Tag Archives: just transition

Weekly News Check-In 10/22/21

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Welcome back.

Legal actions against fossil fuel projects are more likely to carry weight when a plaintiff can convince a court that a project has caused them harm – or would in the future if it were built. An interesting and encouraging trend has been expanding the definition of who might suffer harm beyond individual persons or local communities. Recent suits have claimed that all young people, or even nature itself, have a right to protection. While these efforts have yielded mixed results, they open the possibility of addressing climate change and the extinction crisis simultaneously.

New pipeline projects in particular are facing stepped-up scrutiny in states like Massachusetts, where utility incentives that traditionally encouraged these projects are suddenly at odds with new climate laws mandating a rapid transition away from the fuels those pipelines deliver. This idea that investments in polluting fuels can still be profitable even though they must eventually fail animates the divestment movement. Right now, some of the worlds biggest banks that are still financing fossil fuels are among the sponsors of UK’s Green Investment Summit. It’s a cheeky bit of greenwashing that activists are not granting a free pass.

Almost every facet of modern human existence is currently reliant on fossil fuels, and greening the economy at the required pace to avert disaster demands political leadership on a grand scale. This makes the Canadian province of Alberta particularly interesting to watch: traditionally conservative and awash in money from its tar sands oil resources, it just elected a forward-thinking new mayor for Calgary who promises to immediately declare a climate emergency. And considerable pressure is building to create a just transition for Canadian fossil industry workers who will be displaced by the coming changes.

Closer to home, politics and politicians are less inspiring. We take a look at the climate cost of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s refusal to back President Biden’s proposed Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP) – considered key to rapidly cleaning up and modernizing the US electric grid.

A study has found significant health problems associated with burning wood for home heat.  We carried this article in our Energy Efficiency section as a reminder that better insulation and air sealing, combined with heat pumps, offer a much greener and safer way to ride out the winter. Sure, keep an efficient, EPA approved wood stove for emergency backup, but avoid burning wood whenever possible.

The commercial end of the wood burning spectrum involves incinerating woody biomass for electricity. Drax, the UK’s largest biomass energy facility, claims it can make the process carbon neutral (even negative!) by capturing carbon dioxide from their smokestacks. We offer two recent studies disproving that claim.

The rapid growth of the electric vehicle market is beginning to produce what will soon be mountains of retired lithium-ion batteries. Developing a green, circular supply chain hinges on recycling plans that are already under development, but those recycled materials have to find their way into new batteries. That requires a path to high quality end products. An encouraging new study shows how recycled materials were used to create a battery cell that performs just as well as, and lasts over 50% longer than batteries made with all virgin materials.

Stay tuned on October 28th when fossil fuel executives testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, where the various Titans will be obliged to explain their decades-long disinformation and climate denial campaigns. Their statements will be judged against a trove of recently published evidence proving they were all aware of the dangers of climate change. The moment is reminiscent of another pivotal hearing in 1994, when the heads of Big Tobacco lined up and testified under oath that each had no idea nicotine was addictive. Of course it was a lie. The industry’s precipitous decline and big dollar settlements followed shortly afterward.

We’ll wrap up with a report from Beyond Plastics, showing how the predicted growth of the plastics market will give it a carbon footprint larger than US coal power by 2030 unless something is done to change the trajectory.

button - BEAT News For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletter from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)!

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

sections
To Stop Line 3 Across Minnesota, an
Indigenous Tribe Is Asserting the Legal Rights of Wild Rice
In the first “rights of nature” case filed in a U.S. tribal court, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is hoping to establish precedent in support of an unorthodox but growing legal movement.
By Katie Surma, Inside Climate News
October 22, 2021

Late last month, Enbridge Energy announced that it had completed construction of its Line 3 oil pipeline replacement across Minnesota, despite strenuous opposition from Native American tribes and environmental activists.

But a permit issued to Enbridge for construction of the pipeline is being challenged in the White Earth Nation tribal court, in an unconventional case that asserts the legal rights of Manoomin, or wild rice, to “exist, flourish, regenerate and evolve.” The plant, which “grows on water,” is the lead plaintiff in the case, joined by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and others.

The case is the first rights of nature enforcement action filed in a tribal court and is notable because the plaintiffs claim that acts taken by the state of Minnesota on non-reservation land have impinged on the rights of Manoomin, which are protected under a 2018 White Earth Nation tribal law.

Rights of nature laws have taken root in more than 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across the country in, among other states, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Globally, rights of nature legislation, judicial rulings and constitutional amendments have emerged in Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, India, New Zealand, Ecuador and Uganda, among other countries.
» Read article                

Rights of the Child
UN Committee Denies Climate Change Petition From Greta Thunberg and World Youth Activists
By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
October 18, 2021

In a “stunning” and upsetting decision, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child refused to hear the case of 16 youth from around the world who are threatened by the climate crisis.

The international human rights body is tasked with protecting children’s rights. As such, a joint petition from youth including Greta Thunberg argued that five G20 countries — Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey — are violating their rights to life, health, and culture under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would keep global temperature increases below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The petition called out five countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but that continue to pollute and use fossil fuels. By doing so, they are not taking action to fulfill their obligations under the Convention to provide for the health and well-being of children as the climate crisis intensifies, Earthjustice reported.

In their petition, the youth requested action, not money. They implored the UN body to make specific recommendations to the five nations about how they can meet their treaty obligations. These included changing their laws in response to climate change and applying more diplomatic pressure on big polluters like the U.S. and China. Every country except the U.S. has ratified the Convention.
» Read article                

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

need for pipeline debated
As state law requires steep emissions cuts, utilities face an urgent quandary: to build or not to build new gas pipelines?
By David Abel, Boston Globe
October 19, 2021

After acquiring Columbia Gas of Massachusetts last year, Eversource reviewed the safety and reliability of its new pipelines and discovered what the utility considered a significant red flag: One community in western Springfield was uniquely vulnerable to a mishap or natural disaster, with 58,000 customers reliant on just one pipeline vital to warming their homes.

Officials at Columbia Gas had been well aware of the vulnerability and spent years seeking to build backup pipelines in the area, but local protests against the proposals and other events stymied its plans.

Now, Eversource is floating a similarly controversial project that would create one of the largest new pipelines in the state in recent years, a plan that could cost ratepayers as much as $33 million and perpetuate the use of a fossil fuel that a new state law aims to eliminate.

“If there was one failure on that line, it could be a devastating situation,” said Bill Akley, president of gas operations at Eversource, the largest energy company in New England. “There’s nowhere else in the state that has this kind of reliability risk.”

But local residents and environmental advocates vigorously oppose the project.

They say this is the wrong time to be investing so much ratepayer money in a project that would violate the intentions of Massachusetts’ new climate law, which obligates the state to cut its carbon emissions in half by the end of this decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050. The project would require an expensive new substation and create as much as seven miles of an entirely new line, something rare in recent years in Massachusetts.

Instead, they say, state officials should halt any further additions to an already vast, multibillion-dollar infrastructure of gas pipes, which supports the continued use of fossil fuels and inevitably leaks methane, one of the most potent of greenhouse gases.

“It’s so short-sighted and misguided in the broader reality that it boggles my mind,” said Verne McArthur, 78, who lives near some of the potential routes of the proposed pipeline and has opposed it as a member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. “We’re at code red in climate change, and we must get off fossil fuels as rapidly as possible to avoid complete disaster. Eversource laying down infrastructure, which will last decades, is so obviously the wrong direction.”

He and others assert that officials at Eversource, which earns a valuable surcharge on all new pipes it installs, are more concerned about profits than their environmental impact. They note that the existing pipeline has served the community for decades without any significant failure, and that it should remain sufficient for a few more years, as the state makes the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“I don’t believe Eversource has Springfield’s best interests at heart in this project,” McArthur said
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

science museum
Banks Due At UK’s ‘Green’ Investment Summit ‘Financed £700 Billion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Agreement’
Citi, JPMorgan and Barclays among “world’s biggest financiers” of oil, gas and coal at government summit on green future.
By Adam Barnett, DeSmog Blog
October 18, 2021

Bank bosses due to attend a green investment summit tomorrow head institutions which have provided over £700 billion of financing for the fossil fuel industry since the 2015 Paris Agreement, including £129 billion in 2020 alone.

Campaigners have criticised the expected presence of the “world’s biggest financiers” of fossil fuels at the UK government event, which drew protests by Extinction Rebellion and Biofuelwatch activists on Sunday.

The global investment summit is being held at the Science Museum in London and at Windsor Castle to “galvanise foreign investment in the UK’s green industries of the future” ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, according to the Department for International Trade.

Senior executives at Citi, JPMorgan, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, NatWest and Lloyds Banking Group are among over 200 investors expected to attend. Banks are increasingly committing to long-term targets of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but have been criticised for failing to make more concrete cuts by 2030.

Analysis of data from campaign group BankTrack finds that eight of the banks represented at the summit have continued to finance highly polluting coal, oil and gas through commercial and investment banking in the five years since the Paris Agreement was reached to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C.

“Inviting these banks to a Green Investment Summit is like having Marlboro at a cancer summit,” Adam McGibbon, UK campaign lead at Market Forces, told DeSmog.
» Read article                

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Alberta oil refinery
Environmental and Labor Groups Urge Canada to Support Just Transition
A new report finds that half of Canada’s oil and gas jobs could disappear by 2030 as the country presses on with a clean energy transition. But the federal and provincial governments are not doing enough to prepare workers for the change
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
October 14, 2021

Canada has not provided a transition pathway for its fossil fuel workers to move into other industries, and as global demand for oil and gas wanes, tens of thousands of workers could lose their jobs, say the authors of a new report.

Roughly 167,000 people are directly employed in Canada’s oil and gas industry, but increased automation combined with the energy transition and climate policy mean that half of those jobs are slated to disappear by the end of the decade, according to a report published on October 13 by the Climate Action Network Canada and Blue Green Canada, which is a coalition of labor and environmental groups.

The report said there is potential to transition many of these workers into cleaner industries, but action is needed by the federal and provincial governments to ease the pathway.

“This current decade — the next eight years — represents the largest effort that will be required for new job creation to ensure that we have a workforce that’s well aligned with the changing energy landscape,” Teika Newton, domestic policy manager for Climate Action Network Canada, told reporters on a press call. “The good news is that nearly three in four oil and gas workers affected by the transition have direct skills to match to alternative clean industries or IT operations elsewhere.”

Around 10 percent of oil and gas workers — including heavy equipment operators, power engineers, power systems operators, and instrumentation technicians — have the relevant skills to easily transition into wind and solar, if the demand for that labor exists, according to the report.

In addition, geothermal, oil and gas decommissioning, and industrial energy efficiency are other viable careers for workers exiting fossil fuel production. More difficult careers to transition are the reservoir engineers, hydrologists, and dispatchers.

The report says that Canada could use COVID-19 recovery funds and the Canada Infrastructure Bank to create 56,000 jobs over the next five years in wind, solar, energy efficiency, oil and gas decommissioning, and chemicals. These new jobs would offset the losses expected in oil and gas.
» Read article                
» Read the report           

Calgary
Climate Emergency Declaration is ‘First Order of Business’ for Calgary Mayor-Elect Gondek
By The Energy Mix
October 21, 2021


A climate emergency declaration will be the first order of business for Calgary Mayor-Elect Jyoti Gondek after she’s sworn in next week, Gondek said Tuesday, just hours after her decisive win over United Conservative Party-affiliated challenger Jeromy Farkas.

“We have had the opportunity to declare a climate emergency for years,” Gondek told online radio host Ryan Jespersen. “We have had various documents presented to us as a council and I think we’ve had more than enough time to review them. So let’s get serious, let’s declare this, and let’s go after some of the capital that we will see flow in once we make a bold move with that.”

Jespersen asked the mayor-elect and former city councillor whether she would have to “find a balance as the mayor of a city that’s seen itself flourish” on fossil industry revenue. “It is a bold move, and I don’t have to tell you about how even a phrase like ‘climate emergency’ can ripple through a downtown core,” he said. “Do you have to be careful about the words you use, or are we past that? Do people misunderstand where Calgary business leaders are at right now?”

“We’ve forgotten what we’re good at,” Gondek responded. “We’re very good at energy production, and we are also leaders in innovative ways to practice energy production. We became fixated on our end product being oil and gas. So let’s move past the outputs, start talking about the process again, and put ourselves on the map as a city that is the absolute leader at transitioning the economy.”

That means showing the world “that by using innovation and technology we can come up with sustainable, greener, cleaner solutions across all our business sectors,” she added. “That’s the kind of message we need to send. We don’t need to be hung up on what it is we‘re producing. Let’s talk about the ways that we get there.”
» Read article                

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Manchin guts CEPP
Manchin Seeks to Gut Key Climate Provision From Infrastructure Bill as West Virginia Suffers Worsening Floods
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
October 18, 2021

Climate change is driving increasing flooding in West Virginia, overwhelming aging infrastructure and dumping raw sewage into waterways, The New York Times reports, and West Virginians will suffer disproportionately as climate change continues to worsen.

Meanwhile, their Senator, Democrat Joe Manchin has told the White House he strongly opposes a key, though relatively inexpensive, provision of the Build Back Better Act, according to reports from numerous outlets. The Clean Energy Performance Program, to which Manchin objects, incentivizes utilities to increase the amount of clean energy they supply to their customers.

Manchin’s opposition puts the inclusion of the CEPP in the final legislation into serious jeopardy, and the reports were met with harsh condemnation from climate advocates.

“This is absolutely the most important climate policy in the package,” climate and energy policy expert Leah Stokes told The New York Times. “We fundamentally need it to meet our climate goals. That’s just the reality. And now we can’t. So this is pretty sad.”
» Read article                

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

smudgeThe cost of cutting Biden’s key climate program
By John Engel, Renewable Energy World
October 19, 2021

Stripping the Clean Electricity Performance Program from a historic climate bill being considered by Congress would eliminate more than a third of potential emissions reductions, new analysis shows.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has informed the White House that he won’t support the CEPP — the carrot and stick mechanism designed to accelerate clean electricity generation by American utilities. The CEPP is the key piece of the broader $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, and is crucial for President Biden’s climate agenda.

Analysis by the think tank Energy Innovation determined that, without the CEPP, “emissions are likely to be 250-600 MMT higher per year in 2030, which could eliminate more than a third of the total emissions reductions in the Infrastructure Bills.”
» Read article                
» Watch podcast discussion of CEPP

Heliogen tower
Woodside firms up solar thermal plans with Bill Gates-backed start-up
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
October 19, 2021

Australia’s biggest gas producer Woodside Petroluem has announced plans to jointly market the concentrated solar energy technology of Bill Gates-backed company Heliogen, starting with a 5MW commercial-scale demonstration facility in California.

Heliogen said on Monday that it had been granted a Limited Notice To Proceed (LNTP) from Woodside’s wholly-owned US subsidiary to begin procurement of key equipment for a demonstration facility of its AI-enabled concentrated solar power technology.

The modular, “nearly 24/7” power solution uses computer vision software to precisely align mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target on the top of a solar tower, enabling enabling low-cost storage in the form of high-temperature thermal energy.

Customers can then opt to build on the baseline system that provides industrial-grade heat by adding thermal energy storage systems, a turbine for power generation, and electrolysers for green hydrogen production, a statement said.

That last part of the equation is, in particular, where Woodside’s interests lie, with the gas major’s CEO Meg O’Neill citing Heliogen’s potential “key supporting role” in the development of its future renewable hydrogen and ammonia business.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

home wood burning
Pollutionwatch: the solvable problem of home wood burners
Wood burning is causing dirty air from the UK to Australia, but a study shows incentives to switch can work
By Gary Fuller, The Guardian
October 22, 2021

By 2016, home wood burning was the second-largest source of particle pollution emitted in London. By 2018, it was responsible for nearly half the emissions across Europe.

Now an Australian study has calculated the health cost of home wood burning. It took place in Armidale, a city of about 25,000 people, midway between Sydney and Brisbane, known for its two cathedrals and elegant 19th-century buildings. Frosty nights are a feature of winter here and these are frequently polluted by the 40% of homes that use wood heaters. Researchers estimated that the air pollution from wood heating was responsible for up to 14 early deaths each year, an annual health cost of between A$5,000 and A$11,000 for each wood-burning home (about £3,000-6,000). A similar study in Tasmania valued the annual health harm at about A$4,200 for every wood-burning home.

