production constitutes a wholesale sale. In the letter, Congress Members questioned FERC’s authority to make such a rule and also asked the commission to ask the petitioner, New England Ratepayers Association (NERA), to disclose its members.

“If FERC granted NERA’s petition, it would overturn long-held precedent and give the federal government decision-making power that has long belonged to the states, including the authority to set rates, terms, and conditions for programs,” the letter reads. “These decisions are best left to state regulators.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter

drilled podcast
The U.S. Government Has Been Rubber-Stamping New Oil and Gas Projects—This Lawsuit Hopes to Change That
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News podcast
May 8, 2020

A lawsuit filed against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over a small project in Massachusetts could have big implications. It aims to force FERC to comply with an order the courts gave it back in 2017, and that it’s been ignoring ever since: to evaluate the overall emissions and climate change impact of any new energy project. The case has particular relevance right now as FERC has been rapidly approving every project that crosses its desk. Adam Carlesco, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, joins to walk us through the case.
» Listen to podcast       

» More about FERC      

CLIMATE

trillion tree diversion
Can Planting a Trillion Trees Stop Climate Change? Scientists Say it’s a Lot More Complicated
Compared with cutting fossil fuels, tree planting would play only a small role in combating the climate crisis.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 27, 2020

It seems simple. Plant enough trees to soak up all the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels and people can forget about global warming and get on with their lives.

Climate scientists and many Democrats on the House committee greeted… proposed tree planting legislation skeptically, saying that the only real climate solution is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero as soon as possible.

Forests can only be part of a long-term plan to curb global warming after that happens, Yale evolutionary biologist and ecologist Carla Staver testified at the Trillion Trees Act hearing.

“Our primary focus must be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels,” she said, adding that any plausible attempt to limit global warming within our lifespan must also include forest protection and reforestation. “However, it is also crystal clear that tree planting alone will not fix our ongoing climate emergency,” she said.

In February, a coalition of 95 environmental groups sent a letter to Congress opposing the Trillion Trees Act as the “worst kind of greenwashing and a complete distraction from urgently needed reductions in fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter        

seafloor ripples
Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise
A study of seafloor ripples suggests that ice shelves can retreat six miles per year, a quantum increase over today’s rates.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

Climate researchers racing to calculate how fast and how high the sea level will rise found new clues on the seafloor around Antarctica. A study released today suggests that some of the continent’s floating ice shelves can, during eras of rapid warming, melt back by six miles per year, far faster than any ice retreat observed by satellites.

As global warming speeds up the Antarctic meltdown, the findings “set a new upper limit for what the worst-case might be,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The estimate of ice shelf retreat is based on a pattern of ridges discovered on the seafloor near the Larsen Ice Shelf. The spacing and size of the ridges suggest they were created as the floating ice shelves rose and fell with the tides while rapidly shrinking back from the ocean. In findings published today in Science, the researchers estimate that to corrugate the seafloor in this way, the ice would have retreated by more than 150 feet per day for at least 90 days.
» Read article       

9th circuit
Climate Liability Cases Score a Win with 9th Circuit Decision to Keep Them in State Court
By Karen Savage, Drilled News
May 26, 2020

Six California municipalities scored crucial wins on Tuesday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent their climate liability suits against several fossil fuel companies back to state court, rejecting the companies’ arguments that the cases belong in federal court.

The 9th Circuit is the second appellate court to rule that climate-related lawsuits brought by municipalities across the country belong in state court. The 4th Circuit ruled earlier this year that a case filed by Baltimore against more than two dozen fossil fuel producers and distributors belongs in state court. The 10th Circuit is currently considering whether a suit filed by three Colorado communities belongs in state or federal court, and the 1st Circuit is reviewing the issue in a case filed by Rhode Island.

“I think a lot of plaintiffs were watching very carefully to see what happened in the 9th Circuit to see how this question of jurisdiction was resolved,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
» Read article

» More about climate     

CLEAN ENERGY

PTC guidelines
US Treasury Gives Renewables More Time to Meet Tax Credit Deadlines
The wind and solar sectors both got something to like in new tax-credit guidelines issued by the Treasury Department.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 28, 2020

The U.S. Treasury Department released much-anticipated guidance Wednesday that offers onshore wind and solar projects more time to meet tax credit deadlines.

