Tag Archives: Maura Healey

Weekly News Check-In 5/13/22

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Welcome back.

Long-time opponents of the Weymouth Compressor Station celebrated a victory last week when Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Joseph Leighton vacated the facility’s Chapter 91 Waterways permit. The decision sends the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review. The compressor is now operating without a full set of permits. Recall that only a few weeks ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted that the air quality permit should never have been granted…. Can we just shut it down already?

As momentum builds for natural gas hookup bans, a new gas industry “astroturf” group called ‘Fuelling Canada’ is coordinating a stealth ad campaign targeting first-time home buyers, priming them to think of natural gas as a clean, safe, and desirable fuel for heating and cooking. It’s one arm of the gas industry’s push to build out infrastructure and lock in future use. This relates to another report describing the economic risks associated with continued expansion of fossil fuel development, distribution, and dependence.

Here in Massachusetts, a diverse coalition is proposing to address two big problems at once by doubling the state’s very low deeds excise tax (a real estate transaction tax), bringing us in line with neighboring states. Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs, and the other half would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions like energy efficiency.

Climate change is pushing increasingly brutal heat waves, and parts of the world are bumping up against the limits of human survival. Northern India and Pakistan have been so hot already this spring that the health and productivity of workers are significantly impacted. At the same time, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Addressing all of the above involves quickly deploying massive clean energy resources. So a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia is putting a brake on the U.S. solar industry at a time when business should be booming. We’re also looking at hydropower, and a study showing high methane emissions from some reservoirs.

Producing energy – even green energy – gets messy, but we can always count on good news in the energy efficiency department. This week we’re offering a report describing cold weather heat pumps – widely available today but largely unknown or misunderstood in the U.S.

Energy storage, especially as it relates to electric vehicle batteries, is going to rely on a whole lot of lithium.   We’ve run a number of reports about how environmentally and culturally destructive lithium mining can be, and advocated for doubling down on extraction alternatives such as from geothermal brine at locations like California’s Salton Sea. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from this sort of brine – a promising step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles in the U.S., an essential step in reducing carbon emissions from transportation.

Two years ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey prompted the state to begin mapping a natural gas phaseout. The Department of Public Utilities turned the process over to the gas distribution companies, who (to no one’s surprise) produced recommendations that looked a lot like business as usual and did very little to comply with emissions reduction mandates. AG Healey is calling for the state to toss out those recommendations – time to get serious.

It’s also time to start developing regulations pertaining to pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, in light of ambitious plans for extensive networks serving the future carbon capture and storage industry.

We’ll close with the fossil fuel industry, which is having a moment due to the war in Ukraine and the policy drive to replace Russian oil and gas with hydrocarbons pumped from friendlier regions. Sticking with the longer view that any near-term bump in production must not be allowed to lock in for the future, we’re alarmed by what’s happening. Already, planned increases in fracked oil and gas represent carbon and methane emissions well beyond our global warming budget. And a lot of the Big Oil & Gas decarbonization program appears to be more of an accounting gimmick than anything real. The majors are simply taking highly-polluting production sites off their books by selling to smaller operators who lack their own emissions limits. Related to all this, Canada sees new opportunity for Liquefied Natural Gas sales to Europe, and is reconsidering allowing construction of two Nova Scotia export terminals that seemed doomed just a year ago.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

unnecessary and unwanted
Superior Court judge tosses out waterways permit for Weymouth compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
May 5, 2022

WEYMOUTH – A Superior Court judge has tossed out one of the state permits granted for the controversial natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

Judge Joseph Leighton this week vacated the Chapter 91 Waterways permit for the compressor station, sending the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review.

The decision boils down to an interpretation of the word “required,” and whether the compressor station is considered an ancillary facility of existing natural gas infrastructure in the basin.

Leighton ruled that regulators incorrectly accepted “required” to mean “suitable,” rather than “necessary,” therefore allowing the siting of the compressor.

“The department’s interpretation was therefore inconsistent with the plain terms of the regulation and an error of law,” he wrote in the decision.

Alice Arena, of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the residents are “ecstatic” over the decision.

“It’s very satisfying. The fact the judge concurred is a huge victory in all of this stupidity,” she said.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.

State regulators issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents.

Local, state and federal officials have called for a halt of compressor operations since the station opened in the fall of 2020. Several emergency shutdowns since then caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reexamined operations and safety at the station following the shutdowns. The commission didn’t revoke authorization for the station, but several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with.

Arena said she planned to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the Superior Court decision and hopes it will halt operations until Enbridge seeks a new waterways permit.
» Read article   

» More about the Weymouth compressor

NATURAL GAS BANS

astro-Canada
New Gas Industry Astroturf Group ‘Fuelling Canada’ Targets First-Time Homebuyers
‘Fuelling Canada’ is linked to major gas companies that are battling climate regulations.
By Geoff Dembicki, DeSmog Blog
May 10, 2022

In April, the Globe & Mail published an article on its website extolling the virtues of natural gas appliances in people’s houses.

The story, headlined “Why natural gas is the smart choice for your new home,” has the look and feel of actual journalism. It includes statistics about Canada’s “reliable” gas industry, a photo of a young couple cooking on their gas range and quotes from Canadian homebuilders and makers of consumer products—such as grills and fireplaces—that use gas.

It looks explicitly designed to appeal to first-time homebuyers.

But even though natural gas is a major growing source of emissions in the country (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of the fossil fuel), the article didn’t once mention climate change, nor the potentially severe health impacts from breathing in gas fumes.

That’s because the article isn’t real journalism, but rather an advertisement paid for by an organization called Fuelling Canada that is linked to some of North America’s top gas companies. It has a small label at the top describing it as “sponsor content.” But otherwise it looks practically identical to news stories from real reporters on the Globe & Mail website.

“That’s what makes these sponsored ads so slimy. For the vast majority of readers who look at stuff very quickly, that nuance is lost on them,” Seth Klein, team lead and director of strategy for an advocacy group called the Climate Emergency Unit, told DeSmog. “The goal of this advertising is to lock us into more decades of using natural gas.”

[…] Fuelling Canada describes itself on its website as “a resource hub for Canadians to learn more about natural gas and its essential role in the Canadian economy.” But it is hardly neutral when it comes to discussing one of the world’s major contributors to global warming.

The organization was created by the Canadian Gas Association, an industry group whose members include gas companies like Enbridge and FortisBC, as well as TC Energy, builder of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a project that has faced fierce opposition led by hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Fuelling Canada wants to create the impression of a national grassroots campaign.

[…] Klein argues it’s not a coincidence that some of the same companies behind Fuelling Canada also belong to an industry alliance that is fighting against municipal rules designed to phase out climate-warming natural gas in homes and buildings and replace them with electric ranges and other cleaner energy sources.

Internal documents describe this “Consortium to Combat Electrification” as a campaign whose mission is to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” The gas industry, one slide explains, is “in for [the] fight of it’s [sic] life.”

The consortium’s members include Enbridge and FortisBC, two of the companies also involved with Fuelling Canada. The major industry players paying for cleverly framed sponsored content promoting natural gas are the very same ones working behind the scenes to stop a shift away from fossil fuels.

“They want to continue to lock in customers in new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Klein said. “And they’re pulling out all the stops.”
» Blog editor’s note: Enbridge operates the Weymouth compressor station as part of its Atlantic Bridge Pipeline.
» Read article  

» More about gas bans

DIVESTMENT

stranded tick-boom
Why our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a financial time bomb
We’re investing in things that will have little value if we move off fossil fuels.
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
May 9, 2022

The numbers are startling.

We know roughly how much more carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere before we exceed our climate goals—limiting warming to 1.5° to 2° C above preindustrial temperatures. From that, we can figure out how much more fossil fuel we can burn before we emit that much carbon dioxide. But when you compare those numbers with our known fossil fuel reserves, things get jaw-dropping.

To reach our climate goals, we’ll need to leave a third of the oil, half of the natural gas, and nearly all the coal we’re aware of sitting in the ground, unused.

Yet we have—and are still building—infrastructure that is predicated on burning far more than that: mines, oil and gas wells, refineries, and the distribution networks that get all those products to market; power plants, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes that use the fuels. If we’re to reach our climate goals, some of those things will have to be intentionally shut down and left to sit idle before they can deliver a return on the money they cost to produce.

But it’s not just physical capital that will cause problems if we decide to get serious about addressing climate change. We have workers who are trained to use all of the idled hardware, companies that treat the fuel reserves and hardware as an asset on their balance sheets, and various contracts that dictate that the reserves can be exploited.

Collectively, you can think of all of these things as assets—assets that, if we were to get serious about climate change, would see their value drop to zero. At that point, they’d be termed “stranded assets,” and their stranding has the potential to unleash economic chaos on the world.

[…] The big question is whether these pressures build slowly or suddenly. If assets lose their value slowly, without major strandings, everyone can adjust. Investors can shift to other markets, companies can change their focus, infrastructure can be allowed to deprecate until much of its value is gone. There will undoubtedly be some economic pain, especially if you’re in the fossil fuel business, but there won’t be wholesale economic disruption.

Unfortunately, our climate goals and our continuing emissions are making the probability of this sort of soft landing increasingly remote. “We dragged our feet, and we kind of have to double down,” Rezai told Ars. “If we have to have quicker adjustments, that creates the possibility of more disruptive adjustments, less smooth adjustments.” My conversation with him and Van der Ploeg was filled with talk of the potential for a Minsky moment, in which the value of some assets drops dramatically. For the climate, this could come in response to technology changes or government policy changes.

This sort of sudden collapse will have sweeping effects. People who have livelihoods based on fossil fuel extraction will see their jobs vanish. Governments that rely on taxes and fees from fossil fuel extraction and use may struggle to replace the lost revenue. Companies throughout the economy will take a huge hit. Obviously, this will include lost revenue for fossil fuel companies. But it can also mean that things they treat as assets—from equipment to extraction licenses—will have to be written off as stranded.
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Putnam Gardens
A strategy for tackling housing, climate crises simultaneously
HERO proposal would double state’s deeds excise tax
By Kimberly Lyle and Joseph Kriesberg, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 7, 2022

TWO CRISES are bearing down on our state. There’s the critical shortage of affordable housing, which leaves ever more of our neighbors unable to keep a roof over their heads. And there is the climate crisis, which promises more powerful storms, flooding, and deadly heat waves.

These crises demand urgent action. Now, a diverse coalition of housing, environmental, and faith-based organizations has come up with a plan to tackle both at once. The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts Legislature to raise the deeds excise tax — paid when real estate changes hands — to a level comparable with other Northeastern states. This could generate as much as $600 million annually for investments in climate and affordable housing.

[…] The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts  Legislature to double the deeds excise tax from $4.56 to $9.12 per $1,000 in sales price. This would bring us in line with neighboring states: New Hampshire’s tax is a whopping $15 per $1,000; in New York and Vermont it is $12.50. HERO would generate as much as $600 million in new revenue each year.

Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs — the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund — serving both renters and low- and moderate-income homebuyers. The other half would go to the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund, which would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions, like energy efficiency, that will enable us to meet our state’s ambitious climate goals.

Raising the deeds excise tax is an equitable way to generate revenue. It is progressive because the tax is linked to real estate prices, buyers and sellers of high-end homes pay more. And it is affordable for lower-income homebuyers as well. Most families only pay the tax once or twice in their lifetime and it is amortized over the life of their mortgage.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy  

CLIMATE

too hot
India tries to adapt to extreme heat but is paying a heavy price
Summer hasn’t arrived yet, but early heat waves have brought the country to a standstill
By Gerry Shih and Kasha Patel, Washington Post
May 9, 2022

[…] Typically, heat waves in India affect only part of the country, occur in the summer and only last for a week or so. But a string of early heat waves this spring has been longer and more widespread than any observed before. India experienced its hottest March on record. Northwest and central India followed with their hottest April.

“This probably would be the most severe heat wave in March and April in the entire [recorded] history” of India, said Vimal Mishra, a climate scientist at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.

Despite the unprecedented heat, fewer people appear to be dying. Heat waves in 2015 and 1998 took thousands of lives, but the India Meteorological Department has reported only a handful of deaths so far.

Across India, extreme heat has forced farmers, construction workers and students to rearrange their lives, showing how daily routines are changing — and work productivity is declining — in countries that are already among the poorest and hottest in the world.

In recent weeks, education officials in nine northern states have cut the length of classes in half so that students can be dismissed by 11 a.m. Some have ended the school year early. Administrators of large government-run rural employment programs mandated that workers digging canals and ditches stop before noon.

These shifts may be small on their own, but taken together they have far-reaching impacts. India loses more than 100 billion hours of labor per year because of extreme heat, the most of any country in the world, according to research published in Nature Communications.

“We’re reaching some of these critical thresholds in Southwest and South Asia, where people can no longer efficiently cool themselves and it’s almost deadly just to be outside, much less work,” said Luke Parsons, one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a really major issue in terms of who bears the cost of climate change first.”
» Read article  

new high
Atmospheric CO2 Hits Another All-Time High
By The Energy Mix
May 8, 2022

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at Hawai’i’s Mauna Loa Observatory breached 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Considered the gold standard for accurate measurements of atmospheric CO2, the new measurements were released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports the Independent.

The NOAA data release shows CO2 levels hitting 420.23 ppm in April, eight years after they breached 400 ppm (400.2 ppm) in May, 2013.

Last May, atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa stood at 419.13 ppm. In May 2002, they were 375.93 ppm, and in 1958, the first year scientists began to measure atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, levels stood at 317.51 ppm.

May typically records the highest levels of atmospheric CO2, just before the northern hemisphere’s summer kicks in with an explosion of plant growth that pulls carbon out the atmosphere, causing levels to drop.

Emissions from fossil fuel burning, plus the loss of natural carbon sinks through the destruction of forest, wetlands, and mangroves, now mean that even the lowest seasonal CO2 levels—typically measured in September before the leaves fall—are far too high for climate health.

Last year, September readings at Mauna Loa stood at 413.30, well above the safe limit of 350 ppm long urged by climate scientists.

And CO2 is not the only thing to worry about, the Independent notes.

Atmospheric concentrations of the two other major greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, are also rising sharply. Methane is about 85 times more potent an atmospheric warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span; nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful.

Atmospheric methane levels now stand at 1980.9 parts per billion (ppb), up 340 ppb from the early 1980s, while nitrous oxide just reached 335.2 ppb, up from 316 ppb just 20 years ago.
» Read article   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

not ideal
Navigating the U.S. Solar Industry’s Spring of Discontent
Solar business owners feel worn down by a federal tariff investigation and the Biden administration’s failure to deliver on policy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 5, 2022

Troy Van Beek is an optimist by nature, but he sounded dour this week.

His solar business, Ideal Energy in Fairfield, Iowa, is dealing with the blowback from a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia.

“We keep getting the rug pulled out from under us,” he said.

[…] The investigation has led to a spike in panel prices in anticipation of potential penalties, which is on top of existing supply chain problems that have made it difficult for solar installers to get the equipment they need.

Van Beek spends much of his time trying to chase down equipment and deciding how much he can pay at a time of volatile prices.

[…] The Commerce Department opened its investigation in response to a February legal filing by Auxin Solar, a small manufacturer in California, that said Chinese companies were circumventing the tariffs imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration. Auxin alleges that Chinese manufacturers avoided tariffs by sending equipment to nearby countries for minor assembly work before delivery to the United States. Since the 2018 tariffs, U.S. panel imports from China plummeted, largely replaced by imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some panel manufacturers have opened plants in the United States, like Jinko Solar of China, which opened in Florida, but the new plants’ output remains small compared to what’s in Asia.

Investigators have a few months to determine if the conduct meets the legal definition of a circumvention of tariffs.

Solar industry groups reacted to the investigation with alarm. The Solar Energy Industries Association said that 24 gigawatts of projects that were projected for 2022 or 2023 would not happen in those years, a decrease of 46 percent compared to the prior forecasts, if the government orders retroactive tariffs. The trade group provided examples of projects that were on hold because of uncertainty about costs that may result from the investigation, and also warned that 100,000 jobs could be lost.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst for BloombergNEF, in an email.
» Read article   

hidden emissions
New Research Shows Higher Methane Emissions from Hydropower
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in The Energy Mix
May 1, 2022

This month regulators greenlighted a transmission line that would bring power generated from Canadian hydroelectric dams to New York City. New York’s plan to achieve a zero-emissions grid by 2040 depends on hydropower, and it’s not alone.