The problem is solvable. Stopping burning wood works for health. An earlier programme in Launceston, Tasmania, incentivised homeowners to switch from wood heating. It reduced wintertime respiratory deaths by 28% and heart deaths by 20%.

Prof Fay Johnston at the University of Tasmania, who was involved in the Armidale and Launceston studies, said: “Wood heaters really punch above their weight when it comes to polluting the atmosphere. Any scheme that replaces wood heaters with less polluting forms of heating will pay for itself within a year and provide ongoing savings from the avoided additional disease and death associated with woodsmoke.”
» Blog editor’s note: ideally, the incentives would encourage homeowners to switch to efficient, non-emitting heat sources like heat pumps.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency              

MODERNIZING THE GRID

boost the interconnects
Boosting transmission between East, West grids will lower costs: NREL
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
October 19, 2021

Adding transmission capacity between the Eastern and Western interconnections would reduce costs by allowing wind, solar and natural gas-fired generation to flow more freely across broad regions, according to a recently published study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Increasing transfer capacity between the two grids could produce $2.50 in benefits for every dollar spent on the new transmission facilities, NREL said Monday.

“The ability to transfer [wind and solar] across regions could be incredibly valuable — whether that’s in periods of power system stress, like extreme weather, or during a typical day when we want to take advantage of the best available resources,” Josh Novacheck, NREL senior research engineer and technical lead for the study, said.

Seven high-voltage links allow only 1,320 MW to move between the Eastern and Western interconnections, according to a pre-print version of the study published late last month in the journal IEEE Transactions on Power Systems.

The interconnection facilities are aging rapidly, so replacing and upgrading them presents an opportunity for modernizing the U.S. electric grid, according to Greg Brinkman, NREL senior research engineer and co-author of the study.

The study, first released a year ago, comes as the Biden administration, Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are considering ways to increase transmission development, which could help renewable energy facilities in remote areas reach major population centers.
» Read article                
» Read the NREL study

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

second lifeStudy: Recycled Lithium Batteries as Good as Newly Mined
Cathodes made with novel direct-recycling beat commercial materials
By Prachi Patel, IEEE Spectrum
October 15, 2021

Lithium-ion batteries, with their use of riskily mined metals, tarnish the green image of EVs. Recycling to recover those valuable metals would minimize the social and environmental impact of mining, keep millions of tons of batteries from landfills, and cut the energy use and emissions created from making batteries.

But while the EV battery recycling industry is starting to take off, getting carmakers to use recycled materials remains a hard sell. “In general, people’s impression is that recycled material is not as good as virgin material,” says Yan Wang, a professor of mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “Battery companies still hesitate to use recycled material in their batteries.”

A new study by Wang and a team including researchers from the US Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), and battery company A123 Systems, shows that battery and carmakers needn’t worry. The results, published in the journal Joule, shows that batteries with recycled cathodes can be as good as, or even better than those using new state-of-the-art materials.

The team tested batteries with recycled NMC111 cathodes, the most common flavor of cathode containing a third each of nickel, manganese, and cobalt. The cathodes were made using a patented recycling technique that Battery Resources, a startup Wang co-founded, is now commercializing.

The recycled material showed a more porous microscopic structure that is better for lithium ions to slip in and out of. The result: batteries with an energy density similar to those made with commercial cathodes, but which also showed up to 53% longer cycle life.
» Read article                
» Obtain the study

Solid Power cell
Ford and BMW partner Solid Power demonstrates the safety of its solid-state battery tech
By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
October 14, 2021

Colorado-based Solid Power, the solid-state battery firm backed by Ford and BMW, claims that third-party safety tests show its battery tech to be safer than current lithium-ion chemistry.

The tests, with results released Wednesday, aimed to simulate abuse and damage to its prototype solid-state battery cells. Those cells use a sulfide-based solid electrolyte in place of the liquid or gel used in conventional lithium-ion cells.

When fully-charged test cells were punctured by a conductive nail, the only change was a slight increase in temperature, Soild Power said in a press release. The nail penetration test produced no flames or venting of material from the cells, the company claims.

In other tests, cells were overcharged to 200%, and were also caused to short circuit, again with no serious issues, according to Solid Power.
» Read article                
» Read the test results

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

bring it on
Big tobacco got caught in a lie by Congress. Now it’s the oil industry’s turn
The CEOs of Exxon, BP, Shell and Chevron face a Capitol Hill hearing on their climate crisis lies – will it mirror the downfall of big tobacco?
By Mark Hertsgaard, The Guardian
October 14, 2021

Ten days from today, Darren Woods will face a potential doomsday moment before the U.S. Congress.

As the CEO of ExxonMobil, Woods was paid US$15.6 million last year to run the richest, most powerful private oil company in history. But his earnings and influence will be on the line when he appears before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform October 28. His testimony could mark the beginning of the end of big oil escaping legal and financial responsibility for the climate crisis.

Joining Woods, assuming that they all show up without being compelled by subpoenas, will be the heads of three other giant oil companies: Michael Wirth of Chevron, David Lawler of BP, and Gretchen Watkins of Shell Oil. The Big Oil 4, let’s call them, will be questioned about what members of Congress call a “long-running, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming”.

For the Big Oil 4 and their public relations advisers, the nightmare scenario is that October 28 will mirror the infamous congressional hearing that led to the downfall of big tobacco. On April 14, 1994, the top executives of the seven biggest tobacco companies in the U.S. appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, chaired by Henry Waxman of California. Each executive solemnly testified that, no, they did not think that nicotine is addictive.

The parallels with big oil today are uncanny. The big tobacco lawsuit was “premised on a simple notion,” said Mike Moore, the then attorney general of Mississippi, who initiated the case: “You caused the health crisis—you pay for it” by reimbursing states for the extra costs that smoking imposed on their public health systems. Replace “the health crisis” with “the climate crisis” and you have the very same argument that New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and dozens of other state and local governments have made in their pending lawsuits against oil companies.

And just as tobacco companies lied for 40 years about the dangers of smoking, so too have the oil companies lied for decades about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. They saw today’s climate crisis coming—their own scientists repeatedly warned top executives about it—and decided, bring it on.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

like a wheel
Forest biomass-burning supply chain is producing major carbon emissions: Studies
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
October 15, 2021

Two new studies released this week — both aimed at influencing U.S., U.K. and E.U. policymakers in the runup to the November COP26 Scotland climate summit — conclude that the harvesting of trees to produce wood pellets in the United States and burning them for energy overseas is undermining the promised carbon emissions reduction targets urgently needed to slow the rate of global warming and prevent worsening climate change.

Amid myriad research over the past decade warning of the harm burning wood pellets is doing to forests and the atmosphere, the new studies are unique in that they take a transatlantic view of the issue.

Both evaluate not only the smokestack emissions from burning wood pellets, but also add up carbon emissions generated in the U.S. Southeast and oceanic shipping. The summation includes emissions produced during the harvesting of live trees, emissions released by pellet manufacturing plants located in Virginia south to Texas, as well as emissions from shipping pellets overseas. Counted too was the lost carbon-sequestration capacity of logged forests.

The studies, one produced by London policy institute Chatham House in tandem with the Woodwell Climate Research Center in the U.S., and the other created by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), make clear that national policy decisions in the U.S., U.K. and E.U. have resulted in biomass emissions not being recorded and counted all along the supply chain and at smokestacks in any of the parties’ annual greenhouse gas emission inventories reported under the Paris Agreement.

The result is an appearance that forest biomass production and burning is carbon neutral, which allows for an erroneous accounting by the U.S., U.K. and E.U. that will help them to hit their Net Zero emissions goals.

The Chatham/Woodwell authors note that “the mislabeling of woody biomass as a zero-carbon energy source threatens to push government climate change targets further off track.” Their study estimated that wood pellets produced in the U.S. and burned in the U.K. led to 13-16 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019 alone — equal to the emissions of up to 7 million cars.
» Read article                 
» Read the Chatham House study           
» Read the NRDC study                   

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

new coal
The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change
By Beyond Plastics, Report
October, 2021


The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change is a comprehensive account of the United States plastics industry’s significant, yet rarely acknowledged contributions to the climate crisis. Using coal-fired power plants as a benchmark, the report examines ten stages in the creation, usage, and disposal of plastics: fracking for plastics, transporting and processing fossil fuels, gas crackers, other plastics feedstock manufacturing, polymers and additives production, exports and imports, foamed plastic insulation, “chemical recycling”, municipal waste incineration, and plastics in the water.

The U.S. plastics industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power in this country by 2030. At least 42 plastics facilities have opened since 2019, are under construction, or are in the permitting process. If they become fully operational, these new plastics plants could release an additional 55 million tons of greenhouse gases—the equivalent of another 27 average-sized coal plants. The health impacts of these emissions are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color, making this a major environmental justice issue.

Although the plastics industry has long touted plastic’s recyclability, in truth, less than 9% of plastics are recycled, and new proposals for “chemical recycling” or “advanced recycling” actually have more in common with incineration—a major source of both climate emissions and harmful air pollutants. Most of these facilities spend vast amounts of energy catalyzing chemical changes designed to turn plastics into more burnable fuel. The burning of plastics made in the U.S. already releases an estimated 15 million tons of greenhouse gases each year. If we turn to these processes to handle plastic waste, the emissions impacts would be even greater.
» Read the report                  

» More about plastics, health, and the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 7/2/21

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Welcome back.

Peaking power plants were a hot topic this week, with efforts underway far and wide to replace these heavy polluters with green technologies like battery storage. We lead off with ace reporter Danny Jin’s excellent Berkshire Eagle article about campaigns close to home. Also a citizen’s letter clearly lays out the issues surrounding Peabody’s proposed gas plant, and a success story: how a battery project replaced a planned gas peaker in Oxnard, CA.

Activists occupied the Waltham, MA office of Canadian energy giant Enbridge, calling for cancellation of the Weymouth compressor station and Line 3 pipeline currently under construction across northern Minnesota.  Meanwhile, an unprecedented number of legal actions against the oil and gas industry are proceeding through the courts. And on the legislative front, Congress voted to repeal Trump’s free pass on the powerful greenhouse gas methane, resetting emissions limits to levels previously established by the Obama administration.

Our section on greening the economy focuses on the needs of communities dependent on the fossil industry, as they transition toward sustainability. We also found an uplifting story from Ohio, where an electric vehicle car-sharing program is key to lifting marginalized people out of poverty.

Our friends in the Pacific Northwest just experienced a horrible week, and the deadly heat wave had climate change’s fingerprints all over it. Of course, news about long-duration battery storage, modernizing the grid, and electrifying the transportation sector all mention great tools for fighting back – but the fossil fuel industry remains focused on selling as much planet-cooking product as possible before their party’s over. Two reports underscore the industry’s push for profit, and their liberal use of influence and deception.

We’ll wrap with news you can use about avoiding plastic food and beverage containers – including what these do to your health and the environment. But first, we’re popping a cork to celebrate what appears to be the collapse of plans for the Goldboro liquefied natural gas export facility in Nova Scotia, and hoping its demise sufficiently shakes the foundations of the Weymouth compressor station to topple that project too.

button - BEAT News button - BZWI For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

PG file photo
As Pittsfield power plant seeks permit renewal, environmental groups call for clean-energy transition
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
July 1, 2021

PITTSFIELD — With the air-quality permit for a Merrill Road power plant set to expire in October, several local groups want the plant’s owner to consider switching to cleaner alternatives.

Maryland-based private equity firm Hull Street Energy owns the plant at 235 Merrill Road and has filed for a renewal of its permit. But, a coalition of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team and 20 other local groups is concerned about pollution from the gas-fired plant, which sits next to Allendale Elementary School and is within a mile of Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood.

A “peaker” power plant, Pittsfield Generating, typically runs only a few days a year, during the highest points of electricity demand. The plant ran just 5 percent of the time in 2019 and 2 percent of the time in 2020, according to research group Synapse Energy.

But, the approximately 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 3 tons of nitrous oxide emitted in 2020 have local climate groups and others worried about negative health effects. They want Hull Street Energy, which declined to comment to The Eagle, to consider clean-energy alternatives such as batteries, which store energy to be released when demand is high.

“They’re moving ahead with that permit, and we would like them to reconsider,” Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative, said of Hull Street Energy. “We would like them to meet with us and talk about transitioning to clean energy. Folks will be concerned that this plant will be continuing to operate and polluting the air that residents breathe.”

Four elected officials signed on to a June 2 letter that the coalition sent to Hull Street Energy, but Wessel said the company has yet to respond. State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield; state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru; state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield; and state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, signed the letter. (There are no peaker plants in the district represented by state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams.)

Meanwhile, coalition leaders and elected officials have had “wonderfully cooperative” communications, Wessel said, with Cogentrix Energy, the owner of two other local peakers. Wessel said she sees the conversations with Cogentrix, which owns a peaker on Doreen Street in Pittsfield and one on Woodland Road in Lee, as a model for the coalition to pursue with Hull Street Energy.
» Read article

The Salem News
Letter: Few real answers on peaker plant
From Carol Hautau, Salem, in The Salem News
June 28, 2021

At last Monday’s community forum (“Opponents: Power plant changes a start,” June 24), the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) presented Project 2015A, a plan to build a gas- and oil-fired peaker plant in Peabody.

The meeting did nothing to dispel the feeling that MMWEC and the Peabody Municipal Light Plant have kept this project below the radar to avoid public scrutiny. The panelists took pains to spell out how they met the letter of the law about public notice and supplied the audience with a numbing amount of technical information, which silenced discussion and did not inform or respond to concerns. Long, complex jargon-filled speeches (forward capacity market, hedge discounts) seemed intended to convince those present that the panelists and the entities they represented were the only ones who could be depended on to make the right decision for the communities involved.

The real question of the day — why construct a fossil fuel-burning energy plant in this age of climate disruption — was not addressed adequately. Wind, solar, wave and tidal energy may be intermittent sources today, but battery technology will soon solve that problem. Rather than finding a green solution to their energy reliability needs, the Project 2015A crew held up the hypothetical conversion of this new fossil-fuel plant to green hydrogen, a highly explosive, difficult to transport fuel barely out of its developmental diapers. Green hydrogen sounds an awful lot like “clean coal”— a concept that is thoroughly discredited.
» Read article              

Saticoy
142 Tesla Megapacks power on to create giant new battery, replacing gas peaker plant in California
By Fred Lambert, Electrek
June 30, 2021

A new 142-Tesla Megapack project has been turned on in California’s Ventura County to create a giant new battery that is replacing a gas peaker plant.

The project is called the Saticoy battery storage system, and it came about when the local community in Oxnard fought against having a new gas-powered peaker plant to help respond to the energy demand during peak times.

Instead, they settled on a proposal from Arevon Asset Management (Arevon), a renewable energy company, to deploy a massive 100 megawatt/400 megawatt-hour battery system to help power the peak energy demand.

The community was about to get a polluting [262MW] gas power plant near the beach, and instead, they now have one of the largest energy storage sites in US, and it was deployed in just nine months.

They are using 142 Tesla Megapacks, the automaker’s largest energy storage solution (pictured above).

Carmen Ramirez, Ventura County District 5 Supervisor, commented on the project:

“Saying no to a gas peaker plant and yes to battery-stored energy has provided our community with a nonpolluting power plant, increased our tax base, and created good jobs and ultimately better health for the people. This project is truly a testament to Oxnard’s determination and resilience to modernize and better our community.”

The Tesla Megapacks receive electricity from Southern California Edison (SCE) under the terms of a 20-year purchase and sale agreement.
» Blog editor’s note: According to a 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times, the gas power plant this battery system replaced was intended to be sized at 262MW (inserted into article, above).
» Read article              

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Enbridge occupied
3 Environmental Activists Arrested After Occupying Waltham Energy Company Offices Overnight
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
June 30, 2021

After more than 24 hours of occupying the Waltham offices of Canadian energy giant Enbridge, three environmental activists were arrested Wednesday afternoon by Waltham police.

“We are here because the Line 3 [pipline in Minnesota] needs to be stopped,” protester Samie Hayward said to officers shortly before being taken into custody. “And we are here in solidarity with [those fighting] the Weymouth Compressor.”

