Tag Archives: Mark C. Christie

Weekly News Check-In 1/8/21

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Welcome back.

The Trump administration derailed this week, arriving at what some observers might describe as its inevitable destination. But we still managed to keep at least some of our attention on the energy scene.

Opponents of Weymouth’s compressor station have vowed to keep up the fight, focusing on a petition drive and information campaign. That project was typical of the recent fossil fuel infrastructure build-out, where construction proceeded even prior to obtaining final permits. This sets up an awkward situation when, as in the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project is cancelled. Property was taken and damaged. Trees were felled and miles of pipe are in the ground – now what?

ExxonMobil is playing the victim card in an attempt to evade litigation in Massachusetts court, where it is being sued for fraud related to climate change. Ironically, the giant oil company claims that Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit amounts to a SLAPP, or “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation”. Anti-SLAPP legislation exists to protect against lawsuits aimed at quelling free speech, and it’s typically invoked by environmental groups seeking shelter from frivolous litigation brought against them by the fossil fuel industry attempting to quell protest.

Greening the economy inevitably involves building a lot of new green infrastructure, and that requires a whole lot of concrete. To help minimize the embodied carbon in all this new construction, planners are increasingly turning to a new tool: EC3, or the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator.

Our climate section looks back at 2020, which by all accounts was brutal on both an individual and global level. It was the hottest year on record, with the cost of climate-driven disasters doubling in the U.S. from the previous year. And a new study concludes that we’ve now locked in at least two degrees celsius of warming over the preindustrial benchmark.

On a happier note, deep geothermal is a source of clean energy made accessible by drilling techniques and knowledge of geological formations developed by the fracking industry. It is now technologically possible to drill miles down to hot rock, water, and steam in Earth’s mantle, and apply that energy directly to district heating systems.

Energy efficiency is a good news / bad news story this week. On the one hand, Boston is implementing zoning that requires new large buildings to be net-zero energy consumers. The bad news involves a proposed policy change by the International Code Council (ICC), to eliminate voting by municipal officials when a new base energy efficiency code is developed. We feel this is direct blow-back by the powerful building and development lobbies, in response to tremendous voter participation in 2019, which resulted in a roughly 10% improvement in building energy efficiency. We urge you to take just three minutes right now to use this template and object to this anti-democratic policy change (deadline Monday, 1/11 at 8PM).

If you top up your car in Cambridge, you’ll soon notice a sticker on the fuel pump reminding you that burning gasoline is bad for the planet. It also asks users to consider alternative clean transportation.

The big legislative news involves a major climate bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature and currently awaiting Governor Baker’s signature. There is massive public support for this, along with considerable uncertainty about whether or not the Governor will sign it.

The Environmental Protection Agency implemented a rule change that disregards scientific studies unless they fully disclose all underlying data. That sounds reasonable until you consider that any legitimate study involving the effects of pollution on human health necessarily requires vast amounts of personal medical data protected by privacy laws. This is simply another pro-industry, anti-science move by Trump’s EPA, and takes a page directly from the tobacco industry’s original self-defense playbook.

Meanwhile, Mark C. Christie was sworn in this week to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The fossil fuel industry largely shrugged off the Trump administrations offer to lease drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Countering that bit of good news is a disturbing forecast for an expected 12% investment bump in Canada’s oil industry during 2021.

And we wrap up our news with biomass. While the just-passed Massachusetts climate legislation appears to put the brakes on applying renewable energy credits for biomass-to-energy plants, there’s still considerable uncertainty about the fine print. Recently proposed changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard further complicate the situation. Opponents of the proposed biomass generating plant in East Springfield are actively seeking clarification.

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

FRRACS petition drive
Compressor opponents continue their fight
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local
January 4, 2021

WEYMOUTH- The natural gas compressor station could be fully operative sometime in January, but opponents of the facility show no signs of quitting.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the group is launching a No Compressor Weymouth  petition drive for people to state their opposition to the facility to government leaders.

“More than anything, we are trying to get people to know about the situation,” she said. “It makes you a little crazy that there are some people who literally live blocks away from the place, and they don’t know what it is about.”

The compressor station is owned by Enbridge Inc. and is managed by the company’s subsidiary, Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Enbridge received a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January 2017 to construct the facility.

Opponents say the compressor station poses health and safety dangers to Weymouth, Quincy, East Braintree, Hull, and Hingham.

Gas leaks occurred at the facility during tests on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station          

 

PIPELINES

unwrap the ACP
Regulators get plan for undoing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By Sarah Rankin, Associated Press, on PBS News Hour
January 5, 2021

The developers of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline have laid out plans for how they want to go about unwinding the work that was done for the multistate natural gas project and restoring disturbed land.

In a filing with federal regulators made public Tuesday, the pipeline company proposed an approximately two-year timeline for efforts across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, where progress on the project ranged from uninitiated to essentially complete.

The plan outlines where the company wants to clean up felled trees and where it plans to leave them behind, and it proposes abandoning the approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) of pipe that was installed in place.

“We spent the last several months working really closely with landowners and agencies to develop the most responsible approach for closing out the project,” said Aaron Ruby, an employee of lead developer Dominion Energy who has served as a spokesman for the joint project with Duke Energy. “And ultimately our primary goal is to complete the project as efficiently as possible, and with minimal environmental disturbance.”

Ruby also confirmed for the first time that the company does not intend to voluntarily release the easement agreements it secured on landowners’ properties.

In most cases, the legal agreements were obtained through negotiations with landowners, who were paid and who the company has previously said will keep their compensation. But in other cases, in which sometimes vociferously opposed landowners fought the project, the easements were obtained through eminent domain proceedings.
» Read article             

Enbridge utility contractors
Ojibwe bands ask appeals court to stop Enbridge Line 3 construction
The Red Lake and White Earth bands filed suit, the second such filing in a week by pipeline opponents.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
December 30, 2020

Two Ojibwe bands have petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to suspend state regulators’ approval of Enbridge’s new Line 3 and stop construction of the controversial pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The petition filed late Tuesday by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is the second such filing in the past week by pipeline opponents to shut down construction on the $2.6 billion pipeline. Enbridge earlier this month started work on the replacement for the aging and corroding current Line 3 earlier this month.

In a separate filing Wednesday, Friends of the Headwaters also asked the state appellate court to halt the pipeline, citing “irreparable” environmental harm.

The two bands — plus the Sierra Club and the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth — last week sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asking for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of Line 3.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state’s primary pipeline regulator, approved Line 3 in February after nearly six years of review.

Several groups, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, challenged that decision before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing among other things that the PUC didn’t properly evaluate Enbridge’s long-term oil demand forecast.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Mobil in Saugus
Exxon Doubles Its Defense, Urges Mass. State Court to Toss Mass. Attorney General’s Climate Fraud Case with Two Motions to Dismiss

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
January 3, 2021

ExxonMobil is pushing back, and trying to play the victim card, in response to a climate change accountability lawsuit filed in October 2019 by the Massachusetts attorney general alleging investor and consumer fraud over the oil major’s statements and advertising pertaining to its fossil fuel products and their impacts on the climate system.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil on October 24, 2019 for allegedly misleading investors and consumers on climate risks of Exxon’s business and products – including systemic risks to the economy – in violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection statute. The complaint includes allegations of failing to disclose climate-related risks to Exxon’s business to investors, deceptive marketing of certain Exxon products as environmentally friendly to consumers, and ongoing misleading or greenwashed advertising of the company to obscure Exxon’s harmful environmental and climate impact. It is just one of almost two dozen lawsuits targeting Exxon and similar petroleum giants for deceptive behavior on the climate consequences of their products to protect their business interests.