Globally hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy. In the United States it makes up 7% of electricity generation, and 37 states allow some form of hydropower in their renewable portfolio standards, which establish requirements for the amount renewable energy that must be used for electricity generation.

As U.S. states and countries across the world work to reduce fossil fuels and boost renewables, hydropower is poised to play an even bigger role.

There’s just one problem: A growing body of research published over the past two decades has found that most reservoirs, including those used for hydropower, aren’t emissions-free.

“Hydroelectric reservoirs are a source of biogenic greenhouse gases and in individual cases can reach the same emission rates as thermal power plants,” Swiss researchers found in a 2016 study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Despite the green reputation of hydropower among policy-makers, some reservoirs emit significant amounts of methane, along with much smaller amounts of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

That’s bad news because we already have a methane problem. This short-lived but potent gas packs 85 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide over 20 years. If we hope to stave off catastrophic warming, scientists say we need to quickly cut methane. But new data show that despite this warning it’s still increasing at record levels — even with a global pledge signed by 100 countries to slash methane emissions 30% by 2030.

Methane can rise from wetlands and other natural sources, but most emissions come from human-caused sources like oil and gas, landfills, and livestock. We’ve known about the threat from those sources for years, but emissions from reservoirs have largely been either uncounted or undercounted.

In part that’s because tracking emissions from reservoirs is complicated and highly variable. Emissions can change at different times of the year or even day. They’re influenced by how the dam is managed, including fluctuations in the water level, as well as a host of environmental factors like water quality, depth, sediment, surface wind speed, and temperature.

But recent scientific research provides a better framework to undertake this critical accounting. And environmental groups say it’s time for regulators to get busy putting it to work.
» Read article   
» Read the 2016 study

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

snow cap
Heat pumps do work in the cold — Americans just don’t know it yet

These heating/cooling systems have been called the “most overlooked climate solution.” Now they can work in temperatures far below freezing.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
May 9, 2022

Heat pumps – heating and cooling systems that run entirely on electricity – have been getting a lot of attention recently. They’ve been called the “most overlooked climate solution” and “an answer to heat waves.” And the technology is finally experiencing a global boom in popularity. Last year, 117 million units were installed worldwide, up from 90 million in 2010. As temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions rise, heat pumps, which can be easily powered by renewable energy, promise to provide a pathway to carbon-free home heating. Environmental activist Bill McKibben even suggested sending heat pumps to Europe to help wean the continent off Russian natural gas.

But despite this global surge in popularity, heat pumps in the U.S. are laboring under a misconception that has plagued them for decades: That if the temperature falls to below 30 or even 40 degrees Fahrenheit, their technology simply doesn’t work. “Do heat pumps work in cold weather” is even a trending question on Google.

It’s a narrative that Andy Meyer, a senior program manager for the independent state agency Efficiency Maine, has spent the past decade debunking for residents in one of the U.S.’s coldest states.

“There were two types of people in Maine in 2012,” he said. “Those who didn’t know what heat pumps were — and those who knew they didn’t work in the cold.” But while that concern may have been true years ago, he said, today “it’s not at all true for high-performance heat pumps.”

[…] One of the benefits of installing heat pumps is cost-savings. In Maine, many homes are heated with fuel oil or propane. At current prices, Meyer says, running a heat pump costs half as much as oil and one-third as much as propane. According to Efficiency Maine’s analysis, that can save homeowners up to thousands of dollars in annual energy costs. A 2017 study by CEE similarly found that installing heat pumps in Minnesota could save residents between $349 and $764 per year, compared to heating with a standard electric or propane furnace.

There are some caveats. Lacey Tan, a manager for the carbon-free buildings program at the energy think tank RMI, says there is still a price premium for heat pumps: Some installers aren’t yet comfortable with how they work and try to reduce their risk by increasing up-front costs. In cold climates, some homes may want to have a back-up heating system for extremely frigid days or in the event of a power outage. (In Maine, Meyer says many homeowners use wood stoves as back-up for their heat pumps.)

But many experts believe more and more cold-weather heat pumps will be sold as homeowners learn about the new advances in the technology. Meyer says that Mainers who install heat pumps naturally begin to share their experience with friends and family. “We have over 100,000 salespeople who have already gotten heat pumps,” he said jokingly. “Not bad for a state where they ‘don’t work in the cold.’”
» Read article   

non-condensing
DOE updates water heater rule for first time in two decades
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
May 6, 2022

The Biden administration has unveiled the first new energy efficiency standards in over 20 years for water heaters in commercial buildings, a move it says could slash greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy costs.

Proposed yesterday by the Department of Energy, the updated standards would save businesses $140 million per year in operating costs and eliminate certain inefficient natural gas-consuming water heaters from the market, according to DOE.

The new standards would reduce carbon emissions by 38 million metric tons between 2026 and 2055, DOE said — an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of about 37 coal-fired power plants, according to an EPA calculator. Natural gas-powered water heaters typically use about 18 percent of the gas consumed in commercial buildings, the department said, citing data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Water heating accounts for a considerable share of energy costs and domestic carbon emissions,” Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at DOE, said in a press release. “Modernizing commercial water heater technology will slash energy costs for schools, hospitals, and small businesses while removing carbon and methane from our atmosphere.”

If finalized, the proposed rule would go into effect in 2026, resulting in less-efficient water heaters known as “non-condensing” models being effectively eliminated from the market.
» Blog editor’s note: this weak ruling (which still allows businesses to install new, “efficient” natural gas water heaters that will lock in emissions for decades) is opposed by groups representing natural gas utilities. It’s progress, but we need a bigger, faster shift.
» Read article   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

nano magnet
In a World Starved for Lithium, Researchers Develop a Method to Get It from Water
National lab uses magnets to extract lithium, potentially helping with shortage of key battery material.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 12, 2022

The world needs vast quantities of lithium to meet demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. And the United States is way behind China in securing a supply of this rare metal.

Catching up in this global race may take some magic, or at least a process that looks like magic.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from water. This approach has the potential to allow companies to affordably gather lithium from sources like the brine used in geothermal power systems and the waste water left over from use by industry.

“We believe that this thing can be big,” said Jian Liu, a senior research engineer at the lab.

The lab has developed a magnetic “nanoparticle” that binds to the materials the user is trying to extract from a liquid. Then, as the liquid passes over a magnetic field, the nanoparticle, which is now latched onto the desired material—usually lithium—gets pulled out.

Liu and his team have been developing this system for eight years. The version in the lab looks like a collection of water containers connected by clear plastic tubes and electronic pumps.

[…] The main caveat is that the process has a cost that means it only makes economic sense for use in liquids with higher concentrations of lithium. The lab’s research is working to reduce the costs.
» Read article   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

POTUS at Zero
Biden Announces $3 Billion in Grants for Domestic Electric Vehicle Battery Production
By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, EcoWatch
May 3, 2022

The Biden administration has announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S., an essential step in reducing the carbon emissions that are causing global warming.

The money will be made available in the form of grants to encourage the manufacturing of more high-capacity batteries and the sourcing of the raw materials needed to make them. Funded by last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the grants will help U.S. companies build new factories and modify old ones so that they can manufacture EV batteries and parts, CNBC reported. There will be an additional $60 million for a battery reuse and recycling program, the Department of Energy said.

“With the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and stationary storage alone projected to increase the size of the lithium battery market five- to ten-fold by the end of the decade, it is essential that the United States invests in the capacity to accelerate the development of a resilient supply chain for high capacity batteries,” said a grant availability announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new vehicle sales in the country to be electric by the end of the decade, and has also issued guidelines for all new cars and trucks bought by the federal government to be emissions-free by 2035, reported The New York Times.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

start over
Two years after asking for future of gas investigation, Healey asks state to reject results
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
May 12, 2022

Attorney General Maura Healey, who two years ago prompted the state to begin mapping the phaseout of natural gas in Massachusetts, is now asking it to scrap the blueprint emerging from the process, saying it favors gas company profits over a healthy climate.

”We should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable — not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” said Healey, who is running for governor.

In a 106-page document filed with the state Department of Public Utilities late last week, Healey also said the agency’s decision-making process should be overhauled to prioritize climate goals over the health of utilities, currently one of its functions.

The filing is the latest salvo in a battle that has raged largely out of sight over the future of the gas industry in Massachusetts. Many climate advocates and the state’s own roadmap to net-zero greenhouse emissions call for radically reducing fossil fuels such as natural gas in favor of electricity supplied by a clean power grid. But when the public utilities department launched what it called an investigation into the future of natural gas in 2020, it gave responsibility for developing the blueprint to the gas utilities themselves.

The proposals now emerging from that process, while they would allow for ramping up electrification, lean heavily on large-scale use of so-called decarbonized gas or renewable natural gas. These include tapping the gas generated by landfills or wastewater treatment plants, for example, or using renewable electricity sources to process hydrogen as a fuel. Utilities have also argued for a “hybrid electrification” system, where homes would have electric heat pumps, but also keep gas as a backup.

But advocates say the industry’s suggestions are problematic since they would allow gas companies to continue using fuels that contribute to global warming simply by replacing what flows through their pipes.

In eight hours of public testimony last week and hundreds of pages of comments submitted in the public utilities department proceeding, advocates, activists, and public officials raised concerns that the gas companies’ proposals overlook certain realities about decarbonized fuels — including high cost, limited supply, and that they may not be as climate-friendly as the utilities are claiming.

”Gas utilities have asked the DPU to approve the spending of ratepayer money on untested and costly technologies to maintain their century-old business plan,” Healey said in response to questions from the Globe.
» Read article  
» For the back story on why the utility-produced plan is so bad, MA Senator Cynthia Creem’s April 4, 2022
“Future of Gas” hearing is a must-watch!

» More about gas utilities

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CO2 pipeline regs
Safety advocate warns of a lack of oversight for new CO2 pipelines needed for carbon capture
By Kara Holsopple, The Allegheny Front
April 29, 2022

The federal infrastructure bill has spurred new interest in carbon capture and storage as a way to reduce climate polluting emissions from the air and send them underground.

Bill Caram, the executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, says there was also an expansion of existing tax credits for carbon capture to decarbonize parts of the economy. But his group has concerns about the current regulation of pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, and the many more CO2 pipelines that would be needed to fulfill some of these visions of the future.

Pipeline Safety Trust recently commissioned a report to assess the state of CO2 pipeline safety regulation, and The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple recently spoke with Caram about it.
» Listen to the conversation, or read the transcript        
» Read the report on CO2 pipeline safety regulations

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Dacono
US fracking boom could tip world to edge of climate disaster
140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases could be unleashed if fossil fuel extraction plans get green light, analysis shows
By Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

The fate of the vast quantities of oil and gas lodged under the shale, mud and sandstone of American drilling fields will in large part determine whether the world retains a liveable climate. And the US, the world’s largest extractor of oil, is poised to unleash these fossil fuels in spectacular volumes.

Planned drilling projects across US land and waters will release 140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realised, an analysis shared with the Guardian has found.

The study, to be published in the Energy Policy journal this month, found emissions from these oil and gas “carbon bomb” projects were four times larger than all of the planet-heating gases expelled globally each year, placing the world on track for disastrous climate change.

The plans include conventional drilling and fracking spanning the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado and the mountainous Appalachian region. But the heart is the Permian basin, a geological formation 250 miles wide that sits under the mostly flat terrain of west Texas and New Mexico.

One lobe of this formation, known as the Delaware basin, is predicted to emit 27.8bn metric tons of carbon during the lifetime of planned drilling, while another, known as the Midland basin, will potentially unleash 16.6bn tons of emissions.

It means the US, the centre of the world’s addiction to oil and gas, will play an outsized role in the heatwaves, droughts and floods that will impact people around the planet.

Compared with traditional drilling, fracking is linked to higher levels of exposure to toxic air pollutants and poor water quality, as well as unhealthy noise and light pollution. Numerous studies have suggested elevated rates of congenital heart defects, childhood leukaemia, asthma, and premature births in neigbourhoods close to fracking sites, while elderly people living near or downwind are more likely to die prematurely.
» Read article   

Niger Delta flares
Oil Giants Sell Dirty Wells to Buyers With Looser Climate Goals, Study Finds
The transactions can help major oil and gas companies clean up their own production by transferring polluting assets to a different firm, the analysis said.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 10, 2022

When Royal Dutch Shell sold off its stake in the Umuechem oil field in Nigeria last year, it was, on paper, a step forward for the company’s climate ambitions: Shell could clean up its holdings, raise money to invest in cleaner technologies, and move toward its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

As soon as Shell left, however, the oil field underwent a change so significant it was detected from space: a surge in flaring, or the wasteful burning of excess gas in towering columns of smoke and fire. Flaring emits planet-warming greenhouse gases, as well as soot, into the atmosphere.

Around the world, many of the largest energy companies are expected to sell off more than $100 billion of oil fields and other polluting assets in an effort to cut their emissions and make progress toward their corporate climate goals. However, they frequently sell to buyers that disclose little about their operations, have made few or no pledges to combat climate change, and are committed to ramping up fossil fuel production.

New research to be released Tuesday showed that, of 3,000 oil and gas deals made between 2017 and 2021, more than twice as many involved assets moving from operators with net-zero commitments to those that didn’t, than the reverse. That is raising concerns that the assets will continue to pollute, perhaps even at a greater rate, but away from the public eye.

“You can move your assets to another company, and move the emissions off your own books, but that doesn’t equal any positive impact on the planet if it’s done without any safeguards in place,” said Andrew Baxter, who heads the energy transition team at the Environmental Defense Fund, which performed the analysis.

Transactions like these expose the messy underside of the global energy transition away from fossil fuels, a shift that is imperative to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
» Read article   
» Read the EDF report on transferred emissions

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro undead
2 stalled LNG projects in Nova Scotia may be on the brink of revival
Renewed signs of interest in Goldboro and Bear Head projects
Frances Willick, CBC News
May 11, 2022

Two proposed liquefied natural gas projects in Nova Scotia that previously stalled are now showing signs of advancing.

Pieridae Energy, the company behind the Goldboro LNG project, is in discussions with the federal government about how to move the project forward.

The proposed LNG terminal in Goldboro, N.S., was previously pitched as a $13-billion land-based facility that would bring in gas from Western Canada and then ship it to Europe. Pieridae shelved the project last summer due to cost pressures and time constraints.

But after Russia — a key supplier of oil and gas to Europe — invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the federal government approached Pieridae to see if the company could assist with efforts to ramp up energy exports to help wean Europe off Russian resources.

It’s a far cry from the situation a year ago, when Pieridae requested $1 billion from Ottawa to help make the project a reality — funding that did not materialize.

“The world has changed a lot since then,” Pieridae CEO Alfred Sorensen told CBC News Tuesday. “We have to take advantage of all the work we’ve done already and try and see if we can move the project forward very quickly.”

Earlier this year, Pieridae Energy was considering a smaller project with a floating LNG barge where gas would be super-chilled and then transferred onto tankers.

The company is now shifting its attention back to a land-based project because it would be able to produce more gas than a barge-based facility, and the federal government is interested in maximizing output, Sorensen said.

[…] Even with many approvals and permits already in place, Sorensen said gas would not likely flow from a Goldboro facility until January 2027.

[…] Any oil and gas project in Nova Scotia will face opposition from people concerned about its impact on climate change and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
» Read article   

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 3/4/22

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Welcome back.

The courts have become ground zero for actions that either attack or defend the fossil fuel industry and the polluting economy it supports. We found important stories describing skirmishes from both sides of the fight. On one hand, Honolulu can proceed with a lawsuit that seeks compensation for climate-related damage from the oil majors who lied and concealed the dangers for decades. Sadly, a case before the strongly conservative US Supreme Court could shield the fossil and utility industries from regulation and stymie government efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities and towns fighting hard to implement gas hookup bans are meeting stiff resistance from entrenched utilities and a sluggish regulatory apparatus. In Massachusetts, the green economic boost promised by offshore wind development can’t be taken for granted – and the state is looking at adjusting some incentives.