The protest began at around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday when more than 60 activists walked into the office building that houses Enbridge’s Northeast U.S. headquarters. Some played musical instruments while others sang or chanted slogans like “we are the protectors.” Many held signs that read “Stop Enbridge. Stop Line 3” and “Enbridge Profits from Environmental Injustice.”

The protestors, who said they were affiliated with the local activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and standing in solidarity with the Indigenous-led Giniw Collective in Minnesota, accused Enbridge of “committing crimes against humanity” and perpetrating climate change by constructing and operating controversial fossil fuel projects like the Weymouth Compressor and the Line 3 oil pipeline.

“I’m really alarmed about climate change and how poorly as a society we are dealing with it, and I’m here because there are companies like Enbridge that have been given social license to continue doing what they’re doing,” said one of the protesters, Jeff Gang.

“They’ve built this compressor in Weymouth, which is dangerous and a disaster for the climate, as well as being deeply unjust for the people who live around it. And now they’re trying to build the pipeline, Line 3, cutting through historically Indigenous lands and continuing the circle of genocide that’s been perpetrated on Indigenous people.”

After approximately 20 minutes of chanting and singing in the office Tuesday, Waltham police arrived on the scene and told the protesters they were trespassing. Most of the activists left the building, but several stayed — and 13 spent the night.

Equipped with a list of demands, they repeatedly told officers that they wouldn’t leave until those demands were met. At one point, protester Wen Stephenson picked up a bullhorn and read the list out loud:

  1. That the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Department immediately cease its dangerous blockade of Anishinaabe peoples’ privately-owned #StopLine3 camp and release all arrested protesters.
  2. The immediate halt to Line 3 Pipeline construction and drilling near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
  3. The shutdown of Enbridge’s Natural Gas Compressor Station in Weymouth, Mass.
  4. The shutdown of Enbridge’s West Roxbury Lateral gas pipeline in Boston, Mass.
  5. The shutdown of the Enbridge-supplied Alton Gas project threatening Mi’kmaq land and water in Nova Scotia.

In an email, Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron wrote: “As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully. We don’t tolerate illegal activities of any kind including trespassing, vandalism, or other mischief.”
» Read article              

Big Oil in the dock
Big oil and gas kept a dirty secret for decades. Now they may pay the price
Via an unprecedented wave of lawsuits, America’s petroleum giants face a reckoning for the devastation caused by fossil fuels
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
June 30, 2021

After a century of wielding extraordinary economic and political power, America’s petroleum giants face a reckoning for driving the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes.

An unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the US, aim to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels – and covering up what they knew along the way.

Coastal cities struggling to keep rising sea levels at bay, midwestern states watching “mega-rains” destroy crops and homes, and fishing communities losing catches to warming waters, are now demanding the oil conglomerates pay damages and take urgent action to reduce further harm from burning fossil fuels.

But, even more strikingly, the nearly two dozen lawsuits are underpinned by accusations that the industry severely aggravated the environmental crisis with a decades-long campaign of lies and deceit to suppress warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and dupe the American public.

The environmentalist Bill McKibben once characterized the fossil fuel industry’s behavior as “the most consequential cover-up in US history”. And now for the first time in decades, the lawsuits chart a path toward public accountability that climate activists say has the potential to rival big tobacco’s downfall after it concealed the real dangers of smoking.

“We are at an inflection point,” said Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.

“Things have to get worse for the oil companies,” he added. “Even if they’ve got a pretty good chance of winning the litigation in places, the discovery of pretty clearcut wrong doing – that they knew their product was bad and they were lying to the public – really weakens the industry’s ability to resist legislation and settlements.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

repeal the repeal
Congress Votes To Restore Regulations On Climate-Warming Methane Emissions
Reducing greenhouse gases, means tackling pollution from the oil and gas industry
By Jeff Brady, NPR
June 25, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — Both houses of Congress have taken a step toward more vigorously regulating climate-warming methane leaks from the oil and gas industry, a move supporters say is key to achieving President Biden’s ambitious climate goals.

On Friday, House lawmakers voted to reverse a Trump rollback by passing resolutions under the Congressional Review Act, which gives them the ability to undo agency rules passed in the last months of the previous administration. The Senate approved the measure in April.

“What we’re voting on today is the legislative equivalent of a double negative. This is the repeal of a repeal,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said at a press conference before the April vote.

Biden is expected to sign the resolutions, which would reverse an Environmental Protection Agency methane rule finalized last year and leave in place a stricter 2016 EPA rule, finalized during the Obama administration.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas. When released before it burns, it’s a far more potent greenhouse gas than even carbon dioxide. But it does not linger in the atmosphere nearly as long. That means eliminating leaks now could have an immediate effect on global warming.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in April that methane and carbon dioxide “continued their unrelenting rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic response.”

The oil and gas industry is the largest source of human-caused methane emissions. A recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that cutting methane emissions now could slow the rate of global warming by as much as 30%.
» Read article              

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

attitude
As the US Pursues Clean Energy and the Climate Goals of the Paris Agreement, Communities Dependent on the Fossil Fuel Economy Look for a Just Transition
A new report identifies areas from Appalachia to Alaska that will need help to keep their employment, wages and tax bases from falling steeply as coal, oil and gas are phased out.
By Judy Fahys, Inside Climate News
June 28, 2021

Perhaps the proudest achievement of Michael Kourianos’ first term as mayor of Price, Utah was helping to make the local university hub the state’s first to run entirely on clean energy. It’s a curious position for the son, brother and grandchild of coal miners who’s worked in local coal-fired power plants for 42 years.

Kourianos sees big changes on the horizon brought by shifts in world energy markets and customer demands, as well as in politics. The mines and plants that powered a bustling economy here in Carbon County and neighboring Emery County for generations are gone or winding down, and Kourianos is hoping to win reelection so he can keep stoking the entrepreneurial energy and partnerships that are moving his community forward.

“That freight train is coming at us,” he said. “You look at all the other communities that were around during the early times of coal, they’re not around.

“That’s my fear,” he said. “That’s my driving force.”

New research from Resources for the Future points out that hundreds of areas like central Utah are facing painful hardships because of the clean-energy transformation that will be necessary if the United States hopes to reach the Paris agreement’s goals to slow climate change. Lost jobs and wages, a shrinking population and an erosion of the tax base that supports roads, schools and community services—they’re all costs of the economic shift that will be paid by those whose hard work fueled American prosperity for so long.

“If we can address those challenges by helping communities diversify, helping people find new economic growth drivers and new economic opportunities, that might lessen some of the opposition to moving forward with the ambitious climate policy that we need,” said the report’s author, Daniel Raimi, who is also a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
» Read article              
» Read the report: Mapping the US Energy Economy to Inform Transition Planning

Place to Recover
Electric car-share program helps underserved and unemployed Ohioans

“No car, no job. No job, no car.” The car-share program is part of a larger effort in Lorain County, Ohio, using a Paradox Prize grant to address the dilemma.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
July 1, 2021

Most drivers of electric vehicles don’t experience homelessness or the urgency of finding a job after addiction, prison or other problems. Yet those are precisely the people whom an innovative car-sharing program in Ohio aims to help.

Place to Recover Training and Resource Center in Sheffield Township and Catholic Charities’ St. Elizabeth Center in Lorain are now sharing an electric Chevrolet Bolt to help their clients. Funding comes from part of a $100,000 Paradox Prize grant to those and other organizations in Lorain County.

Representatives of the programs spoke at Green Energy Ohio’s 2021 Electric Vehicle Tour in Oberlin on June 8.

“This electric car-share program has really benefited marginalized populations who otherwise would not be able to access employment or resources to help them get employment, like getting to the doctor and getting to interviews and getting training,” said Wendy Caldwell, chief executive officer at Place to Recover. The organization helps people reentering society after incarceration, substance abuse treatment or other circumstances.

Just a couple of miles away, St. Elizabeth Center provides overnight shelter for adult men, as well as daily hot meals and other social services for people in need. The Catholic Charities facility uses the car to get clients to doctor’s appointments, legal appointments, meetings with social services, housing interviews and other places.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important that is to these people, how meaningful it is,” said Matthew Peters, an emergency services coordinator for Catholic Charities. “How much hope it gives them to know that there’s a network and a community of people around them who are bright and motivated and empathetic and concerned and making this possible!”
» Read article              

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Oregon cooling center
Global Warming Cauldron Boils Over in the Northwest in One of the Most Intense Heat Waves on Record Worldwide
As residents prepare for even more temperature records to fall in the heat dome forecast to persist for days, scientists see a heavy climate change fingerprint.
By Judy Fahys, Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
June 29, 2021

The latest in a seemingly endless series of heat waves around the world hit the Pacific Northwest last weekend and will continue through the week, showing that even regions with cool coastlines and lush forests cannot avoid the blistering extremes of global warming.

Temperatures across most of Oregon and Washington spiked 20 to 30 degrees Celsius above normal, with even hotter conditions expected through Tuesday driving concerns about impacts to human health, infrastructure and ecosystems.

In a Twitter thread over the weekend, Ben Noll, a meteorologist with the New Zealand National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, reported that Portland, Oregon would be hotter than 99.9 percent of the rest of the planet on Sunday. “The only places expected to be hotter: Africa’s Sahara Desert, Persian Gulf, California’s deserts,” he tweeted.

The intensity of the heat wave, measured by how far temperatures are spiking above normal, is among the greatest ever measured globally. The extremes are on par with a 2003 European heat wave that killed about 70,000 people, and a 2013 heat wave in Australia, when meteorologists added new shades of dark purple to their maps to show unprecedented temperatures.

And the more extreme the temperature records, climate scientists said, the more obvious the fingerprint of global warming will be on the heat wave. But even among climate scientists, the biggest concern was the immediate impacts of the record shattering temperatures.

“I shudder to think what the mortality rate will be from this event,” said Phil Mote, a climate scientist with the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Research shows that early season heat waves like this one are deadlier than those happening later in the year because people haven’t acclimatized yet, he added.

Local weather service offices warned people to cool themselves with a reminder that heat was the leading cause of weather-related fatalities between 1991 and 2020. But experts and officials warned that people in the region, where there are fewer people with air conditioning than without it, are ill-equipped to protect themselves from persistent triple-digit temperatures.
» Read article              

» More about climate

ENERGY STORAGE

ESS interview
Why a seasoned energy executive sees a bright future in long-duration energy storage from ESS
Executive interview with Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc.
By Jennifer Runyon, Energy Storage World (sponsored content)
June 29, 2021

When Eric Dresselhuys got a call from the board of directors at ESS earlier this spring asking him to come on as Chief Executive Officer of the company that provides an Iron Flow Battery (IFB) for long-duration storage, he didn’t hesitate.

“It was a pretty easy yes,” he said in an interview.

Dresselhuys isn’t new to the energy space. In fact, he was creating technology that electric utilities could use to make their grids smarter before the words “smart grid” were well known. In 2002, he founded Silver Spring Networks, which combined IoT with big data for smart grids. In 2013 Silver Spring went public and in 2018 it was acquired by Itron.

Dresselhuys sees great growth for long-duration storage, which he defines as energy storage technology that can take energy, most likely produced by renewable sources like wind and solar, and store it for a very long time, well beyond the understood and accepted maximum of four hours that lithium-ion technology is used for.

“We’re talking about electrifying everything. We want to take the carbon out of not just the power system but the economy. And by the way, we have to do that cost effectively and with no toxicity,” he said.

We won’t be able to achieve those goals without cost-effective, safe long-duration storage, he said.

Indeed, a world powered by upwards of 25-30% wind and solar still needs electricity 24 hours a day. Further, many clean energy advocates point to a scenario in which we overbuild vast amounts of wind and solar power generating facilities — because their cost to build is so low — and then store the power so it can be used later. A good way to store gigawatts of excess energy safely and reliably is through flow batteries like the systems ESS manufactures.
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

turbines and sky
US grid needs overhaul to keep up with renewable revolution, says GE exec, Sen. Heinrich
By Scott Voorhis, Utility Dive
June 22, 2021

As power companies and startups alike roll out new solar and wind projects, the U.S. needs new investment in its electric grid to keep up with the changing sector, said participants in the “Energy Forward: Reinvent the Grid” discussion.

Over the last century, industry and government’s focus when it came to the electric grid was ensuring stability, said Colin Parris, senior vice president and chief technology officer at General Electric’s GE Digital.

But renewable sources like wind and solar are by their very nature “dynamic,” he said, noting the flow depends, to some extent, on the weather:

“The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow,” Parris said.

The challenge is adding renewable sources while maintaining stability. That means building new lines that connect to renewable sources, some of which like offshore wind farms may be in remote locations. It also means developing AI capabilities “to forecast problems” and “real-time capabilities to control the flow of electricity,” Parris said.

The transition, Parris said, is akin to going from a one-lane road to a “multilane highway.”

Karen Wayland, CEO of the GridWise Alliance, which consists of major utilities as well as companies including IBM and GE, offered a similar assessment.

“The grid has to be able to accommodate all of that new load — you have to make sure you know where the load needs [are], and you also have to have a much more flexible grid that can respond to varying loads,” she said.

To that end, Wayland, who was an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a former U.S. Energy Department official, said she hopes to see at least $50 billion to address grid issues in the final infrastructure package.
» Read article              

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cap Cod auto emissions
As car-centric Cape Cod tries to cut emissions, transportation is a challenge
The Massachusetts region’s unique geography and seasonality — and decades of car-centric development — present a challenge for local leaders trying to reduce climate emissions, more than 55% of which comes from transportation.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 28, 2021

As Cape Cod launches its first strategic plan to slash its greenhouse gas output, the need to rein in transportation emissions is emerging as a substantial challenge for the sprawling, car-centric region.

In April, the Cape Cod Commission regional planning authority released a draft climate action plan that finds transportation is responsible for more than 55% of greenhouse gas emissions in the region. That’s significantly higher than the statewide average of 42%. While the report recommends efforts to increase electric vehicle adoption, strengthen public transit, and shape land-use policies to reduce sprawl, the current development patterns and highly seasonal nature of the economy pose significant obstacles.

“It’s obviously a big challenge,” said Steven Tupper, transportation program manager for the commission. “We have a unique seasonality and a unique geography.”

Cape Cod, a 15-town region covering nearly 400 square miles in southeastern Massachusetts, is an iconic tourist area notable for its beaches and as the summer destination for the Kennedy family. Roughly 213,000 people live on the Cape year-round, according to the United States Census Bureau, but that number nearly triples during the summer as vacationers and second-homeowners flock to the region.

The heavy reliance on cars on Cape Cod has its roots in the historical development of the region. Until the late 1800s, Cape residents were largely clustered into small harborside villages that sprung up around maritime industries. The transformation into a tourist destination began around the turn of the century and accelerated from 1950 on. Neighborhoods full of detached homes with spacious yards began filling in space between formerly isolated village centers.

Today, the result is a spread-out population that is dependent on cars to reach doctor’s appointments, shop for groceries, or visit friends.

“There’s going to be, without question, the need for automobiles in this region,” Tupper said.
» Read article              

cobalt alternative
Altered Microstructure Improves Organic-Based, Solid State Lithium EV Battery
Ethanol Solvent Boosts Battery Energy Density, A Step Toward Better EVs Of The Future
By Nicole Johnson, University of Houston
June 17, 2021

Only 2% of vehicles are electrified to date, but that is projected to reach 30% in 2030. A key toward improving the commercialization of electric vehicles (EVs) is to heighten their gravimetric energy density – measured in watt hours per kilogram – using safer, easily recyclable materials that are abundant. Lithium-metal in anodes are considered the “holy grail” for improving energy density in EV batteries compared to incumbent options like graphite at 240 Wh/kg in the race to reach more competitive energy density at 500 Wh/kg.

Yan Yao, Cullen Professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering at the University of Houston, and UH post doctorate Jibo Zhang are taking on this challenge with Rice University colleagues. In a paper published June 17 in Joule, Zhang, Yao and team demonstrate a two-fold improvement in energy density for organic-based, solid state lithium batteries by using a solvent-assisted process to alter the electrode microstructure. Zhaoyang Chen, Fang Hao, Yanliang Liang of UH, Qing Ai, Tanguy Terlier, Hua Guo and Jun Lou of Rice University co-authored the paper.

“We are developing low-cost, earth-abundant, cobalt-free organic-based cathode materials for a solid-state battery that will no longer require scarce transition metals found in mines,” said Yao. “This research is a step forward in increasing EV battery energy density using this more sustainable alternative.” Yao is also Principal Investigator with the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH (TcSUH).