The oil major is not only pushing back with a standard motion to dismiss, but is complaining that its protected speech or “petitioning rights” are unlawfully targeted by the lawsuit. In other words, Exxon is playing the victim card and demanding the court dismiss the lawsuit under an anti-SLAPP action. SLAPP refers to “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation” and anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect against lawsuits quelling free speech.

Exxon filed a special motion to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute on July 30, 2020. In its motion, Exxon argues that the Mass. AG lawsuit amounts to “lawfare,” and is an attempt to squash political opponents who do not share the Commonwealth’s views on climate change.      

“Those, like ExxonMobil, who decline to parrot the Attorney General’s call for an immediate transition to renewable energy are not simply diverse viewpoints in a public debate with state, federal, and global policy implications, but targets who must be silenced through ‘lawfare,’” Exxon attorneys write.  

Exxon also alleges that the Attorney General “conspired” with private interests like environmental activists and attorneys to bring this litigation, and that the real objective is to impose the AG’s preferred “views” and policies on climate. In essence, Exxon argues that the AG’s allegations concern policy disagreements, not deceptive or fraudulent conduct. According to Exxon, the “Attorney General brought this suit to advance its preferred climate policies by silencing perceived political opponents.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

global cement productionCutting Concrete’s Carbon Footprint
New approaches could reduce the carbon-intensity of cement production and lessen concrete’s broader environmental impact.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
January 5, 2021

After years of slow headway, building design and industry professionals say sharp reductions in the climate impact of concrete are possible now. That is significant because cement, the critical glue that holds concrete together, is so carbon-intensive that if it were a country, it would rank fourth in the world as a climate polluter. 

The Global Cement and Concrete Association this year committed to zero emissions concrete by 2050. No single solution has surfaced to reach this goal. But an expanding set of data tools and departures from tradition are starting to add up. 

Take LinkedIn’s new headquarters in Mountain View, California, which eliminated 4.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been embedded in the new building, much of it by cutting back on cement. Jenny Mitchell, the company’s senior manager of design and build, works under the gun — parent company Microsoft has committed to removing all its historic carbon from the atmosphere. 

Mitchell believes concrete will actually get to net zero. “I think it is a tall task, but I think we can,” she told 200 people at the virtual Global Concrete Summit this month.

To help get there, Mitchell’s team uses a tool that’s swiftly gaining traction called EC3, for Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator. EC3 launched last year under the auspices of the Carbon Leadership Forum in Seattle.

The free calculator compares the embodied carbon of similar products. Rock aggregate that travels by barge could have a much smaller carbon footprint than aggregate that travels by truck, for example, even if it comes from farther away.

The EC3 software works by comparing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that are fed into it by suppliers. Picture a nutrition label, but instead of calories and carbohydrates, it lists carbon quantities. 

“The number of EPDs for concrete is exploding,” rising from 800 to 23,000 over the past year or so, said Don Davies, president of Magnusson Klemencic Associates, a structural and civil engineering firm in Seattle. “Embodied carbon is starting to be a differentiator as to [which firm] gets the work.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

hot 2020
2020 Ties 2016 as Earth’s Hottest Year on Record, Even Without El Niño to Supercharge It
Annual reports from European and Japanese climate agencies show that last year was yet another marked by extraordinary global heat.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
January 8, 2021

European climate scientists have tallied up millions of temperature readings from last year to conclude that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record for the planet.

It’s the first time the global temperature has peaked without El Niño, a cyclical Pacific Ocean warm phase that typically spikes the average annual global temperature to new highs, said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, who was lead author on its annual report for 2020.

That report shows the Earth’s surface temperature at 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1850 to 1890 pre-industrial average, and 1.8 degrees warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average that serves as a baseline against which annual temperature variations are measured.

In the past, the climate-warming effect of El Niño phases really stood out in the long-term record, Vamberg said. The 1998 “super” El Niño caused the largest annual increase in global temperatures recorded up to that time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

“If you look at the 1998 El Niño, it was really a spike, but now, we’re kind of well above that, simply due to the trend,” Vamberg said.
» Read article             

Silverado Fire
U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change
The $95 billion in damage came in a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires recorded in California.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
January 7, 2021

Hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters across the United States caused $95 billion in damage last year, according to new data, almost double the amount in 2019 and the third-highest losses since 2010.

The new figures, reported Thursday morning by Munich Re, a company that provides insurance to other insurance companies, are the latest signal of the growing cost of climate change. They reflect a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires ever recorded in California.

Those losses occurred during a year that was one of the warmest on record, a trend that makes extreme rainfall, wildfires, droughts and other environmental catastrophes more frequent and intense.

“Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” Ernst Rauch, the chief climate scientist at Munich Re, said in an interview. He said continued building in high-risk areas had also contributed to the growing losses.

The new numbers come as the insurance industry struggles to adjust to the effects of climate change. In California, officials have tried a series of rule changes designed to stop insurers from pulling out of fire-prone areas, leaving homeowners with few options for insurance.

Homeowners and governments around the United States need to do a better job of making buildings and communities more resilient to natural disasters, said Donald L. Griffin, a vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents insurance companies.

“We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way,” Mr. Griffin said in an interview. “We’ve got to place an emphasis on preventing and reducing loss.”
» Read article             

locked-in warming
More Than Two Degrees of Climate Warming Is Already Locked In, New Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 6, 2021

Existing greenhouse gases will eventually push the climate into more than two degrees of warming, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday.

That number puts the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels out of reach, says Andrew Dessler, study coauthor and Texas A&M University climate scientist. Still, he warned against “climate doomers,” The Associated Press reported.

“While I would not categorize this as good news, it is not game over for the climate,” Dessler said in a video explaining the paper.

So what exactly does the study say?

Dessler worked with colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) and Nanjing University in China to analyze what is called “committed warming,” or the amount of warming that would occur if atmospheric greenhouse gases were paused at their current concentrations.

Previous estimates had put committed warming at around 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Dessler said in the video. But those estimates were based on faulty assumptions about Earth’s climate system, the paper authors argued.

“Typically, committed warming is estimated assuming that changes in the future will pretty much follow changes in the past,” Mark Zelinka, coauthor and LLNL atmospheric scientist, said in a press release. “But we now know that this is a bad assumption.”

Specifically, the researchers pointed to the regions of the planet that have not yet warmed, such as the Southern Ocean. The temperatures of these regions cause clouds to form that reflect sunlight and further cool the planet. But eventually those regions will warm too, dispersing the clouds and further raising temperatures.

“After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates,” lead author Chen Zhou of Nanjing University said in the press release.

The researchers estimated that a likely total of 2.3 degrees Celsius of warming is now locked in, about a full degree above the previous estimate.

The good news is that this warming could take centuries to occur, provided the world acts now to reduce emissions.

“If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we currently are, then we will blow through the 1.5 and two degree Celsius limits possibly within a few decades,” Dessler said in the video. “This means that our work is consistent with the conclusion that we need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.”

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who was not involved with the research, called the study fascinating on Twitter.