This week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dropped a devastating climate assessment, stating clearly that humanity has already crossed into unsafe territory, and laying out the scale of suffering we’re sleepwalking into through lack of effective action. Our second article in this section is a case in point. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, only 6% of pandemic recovery funds have been spent on “green” projects. At the same time, half that amount went to propping up fossil fuels. In light of the IPCC report, that represents a colossal failure of leadership and political will during a time when “build back better” became a ubiquitous slogan. Looking at you, G20 nations, and cutting you no slack here.

As horrible as it is, Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine and its attempt to use oil and gas to dampen European resistance, seems to have finally afforded some of those leaders a near-term threat that could result in a real, concerted move toward clean energy. Closer to home, we’re waiting to see if this urgency starts affecting decisions and policies that were already underway as the invasion unfolded. That includes a lackluster attempt by Massachusetts’ Baker administration to improve its “stretch” building energy code even as new affordable housing units are showing the way with Passive House performance. And witness the US Post Office’s clueless insistence on committing much of its huge fleet of new delivery vehicles to burning gasoline for decades to come.

Checking in on the power sector, we have a report showing that electric utilities are underestimating the cost of carbon and climate change, which makes renewables and batteries less attractive investments. Similarly, gas utilities are using pretzel logic to rationalize any moves that disrupt their traditional model of pushing fuel through pipelines to flames. It’s no secret that utilities spend lots of money on lobbying efforts to protect their perceived interests. Now fourteen states are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency to prevent them recouping those costs from ratepayers.

We’ve been watching developments in cryptocurrency because of the astonishing amount of energy “mining” it consumes. While some miners use surplus, or “stranded” renewable energy whenever possible, a new study examining the effect of China’s recent action to expel bitcoin mining concludes the net result is a heavier dependence on fossil-generated power.

We’ll wrap up with the very positive news that delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) drafted an international agreement on plastics that includes a broad definition of the problem. It would control pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal. There’s much to be done before this agreement is enforceable, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Underscoring the urgency to reduce plastics usage and waste is a warning that burning plastics in waste-to-energy facilities could be creating new and powerful greenhouse gases.

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

Honolulu flooded street
‘Historic First’ as Hawaii Court OKs Lawsuit Against Big Oil
“This development should send a message to communities across the country that the legal case for making polluters pay for lying about fossil-fueled damages is strong and defensible.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 3, 2022

Climate campaigners and local officials this week are celebrating a major series of victories in Hawaii state court rejecting Big Oil’s attempts to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the the City and County of Honolulu.

“This is a big and important win,” said Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters in a statement. “Not only in the sense of legal justice, but also for our local residents.”

“We are facing incredible costs to move critical infrastructure away from our coasts and out of flood zones,” he continued, “and the oil companies that deceived the public for decades should be the ones helping pick up the tab for those costs—not our taxpayers.”

Waters declared that “the reason these companies are fighting so hard to block this case is they don’t want even more evidence to come out. This is just like Big Tobacco, when they tried to take advantage of the public.”

Honolulu’s lawsuit—filed in 2020 against oil giants including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell—claims that despite knowing for decades that their products heat the planet, which “could be catastrophic,” and there was limited time to act, the companies “engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort” to deny the threats, discredit the science, and deceive the public “about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article          

Harrison power station
US supreme court signals it may restrict EPA’s ability to fight climate crisis
Roberts suggests states could claim harm from laws not yet enacted
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 28, 2022

Several conservative justices on the US supreme court signaled on Monday that they may be willing to restrict the federal government’s ability to address the climate crisis.

In a case that could have profound implications for those affected by the crisis, the supreme court considered an argument brought by West Virginia, a major coal mining state, that the US Environmental Protection Agency be limited in how it regulates planet-heating gases from the energy sector.

The Biden administration wants the court to throw out the case as baseless because it doesn’t relate to any existing regulation.

But John Roberts, the chief justice, said West Virginia and other states could still claim some “harm” from rules not yet enacted.

[…]The case has deeply worried environmental groups, stoking fear it could hobble any effort to set strict limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired plants.

“It was grotesque to hear big coal’s lawyers argue for tying EPA’s hands on cutting climate-heating pollution, even as the world’s scientists warn of a bigger, worsening swath of human suffering,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, referring to a report released on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We’re out of time and the president must act boldly now,” Rylander said.

The Biden administration is already dealing with congressional refusal to enact the climate change proposals in its Build Better Back domestic spending plan. Now the justices are taking up an appeal from 19 mostly Republican-led states and coal companies over whether the EPA has the authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

GAS BANS

not yet Brookline
Brookline wants a fossil fuel-free future. With latest ruling, the AG says: Not yet (again).
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 25, 2022

In a move widely seen as a setback for cities and towns hoping to accelerate their climate efforts, Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday ruled that the Town of Brookline’s efforts to use zoning bylaws to stop fossil fuels in new buildings violated state law.

This is the second time that Healey’s office has ruled against Brookline’s attempts to stop fossil fuels, and the latest stumbling block has climate advocates wondering: If this can’t happen here, in progressive Massachusetts, where a strong climate law is on the books, will it be able to happen at a fast enough pace anywhere to stave off the worst of climate change?

“When you say that local governments aren’t allowed to try these novel but fully lawful approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, you’re not only preventing the local government from responding to the direct needs of their residents but also from perhaps developing a new model for their neighbors to start adopting as well,” said Amy Turner, a senior fellow for the Cities Climate Law Initiative at Columbia University’s Sabin Center.

This years-long effort by Brookline has been watched all over the country, and particularly in Massachusetts, as cities and towns try to step up the pace of climate action on a local level, even as states lag behind.

In Brookline, the decision felt devastating to the town meeting members behind the effort, which had been approved at a Town Meeting in July by a margin of 206 to 6.

“It feels like I’m a child whose parents have gone out of their way not to give me permission to clean my own room,” said Jesse Gray, one of the petitioners behind Brookline’s efforts. “We need to do this to meet the state’s own climate goals, but what they have made abundantly clear is that they are not going to allow any municipality to do this, even though it’s a basic and necessary and urgent climate step.”

The decision from Healey’s office in many ways echoed what the residents of Brookline — and the many other cities and towns hoping to follow in its footsteps — have heard before: that while the office agrees with the principal of what Brookline wants to do, state law won’t allow it.

Noting that her office has “prioritized the state’s transition away from polluting fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future,” Healey said in a statement her hands were tied by state law.

[…]There are now 30 Massachusetts towns that—like Brookline—have said they want to ban fossil fuels. While Friday’s decision represents a setback for them, a few other avenues remain. Currently, Brookline and four other communities (Acton, Arlington, Concord, and Lexington) have home rule petitions being considered by the legislature, which—if passed—would allow the towns to pass fossil fuel bans for new construction.

“When you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging,” said state Representative Tommy Vitolo of Brookline. “We must find other policy mechanisms to prevent us from digging ourselves a climate change hole from which we can’t escape.”
» Read article          

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

gravity shift
In race for offshore wind jobs, Mass. is falling behind. So now what?
Lawmakers pitch changes to how the state awards wind farm leases in bid to compete with neighbors to the south.
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
March 2, 2022

If anyone should be trying to build wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts, it’s Ørsted.

The Danish energy company happens to be the world’s biggest developer of offshore wind farms. Its largest US office is here in Boston. And it controls a big stretch of the sea near Martha’s Vineyard, with high winds and relatively shallow waters that make it an ideal place to put up turbine towers.

But Ørsted and its local development partner Eversource steered clear of competing in the state’s third round of bidding for wind energy contracts last year. So did Equinor, another European energy company with a big lease area south of the Vineyard. Their big reason? A price cap baked into state law that requires each bid to be lower than the winning bids in the previous rounds. It’s a rule designed to keep prices under control for consumers. But it threatens Massachusetts’ early lead in a nascent but quickly growing sector, and the on-shore jobs and factories it could bring.

The stakes seem to get higher almost by the month. The race is on for the wind industry thanks to generous federal tax credits, a pro-wind president in the White House, and states along the East Coast putting contracts out to bid to finance these multibillion-dollar projects. Just last week, wind-farm development teams ponied up more than $4 billion, just for the rights to build in federal waters southeast of New York City. The industry’s center of gravity sure seems to be shifting — away from us.

Many lawmakers on Beacon Hill want to make sure Massachusetts doesn’t fall any further behind.

Toward that end, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Representative Jeff Roy, co-chairman of the Legislature’s energy committee, teed up a pro-wind bill for a floor debate on Thursday. The bill would establish new offshore-wind tax incentives, and rework who gets to pick the winners in these contract competitions. It gives economic development such as factories that create long-term jobs a greater weight in future bids, and allows more input from commercial fishermen concerned about the potential navigation hazards posed by these giant towers.

And, perhaps most notably, the bill would remove that controversial price cap.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hot already
IPCC Risk Analysis Shows Safe Limits Have Already Been Passed
By Tim Radford, The Energy Mix
March 2, 2022

Humankind is not just heading for a more dangerous future: for some people, the safe limits have already been passed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows in its climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability report this week.

Global supplies of food became more precarious a few years ago when the planet’s average temperature increased by 1°C: the risk of possible famine however is classed as moderate, the report states. But if the thermometer rises by 2.5°C, the risk to communities, regions, and whole nations becomes high, as harvests fail and flocks perish.

Food is inseparable from water supply. Right now, 800 million people experience chronic water scarcity. But if the temperature notches up to 2°C this figure reaches three billion, at 4°C, around four billion people will be in trouble. And that’s a calculation that factors in only the present population of the globe, and only the effects of climate change.

But of course that calculation does not and cannot incorporate the other hazards that come with a soaring mercury: the advance of tropical diseases; the chance of displaced, impoverished and malnourished people on the move; the arrival of new crop pests; and the risk of conflict fuelled by drought or heat. Not to mention the damage to natural ecosystems on which all human health and wealth ultimately depend as the insects that pollinate human crops, or dispose of waste, are winnowed at ever-higher temperatures.
» Read article         
» Read the IPCC report

SA coal power station
Only 6% of G20 pandemic recovery spending ‘green’, analysis finds
Review of G20 fiscal stimulus spending counters many countries’ pledges to ‘build back better’
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 2, 2022

Only about 6% of pandemic recovery spending has been “green”, an analysis of the $14tn that G20 countries have poured into economic stimulus.

Additionally, about 3% of the record amounts governments around the world have spent to rescue the global economy from the Covid-19 pandemic has been spent on activities that will increase carbon emissions, such as subsidies to coal, and will do little to reduce greenhouse gases or shift the world to a low-carbon footing.

The analysis of the G20 fiscal stimulus spending, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, belies claims many governments made of a “green recovery” that would “build back better” from upheavals caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.

It comes just after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued “the bleakest warning yet” of the ravages of climate breakdown already under way, warning only urgent action to cut emissions could stave off the worst outcomes.

Jonas Nahm, assistant professor in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US and lead author of the study, said governments had missed a vital opportunity, but there were still ways to improve the situation.

“The spending directed towards economic recovery could have significantly improved our chances of staying within 1.5C [of global heating] and we’ve collectively missed that opportunity,” he told the Guardian. “It’s disappointing that governments have yet to fully grasp that economic growth, prosperity and emissions reductions are actually complementary.”
» Read article          

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

coal complication
Ukraine war prompts European reappraisal of its energy supplies
Analysis: Russian invasion could speed up renewables transition – or lead to disastrous return to coal
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
March 4, 2022

Vladimir Putin is using Russia’s hold over fossil fuel supplies to Europe as “a political and economic weapon” in the war in Ukraine, the world’s foremost energy adviser has said, presenting western governments with crucial questions over how they face down the threat to democracy while also heading off climate disaster.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said: “Nobody is under any illusions any more. Russia’s use of its natural gas resources as an economic and political weapon shows Europe needs to act quickly to be ready to face considerable uncertainty over Russian gas supplies next winter.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted European governments, including the UK’s, to make a frantic reappraisal of their energy supplies – one that arguably should have come much sooner. The first outcome has been a fresh resolve in some countries – including from the UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng – to push for more renewable energy generation and energy efficiency to cut dependence on fossil fuels.

Kwarteng’s intervention – “The long-term solution is obvious: gas is more expensive than renewable energy, so we need to move away from gas,” he tweeted – was unexpectedly firm, cheering green campaigners who had feared that rightwing voices in the Tory party who have sought to make scrapping the net zero target a “culture war” issue were in the ascendant.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “Kwasi Kwarteng has clocked it. Our dependence on gas is a problem, and warmer homes powered by renewables are the cheapest and quickest solution. Kwarteng must convince chancellor Rishi Sunak that we need a masterplan, and the money to get the UK off gas. We need to insulate our homes, roll out heat pumps and renewable power to rapidly address Putin’s grip on European gas markets, our sky-high energy bills, and the climate crisis unfolding before our eyes.”
» Read article          

renewable Europe
This is how we defeat Putin and other petrostate autocrats
After Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, America turned its industrial prowess to building tanks, bombers and destroyers. Now, we must respond with renewables
By Bill McKibben, The Guardian | Opinion
February 25, 2022

The pictures this morning of Russian tanks rolling across the Ukrainian countryside seemed both surreal – a flashback to a Europe that we’ve seen only in newsreels – and inevitable. It’s been clear for years that Vladimir Putin was both evil and driven and that eventually we might come to a moment like this.

One of the worst parts of facing today’s reality is our impotence in its face. Yes, America is imposing sanctions, and yes, that may eventually hamper Putin. But the Russian leader made his move knowing we could not actually fight him in Ukraine – and indeed knowing that his hinted willingness to use nuclear weapons will make it hard to fight him anywhere, though one supposes we will have no choice if he attacks a Nato member.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to dramatically reduce Putin’s power. One way, in particular: to get off oil and gas.

This is not a “war for oil and gas” in the sense that too many of America’s Middle East misadventures might plausibly be described. But it is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we can’t fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas.

Russia has a pathetic economy – you can verify that for yourself by looking around your house and seeing how many of the things you use were made within its borders. Today, 60% of its exports are oil and gas; they supply the money that powers the country’s military machine.

And, alongside that military machine, control of oil and gas supplies is Russia’s main weapon. They have, time and again, threatened to turn off the flow of hydrocarbons to western Europe.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

State House dome
2 senators say proposed building code comes up short
Urge Baker to allow communities to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure
By Colin A. Young, CommonWealth Magazine
March 2, 2022

AS THE DEPARTMENT of Energy Resources launches hearings on its straw proposal for a stretch code update and a new municipal opt-in specialized stretch code, two key senators made clear to Commissioner Patrick Woodcock that they expect “substantial revisions” to the proposals before they take effect later this year.

Sens. Michael Barrett and Cynthia Creem, the chairs of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and Senate Committee on Global Warming, told Woodcock in a letter released Tuesday that the suite of state code changes the administration hopes will encourage builders to shift from fossil fuel heating in favor of electrification “comes up short” and took issue with the way DOER scheduled the five statutorily required public hearings.

“The straw proposal bars a city or town from mandating all-electric new construction, even after local officials allow for vigorous analysis and debate. For municipalities in Massachusetts and other progressive states, all-electric construction is the favored strategy for decarbonizing new buildings. Barring communities from employing it would be a significant setback,” the senators said. They added, “Bottom line: Despite its unequivocal support of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050, despite the special challenges of reducing emissions in buildings, and despite having been given a full 18 months by the Legislature to do its work, the Baker administration has proposed a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that comes up short.”

Updating the existing stretch code and creating a new net-zero specialized stretch code for cities and towns to adopt is one step lawmakers required in last year’s climate roadmap law to move Massachusetts towards net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. The law requires the new net-zero code be in place by the end of 2022.
» Read article          

Harbor Village
Incentives inform and inspire highly efficient affordable housing in Massachusetts
Passive house incentive programs from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Mass Save have sparked the growth of high-performance multifamily buildings, with thousands more units in development.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 2, 2022

A pair of statewide incentive programs in Massachusetts is driving a surge of apartment buildings designed to the highly energy-efficient passive house standard.

In the past year, families have moved into 257 affordable housing units in complexes built to the standard, and about 6,000 additional units are now in various stages of development.

Early numbers indicate that this building approach costs, on average, less than 3% more than conventional construction and can slash energy use roughly in half. Air quality is higher in these buildings and residents report the units being more comfortable to live in. Many developers who have tried passive house building have been so pleased with the benefits for residents that they are eager to pursue more projects built to the standard.