Any battery includes an anode, also known as negative electrode, and a cathode, also known as positive electrode, that are separated in a battery by a porous membrane. Lithium ions flow through an ionic conductor – an electrolyte, which allows for the charging and discharging of electrons that generates electricity for, say, a vehicle.

Electrolytes are usually liquid, but that is not necessary – they can also be solid, a relatively new concept. This novelty, combined with a lithium-metal anode, can prevent short-circuiting, improve energy density and enable faster charging.

Cathodes typically determine the capacity and voltage of a battery and are subsequently the most expensive part of batteries due to usage of scarce materials like cobalt – set to reach a 65,000-ton deficit in 2030. Cobalt-based cathodes are almost exclusively used in solid-state batteries due to their excellent performance; only recently have organic compound-based lithium batteries (OBEM-Li) emerged as a more abundant, cleaner alternative that is more easily recycled.
» Read article              
» Obtain the published paper

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

taking care of business
In Video, Exxon Lobbyist Describes Efforts to Undercut Climate Action
On the tape, made in a Greenpeace sting, he described working with “shadow groups” to fight climate science, and detailed efforts to weaken President Biden’s proposals to burn less oil.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 30, 2021

The veteran oil-industry lobbyist was told he was meeting with a recruiter. But the video call, which was secretly recorded, was part of an elaborate sting operation by an individual working for the environmental group Greenpeace UK.

During the call, Keith McCoy, a senior director of federal relations for Exxon Mobil, described how the oil and gas giant targeted a number of influential United States senators in an effort to weaken climate action in President Biden’s flagship infrastructure plan. That plan now contains few of the ambitious ideas initially proposed by Mr. Biden to cut the burning of fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change.

Mr. McCoy also said on the recording that Exxon’s support for a tax on carbon dioxide was “a great talking point” for the oil company, but that he believes the tax will never happen. He also said that the company has in the past aggressively fought climate science through “shadow groups.”

On the video call recorded by Greenpeace, Mr. McCoy defended the company’s efforts to mislead the public on climate change, even as the company’s own scientists were recognizing greenhouse gas emissions as a risk to the planet. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not,” Mr. McCoy said. “Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true.”

Mr. McCoy didn’t identify the groups. Exxon Mobil has spent millions of dollars funding conservative groups that challenge established climate science. “But there’s nothing illegal about that,” he said. “We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.”
» Read article               

problematic
Fossil Fuel Companies Are Promoting ‘Lower Carbon,’ ‘Responsibly Sourced’ Oil and Gas
The oil and gas industry is looking to capitalize off an increasingly-popular socially responsible investing wave that emphasizes the environment.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 26, 2021

This month, EQT, the nation’s largest natural gas producer, plans to launch a pilot project that will certify it to start selling not just natural gas, but something it calls “responsibly sourced natural gas.”

EQT’s move comes on the heels of a similar announcement from Chesapeake Energy, one of the pioneers of fracking which recently emerged from bankruptcy. Both EQT and Chesapeake will seek certification from outside providers, including a business called Project Canary, which touts its ability to collect data on methane emissions and pollutants from oil and gas wells and offers a certification it calls TrustWell™.

“There is a generation of Millennials around the globe who have written off fossil fuels,” Chris Romer, co-founder of Project Canary, told the oil and gas industry trade publication Rigzone this month. “We need to address the brand problem.”

But it’s difficult to pin down what “responsibly sourced” gas means, in part because of a growing number of competing certification programs that all offer their own definitions. When it comes to Project Canary in particular, the company says its standards are high — and that there’s not enough gas from its most “responsibly sourced” wells to meet demand from buyers.

These latest branding efforts arrive amid a broad ESG investment wave that emphasizes the ways businesses approach environmental, societal, and corporate governance issues. Industry advisors are increasingly offering up new ideas about how oil and gas companies can use the language of ESG to market their fossil fuel as different from the competition’s.
» Read article              

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

dead on arrivalThe Goldboro LNG plant scheme has collapsed
By Tim Bousquet, The Halifax Examiner
July 2, 2021

“While Pieridae has made tremendous progress in advancing the Goldboro LNG Project, as of June 30, 2021, we have not been able to meet all of the key conditions necessary to make a final investment decision. Following consultation with our Board, we have made the decision to move Goldboro LNG in a new direction.” (Alfred Sorensen, Chief Executive Officer, Pieridae Energy.)

To be clear, Pieridae has not made “tremendous progress” progress towards developing the plant: not one shovelful of dirt has been turned, and so far as I can see, the company hasn’t gotten a penny in actual investment money towards its $14 billion (yes, billion with a B) goal, although it did enter a preposterous $206 million loan scheme; as Joan Baxter reported in April:

Pieridae financed the purchase of Shell’s aging assets at three sour gas fields in Waterton, Jumping Pound, and Caroline, with a loan of $206 million from Third Eye Capital and private placement.

One of Pieridae’s directors, Mark Horrox, is a principal of Third Eye Capital, and a director of one of its portfolio companies, Erikson National Energy, which bought about 14% of Pieridae in the private placement, a $20 million investment that is now worth just a bit more than half that.

While the parties to the loan disclosed an interest rate of 15%, the fine print in the audited statements states that Pieridae has an obligation to Third Eye Capital — namely a fee of $50 million if it does not agree to purchase some “certain petroleum and natural gas properties from Third Eye.”

As the Examiner has reported extensively, Sorensen has been going hat-in-hand to the Canadian government, asking for nearly $1 billion in financing from the Canadian public. Evidently, the federal government said “no dice,” and the entire Goldboro scheme has crumbled.

Dead On Arrival.

What about the “strategic alternatives that could make an LNG Project more compatible with the current environment”? The technical term for this comment is “bullshit.”
» Read article               

our-company
Pieridae Evaluating Goldboro LNG Strategic Alternatives
By Pieridae Energy Limited, Yahoo Finance
July 2, 2021

CALGARY, Alberta (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Pieridae Energy Limited (“Pieridae” or the “Company”) (PEA.TO) today released the following statement from Chief Executive Officer Alfred Sorensen with respect to a future path for the Company’s Goldboro LNG Project:

‘While Pieridae has made tremendous progress in advancing the Goldboro LNG Project, as of June 30, 2021, we have not been able to meet all of the key conditions necessary to make a final investment decision. Following consultation with our Board, we have made the decision to move Goldboro LNG in a new direction. The Project’s fundamentals remain strong: robust LNG demand from Europe and high global LNG prices, Indigenous participation, a net-zero emissions pathway forward, and support from jurisdictions across Canada. This speaks to our ongoing efforts to find a partner to take advantage of these opportunities.

That said, it became apparent that cost pressures and time constraints due to COVID-19 have made building the current version of the LNG Project impractical.

We will now assess options and analyze strategic alternatives that could make an LNG Project more compatible with the current environment. [emphasis added – see story above…] In addition, the Company will continue its work to further optimize the operation and development of our extensive Foothills resources and midstream assets, including our carbon capture and sequestration and blue power development.’
» Read statement              

» More about liquefied natural gas

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

plastic snackHere’s What Happens When You Eat From Plastic Containers
By Darlena Cunha, EcoWatch
July 1, 2021

Drinking water is supposed to be good for you, but what happens when you diligently carry that disposable water bottle around all day, to remind yourself to take a sip? With that sip, you take in an undue amount of plastic, according to recent research. And that’s not all.

Takeout cartons, shelf-stable wrapping, those water bottles, even canned goods can be the culprit. And while no one likes the idea of consuming plastic, most of us still shrug and throw that container in the microwave.

4 Reasons Not to Eat or Drink From Plastic Containers:

  1. The plastic transfers from the containers to your food.

Humans ingest at least 74,000 particles of microplastic a year, according to research in The Journal of Food Science. A lot of this comes from our takeout containers. In fact, we could be ingesting more than 200 particles a week, just from our plastic food storage units.

  1. Microplastics are bad for you.

We’re ingesting plastics, so what? They don’t just make their way through our system and out of our bodies. They can stay with us.

Scientists have found that microplastics can cross the hardy membrane that protects the brain from foreign bodies in the bloodstream, at least in animals. They are carcinogenic to humans.

  1. There is no such thing as safe plastic.

It’s not just the phthalates. Plastics contain multitudes of chemicals, including bisphenols A, S and F (BPAs, BPSs, and BPFs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Chemicals like these have been linked to cancers, weakened immune systems, organ problems, and developmental delays in kids. Bisphenols specifically (particularly BPA) have been identified as endocrine-disrupting and linked to obesity. Research also shows that BPAs make it more difficult for women to conceive and increase the risk of miscarriages.

  1. These containers are bad for the environment.

We are literally filling our world with plastic garbage. Since plastic came into common use in the 1950s, we have produced more than 8 billion tons of it. Only 10 percent of that, at most, has been recycled.
» Read article              

» More about plastics, health & environment

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Weekly News Check-In 10/30/20

banner 19

Welcome back.

Time’s up. Before our next check-in, the polls will close in the U.S. election and we will formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Vote…. No excuses. Plus be good to yourselves and each other – we’re going to be OK.

News about the Weymouth compressor station centers on emergency response plans from the town and seemingly toothless rumblings from the Attorney General’s office. The thing is built, and will begin operations pending results of investigations into two unplanned gas releases that occurred in September.

The divestment movement notched a recent win, as the Church of England’s Pension Board dumped all its ExxonMobil shares.

With a greener future within reach, we’re following lots of reporting about the social, environmental, and equity issues being addressed as planners seek to avoid some of the failings that mark the current economy.

Our climate section is full of analysis of what this political moment means for the planet’s future – including calls to begin seriously studying solar geoengineering to cool the planet in the event that things get really bad. That story is way scarier than anything else we’ve heard this Halloween….

Fortunately, a team at Stanford University believes it’s possible to achieve a fully green grid as early as 2030 using a combination of solar, wind, and batteries. But even with clean electricity on the grid, older buildings still face barriers to improving energy efficiency to the extent necessary. Mold and asbestos remediation costs are stopping many building envelope improvement projects from moving forward – indicating a need to fund these measures in lower-income neighborhoods.

The stability and reliability of the grid can be enhanced through microgrids, and a new, plug-and-play version developed by Emera Technologies is about to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida.

This week we’re using our clean transportation section to showcase reports that General Motors and Ford both knew their internal combustion engines were climate change drivers as early as the ’60s and ’70s. Instead of investing in emission-free technologies, they instead promoted climate denial while bulking up their trucks and SUVs. These firms may now be exposed to the same litigation as the oil majors are mired in.

The health risks of indoor gas use are worth thinking about as the weather turns cold and we spend more time in closed-up spaces. Climate issues of gas stoves aside, they’re a source of serious health concern when not properly vented to the outside.

The fossil fuel industry found a way to divert Covid-19 relief funds in North Dakota from cleaning up old wells to financing more fracking. While shady schemes and outright fraud are standard fare in this seciton, we also have news that the natural gas industry may be facing ‘peak gas’ much earlier than expected. And the liquefied natural gas industry is processing news that France’s government asked local power group Engie to delay the signing of a 20-year deal to buy LNG from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions.

We finish with a couple reports on plastics. A petition circulating in Kenya seeks to hold that country’s tough line on plastics imports – a position the U.S. is seeking to undermine during current trade negotiations. And we have another explainer on plastics recycling, and the myth of that little triangle.

button - BEAT News button - BZWI  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

emergency planTown’s public safety officials offer plan for compressor station emergency
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger, in Wicked Local Weymouth
October 27, 2020

The town’s heads of public safety say they feel largely prepared to deal with any emergencies that could happen at the newly-completed natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

Emergency Management Director John Mulveyhill, Fire Chief Keith Start and Police Chief Richard Fuller went before town council’s environmental committee this week to discuss the recently-completed contingency plan for the compressor station, which is close by the MWRA sewage pumping station, Fore River Bridge, numerous industrial facilities and hundreds of homes.

The more than 1,000-page plan details what role each agency would play during a medical emergency, gas leak or catastrophic event at the compressor station. It includes evacuation information from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, regional shelter and emergency operation center plans and a statewide fire and emergency medical services mobilization plan, among other things.

Several portions of the plan regarding the emergency response by Enbridge, the energy company that owns the compressor station, are under review to decide if officials can release anything for public viewing.
» Read article                

Healey wades in
Healey wades into debate over Weymouth gas compressor station
By Statehouse News Service, on Channel 7 News, Boston
October 26, 2020

Responding to a cadre of South Shore lawmakers who had asked her to intervene and address what they described as potential regulatory and civil rights violations impacting environmental justice communities, Attorney General Maura Healey said last week that her office will keep a close eye on a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth and is open to collaborating with lawmakers to change the permitting process for future projects.

Last month, South Shore lawmakers who have long opposed the Weymouth project wrote to Healey with complaints that project operators and state agencies failed to provide sufficient notice to residents, particularly those in designated environmental justice communities, ahead of several important hearings and public comment periods.

“In response to your concerns about public notices to environmental justice communities near the project, my team asked MassDEP to closely examine past public involvement practices with the facility and encouraged the agency to explore additional options for improvements going forward, including ensuring community responsive translation,” Healey wrote in her letter last week. “Public involvement by all communities, but especially environmental justice communities, is equally important. We understand that MassDEP intends to speak again with community leaders to solicit further feedback on what additional steps the agency could include in the current public involvement plan related to cleanup at the site to address any ongoing concerns.”

Healey has previously called for Massachusetts to steer away from expanding natural gas infrastructure but has not vocally and directly opposed the compressor station that Enbridge sought and now controls in Weymouth.

In her letter, however, Healey said she is “deeply concerned about the recent emergency natural gas releases at the facility,” and that her office has been in touch with federal regulators to discuss the issue.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

 

DIVESTMENT

Exxon Scope 3
Church Of England Dumps All ExxonMobil Stock
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 8, 2020

The Church of England Pensions Board divested this week all its shares in ExxonMobil since the U.S. supermajor has failed to set targets to cut Scope 3 emissions—those generated by the products it sells—a spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg on Thursday. 

The Church of England Pensions Board, which manages more than US$3.62 billion (2.8 billion British pounds) in assets, has been one of Exxon’s shareholders that has consistently called on the oil giant to report emissions and provide a pathway to reduce emissions from its operations and the products it sells to customers.  

“Exxon failed to meet the index criteria which embeds the latest assessment by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), and as a result the board is disinvested from Exxon,” the spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg.

While European oil majors have started to report the so-called Scope 3 emissions and have committed to reduce them over the next decades, Exxon hasn’t done that, drawing criticism from its investors, including the Church Commissioners for England and BlackRock.
» Read article                

» More about divestment              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

taking actionWhat Is the Clean Energy Industry Doing to Confront Racism?
“We need to be very careful that as we grow and mature we’re not replicating the injustices that have proliferated to date throughout the energy system.”
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
October 29, 2020

In the wake of spring outpourings of grief and anger over the killings of Black Americans such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, numerous companies in the clean energy industry turned the lens inward. Companies that had never before spoken out about racism published statements condemning it, and some donated to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  

Despite the unprecedented action, inequality is not a new or unrecognized problem in the renewables industry. It remains to be seen whether these newest expressions of upset and accompanying initiatives to combat racism within and outside company ranks will continue.

So far, the clean energy industry has largely embraced a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach: If renewables companies help clean up the grid, that will naturally reduce pollution for the communities of color who experience it most acutely. But assessing the industry’s metrics holistically — such as the number of opportunities for Black employees in the industry, wealth created in underserved communities, and the availability of solar to majority-nonwhite neighborhoods — shows that that approach has fallen flat in challenging the legacy of systemic racism within clean energy.

“At its core, the idea of moving forward clean energy, whether it’s solar or wind, has been good,” said Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. But overall, Patterson said, the industry’s approach to anti-racism efforts has been lackluster, even after she’s advised companies on best practices.

“When I have those conversations and send information, there’s no action. […] In this moment, all of a sudden, there’s more of an interest,” Patterson told Greentech Media. “We’ll see whether that actually leads to things being done.”

To make a change, Patterson said, companies need to recognize the “social good” associated with anti-racism alongside the benefits to their business.