“I don’t think this paper fundamentally changes our understanding of committed warming, and pattern effects are still an area of active research. But it should make us a bit cautious about being too confident in predictions of zero warming after emissions reach net-zero,” he concluded.
» Read article            
» Watch video explaining the research       
» Read article predicting less locked-in warming after net-zero achieved        

» More about climate                  

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Svartsengi geothermalCan Geothermal Power Play a Key Role in the Energy Transition?
Aided by advances in deep-drilling technology for fracking, engineers are developing new methods of tapping into the earth’s limitless underground supplies of heat and steam. But the costs of accessing deep geothermal energy are high, and initial government support will be crucial.
By Jim Robbins, Yale Environment 360
December 22, 2020

A river of hot water flows some 3,000 feet beneath Boise, Idaho. And since 1983 the city has been using that water to directly heat homes, businesses, and institutions, including the four floors of city hall — all told, about a third of the downtown. It’s the largest geothermal heating system in the country.

Boise didn’t need to drill to access the resource. The 177-degree Fahrenheit water rises to the surface in a geological fault in the foothills outside of town.

It’s a renewable energy dream. Heating the 6 million square feet in the geothermally warmed buildings costs about $1,000 a month for the electricity to pump it. (The total annual cost for depreciation, maintenance, personnel, and repair of the city’s district heating system is about $750,000.)

“We’re heating 92 of the biggest buildings in the city of Boise,” said Jon Gunnarson, the city’s geothermal coordinator. “The buildings strip heat, collect it, and run it to an injection well. We use it once and reinject it and use it again.”

The Boise district system is how geothermal energy is most often thought of — natural hot water is pumped into radiators or used to generate electricity. It is considered a local phenomenon — few places are sitting on an underground river of steaming hot water — and so geothermal has not been viewed as a major feature on the alternative energy landscape.

But a number of experts around the world say that notion is wrong. Thanks especially to the deep-drilling techniques and knowledge about underground formations developed by the oil and gas industry during the fracking boom, a type of geothermal energy called deep geothermal can access hot temperatures in the earth’s mantle as far down as two to three miles. At various depths up to this level, much of the planet contains extremely hot water or there is hot rock into which water can be injected and heated, a technology known as enhanced geothermal systems. In either case, the hot water is pumped out and used to directly heat buildings or to generate electricity with steam or hot water.

“Wherever we are on the surface of the planet, and certainly the continental U.S., if we drill deep enough we can get to high enough temperatures that would work like the Boise system,” said Jefferson Tester, a professor of sustainable energy systems at Cornell University and a leading expert on geothermal energy. “It’s not a question of whether it’s there — it is and it’s significant. It’s a question of getting it out of the ground economically.”
» Read article

MA State House
US solar sector welcomes tax clarity in Massachusetts climate bill
By Edith Hancock, PV Tech
January 5, 2021

A new bill that would require the state of Massachusetts to run on 40% renewable energy by 2030 has been lauded by the US solar industry for making key changes to net metering and tax incentive policies.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts have put forward a new bill that would require the state to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Called An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, it outlines a number of key policies that would accelerate the transition to renewable energy and offer tax breaks for utilities and entities that adopt small solar systems over the coming decade. If passed by Governor Charlie Baker, the conference committee bill could raise the standard requirement for utilities’ renewable energy portfolios in the state by 3% each year between 2025 and 2029.

The bill would also relax the state’s net metering thresholds for solar PV energy, allowing large businesses to sell wholesale rooftop solar power at retail rates. It also included a provision clarifying how taxes are assessed by towns and municipalities on wind, solar and energy storage systems, providing tax breaks for households and small businesses that install behind-the-meter solar systems.

In addition, it provides incentives for entities enrolled in the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) programme to serve lower income areas. Under the programme, which was introduced two years ago, solar power system owners in the state receive fixed rate payments for the energy they produce based on the kilowatt-hours of power produced. The agreements last 10 years and vary based on system size. The state’s lawmakers had issued emergency regulation for the programme last April to double its PV capacity deployment target to 3.2GW, as well as mandating the addition of energy storage on projects exceeding 500kW.
» Read article            
» Read the legislation – S2995         

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston net-zeroBoston zoning change would require net-zero emissions from new buildings
The initiative is among the most aggressive of existing or proposed strategies to cut energy consumption in buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Edward Faulkner / Flickr / Creative Commons
January 5, 2021

The city of Boston is laying plans to require newly constructed large buildings to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, a move supporters hope will help make carbon-neutral design more approachable and mainstream. 

“There are going to be folks that find this incredibly challenging — there are a lot of industry norms that are being questioned and challenged,” said John Dalzell, senior architect for sustainable development at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. “But I’m pleased to see some of these old norms starting to fall away.”

In 2019, the city released the Carbon Free Boston report, a framework for making the city carbon neutral by 2050. Reducing emissions from buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output, is a critical part of the plan. 

Other strategies for cutting building emissions are already in play or in the works. Boston has an existing energy disclosure ordinance, which requires buildings over 35,000 square feet to report their energy use each year. The city is also developing a performance standard that will require these buildings to meet targets for emissions reduction. And last year, Boston partnered with utility Eversource to launch an energy efficiency hub, a set of resources that will help the owners and operators of large buildings find ways to reduce their energy consumption.

One of the most aggressive measures the city intends to take is the plan to require new large buildings to achieve net-zero emissions. 

The details are still under development. The new requirements will modify existing green building zoning guidelines that apply to projects larger than 50,000 square feet, a threshold that includes about two-thirds of all new construction in the city. Over time, the threshold is likely to fall, encompassing more and more buildings over time, Dalzell said.
» Read article           

IECC changes
Code Development Changes Could Silence Voter Voices
By Lauren Urbanek, National Resource Defense Council
December 21, 2020

This year was a busy one when it came to defending strong building energy codes—and it looks like the work won’t be slowing down any time soon. After approving a 2021 energy code that will be more efficient than ever before, the International Code Council (ICC) is considering changes to the code development process that will eliminate local input. The ICC just announced it wants to change how the nation’s model building energy code is developed—moving it from a large, open process to having it be developed by a committee without input from the local government building officials who administer it.

The ICC—which is the body that manages creation of the building code—recently announced a public comment period for a proposal to use a standards process to develop the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), rather than the code development process that has been in place for the past decade and a half. The implications are unclear about what that will mean to the efficiency of future codes, but it’s a substantial change to the process used to develop a code that is referenced in federal law and adopted by jurisdictions in every state of the country.

For years the building energy code development process has been dominated by builders and industry interests, with input from environmental groups like NRDC. Governmental members showed up in a big way to develop the 2021 IECC, with voter turnout at its highest level ever. They voted in droves to approve proposals to make the code the most efficient one ever, with improvements in insulation, lighting, and other building components that will reduce energy consumption while lowering energy bills and keeping inhabitants more comfortable.

It’s impressive progress, achieved through a process that ultimately puts the final vote in the hands of the code officials and other local government employees who are the ones using the code—not anyone with a vested financial interest in the code’s outcome. So why is the ICC proposing such a dramatic change? That’s our question, too.
» Read article          
» Public comment information – deadline for written submissions 8 PM ET, January 11, 2021 (template here – takes about 3 minutes)           

» More about energy efficiency             

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cambridge stickers fuel pumps
Massachusetts city to post climate change warning stickers at gas stations
Bright yellow stickers warn drivers burning of gasoline has ‘major consequences on human health and the environment’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 25, 2020

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has become the first US city to mandate the placing of stickers on fuel pumps to warn drivers of the resulting dangers posed by the climate crisis.