“We’re getting closer and closer to the mainstream,” said Aaron Gunderson, executive director of Passive House Massachusetts. “The incentives help people get over that initial hesitancy to change and, once they discover what passive house is, there’s no looking back.”

Passive house is a performance standard that calls for a drastic reduction of energy consumption as compared to a similar, conventionally designed structure. Buildings that meet the standard have airtight envelopes, insulating windows, and continually insulated exterior walls.
» Blog editor’s note: an airtight building envelope sounds suffocating, but these buildings are very well ventilated with fresh air, using efficient energy recovery ventilator (ERV) systems that filter, reduce heat loss, and control humidity.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS inertia
The Challenges of an Electric-Vehicle Revolution
The United States Postal Service could lead by example with its new fleet of delivery trucks. What’s standing in the way?
By Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic
February 18, 2022

Judging by the ads during last weekend’s Super Bowl, electric vehicles are poised to imminently dislodge gasoline-powered cars and trucks from their privileged place on America’s roadways.

An escalating dispute among President Joe Biden’s administration, congressional Democrats, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over modernizing the Postal Service’s vehicle fleet shows why the transition may not come quite that quickly. As soon as next week, the Postal Service may place the first order in a multibillion-dollar contract meant to ensure that it relies mostly on gas-powered vehicles until the middle of this century.

The Postal Service’s decision underscores how the transition to an electric-vehicle, or EV, future still faces powerful headwinds from inertia, the lure of the familiar, technological questions about the electric alternatives, and ideological resistance to disconnecting from fossil fuels. Though Democrats still hope to reverse the decision, the struggle with the Postal Service suggests that there are still many bumps ahead on the road to an electrified future for the nation’s cars and trucks.

[…]“All of the companies are struggling with their desire to continue making the gas-guzzling behemoths on which they know how to make money and to avoid having to make the electric vehicles, which they know are the future,” [Dan Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity] said.

The battle over modernizing the Postal Service fleet encapsulates many of these tensions between holding on to the familiar and leaping into the new.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

dome
14 states urge FERC to tighten accounting rules to prevent utilities from recouping lobbying expenses
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 23, 2022

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, FERC in December issued a “notice of inquiry” (NOI) to see if it should revise its accounting rules related to utility payments of trade association dues.

Under FERC’s accounting rules, association dues are considered “presumptively” recoverable, but the commission doesn’t allow expenses related to lobbying, influencing the public, or political activity to be recovered in rates.

In a first-ever lobbying disclosure report, EEI on Tuesday said its “core” budget for this year is $58.9 million. E9 Insight, a Boulder, Colorado-based consulting firm, estimated utility holding companies spent at least $91.6 million on trade association dues last year.

At a minimum, FERC should require utilities to substantiate their requests for recovery of industry association dues with breakdowns of the trade groups’ activities and clear connections showing how they benefit ratepayers, agencies from nine states said in joint comments.

“Showing that an industry association provides some services that benefit ratepayers should not create a presumption that all dues paid to the industry association are paid for ratepayers’ benefit,” the agencies said. They included the California Public Utilities Commission, the Connecticut attorney general and the Oregon attorney general, among others.

In their comments, the state agencies pointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in December to overturn FERC’s finding that Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) could recover about $6 million in expenses related to public relations.

“The disputed funds were paid to public relations contractors who hired ‘reliable power coalitions’ that would recruit individuals to testify before the state PUCs in support of PATH’s applications for necessary certificates; polled public opinion of the project; ran promotional advertisements; and sent lobbyists to persuade state officials that the certificates should be granted,” the state agencies said.
» Read article          

» More about FERC

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

IOUs too slow
Investor-owned utilities underestimate potential costs of carbon, climate change, Deloitte finds
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
February 24, 2022

Although most investor-owned utilities have set targets for decarbonization, many have also under-estimated the cost of failing to accelerate their decarbonization efforts, according to a new report from Deloitte.

Based on public filings, utilities anticipate a price of carbon in the range of $3-55 per metric ton by 2030, and $60-120 per metric ton by 2050. However, last March, Wood Mackenzie estimated that the price of carbon could run as high as $160 per metric ton by 2030 if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The potential costs to utilities will likely escalate if action is delayed, according to Jim Thomson, vice chair, U.S. power, utilities and renewables leader for Deloitte. Utilities will need to work with regulators to deploy needed adaptations in time, he said.

Utilities in the northeastern U.S. have made the most progress toward decarbonization, while the Midwest and the South currently face the largest gap between current plans and global climate ambitions, according to the report. These two regions also face the greatest potential costs in the event of inaction. Climate change could cost individual Midwestern utilities $2.5 billion annually, while Southern utilities face $3.6 billion in potential annual costs, according to Deloitte.

While many utilities have plans to achieve decarbonization by 2050, moving the target to 2035 could result in considerable savings for utilities by reducing risks associated with carbon taxation, penalties for emissions noncompliance and lost investment opportunities, Thomson said. It would also reduce the probability of extreme weather events, which would further reduce costs—and the savings could be rolled over into additional adaptation and grid hardening efforts, he said.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities

GAS UTILITIES

build back fossil free
Berkshire Gas sees natural gas as part of its plan to meet state climate goals. Some observers disagree
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
February 27, 2022

Asked how it will help meet Massachusetts climate goals, Berkshire Gas said natural gas will remain a key part of its plans.

Consultants contracted by Berkshire Gas and other Massachusetts utilities released a draft report on Feb. 15 detailing possible strategies.

Based on that report and the stakeholder process, Berkshire Gas concluded in a Feb. 15 document that “all scenarios taken together, including qualitative and feasibility considerations, envision an important role for natural gas in the energy transition.”

Observers who have followed the process continue to voice one central concern. While the changes being floated continue to rely on burning gas, they wanted the process, which Attorney General Maura Healey requested in June 2020, to look at how companies could shift to a business model built around electrification.

[…]Berkshire Gas lists its proposals as consumer education, energy efficiency, electrification, low-carbon fuel growth, renewable electricity, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, and developing technologies.

The reliance on “decarbonized” gases, which refer to synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, gives the appearance of a dog and pony show to Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

“You can’t call something ‘decarbonized’ that’s still got carbon in it,” Winn said. “It’s as bad as calling it ‘natural’ gas to make it sound good.”

[…]Climate groups have called for utilities to move toward electrification using solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower instead.

Researchers have debated the merits of synthetic natural gas, hydrogen and renewable natural gas. William Moomaw, a former International Panel on Climate Change scientist who now lives in Williamstown, has said he believes that leaning on those gases, which all emit greenhouse gases when burned, delays an inevitable transition.

[…]Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass. program, said she wants [Attorney General] Healey or the Department of Utilities to reject the report and ask the companies to start from scratch.

“They should say, ‘Well, sorry. It didn’t hit the mark. You’re going to have to do it again,’ ” Wessel said.

Critics have argued that allowing the companies to hire and select the consultants gave them inordinate power over a process meant to change the industry.

[…]While the companies plan to file another three-year plan in 2024, Wessel said she believes the companies have delayed changes.

“This could just turn into a perpetual exercise without a lot of results, where every time they’ll look at it again, and it’ll be the same sort of stall tactic that we’re seeing here,” she said. “They really need to develop new business models, and they have failed to do that.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft report         
» Read the Berkshire Gas overview

» More about gas utilities

CRYPTOCURRENCY

bitcoin mining farm
Bitcoin mining is ‘less green than ever’ after leaving China
Miners lost a key source of renewable energy
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 28, 2022

Bitcoin’s carbon dioxide pollution has gotten even worse since China ousted Bitcoin miners last year, according to a new analysis. It’s likely the result of Bitcoin miners substituting China’s abundant hydropower with coal and gas, experts say.

“We actually see Bitcoin becoming less green than ever before,” says Alex de Vries, lead author of the analysis published last week in the journal Joule. That directly counters continued claims by industry groups that renewable energy would clean up Bitcoin’s operations.

The new report shows that the Bitcoin boom is becoming a bigger problem for the world’s efforts to eliminate fossil fuel pollution. Mining bans, like the one China put in place last year, don’t seem to be very effective in curbing emissions, de Vries points out, because miners can easily find cheap, dirty energy elsewhere.

Bitcoin currently has a carbon footprint comparable to the Czech Republic’s, according to de Vries’ estimate. The cryptocurrency generates so many greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the super energy-hungry process of mining new coins. Miners essentially race to solve ever-more-complex puzzles in order to verify transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain, receiving new coins as a reward. The hardware they use to solve those puzzles burns through vast amounts of electricity (and also adds to the world’s growing e-waste problem).

China was home to over 70 percent of the world’s Bitcoin mining operations until the country kicked them out in 2021, purportedly in part because of environmental concerns.
» Read article         
» Read the analysis

» More about crypto       

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

road hogs
Latest energy wake-up call: How long must we depend on autocratic petro-states?
By Andreas Karelas, The Hill | Opinion
March 2, 2022

As Americans navigate through politically divisive times, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted a clear area of consensus across the aisle: We need to move past our addiction to foreign oil. The only divergence seems to be how. But the “how” is not rocket science. It’s time to say goodbye to fossil fuels once and for all. Hopefully, this latest threat to global energy supply will inspire us to act, and act swiftly.

Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Dallas Goldtooth tweeted “I know the reasons for the #UkraineCrisis are complicated. But it would be remiss of us to not mention how energy is a factor in this invasion. In some ways the conflict is being driven, literally and figuratively, with hands lathered in oil and gas.”

Given the latest shock to world energy markets due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world is once again waking up to the realities of dependence on foreign despots for energy. Of course, you don’t have to look back too far to recall similar episodes.

Many have argued the Iraq war was motivated in part to keep Iraqi oil flowing to international markets. Before that, the oil shocks of the 1970s spurred President Carter to call for reduced energy usage and to put solar panels on the White House. But once the gas flowed again and the pressure at the pump eased, President Regan took the solar panels off the roof and called for more business as usual, which decades later has come back to haunt us.

All the presidents since, Republican and Democrat alike, have called for ending our addiction to foreign oil, and while some have tinkered in the margins, none of their policies have ever moved the needle.

The U.S. military alone spends $81 billion a year protecting oil shipping lanes and keeping troops in oil-producing regions. This not-too-often spoken about subsidy for giant fossil fuel companies allows them to continue doing business in, supporting and legitimizing, what are often authoritarian ruled petro-states, not friendly to the U.S. and its allies, through taxpayer dollars and tragically, American lives.
» Read article          

big gas station
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left a hole in the global energy market
Will countries fill it with more oil and gas, or with renewables?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
February 28, 2022

On Thursday, as bombs fell on major cities in Ukraine and families sheltered in homes, subway stations, and parking garages, global energy prices spiked. For the first time since 2014, crude oil prices surged to over $100. The cost of European natural gas, which has already been at record highs since last summer, increased by almost 20 percent in a single day.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a shock to a global fossil fuel system that has been on edge for the past year. Russia is the world’s largest natural gas and second-largest oil exporter, and provides 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas supply. (One expert wryly referred to the country as “one big gas station.”) If flows of oil and natural gas from the country are disrupted, the entire world could end up paying more for energy at a time when economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is increasing demand.

There are also questions about whether the war and resulting spike in energy prices will accelerate — or disrupt — the process of shifting to cleaner sources of energy. The conflict and prior energy crunch have exposed the fragility of relying on fossil fuels, especially from foreign powers. But as prices climb, will countries shore up their domestic supplies with fossil fuels or renewables?

In the U.S., some fossil fuel companies and lobbyists are seizing on the crisis to encourage expanded oil and gas production. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute — an oil and gas industry group — urged President Joe Biden to accelerate permitting for fossil fuel infrastructure and allow for more oil and gas development on public lands. “As crisis looms in Ukraine, U.S. energy leadership is more important than ever,” the group tweeted. Republicans in Congress have similarly called on the president to reverse his “war on American energy” and boost fossil fuel production in response to the situation in Ukraine. (While Biden has halted new oil and gas leasing on public lands, he has still allowed substantial drilling during his term.)
» Read article          

over a barrel
US fossil fuel industry leaps on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to argue for more drilling
Petroleum lobby calls for looser regulation and drilling on public lands to ‘ensure energy security’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 26, 2022

The US oil and gas industry is using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration to throw open more land and ocean for domestic drilling and to loosen regulations for large companies attempting to ramp up their fossil fuel extraction.

Just hours before Russian troops began their unprovoked assault on Ukraine, the American Petroleum Institute (API) posted a string of tweets calling for the White House to “ensure energy security at home and abroad” by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands, extend drilling in US waters and slash regulations faced by fossil fuel firms.

API, which represents oil giants including Exxon, Chevron and Shell, has called on Biden to allow an expansion of drilling and to drop regulations that impede new gas pipelines in order to help reduce fuel costs for Americans and support European countries that have seen gas costs spiral due to concerns over supply from Russia, which provides Europe with around a third of its gas.

“At a time of geopolitical strife, America should deploy its ample energy abundance – not restrict it,” said Mike Sommers, the chief executive of API. Sommers added that Biden was “needlessly choking our own plentiful supply” of fossil fuels.

Some leading Republicans have joined the calls. “No administration should defend a Russian pipeline instead of refilling ours,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, told her state’s legislature this week. “Every day, I remind the Biden administration of the immense benefits of Alaska production, energy and minerals alike, and every day I remind them that refusing to permit those activities can have harmful consequences.”

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the renewed push for more drilling, accusing proponents of cynically using the deadly Ukrainian crisis to benefit large corporations and worsen the climate crisis.

“Expanding oil and gas production now would do nothing to impact short term prices and would only accelerate the climate crisis, which already poses a major threat to our national security,” said Lena Moffitt, chief of staff at Evergreen Action, a climate group. “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and stand opposed to actions by leaders of the fossil fuel industry that attempt to profit off of these harrowing atrocities.”
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuel

WASTE INCINERATION

seven six five four
Combustion of plastics could be creating a surge in waste-to-energy plants’ climate emissions
Incineration of plastics containing “forever chemicals” could be generating potent greenhouse gas emissions, but testing methods are not yet in place.
By Marina Schauffler, Energy News Network
February 25, 2022

How much does household waste fuel the climate crisis? Official numbers suggest a small role, but the full contribution is not yet known — even by regulators and scientists.

As New England states work to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and heating, little attention goes to landfills and municipal solid waste, or “waste-to-energy,” incinerators. Combined, those sources typically represent 5% or less of each state’s total emissions, and they get scarce mention in climate action plans.

But growing volumes of plastics in the waste stream complicate incinerator emissions accounting. Less than 9% of plastics are recycled, and global plastic production is expected to double by 2040.

Plastic combustion produces many more byproducts than the three greenhouse gases that most incinerators report annually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and methane.

Some chemical compounds in plastics don’t appear to degrade during incineration, while others break down partially and recombine, potentially forming potent and enduring greenhouse gases — compounds that are thousands of times more effective at trapping heat than CO2  and can linger in the atmosphere for millennia.

Scientists do not yet know the scale of the problem, but a growing body of research suggests that even small amounts of these powerful warming agents could have a significant impact.

The Northeast is home to roughly half of the nation’s 75 waste-to-energy  incinerators, most of which were constructed in the 1980s and are now passing their expected 30-year lifespans.

These facilities typically operate around the clock, feeding waste into boilers that generate steam to produce electricity and that release pollutants in the form of gaseous emissions, fly ash, bottom ash and leachate.

Far more waste is burned in the Northeast than the EPA’s national estimate of 12%. Maine, for example, burns 34% of its municipal waste, Massachusetts 71% and Connecticut 80%.
» Read article          

» More about waste incineration

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Juhu beach
For the First Time, Nations Band Together in a Move Toward Ending Plastics Pollution
A United Nations resolution embraces a broad definition of the problem that encompasses the life-cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
March 3, 2022

A United Nations gathering in Kenya on Wednesday set the world on track to forge for the first time a legally binding global agreement to curb plastic pollution.

The language in a resolution adopted, to a standing ovation, by delegates to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) gave environmental advocates much of what they were looking for: a broad definition of the problem to include pollution across the plastics life-cycle, from production to design to disposal.