In recent weeks and months, several coalitions have put forth new plans. Now companies have to show they will actually put them into practice.
» Read article                

new thinkingGreen stimulus could create $280B in economic benefits: C40
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 28, 2020

C40 Cities formed the COVID-19 task force in late April to prioritize public health, economic equality and climate amid recovery from the pandemic. At the time, the member mayors said they would identify how cities can best create new jobs while keeping emissions and climate change at the forefront of the discussion about recovery.

With C40 having previously voiced its support for a Global Green New Deal and backing a declaration to divest from fossil fuels, the task force warned that a new way of thinking is needed as cities look to stimulate their economies and invest in infrastructure.

“If governments use stimulus funding to try to return to ‘business as usual’ before COVID, emissions will rise and run-away climate breakdown will be locked in,” the mayors wrote in a joint statement. “It is only through a green and just recovery based on the principles of a Global Green New Deal… that emissions will start to fall.”
» Read article                

looking for the exitOil And Gas Workers Continue to be Excluded From ‘Just Transition’, Report Shows
By Chris Silver, DeSmog UK
October 22, 2020

The majority of offshore workers in the North Sea would consider leaving the sector, a new report has found.

Poor job security was cited as the most pressing reason to quit the industry, after the collapse in oil prices from Covid-19 saw 43% of oil and gas workers furloughed or made redundant since March.

The report, carried out by climate groups Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace, found 81.7% of workers surveyed were open to leaving the industry, but lacked the government support to switch sectors.

One worker surveyed commented: “The way the industry is treating their workers, especially those in a situation similar to mine, is an absolute disgrace and should not be allowed to happen.”

Another added: “I know guys who have had two or three pay cuts over six months, no negotiations, nothing. If one engineering company cuts rates, all the others do too. I’ve honestly long suspected there is a cartel around this.”

More than half of the 1,383 workers surveyed – representing 4.5% of the offshore workforce – said they would be interested in working in renewables and offshore wind. 

Another respondent, ‘Steve,’ 43, contrasted the experience of decline in oil and gas with the prospect of working towards Scotland’s 2045 net-zero target.  

“It’s always boom and bust to some degree but the last five years have not been a pleasant environment to work in – that’s five years of mental toil,” he said. “To be in an industry that’s growing, versus one that’s declining, that’s really what it’s all about to me.”  

Working towards net-zero “would be an achievement in my working life and mean a lot to me,” he added.
» Read article               
» Read the survey report        

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

plan v no plan
There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It.
Our political culture isn’t ready to deal with climate change.
By Farhad Manjoo, New York Times – Opinion
October 28, 2020

If you’re a supporter of that radical extremist group Keep America Habitable for Human Beings, you might have been encouraged by the 2020 presidential race.

In 2016, climate change — the scientific fact of the earth’s encroaching uninhabitability — was mostly ignored, including in the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This year, the changing climate and what to do about it got airtime in both presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate. Climate change was also one of the top issues during the Democratic primary race. Several candidates published detailed climate plans; Joe Biden’s proposal is the most ambitious response to climate change ever proposed by a major-party nominee for president.

And yet I keep getting discouraged by how far there is to go. Voters, the candidates and especially the political media have not given it enough attention this year, considering the stakes at hand. Worse, when politicians do address climate change, the discussion in mainstream media is often uninformed, following a script favorable to oil companies.

These problems were on stark display in the ridiculous dust-up over Biden’s statement during the debate last week that the United States needs to transition away from oil. When asked about climate change, Biden told a series of truths. He noted, correctly, that it’s an “existential threat to humanity,” that “we don’t have much time” to address it, that doing so could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that it would involve eliminating our reliance on the cause of the problem, fossil fuels.

Trump’s answer was a series of absurdities. He said that he loves the environment, but that plans to address climate change would cost a lot of money and many jobs, would require buildings with very small windows and that wind power creates “fumes” and kills a lot of birds. (In fact, cats, buildings and cars are far bigger threats to birds.)

I’m not sure how anyone could come away from that debate thinking that Biden is the one who made a rhetorical flub. “The takeaway isn’t what Biden said, it’s what Trump said,” Kendra Pierre-Louis, a former reporter for The New York Times who is now a reporter on the podcast “How to Save a Planet,” told me. “Trump effectively said he doesn’t have a climate plan, and we are facing an existential crisis.”

Yet it was Biden, not Trump, who got in political hot water for his answer. After the debate, Trump’s campaign, with an assist from talking heads on cable news and the internet, began suggesting that Biden’s comments would hurt his chances in oil- and gas-producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania. Biden later walked back his comment, explaining that a transition away from oil would take very long time.

What a disaster. Why can’t we abide an honest discussion about climate change?
» Read article               

simply grotesque‘Grotesquely Fitting’ Say Climate Campaigners as Trump Mulls Pro-Fracking Executive Order Ahead of Election
Polling data doesn’t support the idea that the issue is politically popular overall, and critics say the order would be “just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
October 28, 2020

Climate campaigners and journalists called out President Donald Trump after the Wall Street Journal revealed late Tuesday—just a week before Election Day—that he is considering a last-minute executive order to promote fracking as an apparent ploy to win over undecided voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.

Trump is weighing an order “mandating an economic analysis” of hydraulic fracturing, as the oil and gas extraction process is also called, according to the Journal. Unnamed officials told the newspaper that the work would be spearheaded by the U.S. Energy and Interior departments with input from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Treasury Department.

The measure “would ask government agencies to perform an analysis of fracking’s impact on the economy and trade and the consequences if the oil-and-gas extraction technique was banned,” the Journal reported. “It also would order those agencies to evaluate what more they can do to expand its use, possibly through land management or support of developing technology.”

Food & Water Action policy director Mitch Jones responded in a statement Wednesday declaring that “this order is just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue. There is no doubt that fracking poisons our air and water, and that drilling is driving us towards climate crisis. There is something grotesquely fitting that an administration that has sacrificed climate action for the sake of the fossil fuel industry thinks fracking is a winner.”

“The truth is that the fracking industry is in collapse. Fracking has never been the economic engine that its backers have claimed it to be, and any attempts to resuscitate it are only delaying the inevitable,” Jones continued. “Debt-ridden drilling companies have laid off thousands of workers while CEOs make off with millions in profits.”
» Read article                

the last worst ideaAs Climate Disasters Pile Up, a Radical Proposal Gains Traction
The idea of modifying Earth’s atmosphere to cool the planet, once seen as too risky to seriously consider, is attracting new money and attention.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 28, 2020

As the effects of climate change become more devastating, prominent research institutions and government agencies are focusing new money and attention on an idea once dismissed as science fiction: Artificially cooling the planet, in the hopes of buying humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

That strategy, called solar climate intervention or solar geoengineering, entails reflecting more of the sun’s energy back into space — abruptly reducing global temperatures in a way that mimics the effects of ash clouds spewed by volcanic eruptions. The idea has been derided as a dangerous and illusory fix, one that would encourage people to keep burning fossil fuels while exposing the planet to unexpected and potentially menacing side effects.

But as global warming continues, producing more destructive hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other disasters, some researchers and policy experts say that concerns about geoengineering should be outweighed by the imperative to better understand it, in case the consequences of climate change become so dire that the world can’t wait for better solutions.

“We’re facing an existential threat, and we need to look at all the options,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School and editor of a book on the technology and its legal implications. “I liken geoengineering to chemotherapy for the planet: If all else is failing, you try it.”
» Read article                

Trumping NOAAAs Election Nears, Trump Makes a Final Push Against Climate Science
The administration is imposing new limits on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would undercut action against global warming.
By Christopher Flavelle and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
October 27, 2020

The Trump administration has recently removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s premier scientific agency, installed new political staff who have questioned accepted facts about climate change and imposed stricter controls on communications at the agency.

The moves threaten to stifle a major source of objective United States government information about climate change that underpins federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions and offer an indication of the direction the agency will take if President Trump wins re-election.

An early sign of the shift came last month, when Erik Noble, a former White House policy adviser who had just been appointed NOAA’s chief of staff, removed Craig McLean, the agency’s acting chief scientist.

Mr. McLean had sent some of the new political appointees a message that asked them to acknowledge the agency’s scientific integrity policy, which prohibits manipulating research or presenting ideologically driven findings.
» Read article                

protect what you love
New East Boston Murals Intertwine Beauty And Environmental Concerns
By Cristela Guerra, WBUR
October 27, 2020


In East Boston, a series of seven new large-scale murals emphasize the natural world and the need to preserve the environment at all costs.

Artist Silvia Lopez Chavez has created a visual guardian near the entrance of Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina. Her mural depicts a massive figure of a woman with ocean waters rising to her nose. Still, she looks composed, serene almost, a woman of mixed ancestry meant to represent the diverse community that lives in East Boston.

The figure’s head is crowned by a clipper ship, a type of vessel that used to be built in East Boston. The ships carried cargo, but also enslaved people, across the oceans. The vessel nods to this nation’s history of colonization, a solemn acknowledgment of how some people arrived on these shores.

“[The woman] represents the past, present, and future,” Lopez Chavez said. “I wanted her to be able to connect to the histories of this place, to connect to that native and indigenous heritage, the history of immigration and all the different peoples and groups that have come through here.”

Presented by Linda Cabot, and in a collaboration with HarborArts and the international nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, the initiative is known as Sea Walls Boston and combines activism with art. A seventh piece exploring warming oceans by Colombian-American artist Felipe Ortiz is underway.

“It’s not front of mind for a lot of us, but the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming body of water in the United States, which is causing many of the cold water marine species in the US to migrate to colder waters,” project director Matthew Pollock said. “The same issues that are destroying coral reefs and causing biodiversity to disappear all over the world also affect us right here at home. This mural represents how our oceans are all connected.”
» Read article               

election crossroadsClimate at a crossroads as Trump and Biden point in different directions
The two US presidential contenders offer starkly different approaches as the world tries to avoid catastrophic global heating
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
October 26, 2020

Among the myriad reasons world leaders will closely watch the outcome of a fraught US presidential election, the climate crisis looms perhaps largest of all.

The international effort to constrain dangerous global heating will hinge, in large part, on which of the dichotomous approaches of Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails.

On 4 November, the day after the election, the US will exit the Paris climate agreement, a global pact that has wobbled but not collapsed from nearly four years of disparagement and disengagement under Trump.

Biden has vowed to immediately rejoin the Paris deal. The potential of a second Trump term, however, is foreboding for those whose anxiety has only escalated during the hottest summer ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, with huge wildfires scorching California and swaths of central South America, and extraordinary temperatures baking the Arctic.

“It’s a decision of great consequence, to both the US and the world,” said Laurence Tubiana, a French diplomat and key architect of the Paris accords. “The rest of the world is moving to a low-carbon future, but we need to collectively start moving even faster, and the US still has a significant global role to play in marshaling this effort.”
» Read article               

EU punts 2030 target
EU environment ministers strike deal on climate law, leave out 2030 target
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
October 23, 2020

European Union environment ministers struck a deal on Friday to make the bloc’s 2050 net zero emissions target legally binding, but left a decision on a 2030 emissions-cutting target for leaders to discuss in December.

The landmark climate change law will form the basis for Europe’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions, which will reshape all sectors, from transport to heavy industry, and require hundreds of billions of euros in annual investments.

It will fix in law the EU target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and define the rules for reviewing progress towards climate targets.

Ministers struck a deal on these parts of the law at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday. None of the 27 member countries rejected the bill, although Bulgaria abstained.

A decision on the most politically sensitive part of the bill – a new 2030 emissions-cutting target – was left for EU leaders to agree, unanimously, at a December meeting.

The law will give Brussels “the legal possibility to act when those who make promises don’t deliver on the promises,” said EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans at Friday’s meeting. It was held in person, despite much of the continent restricting gatherings to curb surging coronavirus infections.
» Read article                

 nap time is over          Worms Frozen for 42,000 Years in Siberian Permafrost Wriggle to Life
By Mindy Weisberger, LiveScience
July 27, 2018

Did you ever wake up from a long nap feeling a little disoriented, not quite knowing where you were? Now, imagine getting a wake-up call after being “asleep” for 42,000 years.

In Siberia, melting permafrost is releasing nematodes — microscopic worms that live in soil — that have been suspended in a deep freeze since the Pleistocene. Despite being frozen for tens of thousands of years, two species of these worms were successfully revived, scientists recently reported in a new study.

Their findings, published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Doklady Biological Sciences, represent the first evidence of multicellular organisms returning to life after a long-term slumber in Arctic permafrost, the researchers wrote. [Weird Wildlife: The Real Animals of Antarctica]

Though nematodes are tiny — typically measuring about 1 millimeter in length — they are known to possess impressive abilities. Some are found living 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) below Earth’s surface, deeper than any other multicellular animal. Certain worms that live on an island in the Indian Ocean can develop one of five different mouths, depending on what type of food is available. Others are adapted to thrive inside slug intestines and travel on slimy highways of slug poop.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

super power SWB
Super power: Here’s how to get to 100pct wind, solar and storage by 2030
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
October 28, 2020

A team led by renowned Stanford University futurist Tony Seba says most of the world can transition to 100 per cent wind, solar and storage electricity grids within the coming decade, in what they describe as the fastest, deepest and most profound disruptions ever seen in the energy industry.

The RethinkX team led by Seba, one of the few analysts to correctly forecast the plunging cost of solar over the last decade, predicts that the disruption caused by solar, wind and lithium-ion battery storage, or SWB, will be similar to the digital disruption of information technology.

“What happened in the world of bits is now poised to happen in the world of electrons,” they write.

“Just as computers and the Internet slashed the marginal cost of information and opened the door to hundreds of new business models that collectively have had a transformative impact upon the global economy, so too will SWB slash the marginal cost of electricity and create a plethora of opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The key to this disruption, they say, is the near-zero marginal cost of wind and solar, and the falling costs of those technologies and of storage. They say there will inevitably be more wind and solar produced than needed, but that’s OK because this excess production, which they dub “super power”, can be used for long-term storage, electrification of housing and industrial processes and, of course, transport.

“Our analysis shows that 100% clean electricity from the combination of solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) is both physically possible and economically affordable across the entire continental United States as well as the overwhelming majority of other populated regions of the world by 2030.

“Adoption of SWB is growing exponentially worldwide and disruption is now inevitable because by 2030 they will offer the cheapest electricity option for most regions. Coal, gas, and nuclear power assets will become stranded during the 2020s, and no new investment in these technologies is rational from this point forward.”
» Read article                

Koch at DOEThe Koch Operatives Behind the Trump Energy Department’s Renewables Research Censorship
By Ben Jervey, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Two Trump Energy Department appointees with deep ties to Koch Industries and the Koch donor network have been burying reams of agency research that looks favorably on renewable energy, according to an in-depth investigation by Grist and InvestigateWest. Published October 26, the investigation reveals how the appointed high-ranking officials mandated political review of research, watered down reports, and slow-walked or shelved scientific findings and studies when they favored renewable deployment over continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Documents obtained by InvestigateWest reveal clear political interference in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), much of it coordinated by Dan Simmons, the office’s Assistant Secretary, and Alex Fitzsimmons, the former Chief of Staff to Simmons. While the article notes the lobbying histories of DOE’s top brass, Simmons and Fitzsimmons also have recent ties to the Koch network.

“In all, the department has blocked reports for more than 40 clean energy studies,” Fairley reported. “The department has replaced them with mere presentations, buried them in scientific journals that are not accessible to the public, or left them paralyzed within the agency, according to emails and documents obtained by InvestigateWest, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at the Department of Energy, or DOE, and its national labs.”

“There are dozens of reports languishing right now that can’t be published,” Stephen Capanna, a former director of strategic analysis for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, told Grist. “This is a systemic issue.”
» Read article                

almost no birds
Danish research shows “almost no birds” die in collisions with wind turbines
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
October 23, 2020

The results of a multi-year scientific study in Denmark has concluded that birds are quite good at avoiding wind turbine blades, putting a serious dent in a common argument raised by anti-wind and -renewable activists.

The new study, carried out by three relevant consultancies for Swedish power company Vattenfall, investigated the area around 11 turbines every three days for three periods of just over a month in both the first and third years after the erection of the 67.2MW Klim Wind Farm in northern Jutland, Denmark (pictured above).

The research was carried out between August 2016 and May 2017 in the first year of operation, and August 2018 and May 2019 in the third year of operation. In an effort to determine an annual collision rate for the pink-footed geese and cranes, 11 selected turbines were inspected during autumn, winter, and spring.