The final design of the bright yellow stickers, shared with the Guardian, includes text that warns drivers the burning of gasoline, diesel and ethanol has “major consequences on human health and the environment including contributing to climate change”.

The stickers will be placed on all fuel pumps in Cambridge, which is situated near Boston and is home to Harvard University, “fairly soon” once they are received from printers, a city spokesman confirmed.

“The city of Cambridge is working hard with our community to fight climate change,” the spokesman added. “The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation              

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Hull turbine
8 Ways The New Climate Bill Affects You, Your Washing Machine And Our Climate Goals
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 5, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker has 10 days to decide whether to sign — or kill — a massive climate bill.

The legislation, which the House and Senate approved Monday, represents the state’s first big update to the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. It writes into law the ambitious goal of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050, and could radically transform the energy sector, building codes, transportation and more.

From geothermal energy to lightbulbs, the bill covers a lot of ground, but here’s what you need to know — in plain English — about how it will affect you, if Baker signs it:
» Read article       

» More legislative news             

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

new EPA rule
A Plan Made to Shield Big Tobacco From Facts Is Now E.P.A. Policy
The E.P.A. has finalized a so-called transparency plan that it says will improve the credibility of science. Scientists say it is designed to stop new public health protections by limiting what research the agency can consider.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 4, 2021

Nearly a quarter century ago, a team of tobacco industry consultants outlined a plan to create “explicit procedural hurdles” for the Environmental Protection Agency to clear before it could use science to address the health impacts of smoking.

President Trump’s E.P.A. has now embedded parts of that strategy into federal environmental policy. On Tuesday Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., formally released a new regulation that favors certain kinds of scientific research over others in the drafting of public health rules.

A copy of the final measure, known as the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information Rule, says that “pivotal” scientific studies that make public their underlying data and models must be given more weight than studies that keep such data confidential. The agency concluded that the E.P.A. or anyone else should be able to independently validate research that impacts regulations.

“It’s sunshine, it’s transparency,” Mr. Wheeler said of the regulation on Tuesday during an online forum with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes most environmental regulation. He described the policy as an effort “to reduce misunderstanding of our regulatory decisions.”

The new rule, public health experts and medical organizations said, essentially blocks the use of population studies in which subjects offer medical histories, lifestyle information and other personal data only on the condition of privacy. Such studies have served as the scientific underpinnings of some of the most important clean air and water regulations of the past half century.

Critics say the agency’s leaders disregarded the E.P.A.’s scientific review system to create an additional layer of scrutiny designed to impede or block access to the best available science, weakening the government’s ability to create new protections against pollution, pesticides, and possibly even the coronavirus.
» Read article            
» Read the new EPA rule        

» More about the EPA                

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
Christie Sworn in as Newest FERC Commissioner
FERC press release
January 4, 2021

Mark C. Christie was sworn in today as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during a ceremony in the chambers of the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Judge G. Steven Agee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit performed the swearing-in ceremony.

Commissioner Christie comes to FERC from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, having served three terms totaling almost 17 years, most recently as Chairman. He is a former president of the Organization of PJM States, Inc. (OPSI), which is comprised of regulators representing the 13 states and the District of Columbia that form the PJM region. He also is a former president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (MACRUC).

A West Virginia native, Commissioner Christie earned Phi Beta Kappa honors upon graduating from Wake Forest University, and received his law degree from Georgetown University. He has taught regulatory law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia School of Law and constitutional law and government in a doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Commissioner Christie also served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
» Read article             

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

unbidden ANWR
Trump auction of oil leases in Arctic refuge attracts barely any bidders
Coastal plain was up for sale as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
January 6, 2021

The Trump administration’s last-minute attempt on Wednesday to auction off part of a long-protected Arctic refuge to oil drillers brought almost zero interest from oil companies, forcing the state of Alaska into the awkward position of leasing the lands itself.

The coastal plain of the Arctic national wildlife refuge was up for sale to drillers as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue. Conservatives argued the leases could bring in $900m, half for the federal government and half for the state.

But the lease sales fell dramatically short of that amount – with the high bids totaling about $14m on 11 tracts of land that cover about 600,000 acres of the 1.6m-acre coastal plain.

The results back up the arguments from environmental advocates and watchdog groups that leasing the public land is a bad deal for the country, particularly when oil is in such low demand and public scrutiny grows of the industry’s role in the climate crisis and damage to sensitive habitats. Drilling for new oil now, when the planet is already experiencing dangerous heating, would be irresponsible, they said.

“This lease sale was an epic failure for the Trump administration and the Alaska congressional delegation,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “After years of promising a revenue and jobs bonanza they ended up throwing a party for themselves, with the state being one of the only bidders.”
» Read article             

Exxon reports Scope 3
Exxon, under investor pressure, discloses emissions from burning its fuels
By Reuters staff
January 6, 2021

Exxon Mobil Corp, under increasing pressure from investors and climate change activists, reported for the first time the emissions that result when customers use its products such as gasoline and jet fuel.

The largest U.S. oil producer said the emissions from its product sales in 2019 were equivalent to 730 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, higher than rival oil majors. The data comes as the company has drawn the ire of an activist investor focused on its climate performance.

The so-called Scope 3 data is included in its latest Energy & Carbon Summary released Tuesday, though Exxon downplayed its significance. “Scope 3 emissions do not provide meaningful insight into the Company’s emission-reduction performance,” the report said.

“Even to get to the point of having them disclose this has been like pulling teeth,” said Andrew Grant at think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. “Quite a lot of the rest of the world has moved on from the disclosure to ‘What are we going to do about this?’”

Most major oil companies already report Scope 3 emissions and some have reduction targets, including Occidental Petroleum, which in November set a goal to offset the impact of the use of its oil and gas by 2050.
» Read article             

Alberta pumps it up
Investment In Canada’s Oil Industry Set To Grow 12% In 2021
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 5, 2021

Canada’s oil industry expects that 2021 will be the year of recovery from the downturn caused by the pandemic in 2020, with total investments in Canada’s oil sector expected to increase by 12 percent this year compared to last year.

Combined investments in oil sands operations and conventional oil and gas production are expected to rise to nearly US$21 billion (C$27 billion) in 2021, compared to US$19 billion (C$24 billion) in 2020, Calgary Herald reports, citing forecasts from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“An extra $2 billion of investment into the Western Canadian economies, relative to 2020, I’d say is a pretty significant vote of confidence there will be some stability and recovery in energy markets,” CAPP vice president Ben Brunnen told Calgary Herald’s Chris Varcoe.

According to CAPP’s November 2020 capital investment and drilling forecast, exploration and production (E&P) capital spending was US$27 billion (C$35 billion) in 2019, down by 10 percent compared to 2018. Due to the pandemic, the forecast for the 2020 investment showed an unprecedented 32-percent slump from 2019 to US$19 billion (C$24 billion).

The association expected that around 3,000 oil and gas wells would have been drilled in 2020, while the number would increase to around 3,300 oil and gas wells drilled in 2021.

Oil companies have plans to ramp up their production after the Alberta government said it would remove oil production limits at the end of last year.
» Read article           

» More about fossil fuel          

 

BIOMASS

Baker is wrong
Baker is wrong to subsidize wood burning
4 scientists say using wood to generate electricity will worsen climate change
By William Moomaw, John Sterman, Juliette Rooney-Varga and Richard Birdsey, CommonWealth Magazine
January 4, 2021

GOVS. CHARLIE BAKER of Massachusetts and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan were featured US officials at the fifth anniversary celebration of the Paris Climate Agreement. Their presence demonstrated that state leaders, from both political parties, are actively battling the climate emergency.