There are still a lot of contentious details to navigate, including financial and compliance issues that are only hinted at in the resolution. And the petrochemical and plastics industries are expected to fight any efforts by governments to slow down plastics production.

But against the backdrop of what U.N. officials described as a “triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution,” the assembly’s decision marks the beginning of an official process over the next two years to negotiate a treaty aimed at ending global plastics waste. It establishes a formal negotiating committee that will begin meeting later this year, focused on plastics pollution in marine and other environments, including the tiny bits of plastics debris known as microplastics.

“We are making history today and you should all be proud,” Espen Barth Eide, the assembly’s president and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, said after declaring the adoption of the resolution without any dissent.

Moments later, Monica P. Medina of the State Department, the U.S. representative at the assembly, fought back tears as she spoke to the gathered delegates.

“It’s the beginning of the end of the scourge of plastics pollution on the planet,” Medina said. “We will look back on this as a day for our children and grandchildren.”
» Read article         
» Read the draft resolution         

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 2/18/22

banner 09

Welcome back.

Lots happening in Massachusetts! We’ve been following an intriguing energy efficiency proposal for over a year – ever since a $10M Eversource pilot project was approved to link a hundred Framingham homes through a shared ground source heat pump system for super-efficient all-electric heating and cooling. Now, with National Grid putting $16M into its own project, the Boston Globe has run a profile of the two women behind this great idea.

Our state pension fund is in step with the fossil fuel divestment movement but taking a slightly different approach – by staying vested and using shareholder activism to change polluters from the inside. The goal is to steer them toward policies in line with the Paris Climate Agreement’s warming target of 1.5C. In oil-soaked Texas, it’s quite a different story: that state’s pension fund is threatening to drop investments in funds that dare to rank climate concerns above those of the fossil fuel industry. Yahoo, pardner….

In its final year, the Baker administration is maintaining opposition to gas hookup bans, even for new homes. This withholds, for now, an effective building sector climate mitigation tool. Meanwhile, the gas industry and its allies are busy churning out misinformation, falsely characterizing building electrification as risky and expensive.

Focusing on the grid, MA Attorney General Maura Healey is adding her voice along with other clean electricity advocates, asking federal regulators to intervene against a recent controversial decision by New England’s grid operator considered detrimental to renewable energy.

Checking in on climate, scientists have confirmed that the southwest is experiencing its worst drought in at least twelve centuries. On top of that, the atmospheric concentration of the powerful greenhouse gas methane is rising at an alarming rate – another warning that we really don’t have any more time to waste. The Biden administration is beginning to open the funding spigot, releasing significant funds from the recent infrastructure bill and applying it toward decarbonizing the economy – especially the thermally intensive heavy industries. Sectors benefiting from these investments include those producing building materials like steel, cement, and even asphalt.

We’re keeping a wary eye on those industrial decarbonization efforts, however, because along with the good stuff, fossil interests managed to include some strikingly shaky business-as-usual distractions. That includes the potential for over-reliance on green hydrogen where electrification could substitute, and most carbon capture and storage projects. While we’re on the subject of false solutions, we’re sharing an article that takes some of the shine off corn-based ethanol as a clean transportation solution.

Readers following international events are aware of the critical role liquefied natural gas is playing as Europe’s backup energy source this winter while an uncomfortably large portion of its pipeline-supplied gas is hostage to Russia’s threats against Ukraine. We found an article that considers LNG’s future prospects.

Landing back home where we started, we’re following an intriguing tip that Pittsfield’s stinky Community Eco Power waste incinerator might have an interested buyer considering near-term decommissioning. More on that later.

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

DIVESTMENT

up there
The Massachusetts pension fund is joining the climate fight
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 17, 2022

The board that oversees the state’s $104.1 billion pension fund voted on Thursday to start using its shareholder power to pressure companies to act on climate change.

The Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, which is chaired by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, voted unanimously in support of the new guidelines, which essentially transform the pension fund’s managers into shareholder-activists. It asks them to vote against any directors of companies the fund is invested in if they don’t make a plan for keeping warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, or hitting net-zero emissions by 2050.

The pension fund’s vote is an alternative to fossil fuel divestment, a step that a number of local and institutional funds have taken in recent years, and which the state of Maine moved to do this summer. Instead of pulling money out of any companies involved with the fossil fuel industry, the Massachusetts pension fund will try to transform the business practices of the companies it invests in from the inside, pressuring them to cut emissions and align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

If a company the fund is invested in fails to deliver a plan aligned with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or it fails to make a plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the new directive would ask the fund’s directors to vote against the company’s board members. The message: Align yourself with ambitious climate goals, or risk losing your spot on your company’s board.

There is some recent precedent for this kind of action. In May of last year, a small, activist hedge fund managed to unseat at least two Exxon Mobil Corp. board members in an attempt to force the company to align its business with fighting climate change.

In advance of the vote, the union SEIU Local 509 —which represents 20,000 health and human service workers and educators, including 8,000 state workers — wrote in support of the move.

“The extreme heat, dangerous storms, wildfires, floods, droughts and the rest affect all of us, but those with fewer resources and less power are impacted more, and it’s getting worse,” wrote union chair Kathleen Flanagan and president Peter MacKinnon. “We do not want our retirement funds used to further this destruction.”
» Read article         

caved
Facing Texas pushback, BlackRock says it backs fossil fuels
By Ross Kerber, Reuters
February 17, 2022

BOSTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) – At the risk of being dropped from Texas pension funds, BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) has ramped up its message that the world’s largest asset manager is a friend of the oil and gas industries.

As a large and long-term investor in fossil fuel companies, “we want to see these companies succeed and prosper,” BlackRock executives wrote in a letter that a spokesman confirmed was sent at the start of the year to officials, trade groups and others in energy-rich Texas.

“We will continue to invest in and support fossil fuel companies, including Texas fossil fuel companies,” states the memo, signed by Dalia Blass, BlackRock’s head of external affairs, and copied to Mark McCombe, BlackRock’s chief client officer.

Although the message is consistent with its other statements, the emphasis is new after years in which BlackRock has stressed its efforts to take climate change and other environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into account in its investment and proxy voting decisions.

In Texas, new legislation requires the state’s comptroller, Glenn Hegar, to draw up a list of financial companies that boycott fossil fuels. Those firms could then be barred from state pension funds like the $197 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which has about $2.5 billion with BlackRock.
» Blog editor’s note: Texas is threatening to exclude financial firms that take a pro-climate/anti-fossil position in their portfolios. BlackRock caved. Apparently “divestment” can work both ways.
» Read article         

» More about divestment

GAS BANS

overheadNatural gas infrastructure a climate change sticking point
Baker administration opposes ban on fossil fuel use in new construction
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 15, 2022

AS MASSACHUSETTS SEEKS to transition away from fossil fuels and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, what to do with the state’s existing natural gas infrastructure is becoming a major point of contention.

At a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, several senators pressed Energy and Environment Secretary Kathleen Theoharides on why the Baker administration’s recent building code proposal doesn’t allow communities to experiment with banning fossil fuel infrastructure for heating and cooking in new construction.

Theoharides said the proposal would update two existing building codes and create a new third one. None of the codes would ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new buildings but they would be structured in a way to make it cost effective for builders to embrace electrification.

“What we’ve done through the code is make the case for electrification really strong based on the cost,” she said.

The existing building codes — a base code and a stretch code — would be updated to put downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions in new buildings. The new opt-in net zero specialized stretch code would require new homes or commercial buildings using gas to achieve greater energy efficiency and also mount solar on the roof and pre-wire the building for electrification.

Theoharides said the administration’s proposal seeks to strike a balance between energy efficiency and cost. She said she opposes an outright ban on fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction even in individual communities that want to do so because such bans could hinder housing construction and because they could leave a smaller pool of customers carrying the financial load for the remaining natural gas system.

“We need to make a transition [away from natural gas], but it needs to be an orderly transition,” she said. “We think we have to do this with a high level of care when we’re transitioning away from a system that still exists all across the state.”

Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton disagreed. “I think it’s shortsighted,” she said. “You may save money now but in the long run it’s not going to help.”

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington said Theoharides was stifling innovation by not allowing communities to experiment with doing away with fossil fuel infrastructure.
» Read article         

gas stove flame
Gas-Backed Front Group Spreads Misinformation About Costs of Electrification
In Colorado, a new industry-backed front group warns that “forced electrification” will increase costs to consumers. The evidence suggests otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 10, 2022

A group of natural gas companies and utilities in Colorado formed a front group to oppose the state’s push towards electrifying homes and businesses, spreading misinformation about the cost of electric heating while also promoting false solutions to lock in the ongoing use of natural gas.

The group, “Coloradans for Energy Access,” is made up of a coalition of gas companies, real estate interests, utilities, and other energy trade associations, including Atmos Energy, American Public Gas Association, and the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Announcing its formation in an op-ed in the Colorado Sun, Coloradans for Energy Access decried what it calls “forced electrification,” a reference to a growing movement in Colorado and around the country to discourage or prohibit natural gas connections in newly constructed homes and commercial buildings in an effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 50 cities, mostly in California, have moved to ban natural gas in new homes and buildings, serving multiple goals at once. Gas stoves emit pollutants like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide that can contribute to respiratory illnesses. In addition, a January study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that stoves leak gas even when they are turned off, an indication that gas appliances are worse for the climate and human health than previously thought.

In making its pitch for natural gas, Coloradans for Energy Access asserted that “renewable natural gas” is one of the ways that “natural gas supports the energy transition to a lower carbon economy.”

But as DeSmog has previously reported, what the industry calls “renewable natural gas” — methane gas captured from landfills and industrial agriculture and repurposed for consumers to use — can’t fairly be considered a solution. The energy source faces technical, economic, and environmental challenges that prevent it from being a large-scale solution. Despite that, gas utilities around the country are promoting it, a move that critics say is simply a strategy to justify the expansion of gas infrastructure while doing little to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Contrary to the gas industry’s claims, Americans who use heat pumps are likely to spend less on heating compared to those with gas furnaces, according to a recent analysis from RMI, a Colorado-based think tank. And new improvements in heat pump technology mean they can work well even in cold climates.

“In Denver, we found that new single-family homes built with all-electric appliances — including high-efficiency electric heat pumps — have lower annual utility bills than new mixed-fuel single-family homes,” Talor Gruenwald, an associate at RMI, told DeSmog in an email. “So, the claim that ‘natural gas is cheap and electric heat pumps are expensive’ is indeed very misleading.”
» Read article        
» Read the RMI analysis

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

hot programBiden administration launches industrial decarbonization initiative, targets $9.5B for clean hydrogen
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 16, 2022

With a goal of having net zero GHG emissions by the middle of the century, the Biden administration is targeting the industrial sector, which produced 23.8% of all carbon emissions in 2020, according to a draft emissions inventory released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The transportation sector was the leading source of GHG emissions in 2020, accounting for 27.1% of all emissions, followed by the power sector at 24.8% of emissions.

Clean hydrogen can play a key role in cutting GHG emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries such as ammonia and steel, DOE said Tuesday in a request for information about creating regional clean hydrogen hubs.

Based on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act , DOE issued a request for information to get comments on the $8 billion hydrogen hub initiative, a planned $1 billion clean hydrogen electrolysis program and a $500 million clean hydrogen manufacturing and recycling research program.

Meanwhile, the new interdepartmental Buy Clean task force will recommend potential pilot projects aimed at increasing federal procurement of “clean” construction materials, according to the White House.

The task force will include the departments of Defense, Energy and Transportation, the EPA, the General Services Administration and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Lake Oroville
US west ‘megadrought’ is worst in at least 1,200 years, new study says
Human-caused climate change significant driver of destructive conditions as even drier decades lie ahead, researchers say
By Gabrielle Canon, The Guardian
February 15, 2022

The American west has spent the last two decades in what scientists are now saying is the most extreme megadrought in at least 1,200 years. In a new study, published on Monday, researchers also noted that human-caused climate change is a significant driver of the destructive conditions and offered a grim prognosis: even drier decades lie ahead.

“Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the west has been dry for most of the last couple decades,” says Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and the study’s lead author. “We now know from these studies that is dry not only from the context of recent memory but in the context of the last millennium.”

Turning up the temperature – the result of human caused warming – has played a big part. Other studies show how the climate crisis “will increasingly enhance the odds of long, widespread and severe megadroughts”, the researchers write. Noting that as the west is now in the midst of the driest 22-year period in knowable history, “this worst-case scenario already appears to be coming to pass”.

Looking at moisture levels in soils, the team of climate scientists from UCLA, Nasa, and Columbia University focused on landscapes from Montana to northern Mexico north to south and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. They analyzed data collected tree ring patterns that offered clues to soil moisture levels throughout the centuries. Rings that appear closer together show the stunted growth patterns occurring during dry times.

So-called megadroughts, which are characterized by prolonged periods of dryness that span more than two decades, were woven throughout history, the researchers found. Long before human industry, water availability ebbed and flowed naturally. That variability, however, has been intensified by the climate crisis. According to their findings, soil moisture deficits doubled in the last 22 years compared with levels in the 1900s. Human-caused warming accounted for a 42% increase in severity.

Experts and advocates hope it will serve as a call to arms to prepare for a future that is fast approaching. Already, unsustainable systems have started to crack. “We are watching our bank account of water decline,” Williams says, “and we know that eventually we need to slow our expenditures before the account runs out”.
» Read article         

methane rising fast
‘Dangerously Fast’ Methane Increase Suggests Feedback Mechanism May Have Begun
By The Energy Mix
February 14, 2022

Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen at a “dangerously fast” rate and now exceed 1,900 parts per billion, prompting some researchers to warn that climate change itself may be driving the increase.

Atmospheric methane levels are now nearly triple pre-industrial levels, a news article in the journal Nature states, citing data released last month by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Scientists says the grim milestone underscores the importance of a pledge made at last year’s COP 26 climate summit to curb emissions of methane,” a climate pollutant that Nature cites as at least 28 times more potent than CO2, but is actually 80 to 85 times more damaging over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.

While the research focused to some degree on methane released through microbial action, Nature says nearly two-thirds of the methane releases between 2007 and 2016 were caused by human activity.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest, landmark climate science assessment in August, researchers pointed to rapid, deep methane cuts as the single most important step in stemming the rise of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. In early November, scientists warned that the 30% reduction pledge at COP 26 fell short of what was needed.

The new research shows the problem getting worse.
» Read article        
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Schulman and Magavi
These climate activists aren’t just spouting rhetoric; they’re helping wean utilities off fossil fuels
By David Abel, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

Over the years, they’ve been scoffed at as overly earnest activists or out-of-their-depth dilettantes.

At male-dominated energy conferences, they’ve been ignored, belittled as “gals,” and suffered through endless mansplaining in their areas of hard-fought expertise. Zeyneb Magavi, a 5-foot-1 engineer with a black belt in karate and a degree in physics, was once patted on the head and told she was “nice.” Her business partner, Audrey Schulman, a similarly diminutive novelist, has received condescending praise for “learning so much.”

“It can be exhausting trying to prove ourselves,” Magavi said.

They’re no longer so easily dismissed.

The duo of strong-willed Cambridge women, who joined forces over a common fear of how climate change would affect their children, recently had their once seemingly outlandish ideas for reducing carbon pollution adopted by the region’s largest utilities.

Last month, after years of prodding, state regulators approved a $16 million project that Magavi and Schulman proposed to demonstrate that there’s a financially viable, technically sound way to heat and cool the vast majority of the state’s homes and businesses without fossil fuels. The project uses linked heat pumps and subterranean pipes that can harness steady underground temperatures to heat and cool buildings.

That project, which will be installed by National Grid, follows the state’s approval of a similar geothermal project — also based on their ideas — proposed by Eversource, which plans to spend $10 million starting this year to connect about 100 homes and businesses in Framingham with a network of ground-source heat pumps.

If both projects work — heating and cooling air at reasonable costs — Magavi and Schulman hope the utilities will stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year replacing their aging system of gas pipes, and instead direct that money to installing geothermal energy throughout the region. Eventually, they believe, such emissions-free systems could replace the need for gas and oil in most homes.