The Klim Wind Farm is a valuable scientific opportunity, located in the immediate vicinity of the international Natura 2000 bird protection area Vejlerne, where each day, thousands of birds leave their roosting areas in Vejlerne to fly out to nearby fields to find food. Unsurprisingly, given its location, many of these birds fly past the Klim Wind Farm.

According to the study – the results of which will be published in DOF BirdLife Denmark’s scientific journal together with a ‘peer review’ for professional consolidation – in the first year of investigation, a total of 17 dead birds were found under the 11 selected wind turbines. In the third year, 22 dead birds or their remains were found.

Importantly, the discovered dead birds or remains were not always those of the pink-footed geese, and no dead cranes were found which had crashed into the turbines.

According to the final analysis, the researchers determined that the evasive response for both the pink-footed geese and the cranes over the two study years worked out to be 99.9% – based on a population of 20,000-30,000 geese and several hundred cranes.

Sponsored by Vattenfall, which naturally has a vested interest in the outcome of the report’s findings, the study was carried out partly to prove that the Klim Wind Farm complied with its environmental permit – which stipulates that collisions must not exceed 75% of the current sustainable mortality rates for populations of pink-footed geese and crane.

However, importantly, the findings stand for themselves, as do the credits of the three independent authors who carried out the investigation.
» Read article               

VPP video
The next generation of power plants will be virtual
Your next home or electric vehicle could be part of a virtual power plant
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 20, 2020

Increasing numbers of homes outfitted with solar panels and batteries have the potential to help power entire regions with renewable energy. Working together, homes with solar setups are turning neighborhoods into virtual power plants that can feed power back to the grid and prevent blackouts.

These interconnected solar power systems are popping up across the globe — from apartment complexes in California and Utah, to public housing in South Australia. In the future, virtual power plants might even be made up of fleets of electric vehicles. It’s the next generation of solar power technology
» Watch video                

» More about clean energy           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

barriers to efficiency
Mold, asbestos may put Connecticut weatherization goal out of reach
State leaders are looking for funding sources for remediation work that needs to happen before many energy efficiency upgrades can be completed.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By National Institutes of Health
October 29, 2020

Lorenzo Wyatt owns a Connecticut energy-efficiency contracting business focused almost exclusively on low-income residents — about 80% of his customers are eligible for no-cost energy savings services through the state’s residential efficiency programs.

But nearly a third of those customers are not able to weatherize their houses or apartments, and lose out on energy savings. That’s because mold, asbestos, and other health hazards discovered in their homes must be cleaned up before contractors can safely seal the space, an undertaking that easily runs into the thousands of dollars.

Those costs are not covered by the state’s efficiency programs. And very few of Wyatt’s customers can afford to pay themselves. 

“Typically, 30% of the income-eligible customers will have these barriers,” said Wyatt, whose company, Home Comfort Practice, is based in Stratford. “Very few will go through with remediation. That’s been the issue.”

It’s a difficult problem that has hampered the state’s residential energy efficiency programs for years and prevents the most money-strapped households from obtaining services that could significantly reduce their energy bills. 

Eversource and United Illuminating, which administer the efficiency programs, say about 10-14% of their market-rate customers have a health and safety barrier in their homes; that percentage rises to 25-30% among low-income households. 

The barriers make it nearly impossible for the utilities to reach the weatherization target set by legislation: weatherize 80% of Connecticut residences by 2030.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

MICROGRIDS

blockenergy
Emera Technologies Unveils Plug-and-Play Neighborhood Microgrid Geared for Utilities
By Ethan Howland, Microgrid Knowledge
October 26, 2020

Emera Technologies has developed a residential, plug-and-play microgrid system called BlockEnergy that is designed to be owned and operated by utilities – a sector in search of a way to offer microgrids that works within its business structure.

Set to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida, the system aligns with major trends in the utility sector, according to Scott Balfour, president and CEO of Emera, a $32 billion utility company based in Halifax, Nova Scotia and parent of Emera Technologies.

“It provides local, decentralized energy that can interoperate with the grid with never before possible levels of reliability and system safety,” Balfour said. “It contributes to decarbonization, enabling more efficient adoption of much higher levels of rooftop solar generation.

The system, designed for new subdivisions, has four main components, including a Block box that sits outside a home, according to Rob Bennett, Emera Technologies CEO. 

A nanogrid connected to rooftop solar, the box contains control electronics, an energy storage battery and an inverter that converts the microgrid’s direct current power to alternating current for use inside the home, Bennett said.

The box connects to a cable network system — A DC bus — that loops through the neighborhood, connecting all the boxes on the system, Bennett explained. The resources are shared across the network. The loops can handle as many as 50 homes.

The network is connected to a central energy park that includes batteries, controls and a backup, natural gas-fired generator that can provide power during outages or when the solar panels aren’t generating enough power to serve the system, Bennett said.

The network also connects with the wider grid and can provide grid-wide benefits such as frequency support, power export and power import when a utility wants to store energy, according to Bennett.
» Read article                

» More about microgrids            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

GM and Ford knew
Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago
By Maxine Joselow, E&E News
October 26, 2020

Scientists at two of America’s biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a monthslong investigation by E&E News has found.

The discoveries by General Motors and Ford Motor Co. preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling U.S. efforts to make vehicles cleaner.

Researchers at both automakers found strong evidence in the 1960s and ’70s that human activity was warming the Earth. A primary culprit was the burning of fossil fuels, which released large quantities of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide that could trigger melting of polar ice sheets and other dire consequences.

A GM scientist presented her findings to at least three high-level executives at the company, including a former chairman and CEO. It’s unclear whether similar warnings reached the top brass at Ford.

But in the following decades, both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.

It wasn’t until 1996 that GM produced its first commercial electric vehicle, called the EV1. Ford released a compact electric pickup truck in 1998.

More than 50 years after the automakers learned about climate change, the transportation sector is the leading source of planet-warming pollution in the United States. Cars and trucks account for the bulk of those emissions.
» Read article                

hummer
Detroit Knew: GM and Ford Were Aware of Climate Risks Decades Ago Too, Investigation Reveals
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Groundbreaking reporting this week by E&E News revealed that, similar to major oil companies like Exxon, American automakers Ford and General Motors (GM) engaged in early cutting-edge climate science research and that the companies were aware as early as the 1960s of potential climate risks that stem from burning the fossil fuels that power their vehicles. The investigation, published Monday, October 26, also describes how the auto giants largely dismissed those risks and actively lobbied to block action and fund climate science denial campaigns.

“Just as with the oil industry, the auto industry was really focused on potential regulatory threats from pollution to its business long ago,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit law firm which helped uncover historical documents on Ford scientists’ climate research, told DeSmog. 

“That the auto industry would be aware of the emerging science that was relevant to how its products operate is not surprising,” Muffett added. Yet despite this early knowledge, he explained, the industry “embarked on a multi-decade course of action designed to sow uncertainty about climate science and to block climate action.”

What could be relevant in potential climate litigation, which the oil industry is already facing, is not only what the automakers knew and when, but what they did in response. Rather than publicly acknowledging the climate consequences of fossil fuel consumption from automobiles and shifting to alternatives like electric vehicles, Ford and General Motors continued business as usual, while stoking uncertainty about climate science through their private donations.    

“Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming,” E&E reporter Maxine Joselow wrote in the investigation.
» Read article                

» More about clean transportation             

 

HEALTH RISKS – INDOOR GAS USE

scary stove
Gas Stoves Are the Scariest Thing in the Kitchen
By Dharna Noor, Gizmodo
October 29, 2020

As a Climate Person, I strongly believe we urgently need to electrify everything and ditch natural gas completely. The problem is, I love my gas stove. I find the heat from an electric stove’s coils basically impossible to control—last time I used one, I burned a beautiful pan sauce to a brown crisp.

Though gas stoves are comparatively easy to cook with, they’re actually incredibly dangerous. One recent report found that gas stoves spew out levels of air pollution inside that would be illegal under outdoor regulations.

“It’s really a cocktail of emissions that they put out,” Brady Seals, senior associate of building electrification at the Rocky Mountain Institute who co-authored the study, said. “There’s the emissions from the gas itself, the main ones of which are nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. And then there’s the particulate matter, or the small pollution particles, that come from the stove flames and from the food that’s getting cooked.”

Each of these toxins can enter the human body when we inhale, causing respiratory issues, especially for those who have chronic breathing conditions like asthma. The teeniest bits of particulate matter are so small that they can also pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and even the brain where they have been linked to anxiety and problems with attention and memory.

All that pollution can be mitigated by ventilation hoods, but people don’t tend to use their hoods enough. That’s partially because some of the toxins stoves produce aren’t detectable to the naked eye or nose.

It’s clear that gas stoves simply can’t stick around, as great as they are for cooking compared to electric stoves. Luckily, though, those aren’t the only two options.

“The best alternative is induction stoves,” Aldana Cohen said. “Many of the world’s best chefs use them. They are way better for people’s health. They perform far better than conventional electric stoves.”

Unlike traditional electric stoves, which have coils that get heated by electricity, induction burners run on electromagnetism, making them more energy efficient. Since they only heat magnetic surfaces like iron pans, they’re also safer.
» Read article               

» More about indoor gas use risks          

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Covid relief funds fracked
The $16 Million Was Supposed to Clean Up Old Oil Wells; Instead, It’s Going to Frack New Ones
North Dakota, where Covid-19 rates are surging, is redirecting the federal relief money, turning it into grants that will go directly to oil companies.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
October 28, 2020

North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator had a problem. With winter bearing down, his department had yet to spend $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas well sites across the state, and the arrival of cold weather would halt the work. 

If the money wasn’t spent by the end of the year, the state would lose it. So Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, proposed a different use for the funds: paying oil companies to hydraulically fracture new wells.

The proposal landed in front of state lawmakers on Wednesday during a budget meeting that many members attended remotely, calling in from easy chairs and living rooms because of the state’s surging coronavirus caseload. Despite pleas from some lawmakers that the money would be better spent helping nursing homes safely allow family visits or amplifying contact tracing, the committee approved Helms’ request.
» Read article                

gas peaking early
Peak Gas Is Coming to the U.S. Sooner Than Anyone Expected
By Naureen Malik, Brian Eckhouse, Dave Merrill and Jeremy C.F. Lin, Bloomberg
October 22, 2020

One of the largest utilities in the U.S. put $8 billion into a bet that natural gas would dominate American electricity much like coal had before. “We really consider this to be a growth play,” Tom Fanning, chief executive officer of Southern Co., said in an interview just five years ago, as his company set on its landmark acquisition: natural-gas distributor AGL Resources Inc.

Gas looked to be on the verge of generational dominance at the time. The American fracking boom had made the fuel superabundant and cheap, hastening coal’s rapid decline, while energy from wind and solar had higher costs and lower reliability. A giant utility like Southern would naturally see gas pipelines and storage as the key to a durable and lucrative future, meeting demand that would continue to grow.

Now those expansive time horizons are in deep doubt. In fact, there are flashing signs that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak gas, with demand topping out decades ahead of schedule. “The era of robust growth in the U.S. natural gas market is likely coming to a close,” says Devin McDermott, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “It doesn’t mean the market falls apart. It doesn’t mean gas demand falls off of a cliff. It means that we need less new supply going forward.”

Natural gas only fulfilled its destiny as the nation’s top power source in 2016, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the creation of a gas-based economy. Renewables could take over as the No. 1 power source on the grid as soon as 2028, according to projections by McDermott and Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Byrd.

The American gas peak will mark a critical juncture—and it may have already been reached. McDermott expects overall U.S. gas demand growth in the U.S. slow to between 1% and 2% per year through 2030 as use by power generators shrinks by 2% to 3%. Overall demand could flatline or fall slightly if the Democrats win in November, a dramatic shift after years of record growth. “It’s a gradual trend, but it does add up over time,” he says.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel     

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Engie hold upFrance Delays U.S. LNG Deal On Environmental Concerns
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
October 23, 2020

France’s government has asked local power group Engie, in which it holds more than 20 percent, to delay the signing of a 20-year deal worth US$7-billion to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions, Politico reported, quoting sources with knowledge of the issue.

Engie was preparing to sign the multi-billion offtake deal with NextDecade Corporation, which is developing the Rio Grande LNG project in Texas. Rio Grande LNG, whose final investment decision is expected in 2021, is supposed to use the abundant shale gas supply from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale.

But the French government has asked Engie to hold off on signing the deal because France is concerned that the shale gas producers in Texas emit too much methane at a time when the European Union (EU) and its major economies, including France, are looking to develop and import clean energy.
» Read article                

» More about LNG           

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

plastics petitionCampaigners Tell Kenyan Government ‘Don’t Backslide on Plastics’ in US Trade Deal
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
October 27, 2020

Campaigners are calling on the Kenyan government to protect the country from an influx of plastic pollution as a consequence of a new free trade agreement with the US.

An online petition, organised by Greenpeace, calls on officials to reject terms in any new agreement that would make it easier for the US to export its plastic to Kenya.  The “Do Not Backslide on Plastics” campaign already has over 21,000 signatures.

It was launched after revelations by Greenpeace’s investigative journalism unit Unearthed that showed the American Chemistry Council (ACC) lobby group was pushing the US Trade Representative to include terms that would contradict Kenya’s recent efforts to curb its plastic consumption.

In public letters to the US Trade Representative and US International Trade Commission, the Council writes: “Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying US-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement.”

The ACC is backed by fossil fuel companies including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and BP and major agri-chemical companies including Bayer, BASF, FMC and Corteva.

Greenpeace is asking Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade, Industrialisation and Enterprise Development, Betty Maina, “to commit to Africa’s Plastic-free vision” as the country negotiates with the US.

Rwanda pioneered a ban on single use plastic bags in 2008, followed by Kenya in 2017 and Tanzania in 2019. This year Kenya marked World Environment Day by introducing a ban on single use plastic in all beaches, forests and conservation areas.

Fredrick Njehu, Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace Africa, says most of those who signed the petition are Kenyans, many of them young and alarmed at the prospect of their country being turned into a gateway for the export of plastics to the rest of Africa.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment              

 

PLASTICS RECYCLING

RIC mythThe Plastic Myth and the Misunderstood Triangle
By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie, EcoWatch
October 23, 2020

The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.

But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.

These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, were creating “unrealistic expectations” about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.

Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a resin identifier code or RIC) means something is recyclable.

But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles “are not recycle codes.” In fact, they weren’t created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.

In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – depending on the recycling facility.
» Read article                

» More about plastics recycling         

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Weekly News Check-In 6/12/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

This week mainstream news coverage of protests and social unrest sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis broadened its focus to acknowledge that the issues go well beyond police brutality against black and brown people. Longstanding, systemic racial and social injustices are being named and discussed – even by some conservatives. So this seems like an appropriate moment to review a pillar of the proposed Green New Deal legislation – that the crises of climate and social justice are so closely connected that they must be solved at the same time.

We begin this week’s Greening the Economy section with an article from The Guardian’s archives. A year ago, reporter Julian Brave NoiseCat explained the critical connection between climate and social justice – it’s a great reminder of how we arrived at this place in history, and where we hope to go.

Unfortunately, participating in climate-related protests and actions has become increasingly complicated. Two stories look beyond the obvious risk of COVID-19 exposure to describe both legal and extralegal tactics now deployed by state governments and private interests against activists.

Reports from Washington show the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doing all it can to greenlight pipeline projects, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is under court order to halt pipeline projects while landowner complaints are considered.

Our Climate and Clean Energy sections further illuminate the connection between systemic racism and the environment, advancing the discussion we opened with.

In more signs of trouble for the fossil fuel industry, Moody’s downgraded its outlook for the ‘midstream’ sector (pipelines and storage tanks). And fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy appears to be on the verge of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, a new report names the major banks financing environmentally catastrophic oil extraction operations in the western Amazon.

We close with an unnerving report on microplastics in the environment. They are airborne, and they are everywhere….

— The NFGiM Team

GREENING THE ECONOMY

AOC for SJ
No, climate action can’t be separated from social justice
Elites who divorce climate policy from social justice are almost as out of touch as those who deny climate science altogether
By Julian Brave NoiseCat, The Guardian
June 11, 2019 (This article is more than 1 year old)

If you set aside Republicans’ obsession with cow farts, perhaps the most prevalent criticism of the Green New Deal is its emphasis on social justice. Critics contend that the far-reaching climate agenda is far too concerned with extraneous issues such as jobs, infrastructure, housing, healthcare and civil and indigenous rights. Stick to greenhouse gases, they say; reforming the energy system is utopian enough.