It is therefore baffling that the Baker administration just released new regulations that directly undermine the governor’s and Legislature’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The regulations allow wood-burning electric power plants that currently fail to meet Massachusetts’ environmental standards to receive subsidies from ratepayers. But burning wood to generate heat or electricity is unnecessary, will increase carbon emissions, and worsen climate change.

By removing trees from our forests, the proposed regulations also reduce the ability of our forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This undermines the governor’s net zero emissions plan that relies on our forests to soak up carbon emitted by any fossil fuels we still use in 2050.  As Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides has noted, “The conservation of the Commonwealth’s forests is critical to meet our ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050.”

The Department of Energy Resources justifies weakening the existing standards by falsely arguing that burning wood instead of natural gas will reduce carbon emissions.  Wood burning releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than any fossil fuel – 75 percent more than natural gas. Therefore, generating heat or electricity with wood immediately increases greenhouse gas emissions more than fossil fuels, worsening climate change.

Eventually, regrowth might remove enough carbon to equal the additional carbon emitted when the wood is burned. But regrowth takes time. New England forests take upwards of a century or more for additional growth to capture enough carbon to breakeven with fossil fuels. Break-even times are far longer for wood bioenergy compared to wind and solar, even after counting  the emissions from making and installing the turbines and panels.

Under the Baker administration’s proposed regulations, utilities will be charging electricity users – all of us – to burn more of our forests, worsen climate change, harm our health, and erode social justice. We urge Baker to preserve his reputation as a champion for climate, health, and justice by withdrawing these flawed regulations. The legislature should also eliminate wood bioenergy from the energy sources eligible for subsidies in the climate legislation they are now considering, and support climate-friendly energy instead.
» Read article            
» Read the proposed regulations           

Palmer Paving Corp
Massachusetts lawmakers deal blow to Springfield biomass project
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
January 4, 2021

Power from wood-to-energy plants — like the long-proposed Palmer Renewable Energy in East Springfield — won’t qualify as “green power” for municipal power utilities for at least five years under new rules announced over the weekend by state lawmakers.

A conference committee of state senators and representatives also called on Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration to complete a new study examining the impact of these biomass plants on greenhouse emissions, global climate change and public health. The conference report – meant to hammer out differences between the Senate and House bills passed in 2020 – will go to lawmakers for a vote before the term ends Tuesday.

It’s part of a major climate change legislation.

The five-year moratorium removes one incentive utilities would have had to buy power from Palmer Renewable Energy.

State. Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, praised the conference report Sunday, calling it “a major win for environmental justice.”

But Laura Haight, a biomass opponent and U.S. Policy Director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said another subsidy that could benefit the Palmer Renewable Energy plant is still alive.

“However, this bill may not have any impact on the proposed biomass plant in Springfield,” she said.

Also winding its way through the statehouse in Boston is a different set of regulations – ones introduced in December by the Baker administration – that would make the Springfield biomass project eligible for green energy credits.

Those regulations, now sitting in front of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, would grant the Palmer Renewables project as much as $13 million a year in green energy subsidies paid for by the state’s electricity customers through the Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards program, also called RPS.

Haight’s group and others have been speaking out against Baker’s proposed rule changes since they came out in December.
» Read article             

» More about biomass              

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Weekly News Check-In 7/31/20

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Welcome back.

Candidate positions on the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline may be a significant factor determining New Hampshire’s next governor. The contested status of other pipelines is also roiling related industries and enlivening local politics wherever they exist.

Two new nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may finally rebalance its makeup, which has been operating for much of the year with four of its five commissioners – only one of whom is a Democrat.

The recently-launched nonprofit Rewiring America has released its first major report on greening the economy and the jobs that could be created by a full-on effort at electrification. It’s an exciting prospect that requires a post-Trump political ecosystem. We found a related investigative report from DeSmog Blog, exposing efforts by the natural gas industry to delay electrification of the building sector.

Now that we’re heading into the home stretch of this political season, articles we’re finding on climate all project a jittery edginess around the stakes of the November election. Given the urgent need for sharp emissions reductions and a kind of global leadership that’s only possible when America is at its best, Bill McKibben’s suggestion that this election is about the next 10,000 years lacks even a hint of hyperbole.

We caught some encouraging glimpses of steady advances in clean energy and transportation  – things coming our way despite the best efforts of the Trump administration and fossil fuel industry. News from that sector, as usual, amounts to flashing red lights warning of an impending financial implosion.

We wrap up with two stories about “green energy” that is anything but. While Europe continues to insist – contrary to science – that woody biomass is effectively carbon neutral in the short term, American forests are being felled for pellets to fuel their converted coal power plants. This is all based on a carbon accounting error that originated with the Kyoto Climate Agreement, and was grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. It’s turned out to be a stubbornly difficult problem to correct.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

Breaking news: shortly after we published this post on 7/31, Liberty Utilities announced the cancellation of its Granite Bridge Pipeline project. Look for coverage in the upcoming Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20.

USD 400M misstep
Gas pipeline fuels debate among NH gubernatorial candidates
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 24, 2020

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky called the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline a ”$400 million step in the wrong direction” during a press conference in front of the Town Hall Friday.

Volinsky said Liberty Utilities’ proposed 16-inch liquefied natural gas pipeline for the Route 101 corridor between Exeter and Manchester will exacerbate climate change while other high-profile projects, like the Dakota Access pipeline, were being halted around the country.

“A key part of why I’m running for governor is to combat climate change, and part of that effort is to be opposed to fracked gas pipelines projects, like the Granite Bridge pipeline,” said Volinsky, a member of the state Executive Council. “Last municipal election, Exeter went on record as opposed to the pipeline. Fracking is especially dangerous for the environment, ratepayers would have to pay for that project for 20 or 30 years, and to what purpose? To line the pockets of Liberty Utilities and Granite Bridge shareholders.”

The Granite Bridge application is stalled at the state Public Utilities Commission after being filed in December 2017. The project includes a 150- to 170-foot high tank capable of storing 2 billion cubic feet of LNG in an abandoned quarry in West Epping.
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline

OTHER PIPELINES

risky business
Dakota Access Pipeline Saga Stalls Oil Production Recovery In The Bakken

By Tsvetana Paraskova, oilprice.com
July 29, 2020

The uncertainty surrounding the future operations of Dakota Access, the key pipeline carrying crude out of the Bakken, is stalling oil companies’ plans to invest in bringing back online the output they had curtailed after the pandemic-driven crash in oil demand and prices, executives told Reuters.

A federal judge ruled on July 6 that the Dakota Access Pipeline, in operation since 2017, must be emptied and shut down by August 5, until a new comprehensive environmental review is completed.

A week later, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Dakota Access can continue to operate while the court considers whether the pipeline should be shut down as ordered by a lower court’s ruling.

Until the new saga with the Dakota Access pipeline is resolved, oil drillers in the Bakken are not rushing to restore production as they see the move as too risky in case Dakota Access were to shut down.
» Read article

Ashland Select Board wins court case against Eversource over gas pipeline
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
July 23, 2020

Eversource must remove a decommissioned gas pipeline if it gets the go-ahead to install a new, wider pipeline through Ashland, a state Land Court judge has ruled.

Associate Justice Michael D. Vhay issued the judgment earlier this week, supporting the Town of Ashland’s position.