The plan, Magavi and Schulman say, will also save state residents money in the long run. Every ratepayer dollar spent on investing in the utilities’ thousands of miles of gas pipes, which leak substantial amounts of methane that contributes disproportionately to global warming, will likely saddle future generations with unnecessary debt for what will largely become useless infrastructure as the state moves away from fossil fuels.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

ArcelorMittal
ArcelorMittal, France Invest Billions in Low-Emissions Steel
By Energy News Service
February 11, 2022

Steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, is decarbonizing its factories in France and has attracted the financial support of the French Government to accomplish a drop of 40 percent a year in ArcelorMittal’s CO2 emissions in France by 2030.

Steel is made from iron ore, a compound of iron, oxygen and other minerals that occurs in nature.

The iron and steel sector directly accounts for 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, seven percent of the global total from the energy system and more than the emissions from all road freight combined.

ArcelorMittal says the investment puts France’s steelmaking industry on a path aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming of the atmosphere to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

To decarbonize, ArcelorMittal says the company’s strategy will change the way it produces steel in three ways:

  • – Increasing the recycling of steel: one kilo of steel produced by ArcelorMittal in France will soon contain up to 25 percent recycled steel
  • – Developing an innovative [Direct Reduction of Iron (DRI)] process to make steel without coal, with hydrogen
  • – Capturing residual carbon dioxide (CO2) to store and use

» Read article         

NAPA net zero
Asphalt Industry Outlines Plans to Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050
By David Worford, Energy Leader
February 3, 2022

The asphalt industry in the United States plans to improve technology, especially when it comes to recycling materials, and to use all renewable energy in its operations as it aims to move toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) outlined a plan at its recent annual meeting, which also includes working with customers and suppliers to cut Scope 3 emissions as well as developing net zero materials throughout its supply chain. A 21-member Climate Stewardship Task Force has worked over the past year to study the sustainability in the industry and come up with the roadmap toward net zero.

There are nearly 3,500 asphalt plants in the US, according to NAPA. The organization says most of emissions from its mixing production comes from fuel combustion to heat and dry materials and keep asphalt hot.

NAPA says recycled asphalt is the top recycled material in the United States and that the industry reused 87 million tons of it in 2020. It wants to implement a greater use of existing technology such as recycled and warm-mix asphalt while developing and implementing new technologies to reach net zero targets.

Sustainable asphalt production hinges on recycled materials. New sustainable plants in the United Kingdom by Harsco Environmental’s recently relaunched sustainable asphalt company SteelPhalt, for example, can produce asphalt using 95% recycled aggregates.
» Read article        
» Read the NAPA plan

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

AG Healey
State policymakers, candidates and advocates decry controversial energy grid vote
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

In the wake of a controversial decision last week by the region’s energy grid that advocates say discourages wind and solar development, Attorney General Maura Healey and others are sounding an alarm, asking the federal regulator to intervene.

The decision by grid operator ISO-New England would allow the continuation for two years of a rule that Healey and others say hurts the expansion of renewable energy in the region, all at a time when states are racing to cut emissions and switch off of fossil fuels.

“My office remains opposed to this delay and will work to get it reversed,” Healey wrote on Twitter. “We cannot make this process more difficult for clean energy projects at time when our state should be doubling down on its transition.”

The state Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs is also reviewing last week’s vote, according to a spokesman, and will be taking a look at how it may impact the state and regional pursuits of clean energy.

Gubernatorial candidate Danielle Allen issued a statement saying that the decision by the grid was an example of “climate leadership is getting sabotaged at every turn by fossil fuel interests driving decisions behind closed doors” and called on other statewide candidates to join her in asking the federal regulator to step in.
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

grain auger
Corn-Based Ethanol May Be Worse For the Climate Than Gasoline, a New Study Finds

Long touted as a renewable fuel emitting 20 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than gasoline, ethanols’ emissions may be 24 percent higher. If verified, one expert said the finding shows ethanol failed spectacularly.
By Georgina Gustin, Inside Climate News
February 16, 2022

Ethanol made from corn grown across millions of acres of American farmland has become the country’s premier renewable fuel, touted as a low-carbon alternative to traditional gasoline and a key component of the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But a new study, published this week, finds that corn-based ethanol may actually be worse for the climate than fossil-based gasoline, and has other environmental downsides.

“We thought and hoped it would be a climate solution and reduce and replace our reliance on gasoline,” said Tyler Lark, a researcher with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and lead author of the study. “It turns out to be no better for the climate than the gasoline it aims to replace and comes with all kinds of other impacts.”

John Reilly, a co-director emeritus at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and a longtime Department of Agriculture researcher, called the study “impressive work” that will likely trigger yet more debate between environmental groups and the biofuels industry.
» Read article        
» Read the study         

CA leading
California Returns as Climate Leader, With Help From the White House
The Biden administration is restoring the state’s power to set its own limits on tailpipe pollution and is largely adopting the state’s rules regarding heavy trucks.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 15, 2022

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is preparing strict new limits on pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks, the first time tailpipe standards have been tightened for the biggest polluters on the road since 2001.

The new federal regulations are drawn from truck pollution rules recently enacted by California and come as the Biden administration is moving to restore that state’s legal authority to set auto emissions limits that are tighter than federal standards, according to two people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak on the record.

The developments represent a revival of California’s influence on the nation’s climate and clean air policies, following four years in which President Donald J. Trump waged legal, political, and, at times, seemingly personal battles with the state. The Trump administration had stripped away California’s authority to institute its own vehicle pollution standards, power that the state had enjoyed for more than 40 years.

Mr. Trump claimed that California’s tougher rules made cars more expensive and less safe.

But now, California is reasserting itself as a leader in policies designed to fight pollution and global warming.

Federal regulators are looking to California for inspiration as they draft new national rules designed to meet President Biden’s pledge that half of all new cars sold in the United States by 2030 will be electric vehicles. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has signed an executive order to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in California by 2035 and is proposing to spend $37 billion next year to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and the energy sector.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Mountaineer stacks
New federal guidelines could boost carbon capture in the US
The Biden administration says the US will ‘likely’ need controversial carbon capture tech to meet climate goals
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 15, 2022

On Tuesday, the Biden administration issued new guidelines for federal agencies on how to assess proposals to capture and sequester carbon dioxide pollution. The new guidance lays out steps that could encourage “widespread deployment” of a controversial form of climate tech, as well as the network of pipelines and other infrastructure that come along with it.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed last fall included more than $12 billion for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration (CCUS) projects. The US will likely need such technologies to reach Biden’s climate goals, the new guidelines say. But the technologies, which draw CO2 out of smokestack emissions or the ambient air, are a divisive strategy for slowing climate change. Proponents say CCUS is needed to clean up hard-to-decarbonize industries like cement and steel. Critics, on the other hand, warn that the CCUS projects allow polluters to keep operating and could have negative consequences for nearby communities.

The guidelines issued today by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) seem to address some of those concerns by telling federal agencies how to conduct thorough environmental reviews of proposed CCUS projects. While CCUS typically refers to technologies that remove CO2 from emissions before they escape power plants or industrial facilities, the White House also lumps emerging “direct air capture” technologies that draw CO2 out of the ambient air into its definition. Both technologies depend on similar infrastructure, including pipelines that move the captured C02 to places where it can be stored underground or used in commercial products.

One of the concerns with devices that remove CO2 emissions from power plants or factories is that those facilities might continue to pump out other pollutants that make the air unhealthy to breathe. The new guidance recommends that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency study how CCUS projects affect pollution other than greenhouse gas emissions and stipulates that projects should avoid adding additional “burdens” on communities.

Another concern is that pipelines carrying captured carbon dioxide can rupture, releasing CO2 in concentrations strong enough to suffocate wildlife and make people sick. The world’s first CO2 pipeline explosion hospitalized dozens of residents of a small Mississippi community in 2020.

Regulatory approvals aside, there are other obstacles that have largely prevented CCUS projects from coming to fruition. So far, the technologies have been too expensive to deploy at scale. According to a December report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office, hundreds of millions of federal dollars have already been spent on projects in the US that ultimately failed.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG jetty
Why the LNG ‘gold rush’ could soon turn to dust
Billed as a fuel for the energy transition, LNG demand has boomed this century. Sustained high prices and an accelerating energy transition could change this.
By Nick Ferris, Energy Monitor
February 16, 2022

It was billed as a fuel for the energy transition. An incredibly dense, colourless fossil fuel that can be conveniently transported in ships around the world like crude oil, and which produces around half as much carbon as coal when regasified and burnt. Advocates of liquefied natural gas (LNG) predicted a final fossil fuel ‘gold rush’, with Qatar, the US and Australia leading the charge.

Historically, most LNG was sold to the wealthy but resource-scarce countries of Japan and South Korea via long-term contracts linked to the oil price. In recent years, however, the US led a move towards more flexible, short-term sales, where the price is linked to natural gas trading hubs.

Since the turn of the century, the global LNG market has boomed, with worldwide LNG imports more than trebling between 2000 and 2020. The European market has quadrupled in size, as countries look for a cleaner alternative to coal, and to limit their reliance on gas pipeline imports from Russia.

The LNG industry [has] a response for those who argue that, given the steep decarbonisation required for the world to meet net zero by mid-century, there is no time for gas consumption to grow as a “transition fuel”. This comes in the form of “carbon-neutral LNG”, which companies claim can be achieved either through the purchase of carbon offsets, as French major TotalEnergies claims to have done, or through carbon capture and storage (CCS) of emissions.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence suggests this industry optimism may well be misplaced in the long term. For starters, there are serious doubts around suggestions that LNG can ever be carbon neutral. Analysis shows the offsets purchased by TotalEnergies for its “carbon-neutral LNG” are insufficient to actually cover the fuel’s carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the roll-out of CCS technology has proved both expensive and slow: a further Wood Mackenzie report into LNG and CCS, released in September 2021, highlights how CCS continues to account for less than 1% of annual carbon emissions, despite all the noise that the fossil fuel industry likes to make about it.

If there continue to be doubts over the feasibility of decarbonising LNG, then it is unlikely the fuel will gain much traction as a “transition fuel”, as countries begin to plan in earnest how they will get to net-zero emissions.
» Read article         

FORTUNA
Germany Tries to Loosen Its Ties to Russian Gas Pipelines
An increasingly belligerent Russia, an energy crunch and a new Green minister of economics all add up to a change of direction in Germany’s policy on natural gas.
By Melissa Eddy, New York Times
February  14, 2022

BERLIN — For decades, Germany has been a steadfast consumer of Russian natural gas, a relationship that has seemingly grown closer over the years, surviving Cold War-era tensions, the breakup of the former Soviet Union and even European sanctions against Moscow over its annexation of Crimea. Until this winter.

Since November, the amount of natural gas arriving in Germany from Russia has plunged, driving prices through the roof and draining reserves. These are changes that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth, has been regularly pointing out.

“As much as 85 percent of the gas injected in Europe’s underground gas storage facilities last summer is already withdrawn,” Gazprom said on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, adding that “facilities in Germany and France are already two-thirds empty.”

With tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine — a key transit country for Russian gas — showing few signs of easing, Germany’s new minister for the economy and climate change, Robert Habeck, has begun to raise an issue that was unthinkable just a year or two ago: looking beyond Russia for the country’s natural gas needs.

Now the government is reviving plans for building a terminal for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, on Germany’s northern coast. That proposal, long pushed by Washington, was previously shelved as being too costly. But in recent months, liquefied natural gas, arriving via giant tankers from the United States, Qatar and other locations, has become a vital source of fuel for Europe as supplies piped in from Russia have dwindled.

Europe has more than two dozen LNG terminals, including ones in Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium, but the one proposed for Germany’s coast would be the country’s first.
» Blog editor’s note: This is a fossil energy supply solution that requires massive new investment in (liquefied) natural gas infrastructure, and therefore serves to further entrench the region’s dependence on this planet-cooking fuel. The ultimate solution, and the key to energy security, is rapid transition to renewable energy and storage. This whole mess is an unwelcome diversion from that work and a boon to the LNG industry.
» Read article         

» More about LNG

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP potential buyer
A potential buyer could turn Pittsfield’s waste-to-energy plant into a transfer station. That’s news to city officials
By Felix Carroll, The Berkshire Eagle
February 12, 2022

PITTSFIELD — Community Eco Power may have found a buyer for its waste-to-energy facility on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield.

In a letter to employees, the head of the company said the future use of the 5.8-acre Pittsfield facility, with its distinctive billowing smoke, could be as a trash transfer station.

An anonymous source sent the letter to The Eagle. The Eagle was able to verify that Community Eco Power employees had received it. It was sent by Richard Fish, the president and chief operating officer of the North Carolina-based company, which also owns a plant on the banks of the Connecticut River in Agawam.

The Eagle left voicemails on Fish’s cellphone on Saturday. He did not respond.
» Blog editor’s note: This is big news we’ll be watching carefully. BEAT and No Fracked Gas in Mass have been raising the issue of last summer and fall’s substantial increase in highly toxic, chemical-smelling and irritating emissions with City and State officials. After some action from MassDEP, the quality of emissions seems to have improved back to their usual level of odor, but it’s clear how damaged this plant is, and that a change is inevitable. We believe that strong action for waste reduction and City Zero Waste plan is going to be the only sensible means to not only cut emissions for health and climate concerns, but to cut disposal costs for the City. Stay tuned on No Fracked Gas in Mass’ Community Eco Power page.    
» Read article         

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 10/8/21

banner 08

Welcome back.

Now that tar sands oil from Alberta is flowing through the hotly contested Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the many protests and actions that stood in its way – and prepare for the next round. We also look at some of the arguably unethical tactics used against Water Protectors during the struggle. Meanwhile, thousands of miles of leaky gas pipelines are being replaced in Massachusetts at ratepayer expense – and it’s time to reconsider whether resources might be better applied toward non-emitting alternatives.

Boston just passed  blockbuster legislation to guide many existing buildings toward net-zero emissions by 2050. While only 4% of buildings are affected by the new law, they contribute an incredible 42% of total emissions from all sources. An estimated 85% of these buildings will still be standing at mid-century – so it’s imperative to clean them up. News on the national scene is less encouraging, as Corporate America mounts a full-on lobbying assault of President Biden’s climate initiatives.

Key to the energy transition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is sharpening its scrutiny of proposed gas infrastructure projects. Many pipeline projects have been approved in the past without having established a legitimate need for the energy they’re built to transport, and Chairman Richard Glick is attempting to set the bar higher.

We just experienced a summer in which just about everyone felt they’d received too much or too little rain. It’s true – and our Climate section makes sense of it. This year’s Nobel Prize winners in Physics helped make that possible – with research showing how to understand big systems with enormous uncertainties.

We have lots of good news this week, including a forecast for continuing decreases in clean energy costs, some optimism that the carbon intensity of concrete can be reduced and managed, and exciting news that ESS’s long duration iron flow battery technology is attracting investors and orders. Heads up for a possible wrong turn in clean transportation, as Michigan – pothole capital of the Midwest – prepares to build a stretch of roadway to test wireless electric vehicle charging on the go. We wish them success, but it seems like a gamble.

We’re introducing a new section devoted to deep-seabed mining, an extreme and risky emerging resource extraction model motivated in large part by the huge projected demand for scarce metals needed to power mind-boggling numbers of electric vehicles. What we know is that we’re really quite ignorant of the deep ocean, its ecology, how it sustains the broader web of life, and how it affects the carbon cycle. We’re calling this a Very Bad Idea, and have included four excellent articles to help you get up to speed.

Recall that we began this week’s post with a look at the nasty fight over Line 3. Keep that in mind as you check out the fossil fuel industry’s pricey, happy-making Times Square ad buy – huge billboards extolling Americans to “choose friendly oil”. Including fanciful images of colorful maple leaves wafting from gas pumps. Yup – it’s our friends up north pushing this drivel, greenwashing the very same high carbon tar sands sludge they’re shoving down Line 3, across treaty-protected fragile ecosystems in northern Minnesota. Shut it down.

A much longer-running ad campaign by the natural gas industry created a deep and abiding love of gas cookstoves in this country. Consumer reluctance to switch that one appliance to electric is hampering attempts to swap out other appliances like water heaters, furnaces, and clothes dryers for their electric counterparts – and ultimately to ban gas hookups altogether. Time for us to talk about it.