This criticism crosses the aisle among elites. In February, the New York Times editorial board wondered whether addressing the climate crisis was “merely a cover for a wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the Democratic Party to the left?” A day later, the Washington Post editorial board opined that serious policymakers should not “muddle” decarbonization with social programs that “divert money and attention from the primary mission”.

But here’s the thing: social justice concerns are always intertwined with public policy – and absolutely central to climate policy.

Experts agree that we must quickly deploy vast resources to mitigate and adapt to global warming. If the United States aims to shift to 100% clean and renewable energy, we will need to build solar and wind farms across the country along with a national grid to connect them. Such a transformative investment could create a boom in jobs. But who would those jobs go to? Where would we build all of this new, green infrastructure, and who should own it? Which communities get energy first? How do we keep it affordable?

And that’s just the energy sector. To decarbonize our economy, we must make equally challenging choices across many other sectors – transportation, agriculture, buildings, manufacturing. In this vast and tangled web of society-wide choices, questions of social justice are everywhere.
Blog editor’s note: Because social justice leads so many news reports these days, this year-old article is worth another look. It does a great job explaining why there can be no climate solution without equitable resolution of social justice issues.
» Read article       

RJ podcast
Racial Justice Protests Put a Spotlight on Pollution and Clean Energy Solutions
On this episode of Political Climate, National Wildlife Federation’s Mustafa Santiago Ali connects the dots between the clean air, affordable energy and the racial justice movement.
By Julia Pyper, GreenTech Media
June 11, 2020

Deep-seated racial justice issues have been brought to the fore in recent weeks by a series of nationwide protests over police violence. These protests are taking place in the midst of a global pandemic, which has exposed, and in many cases exacerbated, longstanding issues of racial inequality.

The energy and climate space is not immune to racial discrimination. But some politicians have questioned whether this is the right moment to talk about issues such as pollution, calling it a misplaced political move.

Mustafa Santiago Ali has been on the front lines of the fight for environmental justice since he was a teenager and throughout his 24 years at the EPA. Now, as vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation, Ali says he’s hopeful this historic moment will accelerate equitably energy solutions.

On this episode of Political Climate, Ali connects the dots between the clean air, affordable energy and the racial justice movement. We also discuss the implications of recent environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration and take a hard look at how the clean energy industry can promote greater diversity.
» Listen to podcast      

large and small
Europe Goes Big on Green Recovery Package While America Pushes the Status Quo
This week on The Energy Gang: We’re back with another live show from quarantine.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media – Podcast
June 11, 2020

Europe is crafting a €750 billion recovery package in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It will devote more than €200 billion directly to low-carbon infrastructure projects. That could enable hundreds of billions more for renewables, efficiency, clean public transport and hydrogen.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., our recent stimulus package sent billions of dollars to debt-laden oil producers. With potentially one shot left to pass another recovery package, everyone seems to be afraid to utter the word “climate.”

The coronavirus crisis highlights a number of political and economic divides. Is America squandering a historic opportunity?
» Listen to podcast      

Norway oil tax break
Post-COVID-19: Norwegian oil industry plans huge offshore expansion after tax break by Gov.
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 11, 2020

We are living in a climate crisis, yet we still carry on digging for more oil to make that crisis worse. There is growing international pressure for Governments to center any COVID-19 recovery programmes on a green transition, including through supporting a managed phase-out of oil and gas production.

However even countries that champion their so-called green credentials are failing. Norway is one of those countries.

On Monday this week, Reuters reported that Norway’s parliament had “agreed additional tax breaks for the oil industry on top of those proposed by the minority government to spur investment and protect jobs”, the ruling Conservative Party said on Monday.

Equinor and other oil companies had complained that the government’s plan to postpone tax payments of 100 billion crowns ($10.8 billion) was “not enough.”

The industry aggressively lobbied the Government, which “relented” according to Reuters. The new rules will cover the taxable profits of future projects.

And no sooner had the Government given more favourable tax incentives than the following day, Aker BP and Equinor confirmed they would go ahead with several new offshore oil and gas projects.
» Read article       

just transition already
A ‘Just Transition’ for Fossil Fuel Workers
This week on The Interchange podcast: If we phase out fossil fuels, what happens to the industry’s workforce?
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media – podcast
June 5, 2020

We use the term “energy transition” to define markets, technology, business models. But what about people?

The transition away from fossil fuels isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. The hardest part isn’t building out the clean resources. It’s shutting down the dirty stuff at a pace the science demands. And that means disrupting entire classes of employment and communities that depend on fossil fuel extraction — in other words, helping people find work in another sector. The phrase often used to describe this approach is “just transition.”
» Listen to podcast       

» More about greening the economy

PROTEST AND ACTIONS

dark basin hack
Research Finds Hacking Operation Targeted Climate Action Groups
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
June 12, 2020

The Canadian digital watchdog group Citizen Lab reported Tuesday that a hack-for-hire group targeted thousands of organizations around the world, including climate advocacy groups involved in the #ExxonKnew campaign.

Groups that have asserted ExxonMobil knew about and hid data linking fossil fuel extraction to the climate crisis for years were among those that faced phishing attempts by a group dubbed “Dark Basin” by Citizen Lab. According to the research, numerous progressive groups—including Public Citizen, Greenpeace, 350.org, and Oil Change International—were among those targeted.

After an extensive multi-year investigation, Citizen Lab reported that it has linked Dark Basin “with high confidence” to BellTroX InfoTech Services, a technology company based in India which has publicly stated its hacking capabilities.

In 2017 when Citizen Lab began its investigation, the group believed Dark Basin could be state-sponsored, but soon determined it was likely a hack-for-hire operation. Its targets—which also included journalists, elected officials, and digital rights groups that have lobbied for net neutrality—”were often on only one side of a contested legal proceeding, advocacy issue, or business deal.”
» Read article       
» Read the Citizen Lab report

states criminalizing protests
US states have spent the past 5 years trying to criminalize protest
By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist
June 4, 2020

The Minnesota legislature has spent the last five years preparing for the kind of protests that have rocked the city over the past week in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd — by attempting to criminalize them.

From 2016 through 2019, state lawmakers introduced ten bills that either made obstructing traffic on highways a misdemeanor or increased penalties for protesting near oil and gas facilities. Most of these legislative proposals were introduced in response to ongoing protests against a controversial oil pipeline as well as those following the police killing of Philando Castile in a St. Paul suburb in 2016. The bills would have allowed protesters to be jailed for up to a year, fined offenders up to $3,000 each, and allowed cities to sue protesters for the cost of police response. Many of the bills were introduced in 2017 after racial justice activists in the state made headlines shutting down a major highway. A couple others were in response to protests in 2016 and 2019 against the energy company Enbridge’s planned replacement of a pipeline running from Alberta to Wisconsin.

Over the past half-decade, a wave of bills that criminalize civil disobedience has swept state legislatures across the country — particularly those controlled by Republican lawmakers. According to a new report by PEN America, a nonprofit advocating for First Amendment rights, 116 such bills were proposed in state legislatures between 2015 and 2020. Of those, 23 bills in 15 states became law. While there is no comprehensive count of the number of people arrested and prosecuted under these new laws, activists protesting oil and gas activity have been charged with felonies in Houston and Louisiana.
» Read article       
» Read the PEN America report

» More about protests and actions

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

climate schlimate
Trump’s New Clean Water Act Rules Could Affect Embattled Natural Gas Projects on Both Coasts
Trump’s EPA administrator said the changes would stop states from citing “climate change” in blocking pipelines and federally approved infrastructure.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
June 9, 2020

Just weeks after the state of New York cited climate change among its reasons for blocking a natural gas pipeline to be built beneath New York Harbor, the Trump administration finalized changes to federal regulations aimed at limiting states’ ability to stop federally approved pipelines and other infrastructure under the Clean Water Act.

The rule change, which Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler signed on June 1, will restrict states and authorized tribes from citing anything other than a narrow pollution discharge when denying a permit to a federally approved infrastructure project, such as a pipeline or dam. The new rule will also limit the permitting process to a year for states and tribes, which would waive their rights to block a project if they exceeded that time limit.

For years, Republicans supporting fossil fuel development have cried foul over states’ use of the Clean Water Act’s Section 401, which gave state and tribal governments broad authority to block federally approved infrastructure projects that threaten their waters. States like New York and Washington have in recent years used the authority under that section to block high-profile natural gas pipelines, coal terminals or other fossil fuel infrastructure—often in the name of larger environmental goals like tackling climate change.
» Read article       

» More about the EPA

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

pipeline purgatoryFERC prohibits pipeline construction, allows land seizures as court weighs ‘legal purgatory’ of rehearing delays
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
June 11, 2020

Language in the Federal Power Act (FPA) and the Natural Gas Act (NGA) prevents litigation on an order until the commission makes a ruling on requests for rehearing, but FERC is able to delay those requests through tolling orders.

Critics say the practice has led to a legal “purgatory” of opposition to critical orders on wholesale power markets, and favors pipeline developers by allowing projects to move forward despite legal challenges.

“Tolling is a Kafkaesque process that should have no place in how FERC operates. It makes no sense to allow land to be seized and construction to proceed before a FERC decision can be challenged in court,” John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Utility Dive in an email.
» Read article       
» Read the order

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

reading list
Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
June 5, 2020

This week, amid a surge of protests over police violence against black Americans, there’s been renewed scrutiny on the links between racism and environmental degradation in the United States.

To help readers understand those links, I put together a quick reading list about climate change and social inequities. These suggestions are meant to be starters, laying out a few entry points.
» Read article       

what justice is
I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.

Stopping climate change is hard enough, but racism only makes it harder
By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Washington Post
June 3, 2020

Here is an incomplete list of things I left unfinished last week because America’s boiling racism and militarization are deadly for black people: a policy memo to members of Congress on accelerating offshore wind energy development in U.S. waters; the introduction to my book on climate solutions; a presentation for a powerful corporation on how technology can advance ocean-climate solutions; a grant proposal to fund a network of women climate leaders; a fact check of a big-budget film script about ocean-climate themes, planting vegetables with my mother in our climate victory garden.

Toni Morrison said it best, in a 1975 speech: “The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.

The sheer magnitude of transforming our energy, transportation, buildings and food systems within a decade, while striving to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions shortly thereafter, is already overwhelming. And black Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis. But the many manifestations of structural racism, mass incarceration and state violence mean environmental issues are only a few lines on a long tally of threats. How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streets, in our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

employment and deployment
Inside Clean Energy: The Racial Inequity in Clean Energy and How to Fight It
The industry is growing, but jobs and financial benefits are not distributed equally.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
June 11, 2020

In this moment of reckoning and reflection about racial inequity in our country, it’s time to be forthright about the inequalities in the rapidly expanding business of clean energy.

This industry is providing economic opportunities, but the benefits are not distributed fairly across races and income levels. Predominantly white and affluent communities are getting most of the jobs in the solar industry, and also most of the clean air and financial benefits of having solar on their homes.

“Today the solar industry has to reckon with the fact that we do have an industry that is trying to play within a system that is built on structural racism and we have to think more holistically about how to change that system,” said Melanie Santiago-Mosier, managing director of the access and equity program for Vote Solar, who described the industry’s problem of “employment and deployment.”
» Read article       

EA released
Feds release Vineyard Wind environmental assessment
Project 2,000 turbines along E. Coast over next 10 years
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
June 9, 2020

FEDERAL REGULATORS on Tuesday released a detailed, 420-page environmental assessment of the proposed Vineyard Wind project that includes predictions about the future of wind energy along the East Coast and suggests the impact on commercial fishing of six possible wind farm configurations would be roughly the same.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put Vineyard Wind on hold last year to take a look at the project through the broader lens of what’s going on in offshore wind overall along the East Coast.  The resulting assessment, called a supplemental to the company’s draft environmental impact statement, forecasts 22 gigawatts of offshore wind development along the East Coast over the next 10 years, the equivalent of about 2 percent of current electricity production. The analysis estimates as many as 2,000 wind turbines will be installed over the 10-year period.
» Read article       
» Read the environmental assessment

Sterling College
Falling renewable, storage costs make 90% carbon-free US grid feasible by 2035, UC Berkeley finds
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
June 9, 2020

The U.S. can deliver 90% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035, according to a new report from the University of California, Berkeley, and experts say accelerating clean energy deployments could also play an important role in the country’s economic recovery.

Building out renewables to achieve this target will add more than 500,000 jobs per year as well as $1.7 trillion in investments into the economy, without raising customer bills, the report found.

The country is experiencing a cost-crossover, as clean energy resources become cheaper than continuing to run existing fossil fuel resources, Sonia Aggarwal, vice president at Energy Innovation and co-author of an accompanying report outlining policy measures to achieve the 2035 target, told Utility Dive. “I see it as an amazing opportunity for America to create a bunch of jobs to decarbonize our electricity sector, and do all of that without raising electric bills for customers at a time when budgets are awfully tight,” she said.
» Read article       
» Read the UC Berkeley report
» Read the Energy Innovation report

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

midstream malaise
Report: Oil bust is catching up to pipeline companies
By Sergio Chapa, Houston Chronicle
June 11, 2020 

An oil and gas industry bust caused by the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to spill into the pipeline and storage tank business, a new report from New York credit rating firm Moody’s shows.

Moody’s downgraded its outlook for the midstream sector, which includes pipeline and storage terminal operators, to negative from stable. The rating marks the first time that the firm has given a negative outlook for the midstream sector.

Record low oil prices caused by the pandemic and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia prompted producers to slash their budgets while oil field service companies laid off tens of thousands of people.

The midstream sector put plans for several new pipeline projects on hold, but earnings largely had been insulated from the downturn as oil companies sought to move and store crude until higher prices return.
» Read article       

Chesapeake reeling
Chesapeake Energy, a Fracking Pioneer, Is Reeling
The company, which has said it could file for bankruptcy protection, helped turn the U.S. into a gas exporter but became known for an illegal scheme to suppress the price of oil and gas leases.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
June 9, 2020

HOUSTON — Shares of Chesapeake Energy, a pioneer in extracting natural gas from shale rock that came to be known for its excesses, including a scheme to suppress the price of oil and gas leases, went on a wild ride on Tuesday amid reports that it was preparing a bankruptcy filing.

Trading was halted for more than three hours in the morning. After buying and selling resumed, the trading was quickly interrupted again by circuit breakers. The company’s shares closed just below $24 for a loss of about 66 percent for the day.

Chesapeake’s successes at using hydraulic fracturing to produce gas helped convert the United States from a natural gas importer into a major global exporter. But the company overextended itself by amassing a large debt and has been struggling to survive over the last decade. It is the latest of more than a dozen heavily indebted oil and gas businesses to seek bankruptcy protection since the coronavirus pandemic took hold and Saudi Arabia and Russia flooded the global market with oil this spring.
» Read article       

amazon watch report
Report names the banks financing destructive oil projects in the Amazon
By Maurício Angelo, Mongabay
June 9, 2020

Five of the biggest financial institutions in the world invested a combined $6 billion in oil extraction projects in the western Amazon between 2017 and 2019, according to a study recently published by the NGO Amazon Watch.

Leading the race to underwrite this resource rush are some of the most powerful banks and investment funds in the world: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and BlackRock financed oil companies including GeoPark, Amerisur, Frontera and Andes Petroleum.

The area is known as the Sacred Headwaters of the Amazon: it is here where the Amazon River, the largest on Earth by discharge volume, is born. But oil projects abound here, in a region considered the most biodiverse section of the Amazon and the world, and that’s home to around 500,000 indigenous people.
» Read article      
» Read the Amazon Watch report

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS / ENVIRONMENT

microplastic everywhere
Where’s Airborne Plastic? Everywhere, Scientists Find.
There’s “no nook or cranny” on the planet where it doesn’t end up, the lead researcher on a new study said.
By John Schwartz, New York Times
June 11, 2020

Plastic pollution isn’t just fouling the world’s oceans. It is also in the air we breathe, traveling on the wind and drifting down from the skies, according to a new study. More than 1,000 tons of tiny fragments rain down each year on national parks and wilderness areas in the American West alone, equivalent to between 123 million and 300 million plastic bottles worth.