In Ashland and Hopkinton, Eversource wants to decommission a 6-inch-wide, 3.7-mile underground gas line that passes through both towns and replace it with new 12-inch pipeline. In Ashland, the gas line runs for 2.5 miles, cutting through more 80 house lots, town-owned properties, wetlands, the Chestnut Street Apartments and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.

Town officials and many residents adamantly oppose the project, saying it will have no direct benefit for Ashland residents and runs counter to the town’s sustainability goals.

In a Facebook status posted on the town’s Facebook page,Town Manager Michael Herbert shared the news of the court’s decision.

“Rarely does a small suburban town of 17,000 people take on a corporate giant like Eversource Gas and come out on top,” he said.
» Read article             

JC permit reversal
Land use permit for Jordan Cove pipeline is reversed
By Amanda Slee, KCBY.com
July 21, 2020

NORTH BEND, Ore. — The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has reversed a land-use permit approved by the city of North Bend.

The permit is for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal.

The Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition was the petitioner in the appeal. The decision by the North Bend City Council was to approve a temporary dredging material transport pipeline and dredging offloading facility.
» Read article             

» More about other pipelines        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC nominations
Trump makes two FERC nominations, potentially rebalancing commission
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
July 27, 2020

President Trump made two nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Monday, bowing to pressure from Democratic lawmakers who have pushed to maintain the bipartisan split in the commission.

Trump nominated Allison Clements, Democrats’ preferred nominee, alongside Mark C. Christie, who currently serves as chairman of Virginia State Corporation Commission. If confirmed, the two would regulate electricity and natural gas markets alongside other major energy projects.

FERC’s five-member board is supposed to have no more than three members of any one party, but for much of the year it’s been operating with just four members — three Republicans and one Democrat.

Clements currently serves as the founder and president of Goodgrid, LLC, an energy policy and strategy consulting firm. She previously worked for a decade at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She also spent two years as director of the energy markets program at Energy Foundation, which advocates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Christie is one of the nation’s longest-serving state utility regulators, having served for 16 years on Virginia’s board overseeing utilities and other industries.

The nominations come as Commissioner Bernard McNamee’s term expired at the end of June.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

big green jobs machine
New Analysis Shows How Electrifying the U.S. Economy Could Create 25 Million Green Jobs by 2035
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
July 30, 2020

A report released Wednesday by a new nonprofit—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic disaster, and calls for a green recovery from those intertwined crises that prioritizes aggressive climate policies—lays out how rapidly decarbonizing and electrifying the U.S. economy could create up to 25 million good-paying jobs throughout the country over the next 15 years.

Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America envisions a dramatic transformation of the nation’s power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors by 2035 to meet the global heating goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The first project of the newly launched Rewiring America is “based on an extensive industrial and engineering analysis of what such a decarbonization would entail.”
» Read article             
» Read the report

» More about greening the economy

BETTER BUILDINGS

unplugged
Unplugged: How the Gas Industry Is Fighting Efforts to Electrify Buildings
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 28, 2020

Just over a year ago, the city of Berkeley, California, passed into law a first-in-the-nation ordinance prohibiting natural gas hookups in new buildings, a move that alarmed the gas industry. This alarm has since boiled over into a full-fledged opposition campaign to counter the rising tide of similar measures meant to restrict gas in favor of constructing all-electric buildings and cutting carbon pollution.

Natural gas constitutes a vast majority, about 80 percent, of the direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sectors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Transitioning away from direct fossil fuel use in buildings is key for de-carbonizing and meeting climate targets, experts say.

Initiatives are starting to emerge at the local level on the West Coast and in the Northeast to support this transition, with 31 cities in California committed to phasing out gas use in buildings, as of July 8, and several Massachusetts communities in the Boston area doing the same. Policies for electrifying buildings are also in the works in New Jersey as well as Seattle and other cities.
» Read article             

Mass. gas ban backers press ahead after state strikes down 1st East Coast bylaw
ByTom DiChristopher, S&P Global
July 24, 2020

Boston-area lawmakers intend to continue pursuing building electrification ordinances, but they acknowledged their path forward is uncertain after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the commonwealth’s first building gas ban.

Healey’s decision undermines the effort to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations in Arlington, Cambridge and Newton — all of which modeled their legislation after the rejected bylaw in neighboring Brookline, Mass.

The Board of Building Regulations and Standards — the state agency that Healey argued has exclusive control over building permits — is one potential avenue, [Cambridge City Councilmember Quinton] Zondervan said. The board regularly updates the state building code and could include a stretch code that allows towns and cities to require certain buildings be fossil fuel free. Bay State climate activists are already pushing for a stretch code allowing net-zero building energy requirements.

Brookline and environmental groups have already called for state-level action in light of Healey’s decision, in which the attorney general expressed support for the policy of limiting gas use.

“The attorney general’s opinion makes clear that the state does have the authority to stop this fracked gas infrastructure if it wants,” Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter Director Deb Pasternak said in a statement. “The fact is that we need an equitable statewide plan here in Massachusetts to close down the fracked gas energy system.”

The Sierra Club, along with ratepayer advocates and other climate activists, have recently presented regulators with plans for building electrification proceedings and gas distribution system phase-outs.

Healey herself has petitioned the DPU to open a proceeding to overhaul gas infrastructure planning in Massachusetts, with a goal of aligning the regulatory framework with state climate goals and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about better buildings

CLIMATE

regime change starts at home
The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years
By Bill McKibben, YES! Magazine, in EcoWatch – opinion
July 27, 2020

Every election that passes, we lose leverage—this time around our last chance at limiting the temperature rise to anything like 1.5 degrees would slip through our fingers. Which is why we need to register and vote as never before. It’s also, of course, why we need to do more than that: many of us are also hard at work this year taking on the big banks that fund the fossil fuel industry, trying to pull the financial lever as well as the political one. And even within the world of politics, we need to do much more than vote: no matter who wins, Nov. 4 and 5 and 6 are as important as Nov. 3; we have to push, and prod, and open up space for the people we work to install in office.
» Read article             

boot the joker
How the global climate fight could be lost if Trump is re-elected
The US will officially exit the Paris accord one day after the 2020 US election and architects of that deal say the stakes could not be higher
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 27, 2020

It was a balmy June day in 2017 when Donald Trump took to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden to announce the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the only comprehensive global pact to tackle the spiraling crisis.

Todd Stern, who was the US’s chief negotiator when the deal was sealed in Paris in 2015, forced himself to watch the speech.

“I found it sickening, it was mendacious from start to finish,” said Stern. “I was furious … because here we have this really important thing and here’s this joker who doesn’t understand anything he’s talking about. It was a fraud.”

The lifetime of the Paris agreement, signed in a wave of optimism in 2015, has seen the five hottest years ever recorded on Earth, unprecedented wildfires torching towns from California to Australia, record heatwaves baking Europe and India and temperatures briefly bursting beyond 100F (38C) in the Arctic.

These sorts of impacts could be a mere appetizer, scientists warn, given they have been fueled by levels of global heating that are on track to triple, or worse, by the end of the century without drastic remedial action. The faltering global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off further calamity hinges, in significant part, on whether the US decides to re-enter the fray.

“The choice of Biden or Trump in the White House is huge, not just for the US but for the world generally to deal with climate change,” said Stern. “If Biden wins, November 4 is a blip, like a bad dream is over. If Trump wins, he seals the deal. The US becomes a non-player and the goals of Paris become very, very difficult. Without the US in the long term, they certainly aren’t realistic.”
» Read article             

better than last year
House climate change bill calls for roadmap
Measure differs from more prescriptive Senate approach
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 29, 2020

The House unveiled a climate change bill on Wednesday that directs the executive branch of government to create a roadmap for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and includes sections dealing with solar power subsidies, grid modernization, clean energy jobs, and municipal light plants.