Massachusetts is set to approve a liquefied natural gas facility in Charlton, MA – a project opposed by the town. The plant will produce up to a quarter million gallons of LNG per day, and will primarily serve winter peak demand. The need for that can be debated, but this is certain: The LNG will be loaded on tanker trucks and distributed via public roadways to various offloading stations. While the safety record of LNG truck transport is pretty good so far, “If an LNG tanker were breached and a vapor cloud ignited, an explosion could send projectiles hundreds of feet as well as set off a fire that can burn as high as 2,426 degrees – more than twice the flame temperature of gasoline.” according to Delaware Currents reporting.

Since we’re talking about burning stuff, we’ll close with a report on biomass – and have a look at the industry’s claim of carbon neutrality.

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

no parking any time
Oil is now flowing on Line 3. The fight to stop it isn’t over.
Anti-pipeline activists promise to continue holding polluters and policymakers accountable.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 1, 2021

Months of protests and a six-year legal battle culminated on Thursday, when the Canadian oil company Enbridge announced that work on its controversial new Line 3 pipeline was “substantially completed,” and that oil would begin flowing across northern Minnesota on Friday.

Line 3 “will soon deliver the low cost and reliable energy that people depend on every day,” said Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, in a press release.

The $3 billion project was billed by Enbridge as a replacement for its existing pipeline, which was built in the 1960s and had begun to corrode. The new Line 3 will double the pipeline’s capacity, enabling the company to transport 760,000 barrels a day from tar sands in Alberta to refineries in the U.S. Midwest — traveling through Anishinaabe territory in the process.

Line 3 opponents argue that the expanded pipeline will exacerbate climate change and contaminate Minnesota waterways. More than two dozen drilling fluid spills were reported over the summer, and activists say that oil spills are inevitable over the 800 wetlands and 200 bodies of water that lie along the pipeline’s route. The largest accident to date, a 24-million-gallon groundwater leak near Clearbrook, Minnesota, led the state’s Department of Natural Resources to fine Enbridge $3.32 million.

Because the risk of an oil spill is so high, attorneys representing the region’s Indigenous people also argue that the pipeline violates Anishinaabe treaty rights for hunting, fishing, and gathering wild rice. A Line 3 oil spill could contaminate hundreds of acres of land covered in the treaties of 1854, 1855, and 1867, jeopardizing Anishinaabe rights to “make a modest living from the land.”

Despite the setback, many advocacy groups vowed to keep pressuring the Biden administration, Democratic lawmakers, and Enbridge in an effort to see the pipeline ultimately shut down. “The Line 3 fight is far from over, it has just shifted gears,” wrote the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We will continue to stand on the frontlines until every last tar sands pipeline is shut down and Indigenous communities are no longer targeted but our right to consent or denial is respected.”
» Read article                  

hired hands
Revealed: pipeline company paid Minnesota police for arresting and surveilling protesters
Enbridge picked up the tab for police wages, training and equipment – and let county police know when it wanted demonstrators arrested
By Hilary Beaumont, The Guardian
October 5, 2021

The Canadian company Enbridge has reimbursed US police $2.4m for arresting and surveilling hundreds of demonstrators who oppose construction of its Line 3 pipeline, according to documents the Guardian obtained through a public records request.

Enbridge has paid for officer training, police surveillance of demonstrators, officer wages, overtime, benefits, meals, hotels and equipment.

Enbridge is replacing the Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota to carry oil from Alberta to the tip of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. The new pipeline carries a heavy oil called bitumen, doubles the capacity of the original to 760,000 barrels a day and carves a new route through pristine wetlands. A report by the climate action group MN350 says the expanded pipeline will emit the equivalent greenhouse gases of 50 coal power plants.

The project was meant to be completed and start functioning on Friday.

Police have arrested more than 900 demonstrators opposing Line 3 and its impact on climate and Indigenous rights, according to the Pipeline Legal Action Network.

It’s common for protesters opposing pipeline construction to face private security hired by companies, as they did during demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline. But in Minnesota, a financial agreement with a foreign company has given public police forces an incentive to arrest demonstrators.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which regulates pipelines, decided rural police should not have to pay for increased strain from Line 3 protests. As a condition of granting Line 3 permits, the commission required Enbridge to set up an escrow account to reimburse police for responding to demonstrations.

Enbridge told the Guardian an independent account manager allocates the funds, and police decide when protesters are breaking the law. But records obtained by the Guardian show the company meets daily with police to discuss intelligence gathering and patrols. And when Enbridge wants protesters removed, it calls police or sends letters.

“Our police are beholden to a foreign company,” Tara Houska, founder of the Indigenous frontline group Giniw Collective, told the Guardian. “They are working hand in hand with big oil. They are actively working for a company. Their duty is owed to the state of Minnesota and to the tribal citizens of Minnesota.”

“It’s a very clear violation of the public’s trust,” she added.
» Read article                  

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

pipe replacement
As Massachusetts envisions a fossil fuel-free future, gas companies are quietly investing billions in pipelines
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
October 3, 2021

More than 21,000 miles of aging gas pipelines lie under the streets in Massachusetts, nearly enough to encircle the earth. When researchers began discovering about a decade ago that tens of thousands of leaks across that vast network discharged tons of hazardous methane into the air, the Legislature went to work. A law was passed, and in short order, gas companies embarked on a massive, years-long upgrade.

Since then, the gas companies have slogged through a slow, expensive process of digging up pipes and replacing them with new ones meant to last more than half a century. Costs soared. And something else happened: The state passed a climate law that effectively called for the end of natural gas.

Now, a detailed analysis of the cost and effectiveness of the program, to be released Monday, is raising questions among some experts about whether the program should be modified or even scrapped, potentially allowing money to flow to other climate-related needs.

“The question people need to ask is: The world has changed; does this program really make sense any more given climate change, the fact that we’re moving toward a low-carbon economy, and that the Commonwealth has very aggressive climate mandates?” said Dorie Seavey, an economist who conducted the study on behalf of the advocacy group Gas Leaks Allies, a coalition of scientists, activists, and environmental organizations working to reduce methane emissions from natural gas.

Senator Mike Barrett, who reviewed an early copy of the report, called it a watershed analysis that should leave residents wondering: “When do we stop investing in what is essentially as-good-as-new infrastructure, when what we really must be about is walking away from the natural gas enterprise as we know it?”

Attorney General Maura Healey, who in 2020 called on the state to investigate the future of the natural gas industry in light of Massachusetts’ climate goals, said, “The questions raised in this report … warrant a fresh statewide look at this program.
» Read article                 
» Read the analysis               

Just Say NO
PennEast Pipeline Cancelation Could Signal ‘End of an Era’ for Unnecessary Fossil Fuel Projects
The pipeline would have crossed more than 88 waterways, 44 wetlands, 30 parks, and 33 conservation easements. Experts say the cancelation demonstrates that federal regulators must stop approving gas pipelines that fail to show they are needed in the first place.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 30, 2021

A major natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania was canceled this week in the face of a thicket of legal obstacles and intense local opposition. The cancelation may punctuate what could be the end of a decade-long pipeline building frenzy in the U.S. as federal regulators begin to heed calls from activists and local communities to increase scrutiny over unneeded pipelines crisscrossing the country.

The PennEast pipeline would have carried Marcellus shale gas from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River and to Mercer County, New Jersey. But the developers of the project canceled it on September 27, citing its inability to obtain state-level water quality permits from New Jersey. The decision came three months after the company won a case before the U.S. Supreme Court related to the corporation’s ability to seize state land using eminent domain authority.

The cancelation highlights the obstacles that several other high-profile projects currently face. For instance, the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia still needs state-level environmental permits, as does the Pacific Connector gas pipeline in Oregon, which would feed the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export project. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is under construction but still faces many more hurdles standing in the way of its completion. Jordan Cove is all but dead.

But the fate of PennEast is not simply a story about a pipeline stopped by state regulators over water permits. It also represented the “systemic ostrich-like refusal” by federal regulators to assess whether there is market demand for gas before approving pipeline projects in the first place, Megan Gibson, an attorney at the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., told DeSmog.

Natural gas pipelines that cross state lines must obtain approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which grants a certificate if the project is deemed to be in the public interest. Typically, if a project shows that there is a commercial need for the gas, FERC simply approves the certificate.

But in many cases, the need for the gas is highly suspect. An industry trend in recent years saw developers of natural gas pipelines make deals with subsidiaries or affiliates of themselves, and use those agreements to demonstrate that a pipeline is needed.

“FERC has in the past assumed that if the company wanted to build it, then it must be needed. It’s not such an unusual thing to think if you don’t think through how the money works,” Suzanne Mattei, an energy policy analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), told DeSmog.

The pipeline “doesn’t have to be needed for them to make money off of it,” she said.

That is because gas pipelines are guaranteed a rate of return for building the projects – the pipeline builder recoups the cost of construction plus extra for profit – so pipeline companies can make money whether or not the gas is actually needed. In the end, gas ratepayers are saddled with the costs of a superfluous pipeline.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

pedestrian walking
Boston just enacted its ‘single most impactful initiative’ to curb greenhouse gas emissions
The new measure, dubbed BERDO 2.0, requires large buildings to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
By Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com
October 5, 2021

In the midst of a heated mayoral race and in the shadows of two much-hyped local sports events, Boston may have just taken one of the biggest steps of any major city in the country toward reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey signed an ordinance Tuesday that will require existing large buildings in Boston to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Technically an amendment to a 2013 ordinance that required all commercial and residential buildings that are at least 35,000 square feet in size or have at least 35 units to report their energy and water use, the measure — dubbed BERDO 2.0 — expands the city’s authority to set emission and reporting requirements for buildings greater than or equal to 20,000 square feet or with at least 15 units.

In a statement, Janey called the ordinance a “monumental achievement that will have positive impacts on our residents for generations to come.”

In a press release, her office was even more blunt: “This policy is the single most impactful initiative to curb Boston’s carbon emissions.”

How so?

As much as climate change conversations often focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, 70 percent of Boston’s emissions comes from buildings.

And while the new policy only affects 4 percent of the city’s buildings, those large buildings account for 60 percent of building emissions — or roughly 42 percent of all citywide emissions.

The ordinance requires affected building owners to submit plans setting forth their path to carbon neutrality by 2050 with emission reduction targets every five years. They have a number of options to get there: pursue energy efficiency improvements, switch from gas to electric heating, incorporate clean energy systems like solar, and/or purchase carbon offsets.

(City officials have estimated that 85 percent of the buildings that will be standing in Boston in 2050 are already standing today, so it wouldn’t be enough to apply the net-zero targets on new developments.)
» Read article             

captured
US corporations talk green but are helping derail major climate bill
Apple and Amazon are among dozens of companies whose lobbying groups are fighting to stop the Democrats’ reconciliation package.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 7, 2021

Folded into the Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar budget reconciliation package is some of the U.S.’s most far-reaching climate legislation ever. Even scaled back from its originally proposed size of $3.5 trillion, the bill could go a long way toward helping the nation meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

But corporate opposition has been fierce. In recent months, powerful lobbying groups have unleashed a storm of advertisements, reports, and targeted donations meant to stop the package from passing. And while many of these efforts have been spearheaded by the usual suspects — Koch Industries front groups, for example — others have been quietly backed by the U.S.’s largest and ostensibly greenest companies.

Disney, AT&T, Deloitte, United Airlines, and some of the country’s biggest tech firms — including Apple and Microsoft — are among dozens of the country’s most powerful corporations helping to block the passage of President Joe Biden’s landmark climate legislation, according to a new report from the corruption watchdog group Accountable.US. Their contributions to groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which is fighting tooth and nail against the reconciliation package — are undermining what many advocates have called our “last shot” for meaningful climate policy during this decade.
» Read article              
» Read the Accountable.US report

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

EPA advice
FERC Chair Glick calls for tougher reviews of natural gas projects as commission staff reject EPA advice
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
September 30, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to bolster its reviews of how proposed natural gas infrastructure projects could affect the climate as well as environmental justice communities while also making sure they are needed to keep its decisions from being overturned by courts, according to agency head Richard Glick.

In the last several years, FERC often cut corners in its environmental reviews, Glick said in a letter, released Sept. 27, to Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking member.

“That dramatically increases the risk that the courts will invalidate the commission’s decisions, which in turn adds substantial risks for the infrastructure developers who rely on commission orders when investing millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars in new projects,” Glick said.

Glick’s letter highlights flaws in FERC’s review process for gas infrastructure that should be addressed as soon as possible by updating the agency’s decades-old natural gas certificate “policy statement,” according to an attorney with New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity.

Since he joined FERC four years ago, Glick has argued the agency isn’t taking a sharp enough look at how gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilities affect the climate as well as environmental justice communities, or whether the proposed facilities are even needed.

It is unlikely FERC will approve major gas projects until the agency revises its process for reviewing them, according to Gillian Giannetti, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
» Blog editor’s note: this quote clearly highlights the critical need for opponents to file comments on EVERYTHING: “Glick said he understood pipeline and LNG companies want prompt decisions on their proposals, which is why he has moved forward with projects that no one filed protests over and therefore cannot be appealed in court, even in cases where he had concerns about their environmental analysis.”
» Read article               

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

WMO water report
World Meteorological Organization Sharpens Warnings About Both Too Much and Too Little Water
With global warming intensifying the water cycle, floods and droughts are increasing, and many countries are unprepared.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
October 6, 2021

The global supply of fresh water is dropping by almost half an inch annually, the World Meteorological Organization warned in a report released this week. By 2050, about 5 billion people will have inadequate access to water at least one month per year, the report said.

Overall, global warming is intensifying the planet’s water cycle, with an increase of 134 percent in flood-related disasters since 2000, while the number and duration of droughts has grown by 29 percent over the same period. Most of the deaths and economic losses from floods are in Asia, while Africa is hardest hit by drought.

“The water is draining out of the tub in some places, while it’s overflowing in others,” said Maxx Dilley, director of the WMO Climate Programme. “We’ve known about this for a long time. When scientists were starting to get a handle on what climate change was going to mean, an acceleration of the hydrological cycle was one of the things that was considered likely.”

Researchers are seeing the changes to the hydrological cycle in its impacts as well as in the data, Dilley said.

“And it’s not just climate,” he said. “Society plays a major role, with population growth and development. At some point these factors are really going to come together in a way that is really damaging. This summer’s extremes were early warnings.”
» Read article              
» Read the report

physics nobel 2021
Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded for Study of Humanity’s Role in Changing Climate
The work of Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi “demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation,” the committee said.
By Cade Metz, Marc Santora and Cora Engelbrecht, New York Times
October 5, 2021

Three scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for work that is essential to understanding how the Earth’s climate is changing, pinpointing the effect of human behavior on those changes and ultimately predicting the impact of global warming.

The winners were Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome.

Others have received Nobel Prizes for their work on climate change, most notably former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, but the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said this is the first time the Physics prize has been awarded specifically to a climate scientist.

“The discoveries being recognized this year demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observations,” said Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

Complex physical systems, such as the climate, are often defined by their disorder. This year’s winners helped bring understanding to what seemed like chaos by describing those systems and predicting their long-term behavior.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

cheaper faster
The decreasing cost of renewables unlikely to plateau any time soon
Early price forecasts underestimated how good we’d get at making green energy.
By Doug Johnson, Ars Technica
October 3, 2021

Past projections of energy costs have consistently underestimated just how cheap renewable energy would be in the future, as well as the benefits of rolling them out quickly, according to a new report out of the Institute of New Economic Thinking at the University of Oxford.

The report makes predictions about more than 50 technologies such as solar power, offshore wind, and more, and it compares them to a future that still runs on carbon. “It’s not just good news for renewables. It’s good news for the planet,” Matthew Ives, one of the report’s authors and a senior researcher at the Oxford Martin Post-Carbon Transition Programme, told Ars.

The paper used probabilistic cost forecasting methods—taking into account both past data and current and ongoing technological developments in renewables—for its findings. It also used large caches of data from sources such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and Bloomberg. Beyond looking at the cost (represented as dollar per unit of energy production over time), the report also represents its findings in three scenarios: a fast transition to renewables, a slow transition, and no transition at all.