Wind was the big winner: onshore projects that started construction in 2016 and 2017 will now have five rather than four years to finish projects, while still receiving production tax credit (PTC) benefits. But solar developers got some help too, with the IRS allowing for investment tax credit-qualified equipment bought in 2019 to be delivered into October and providing added assurance that developers will receive benefits as long as they have “reasonable” expectation that equipment will be delivered in the required timeframe.

The guidance, requested by members of Congress and encouraged by the clean energy industry, should offer developers comfort as they recover from extended coronavirus-related shutdowns.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

morning traffic
States Sue to Block Trump From Weakening Fuel Economy Rules
At stake in the lawsuit is the single biggest effort by the United States to fight the climate crisis.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 27, 2020

Led by California, nearly two dozen states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, arguing that the move is based on erroneous science, and endangers public health.

The lawsuit escalates a standoff between President Trump, who has moved to undo a long list of environmental regulations since taking office, and a coalition of Democratic states, which have gone to court to stop him.
» Read article      
» Read the petition     

CAL
California Leads Multi-State Lawsuit Against Trump Admins’ Clean Car Rollback
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
May 27, 2020

A coalition of 23 states plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Obama-era clean car standards. Those standards mandated stronger reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from new light-duty cars and trucks — reductions equivalent to corporate average fuel economy improvements of 5 percent annually.

But on March 31 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule requiring only minimal fuel economy increases of 1.5% annually, which the agencies’ own analyses showed would result in more pollution and premature deaths.
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ENERGY STORAGE

better and cheaper
The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas
The economics of cheaper batteries—and why they’re good news for the planet.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARSTechnica
May 22, 2020

In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That’s a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.

That’s the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

public lands fossil giveaway
Ailing Oil Companies Get a Pass on Royalties
Federal public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide pandemic relief, according to documents obtained by High Country News.
By Nick Bowlin, High Country News, in Drilled News
May 27, 2020

The day after oil futures went negative, Nicholas Douglas, a top-ranking national BLM official, emailed the agency’s Western state directors. This email thread, obtained by High Country News, shows the agency encouraging public-land drilling, despite the continued glut in the global market.

The new policies instruct state offices to let companies apply for lease suspensions and avoid royalty payments, which are the legally mandated taxes on the revenue from resources drilled or mined on public lands. Several BLM state offices confirmed to High Country News that they are carrying out these policies.

These new directives are not outliers. Despite the pandemic, the BLM appears to be encouraging public-lands drilling, rather than pressing operators to shut in wells and not produce oil. In the past few months, the BLM held lease sales in Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. A September auction could make more than 100,000 acres of public land available for drilling just outside Canyonlands and Arches national parks in Utah. No such aid has been offered to renewable energy industries, which have also suffered in the downturn. Instead, the Interior Department hit solar and wind projects on federal land with large retroactive rent bills in mid-May, Reuters reported.
Blog editor’s note: we recently carried that Reuters story about retroactive rents for green energy installations on public lands. Refresh your memory here.
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PLASTIC ALTERNATIVES

 

tired of plastic
Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You
Companies are developing alternatives to single-use plastic, and with options including seaweed and mushroom tissue, consumer interest isn’t disappearing, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
By Tatiana Schlossberg, New York Times
May 27, 2020

The pandemic came at a time when momentum was building for a shift away from plastic, with many consumers demanding alternatives or halting use of products (plastic straws) altogether. Although about 72 percent of Americans say they actively try to limit their plastic use, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, the amount of plastic waste per person has remained constant: about 4 ounces per person every day, for a total of about 15.6 million tons in 2017.

But to those who are working on alternatives to single-use plastic, the consumer momentum is not disappearing. In fact, founders of several plastic-alternative companies said that they had seen even more interest from consumers in their products, and a renewed commitment from some of the larger companies they work with to press on.
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