The bill is expected to be taken up in the House on Thursday and then go to a conference committee that will be charged with sorting out differences with a Senate bill that is broader in scope and far more detailed in its instructions.

The House bill requires the administration to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and sets interim goals for 2030 and 2040. It charges the administration with coming up with a roadmap of policies, regulations, legislative recommendations, and carbon pricing mechanisms to reach the targets.

The Senate bill is far more detailed and prescriptive. It requires the administration to meet statewide emission targets every five years and also requires the setting of emission reduction targets for individual sectors, including transportation, buildings, solid waste, and natural gas distribution. The Senate bill calls for phased-in carbon pricing on automobile and building fuels and requires all MBTA buses to be electrified by 2040.
» Read article             

tell the truth
Mainstream News Prioritises Big Business and Opponents of Climate Action – Study
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2020

Statements from large business associations and opponents of climate action are twice as likely to be included in climate change coverage by national newspapers than pro-climate action messaging, according to a new study. The findings suggest mainstream media bias favors entrenched economic interests and that journalistic norms of objectivity and balance have skewed the public conversation around climate change.

“I wanted to specifically look at which interest groups get a say in this debate, what voices are dominating the national conversation about climate change, and how is that reflected in media coverage,” study author Rachel Wetts, Assistant Professor of Environment and Society and Sociology at Brown University, told DeSmog.

The study also found that climate-related messaging from scientific and technical experts was least likely to be picked up in national news. Messaging from business coalitions and large businesses on climate change, on the other hand, received heightened media visibility.

“In terms of this question of whose voices are being heard and who gets to dominate the national conversation around climate change, I find that opponents of climate action and large business interests are the groups that are getting the most visibility, while organizations with scientific expertise are getting very low visibility,” Wetts said in an interview with DeSmog. “This says something about whose voices are being heard that could potentially help explain why we’ve been so slow to adopt any [national] policy to address this issue.”
» Read article             
» Obtain the study            

scud
What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?
Scientists are studying the extreme weather in northern Argentina to see how it works — and what it can tell us about the monster storms in our future.
By Noah Gallagher Shannon, New York Times
July 22, 2020

Every storm is composed of the same fundamental DNA — in this case, moisture, unstable air and something to ignite the two skyward, often heat. When the earth warms in the spring and summer months, hot wet air rushes upward in columns, where it collides with cool dry air, forming volatile cumulus clouds that can begin to swell against the top of the troposphere, at times carrying as much as a million tons of water. If one of these budding cells manages to punch through the tropopause, as the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere is called, the storm mushrooms, feeding on the energy-rich air of the upper atmosphere. As it continues to grow, inhaling up more moisture and breathing it back down as rain and hail, this vast vertical lung can sprout into a self-sustaining system that takes on many different forms.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

welcome mat
Colorado’s Eastern Plains is big-time producer of renewable energy, ripe for even more, report says

New report highlights renewable energy’s economic benefits for eastern Colorado: thousands of jobs, millions of dollars a year
By Judith Kohler, The Denver Post
July 29, 2020

Along with wheat, corn and cattle, Colorado’s Eastern Plains grow another big crop: more than 95% of the state’s renewable energy capacity that produces thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in benefits each year.

A report released Tuesday by The Western Way, a conservative organization that promotes environmental stewardship, in partnership with PRO 15 and Action22, policy and economic development organizations, highlights the importance of renewable energy to eastern Colorado.

Greg Brophy, a former state legislator and Colorado director of The Western Way, said he hopes the report demonstrates how valuable renewable energy is to the area’s economy and that it encourages other eastern Colorado counties to “roll out the welcome mat” for wind, solar and battery storage projects.
» Read article       
» Read the report

Sununu Blocks Bill To Expand N.H.’s Required Renewable Energy Use, Now Lowest In New England
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
July 24, 2020

Gov. Chris Sununu handed down another expected veto of a clean energy plan Friday.

He rejected a bill that would expand New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and increase how much solar power utilities must use.

Right now, the state caps that solar requirement at 0.7% from this year on out. The bill Sununu vetoed would have increased that to nearly 19% by the year 2040.

Sununu says it represented a handout to the state’s fledgling solar industry. Democrats decried the veto as another effort by the governor to block clean energy expansion.

The bill also would have increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard, to make clean energy cover nearly 57% of New Hampshire’s fuel mix by 2040.

The current standard levels out at around 25 percent in 2025 – the lowest percentage, at the earliest date, of any New England state.
» Read article             

green ammonia
How stored electricity can make cleaner fuels
EU industry is seeking ways to save surplus power. Now it’s also hunting for methods to use that stored electricity to make green fuels.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
July 21, 2020
   
With renewable energy now the cheapest way of mass-producing electricity, the race is on to find the best way to conserve the surplus for use at peak times, and also to use the stored electricity to develop new fuels for transport.

And European Union companies are competing to devise lucrative ways to use this cheap power just as more solar and wind energy is being produced than the market demands.

Large batteries are currently the favoured method, because they are already cost-effective when used with pumped storage. This uses cheap electricity to move water uphill into reservoirs, to be released later to drive turbines when extra electricity is needed to meet peak demand.

Both these technologies take advantage of buying power at rock-bottom prices, and make their profits by storing it – until they can sell it back at much higher prices when the peak arrives.

The newer technologies under development seek to use the cheap surplus electricity to create so-called green hydrogen, and now green ammonia – both for use as substitutes for fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

plagued by controversy
E.P.A. Inspector General to Investigate Trump’s Biggest Climate Rollback
The agency’s watchdog office said Monday it would investigate whether the reversal of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards violated government rules.
By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 27, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog said Monday it had opened an investigation into the agency’s weakening of Obama-era regulations that would have limited automobile emissions by significantly raising fuel economy standards.

The yearlong effort to write the Trump administration rule was plagued with controversy. Just weeks before the final rule was published, the administration’s own internal analyses showed that it would create a higher cost for consumers than leaving the Obama-era standard in place and would contribute to more deaths associated with lung disease by releasing more pollution into the air.

“This is really serious,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s rare for E.P.A.’s inspector general to conduct an investigation of the agency’s rule-making.”
» Read article             

E-ferry
Danish electric ferry reports successful first year in service
By Nick Blenkey, MarineLog
July 13, 2020

In its first year of operation on a 22 nautical mile route, the pioneering Danish all-electric ferry Ellen has notched up some noteworthy milestones, according to Danfoss Editron .

Operating between the Danish islands of Ærø and Fynshav, the vessel was designed by Jens Kristensen Consulting Naval Architects and built by the Søby Værft shipyard. Just under 60 meters long and with a breadth of approximately 13 meters, the ferry travels at speeds of 12-12.5 knots, and is capable of carrying 198 passengers in summer months, with this capacity dropping to 147 during winter. It can also carry 31 cars or five trucks on its open deck.

With a 4.3 MWh capacity battery pack, the largest currently installed for maritime use, it is the first electric ferry to have no emergency back-up generator on board.