“There’s no nook or cranny on the surface of the earth that won’t have microplastics,” said Janice Brahney, a Utah State University scientist who is lead author on the new study. “It’s really unnerving to think about it.”
» Read article       

» More about plastics, health, and the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 5/8/20

WNCI-6

Welcome back.

A recent federal appeals court ruling against the water-crossing permit issued to Keystone XL by the Army Corps of Engineers may signal an end to easy pipeline permits in general. Big Oil is watching closely.

Our new section on greening the economy is a great place for thought-provoking articles, and this week is exceptional.  We include writing that discusses a potential green bias in future project financing, the issues surrounding “just transition” – compensation for displaced fossil fuel sector workers – and a must-read essay by science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson who suggests that the Covid-19 crisis and global response may open our collective imagination enough to tackle climate change.

Our climate section offers fresh examples of why we should hope Robinson is right. Unless we change our emissions trajectory soon, about one-third of humanity will find itself facing intolerable heat within 50 years. Unfortunately the Trump administration has pressed a sustained and effective attack on the very federal institutions that should be leading the climate fight.

That said, we have to give tentative credit to the Treasury Department for suggesting in a recent three-sentence letter that it will extend the federal renewable energy credit deadline for some projects delayed by the Covid-19 crisis. Stay tuned… this could be particularly beneficial to the wind industry.

We have some good/bad news on energy storage. Southern California Edison has commissioned a record amount of new capacity in an attempt to get ahead of planned natural gas power plant shut-downs. At the same time, Tesla has announced it will have trouble keeping up with demand.

The Environmental Protection Agency is a prime example of an agency that has been transformed under Trump to do industry’s bidding. Its latest attack on the use of science in the public interest involves an attempt to use a 19th century rule that legal scholars may not even apply to this agency. A court challenge is likely.

Regardless of all the help it gets from the federal government and its captured regulatory agencies, the fossil fuel industry as a whole is in deep trouble. We offer three insightful articles for a clear look at the situation from the oil patch to the securities trading floor.

Until recently considered a boon to shale gas producers, the dream of exporting liquefied natural gas to higher-priced foreign markets has sailed onto the rocks. Huge projects are being cancelled as investors and politicians recognize this new reality.

We close with an issue related to burning woody biomass for energy. A new United Nations report raises concern that global forest production can’t sustainably keep pace with all the various wood products a growing human population demands.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

big oil yellow light
Big Oil Fears Keystone XL Ruling Means End of Easy Pipeline Permits
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
May 3, 2020

On April 15, Judge Brian Morris nullified water-crossing permits in Montana that were granted for the Keystone XL, a major setback for the long-embattled tar sands oil pipeline. The ruling came just days after Keystone XL owner TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, obtained billions of dollars in subsidies from the Alberta government as global oil prices plummeted.

The oil and gas industry has taken notice. Seemingly just a ruling on Keystone XL — the subject of opposition by the climate movement for the past decade — the ruling could have far broader implications for the future of building water-crossing pipelines and utility lines.

In his decision, Judge Morris cited a potential violation of the Endangered Species Act when he ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a deeper analysis of potential impacts to protected species. Morris required the Corps to demonstrate whether or not it could construct the pipeline without harming endangered species, such as the Pallid Sturgeon or the American burying beetle. Instead, the Army Corps “failed to consider relevant expert analysis and failed to articulate a rational connection between the facts it found and the choice it made,” Morris ruled, when the Corps gave Keystone XL the initial green light.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

financiers say rebuild green
Rich nations must make pandemic recovery plans green: global investors
By Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett, Reuters
May 4, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – The world’s richest nations must ensure their COVID-19 recovery plans are sustainable and help meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, according to leading global investor groups that together manage trillions of dollars in assets.

While some members of the world’s 20 biggest economies such as Britain, France and Germany have made statements about doing just that, some of the biggest emitters such as China and the United States have yet to do so.

The intervention comes as more governments start to plan for the lifting of lockdown restrictions that have cratered the revenues of companies from airlines to retailers and radically changed the economics of the energy sector.

The groups said private capital would play a key role in the recovery, but investors needed long-term policies to be put in place that reflected the agreed move to a low-carbon economy.
» Read article     

one last puff
Looming Coal and Nuclear Plant Closures Put ‘Just Transition’ Concept to the Test
In Europe, the fate of displaced power plant workers is increasingly a matter of national concern. So far, things look very different in the U.S.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
May 4, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has not changed the grim reality facing workers at coal and nuclear power plants in the U.S. and Europe. How those workers will fare in the years ahead will vary greatly based on where they live and the prevailing political winds.

In Europe, the retirement of aging plants is increasingly seen as a matter of national concern. Germany this year agreed to a €40 billion ($45 billion) compensation package for workers affected by the country’s planned phaseout of coal generation by 2038. Last month the Spanish authorities agreed a just transition plan affecting 2,300 workers across 12 thermal power plants that are due to close this year.

In contrast, there is no federal support plan for such workers in the U.S., said Tim Judson, executive director at the Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which lobbies for an end to nuclear and fossil-fuel power.
» Read article     

rewriting out imaginations
The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations
What felt impossible has become thinkable. The spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change as a civilization.
By Kim Stanley Robinson, The New Yorker
May 1, 2020

The Anthropocene, the Great Acceleration, the age of climate change—whatever you want to call it, we’ve been out of synch with the biosphere, wasting our children’s hopes for a normal life, burning our ecological capital as if it were disposable income, wrecking our one and only home in ways that soon will be beyond our descendants’ ability to repair. And yet we’ve been acting as though it were 2000, or 1990—as though the neoliberal arrangements built back then still made sense. We’ve been paralyzed, living in the world without feeling it.

Now, all of a sudden, we’re acting fast as a civilization. We’re trying, despite many obstacles, to flatten the curve—to avoid mass death. Doing this, we know that we’re living in a moment of historic importance. We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters. For some of us, it partly compensates for the disruption of our lives.

Actually, we’ve already been living in a historic moment. For the past few decades, we’ve been called upon to act, and have been acting in a way that will be scrutinized by our descendants. Now we feel it. The shift has to do with the concentration and intensity of what’s happening.
» Read article     

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

diminished capacity
The Trump Administration Has “Corroded” Federal Environmental Science

A watchdog group’s new report documents the heavy toll that three and a half years of Trump-era attacks have had on environmental and public health research at government agencies.
By Emily Gertz, Drilled News
May 7, 2020

The Trump administration’s ongoing attacks on the budgets, staffing, and priorities of federal environmental agencies have “corroded our government’s ability to protect our nation’s ecology and public health,” according to a new report from Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a government science watchdog.

“If there’s one overriding principle involved, it’s a pretty strategic taking-apart of government capacity to act in the public good,” said [the report’s lead author, Christopher Sellers, an environmental historian at Stony Brook University in New York].

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative formed in late 2016 to archive and monitor federal climate and other environmental data, and to track changes to environmental, energy, and climate information on government websites.
» Read article     
» Read the report         

insufferable in fifty
One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study
Human cost of climate crisis will hit harder and sooner than previously believed, research reveals
By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
May 5, 2020

The human cost of the climate crisis will hit harder, wider and sooner than previously believed, according to a study that shows a billion people will either be displaced or forced to endure insufferable heat for every additional 1C rise in the global temperature.

In a worst-case scenario of accelerating emissions, areas currently home to a third of the world’s population will be as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years, the paper warns. Even in the most optimistic outlook, 1.2 billion people will fall outside the comfortable “climate niche” in which humans have thrived for at least 6,000 years.

The authors of the study said they were “floored” and “blown away” by the findings because they had not expected our species to be so vulnerable.
» Read article
» Read the study

leases vacated in Montana
Judge Vacates Oil and Gas Leases on 145,000 Acres in Montana
A federal judge, rapping the Trump administration for its weak environmental assessments, has vacated hundreds of oil and gas leases across a large swath of Montana.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
May 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday vacated 287 oil and gas leases on almost 150,000 acres of land in Montana, ruling that the Trump administration had improperly issued the leases to energy companies in 2017 and 2018.

The judge, Brian Morris of the United States District Court for the District of Montana, said the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately take into account the environmental impacts of the drilling. In particular, Judge Morris found that the officials had not accounted for the drilling’s impact on regional water supplies and the global impact that the increased drilling would have on climate change.

The decision is at least the third such legal loss that criticized the Trump administration for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of expanding fossil fuel production on the warming of the planet.
» Read article     

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

deadline relief for wind
US Treasury to Tweak Tax Credit Deadlines for Renewables Projects
A letter issued by the Treasury Department suggests relief may be on the way for an anxious renewables market, particularly wind developers.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 7, 2020

A concise three-sentence letter sent by the U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday suggests relief may be on the way for a renewables industry concerned about meeting quickly approaching tax credit deadlines.

The letter came in response to a late April appeal from a bipartisan group of senators who asked that the department extend deadlines for solar and wind developers looking to qualify projects for the federal Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit. In the letter, addressed to Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, a long-time champion of the U.S. wind industry, Treasury said that it “plans to modify the relevant rules in the near future.”

That statement, though short on detail, may give breathing room to developers scrambling to keep projects on track as COVID-19-fueled delays throw schedules into disarray.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

hockey stick growth
SCE procures 770 MW of battery storage to bolster California’s grid as gas plants approach retirement
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
May 5, 2020

Southern California Edison (SCE) is procuring a 770 MW/3,080 MWh package of battery resources to bolster grid reliability, the utility announced May 1, in what would be one of the largest storage procurements made in the United States to date.

The battery projects will “enhance electric grid reliability and help address potential energy shortfalls identified in California,” SCE said in a press release, adding that they would also help California’s broader clean energy transition as multiple coastal once-through-cooling (OTC) plants approach retirement dates in the next three years.

The scale of the projects is “hard to describe,” Daniel Finn-Foley, head of energy storage at Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables, told Utility Dive, since this single procurement is more than the entire energy storage market in the U.S. for all of 2019.
» Read article     

storage demand high
‘Tremendous demand for stationary storage’ outstrips Tesla’s 2020 supply capability, Musk says
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
May 1, 2020

Tesla cannot meet the “tremendous demand” in 2020 for its energy storage products, like the large-scale Megapack battery systems, co-founder and CEO Elon Musk said during the company’s Q1 earnings call on Wednesday.

The company lists several COVID-19 impacts in its SEC filing, such as suspensions of operations at its facilities in Shanghai and New York, and deployment delays caused by closed government offices and businesses.

The pandemic is spurring the company to take a closer look at its cost structure, Musk said on the call.

“And we came to a conclusion that… the right move was actually to continue to expand rapidly, continue to invest in the future and in new technologies, even though it is risky. And we’ve talked to some of our key investors, and they support that approach as well,” he said, adding that long-term prospects for Tesla are extremely good.
» Read article     

» More about energy storage

EPA

bad housekeeping
Agency leans on 1870s ‘housekeeping’ law to block science
By Jean Chemnick, E&E News
May 8, 2020

EPA is trying to use a 19th-century statute giving department heads the right to manage personnel and internal record keeping to contain the science it uses when drafting regulations, including those on greenhouse gases.

The March supplementary proposal for a rule EPA bills as improving transparency of the science and modeling that underpin important agency work points to an obscure “housekeeping statute” enacted in 1874. It has roots in laws enacted under President Washington when early federal agencies were founded.

The agency’s gambit highlights the lengths to which the Trump administration will go, critics say, to cement the president’s anti-regulatory agenda ahead of a possible second term, or to try to tie the hands of subsequent administrations.
» Read article     

state enforcement lags
As EPA Backs Off Enforcement, States and Cities Have Little Capacity to Fill Gap
State and local governments often have authority but lack the resources and political will to enforce pollution rules.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
May 5, 2020

Since the Trump administration announced the suspension of much environmental enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic, advocates are calling on state and local regulators, as well as watchdog groups, to step up their efforts to fill the gap.

But that won’t be easy, whether in a Democratic-controlled state like Illinois or a Republican one like Indiana, given the impacts of the pandemic and past staffing and budget cuts that have curbed the ability of states to carry out enforcement.

In a March 26 letter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that polluters won’t be fined for failure to meet federal standards during the pandemic. Some experts feel the administration is using the pandemic to continue a trend of backing off on enforcement.
» Read article     

fine particulates vs science
EPA Decides to Reject the Latest Science, Endanger Public Health and Ignore the Law by Keeping an Outdated Fine Particle Air Pollution Standard
By H. Christopher Frey, DeSmog Blog – Opinion
May 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown have temporarily produced clearer skies across the U.S. Meanwhile, however, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been busy finding reasons not to pursue long-lasting air quality gains.

On April 30, 2020, the agency published a proposed new rule that retains current National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter without any revisions. It took this action after a five-year review process, in which scientific evidence showed unequivocally that these standards are not adequate to protect public health.
» Read article     

» More about EPA      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oil chaos
Oil chaos: Why is it so hard to cut production?
By Mike Lee and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
May 6, 2020

Last week’s round of earnings reports shows that oil companies are finally starting to pull back on their production in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Big and small companies alike announced that they’re shutting down rigs and closing down wells. Exxon Mobil Corp. said it plans to mothball 75% of its rigs in the Permian Basin.

But the response came more than a month after oil prices started to fall, leaving many observers asking: Why didn’t the industry hit the brakes sooner?
» Read article     

feels different this time
‘This Feels Very Different’
For over a decade, the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico has been the epicenter of the American oil boom. Now, it’s the epicenter of its demise.
By Tamir Kalifa and Clifford Krauss, New York Times
May 1, 2020

The Permian Basin, which stretches across Texas and New Mexico and is almost as big as Britain, accounts for one out of every three barrels of oil produced in the United States.

The region has a storied history. It provided much of the oil for the American and Allied effort during World War II. In the 1970s, the basin created so many millionaires that many drank champagne out of cowboy boots and had trouble finding places to park their private planes.

That was followed by a crash, after which a popular bumper sticker appeared everywhere: “God Grant Me One More Oil Boom and I Promise Not to Screw It Up.”
» Read article     

From Supermajors to Superminors: the fall of Big Oil
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
May 1, 2020

It is increasingly looking like COVID-19 could be Big Oil’s Kodak moment. For over a century these firms have been titans of business, offering a steady financial return in good times and bad.

But most importantly, they have been immovable pillars of stone for investors in times of turmoil. Whatever the financial weather, the companies rewarded their investors.

Although we are in times of trouble now, the supermajor oil companies, which we often describe as Big Oil: BP, Chevron, Eni, Exxon, Shell, Total, and ConocoPhilips, are anything but a safe bet right now.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LNG

dead in the water
Irish LNG Plan That Would Allow US Fracked Gas Imports ‘Dead in the Water’
By John Gibbons, DeSmog Blog
May 4, 2020

It is increasingly unlikely that Ireland will develop new infrastructure to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced from fracked wells in the US, after the plans suffered a series of potentially fatal legal and political setbacks.

First, the European Court of Justice advocate general, Juliane Kokott, ruled that An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s planning appeals body, erred in not requesting an up-to-date environmental impact study for the proposed Shannon LNG terminal before extending planning permission for a planned project. The decision means the case would have to be referred back to Ireland’s High Court.

Meanwhile, the political climate regarding the project has turned distinctly hostile, with the two major centrist parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil this week signing a joint letter that appears to signal the death knell for the LNG project.
» Read article     

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

not enough wood
Is There Enough Wood in the World to Meet the Sustainability Demand?
By Deutsche Welle, EcoWatch
May 4, 2020

According to the latest figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global forest production hit record levels in 2018. Up 11% on the year before.

“We see an increasing demand for almost all of our products,” says Göran Örlander, strategist at Södra, Sweden’s largest association of forest owners. “The most obvious demand is for biofuels at the moment. Everybody wants to have biofuels to replace fossil fuels.”

The idea is that burning wood becomes close to carbon neutral if the forests from where it is taken are replenished at the same rate as they are felled for fuel.

But critics question whether this is the case in every country which claims to provide sustainable wood, and say some of what is supplying the current boom in biomass fuels comes from existing forests rather than sustainably managed plantations.

They also point to the carbon emitted from the soil of cleared forests, and to the emissions created in the felling and processing of wood products.
» Read article     

» More about biomass

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