The E-ferry is the result of a project supported by the EU Horizon 2020 program that set out to achieve two main objectives. The first was to design and build an innovative fully-electric vessel which would incorporate an energy-efficient design, lightweight equipment and materials, and state-of-the-art electric-only systems with an automated high-power charging system. The second objective was to validate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the concept to the industry and ferry operators. The fully-electric ferry had to be able to cover distances of up to 22 nautical miles in the Danish part of the Baltic Sea that were, at the time, only operated on by conventional diesel-powered vessels.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL

hang it up
As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 30, 2020

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Today, the shale boom of the 2010’s is officially bust, battered not only by the US’s outsized failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks and an oil price war in which foreign producers proved their ability to steer oil prices, but also a wave of multi-billion dollar write-downs by oil giants — write-downs that predated both the price war and the pandemic and resulted from the industry’s perpetual struggles to generate profits from shale drilling and fracking regardless of the price of oil.

In April, Scott Sheffield, the chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, testified before the Texas Railroad Commission (which serves as the state’s oil regulator) that the shale rush had been “an economic disaster.”

“Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste,” Sheffield testified, warning that without state intervention, “we will disappear as an industry, like the coal industry.”

Indeed, before the pandemic struck, the shale industry’s financial foundations were stunningly shaky, with experts questioning the ways companies calculated their reserves, their ability to generate free cash flow from their drilling operations, and ratings agencies grading shale debts at junk levels. The entire fossil fuel industry’s long-term future is also deeply uncertain, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly visceral and the global need to cut emissions from oil and gas more urgent.
» Read article             

pipeline uncertainty for oilsands
Regardless of COVID, the outlook for the oilsands gets dimmer year after year
The pandemic has cost the industry billions, but in the long term, it has bigger challenges
By Kyle Bakx, CBC News
July 29, 2020

The latest forecast for oilsands production growth was released on Tuesday, and it continues a trend over most of the last decade of industry experts having a less optimistic outlook for the sector.

The new report by IHS Markit expects oilsands production to reach 3.8 million barrels per day of oil in 2030, compared to last year’s projection of production climbing to 3.9 million bpd.

It’s a relatively small change to the forecast the firm released in 2019, but notable because of yet another downward revision. That pattern has occurred just about every year since 2014, when the main oilpatch industry group forecast oilsands output climbing to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030.

For context, oilsands production at the beginning of this year was about 2.9 million barrels per day.

Analysts with IHS Markit lowered their latest forecast predominantly because of pipelines. There is still doubt about when and if new export pipelines will be built, and that uncertainty will weigh on the confidence level of companies looking to invest the significant funds needed to build new oilsands facilities.
» Read article             

tick-tick report-zoom Fossil fuel “fraud” regarding climate risks is a “ticking time bomb” to financial system
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 27, 2020

If the fossil fuel industry had acted decades ago, we would not be in a climate emergency. And some believe that this climate emergency is going to cause a financial emergency too.

A new report, published last week by U.S. National Whistleblower Center (NWC), entitled “How fossil fuel industry fraud is setting us up for a financial implosion – and what whistleblowers can do about it,” does not mince its language.

It outlined what it called “widespread deception by fossil fuel executives regarding the financial risks of climate change [which] represents a ticking time bomb that, if not addressed, could contribute to worldwide economic devastation.”

It claims it is the “first-ever analysis of legal strategies for exposing climate risk fraud by the fossil fuel sector,” and says it is a “call to action” for executives of fossil fuel companies and others with knowledge of improper accounting and disclosure practices, such as external auditors, to blow the whistle on the decades of deception.
» Read article             
» Read the NWC report         

‘It’s Past Time’: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders Unveil Bill To Strip Fossil Fuel Funding
The legislation aims to cut off oil, gas and coal companies reaping billions from federal COVID-19 relief and annual subsidies.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
July 24, 2020

In the richest and most powerful nation in history, doctors beg for basic protective gear amid a deadly pandemic, 21% of children live in poverty and 84-year-olds take jobs scrubbing motel toilets to survive.

Yet, as fossil fuel emissions cook the planet and wreak a mounting toll of destruction, the federal government gives oil, gas and coal companies nearly $15 billion per year in direct federal subsidies and already directed billions more in support through coronavirus relief programs this year.

New legislation from five of the country’s top progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aims to cut the fossil fuel industry off, HuffPost has learned.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

burning down the houseBurning down the house? Enviva’s giant U.S. wood pellet plants gear up
By Saul Elbein, Mongabay
July 29, 2020

When biomass manufacturer Enviva completes its two newest U.S. Gulf Coast plants on opposite sides of the Alabama-Mississippi state line, likely by 2021, they will be the largest “biomass for energy” manufacturing plants on the planet.

Every year, the two factories will grind the equivalent of a hundred square miles of forest into 2.7 million metric tons of combustible wood pellets, to be burned at former coal plants in Europe and Asia — with all the resulting carbon released into the atmosphere.

These U.S. biomass plants, and the wood pellets they churn out, will thrive atop a shaky Jenga tower of political, economic and environmental paradoxes, according to environmentalists. Unable to compete with carbon fuels like coal or natural gas on price, Enviva’s wood pellet plants will stay afloat because of direct and implicit subsidies coming from the European Union, whose members agreed to derive 32% of their energy from renewables by 2030 — a category that they deemed to include biomass.

Those subsidies, say scientists, are based on now debunked research first conducted and used as guidance for making policy incorporated into the Kyoto Climate Agreement, a policy then grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Agreement. They say the mistake that makes biomass economically viable today is the contention that burning up the world’s forests to produce energy is carbon neutral, an inconvenient untruth that, critics contend, the United Nations has dodged facing at every annual international meeting since Paris.

And so the EU renewables quotas — with their claim of biomass carbon neutrality — have meant a boon for companies like Enviva that sell wood pellets to energy producers and countries now leery of more traditional power sources, ranging from nuclear to coal to hydropower, and who want to squeeze a few more decades out of existing coal burning power plants — now converted to burning wood pellets on an industrial scale.
» Read article             

what it looks like
House Climate Crisis Action Plan Gets a Lot Right on Biomass

By Sasha Stashwick, National Resources Defense Council – blog post
July 9, 2020

Biomass refers to the use of any plant or organic matter to produce energy. Too often, in places that have incentivized biomass use to generate electricity like the European Union, biomass is incentivized to generate electricity in dedicated power plants, or old coal plants converted to run partially or fully on biomass. The fuel demand of these plants is so large that the only source of biomass supply big enough to meet is, unfortunately, wood from forests.

Established science now shows that burning biomass from forests for electricity is not a climate solution within timeframes relevant to addressing climate change. Here in the US, it’s therefore critical that federal climate plans do not repeat the same mistakes as the E.U. in adopting flawed policies based on the debunked assumption of biomass “carbon neutrality.”

In 2018, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out its report describing the climate action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, it explained that countries would have to cut their CO2 emissions, such as from power plants, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping “well before 2030” and be on track to fall by roughly 45% by around 2030. Scientists are clear that what we do over the next decade is incredibly consequential in this fight.

That is why the timeframe used to evaluate the climate impacts of biomass systems is so critical. Evaluate the carbon impacts of biomass-burning over a long enough timeframe, and it may look good. Eventually, if new trees are replanted, they can suck up the carbon that was emitted when older trees were harvested and burned as fuel for energy production. But trees take many decades to grow back. In the meantime, biomass electricity actually loads the atmosphere with more CO2 than fossil fuels (because wood is a less energy dense fuel, so more of it needs to be burned to generate the same amount of electricity).
» Read article             

» More about biomass

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