Compared to sticking with fossil fuels, a quick shift to renewables could mean trillions of dollars in savings, even without accounting for things like damages caused by climate change or any co-benefits from the reduced pollution. Even beyond the savings, rolling out renewable energy sources could help the world limit global warming to 1.5° C. According to the report, if solar, wind, and the myriad other green energy tools followed the deployment trends they are projected to see in the next decade, in 25 years the world could potentially see a net-zero energy system.

“The energy transition is also going to save us money. We should be doing it anyway,” Ives said.
» Read article              
» Read the report: Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition

» More about clean energy              

BUILDING MATERIALS

low-carbon concrete
Concrete’s role in reducing building and pavement emissions
MIT researchers find emissions of U.S. buildings and pavements can be reduced by around 50 percent even as concrete use increases.
By Andrew Logan, MIT News
September 16, 2021

As the most consumed material after water, concrete is indispensable to the many essential systems — from roads to buildings — in which it is used.

But due to its extensive use, concrete production also contributes to around 1 percent of emissions in the United States and remains one of several carbon-intensive industries globally. Tackling climate change, then, will mean reducing the environmental impacts of concrete, even as its use continues to increase.

In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of current and former researchers at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub) outlines how this can be achieved.

They present an extensive life-cycle assessment of the building and pavements sectors that estimates how greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction strategies — including those for concrete and cement — could minimize the cumulative emissions of each sector and how those reductions would compare to national GHG reduction targets.

The team found that, if reduction strategies were implemented, the emissions for pavements and buildings between 2016 and 2050 could fall by up to 65 percent and 57 percent, respectively, even if concrete use accelerated greatly over that period. These are close to U.S. reduction targets set as part of the Paris Climate Accords. The solutions considered would also enable concrete production for both sectors to attain carbon neutrality by 2050.

[Low-carbon concrete strategies include recycled content, carbon capture in cement production, and the use of captured carbon to produce aggregates and cure concrete.]

Despite continued grid decarbonization and increases in fuel efficiency, they found that the vast majority of the GHG emissions from new buildings and pavements during this period would derive from operational energy consumption rather than so-called embodied emissions — emissions from materials production and construction.
» Read article              
» Read the research paper

» More about building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

better mousetrap
ESS, SB Energy reach major deal for flow battery technology with 2 GWh agreement
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
October 4, 2021

The deal is a significant volume for the flow battery technology. The vast majority of battery storage on the market — 85% of newly installed storage around the world, according to a 2020 report from Navigant Research — is based on lithium-ion technology. While that technology is relatively cheap and well-tested, the batteries do carry concerns about their fire risk, their slow charging time and the supply chain impact of extracting minerals.

ESS’ flow batteries, on the other hand, rely on common materials and don’t carry the same safety risks. The five-year partnership with SB Energy acts as a major vote of confidence for the technology, said ESS CEO Eric Dresselhuys.

“This deal is really the culmination of years of work to show that there’s a better mousetrap out there that solves more problems and is better for where the grid is going,” Dresselhuys said. “Once people see that we’ve been vetted and tested and approved by partners like SB, that provides a lot of confidence.”
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

on the go
Michigan plans to build the country’s first wireless EV charging road.
Will it work?
By Jena Brooker, Grist
October 5, 2021

To help Michigan reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced last month that the state will construct the nation’s first wireless electric vehicle charging road — a one-mile stretch in the Metro Detroit area.

“Michigan was home to the first mile of paved road, and now we’re paving the way for the roads of tomorrow,” Whitmer said in a press release, “with innovative infrastructure that will support the economy and the environment.”

A wireless EV road works like this: As a car drives over it, the vehicle’s battery is charged by pads or coils built under the surface of the street using magnetic induction. It doesn’t give the car a full charge, but it helps add some additional mileage to a vehicle before its next complete powering up.

The project is still in the very early stages: The Michigan Department of Transportation began accepting proposals for the project on September 28. Until one is selected, it’s unknown exactly where the road will be, what it will look like, the precise cost, or how soon it could be operational. But some are questioning whether the project is worth it. Is it the best use of funds in a state with poor transit and crumbling infrastructure? And how will it even work, particularly in a place with harsh weather extremes like the Midwest?
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation

DEEP-SEABED MINING

SCONZ ruling
New Zealand ruling against deep-sea mining set a global precedent – now Ardern should ban it
Last week’s court decision affirmed the view that seabed mining is too dangerous, too risky and too harmful to the environment
By Phil McCabe and James Hita, The Guardian | Opinion
October 4, 2021

The decision by New Zealand’s Supreme Court last week against a giant seabed mining proposal in the South Taranaki Bight is a wake-up call for the world’s would-be seabed mining industry, both in the deep oceans of international waters and for countries contemplating such activities off their own coasts.

The mining operation, proposed by Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR), would have dug up 50 million tonnes of the seabed every year for 35 years, targeting 5m tonnes of iron ore and dumping the remaining 45m tonnes back into the ocean.

The decision sets an important global precedent favouring environmental protection over damaging seabed mining.

This was the third seabed mining application in New Zealand since 2013, all three have now been declined. It was this company’s second attempt. A 2014 application to mine the deep seabed of the Chatham Rise, east of New Zealand’s South Island, was refused due to the potential harmful environmental effects.

This Supreme Court decision means that seabed mining causing “material damage” to the environment, in effect, cannot be approved under New Zealand law.

It affirms views held by an impressive spectrum of ocean-loving people who have engaged with this issue over the last decade. That seabed mining is too dangerous, too risky and would bring too much harm to the environment.
» Read article               

antithetical
‘Antithetical to science’: When deep-sea research meets mining interests
By Elham Shabahat, Mongabay
October 4, 2021

The high cost of studying deep-sea ecosystems means that many scientists have to rely on funding and access provided by companies seeking to exploit resources on the ocean floor.

More than half of the scientists in the small, highly specialized deep-sea biology community have worked with governments and mining companies to do baseline research, according to one biologist.

But as with the case of industries like tobacco and pharmaceuticals underwriting scientific research into their own products, the funding of deep-sea research by mining companies poses an ethical hazard.

Critics say the nascent industry is already far from transparent, with much of the data from baseline research available only to the scientists involved, the companies, and U.N.-affiliated body that approves deep-sea mining applications.
» Read article               

not yours
‘False choice’: is deep-sea mining required for an electric vehicle revolution?
Deep sea mining firms claim their rare metals are necessary to power clean tech – but with even major electric car firms now backing a moratorium, critics say there is an alternative
By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
September 28, 2021

Douglas McCauley, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, says the potential impact of deep-sea mining keeps him up at night.

Electrification of vehicle fleets is a “positive pathway” to reduce carbon emissions, says McCauley. But he accuses deep-sea mining companies of a “false narrative” that we must mine the ocean to meet renewable energy’s demand for metals.

“There are some very significant questions being raised by scientists about the impacts of ocean mining,” he says. “How much extinction could be generated? How long will it take these extremely low-resilience systems to recover? What impact will it have on the ocean’s capacity to capture carbon?”

Campaigners highlight the uncertainty in assumptions behind often wildly different projected metal demand. In July, Greenpeace researchers showed many projections for metal demand by 2050 assumed ongoing use of cobalt and nickel-dependent lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and storage, despite alternatives being developed, including Tesla’s use of lithium iron phosphate batteries, which require neither metal.

Kevin Bridgen, senior scientist for Greenpeace Research Laboratories, says: “People are saying ‘we are not going to have enough metals if we carry on doing as we’ve always done’, but changes are already taking place.”

Increasingly, car companies are joining in the revolt. In March, BMW and Volvo, with Google and Samsung, became the first global companies to sign up to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. In backing the call, WWF says, the companies committed to not sourcing any metals from the seabed, to exclude them from their supply chains and not to finance deep-sea mining, until the risks are better understood and the alternatives exhausted.

In calling for a ban, Claudia Becker, BMW’s expert in sustainable supply-chain management, says she fears mining the deep sea could have “irreversible consequences”.
» Read article               

cutting machines
Race to the bottom: the disastrous, blindfolded rush to mine the deep sea
One of the largest mining operations ever seen on Earth aims to despoil an ocean we are only barely beginning to understand
By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
Photo: Nautilus Materials
September 27, 2021

A short bureaucratic note from a brutally degraded microstate in the South Pacific to a little-known institution in the Caribbean is about to change the world. Few people are aware of its potential consequences, but the impacts are certain to be far-reaching. The only question is whether that change will be to the detriment of the global environment or the benefit of international governance.

In late June, the island republic of Nauru informed the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Kingston, Jamaica of its intention to start mining the seabed in two years’ time via a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, The Metals Company (TMC, until recently known as DeepGreen). Innocuous as it sounds, this note was a starting gun for a resource race on the planet’s last vast frontier: the abyssal plains that stretch between continental shelves deep below the oceans.

In the three months since it was fired, the sound of that shot has reverberated through government offices, conservation movements and scientific academies, and is now starting to reach a wider public, who are asking how the fate of the greatest of global commons can be decided by a sponsorship deal between a tiny island and a multinational mining corporation.

The risks are enormous. Oversight is almost impossible. Regulators admit humanity knows more about deep space than the deep ocean. The technology is unproven. Scientists are not even sure what lives in those profound ecosystems. State governments have yet to agree on a rulebook on how deep oceans can be exploited. No national ballot has ever included a vote on excavating the seabed. Conservationists, including David Attenborough and Chris Packham, argue it is reckless to go ahead with so much uncertainty and such potential devastation ahead.
» Read article               

» More about deep-seabed mining

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

tar sands operation
Alberta’s ‘Friendly’ Oil is Most Carbon-Intensive in New International Index
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
October 5, 2021

A team of international analysts is pointing to a Canadian tar sands/oil sands operation as the most carbon-intensive by far in an index of major oilfields around the world, even as Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre launches a Times Square ad campaign touting the country’s “friendly” oil.

“Choose friendly oil. Cleaner. Closer. Committed to Net Zero,” the C$240,000 video billboard campaign proclaims. But the ads landed just as S&P Global Platts unveiled a new monthly calculation of the carbon intensity and resulting carbon offset premiums for 14 major crude oil fields, including the 140,000-barrel-per-day Cold Lake facility, which Imperial Oil touts as “the longest running oil sands operation in Northeastern Alberta”.

The S&P Global Platts analysis adds another distinction to Cold Lake’s longevity: at 81.87 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per barrel as of July 2021, Cold Lake is by far the most carbon-intensive of the 14 fields the firm looked at in North America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Latin America. Next up was the Kirkuk field in Iraq, at 58.84 kilograms per barrel, followed by North Dakota’s Bakken field at 30.86. The lowest-emitting, Norway’s Jan Sverdrup field, produced only 3.73 kilograms.

As a group, the 14 fields averaged 25.11 kilograms of CO2e per barrel, less than one-third of Cold Lake’s emissions intensity.

Those numbers didn’t seem to make it into the messaging from Canada’s Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen. “We’re right here next door. And we’re cleaner. We’re closer and we’re committed to net zero. So turn your eyes our way,” he told CBC News. “We think we should meet the demand for energy that the United States needs over and above what they produce domestically. And frankly, for the rest of the world.”
» Read article               

choose friendly oil
Alberta energy ‘war room’ launches Times Square ad, expert questions campaign
Campaign promotes Canada’s clean energy in U.S., but Andrew Leach says it’s still emissions heavy
By Elise von Scheel, CBC News
September 28, 2021

Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre has launched an ad campaign in Times Square to promote the country’s oil and gas industry in the United States.

The initiative from the province’s so-called energy “war room” is spending $240,000 to push Canada’s sector as the solution to “cleaner energy and lower gas prices,” according to its website.

The centre operates as a private corporation, created by the United Conservative Party government, to promote Alberta energy. It has been beleaguered with branding and messaging problems since its launch.

“We’re right here next door. And we’re cleaner. We’re closer and we’re committed to net zero. So turn your eyes our way,” CEO Tom Olsen told CBC News.

“We think we should meet the demand for energy that the United States needs over and above what they produce domestically. And frankly, for the rest of the world.”

The video billboards in New York City feature maple leaves pouring from a gas pump nozzle with the caption “Choose Friendly Oil.” About 96 per cent of Canada’s oil and gas exports go to the U.S., according to Natural Resources Canada.

And the centre is asking Americans to write to the Joe Biden administration urging the U.S. government to lean on cleaner Canadian energy instead of requesting more production from Russia and OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia — as surging U.S. gas prices recently reached a seven-year high.

But one expert says it’s disingenuous to call the Canadian industry clean.

“You can read their statement of saying oilsands have gotten cleaner, but the oilsands barrels themselves relative to a global average are still pretty emissions intensive. So there’s not really a good way to reconcile what they’re saying at Times Square with what we know from the data,” said Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Alberta.

“All of our data says that the average Canadian barrel is getting more emissions intensive.”
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuel

GAS BANS

cookin with gas
We need to talk about your gas stove, your health and climate change
By Jeff Brady, NPR
October 7, 2021

Americans love their gas stoves. It’s a romance fueled by a decades-old “cooking with gas” campaign from utilities that includes vintage advertisements, a cringeworthy 1980s rap video and, more recently, social media personalities. The details have changed over time, but the message is the same: Using a gas stove makes you a better cook.

But the beloved gas stove has become a focal point in a fight over whether gas should even exist in the 35% of U.S. homes that cook with it.

Environmental groups are focused on potential health effects. Burning gas emits pollutants that can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses. Residential appliances like gas-powered furnaces and water heaters vent pollution outside, but the stove “is the one gas appliance in your home that is most likely unvented,” says Brady Seals with RMI, formerly Rocky Mountain Institute.

The focus on possible health risks from stoves is part of the broader campaign by environmentalists to kick gas out of buildings to fight climate change. Commercial and residential buildings account for about 13% of heat-trapping emissions, mainly from the use of gas appliances.

Those groups won a significant victory recently when California developed new standards that, once finalized, will require more ventilation for gas stoves than for electric ones starting in 2023. The Biden administration’s climate plan also calls for government incentives that would encourage people to switch from residential gas to all-electric.
» Read article               

» More about gas bans

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

town objections ignored
Over town objections, $100M Charlton natural gas pipeline and facility slated for final approval
By Katherine Hamilton, Worcester Business Journal
October 1, 2021

A pipeline and natural gas liquidation plant proposed in Charlton was recommended for approval on Sept. 20 and will go up for a final vote before the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board next week, according to a notice on Mass.gov.

Northeast Energy Center, LLC, which is registered to Philadelphia energy infrastructure company Liberty Energy Trust, is proposing construction of a liquefied natural gas facility and pipeline in Charlton. The project will cost $100 million, including the cost of land acquisition, according to the siting board’s tentative decision report.

The plant would liquefy pipeline natural gas, store the LNG, and load tanker trucks. It would be capable of storing 2 million gallons of LNG and producing up to 250,000 gallons per day, according to the siting board’s tentative decision.

The siting board’s tentative decision, which recommended approval of the project, said it will consider and compare two sites for the project, one along Route 169 and one along Route 20.
» Blog editor’s note: The LNG from this facility, up to 250,000 gallons per day, will be carried away on tanker trucks, over our roadways and through our neighborhoods, to wherever the fuel is needed. Drive safely!
» View final comments by No Fracked Gas in Mass and BEAT
» View final comments by Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast (PLAN-NE)

» Read article               

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Enviva plant NC
Biomass is promoted as a carbon neutral fuel. But is burning wood a step in the wrong direction?
Many scientists and environmental campaigners question the industry’s claims to offer a clean, renewable energy source that the planet desperately needs
By Rebecca Speare-Cole, The Guardian
October 5, 2021

Biomass has been promoted as a carbon-neutral energy source by industry, some countries and lawmakers on the basis that the emissions released by burning wood can be offset by the carbon dioxide taken up by trees grown to replace those burned.

Yet there remain serious doubts among many scientists about its carbon-neutral credentials, especially when wood pellets are made by cutting down whole trees, rather than using waste wood products. It can take as much as a century for trees to grow enough to offset the carbon released.

Burning wood for energy is also inefficient – biomass has been found to release more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal or gas, according to a 2018 study and an open letter to the EU signed by nearly 800 scientists.

This CO2 is theoretically reabsorbed by new trees, but some scientists suggest relying on biomass could actually end up increasing emissions just at the time when the world needs to sharply reduce emissions and reach goals of becoming net zero by 2050. “During these decades, warming increases and permafrost and glaciers continue to melt, among other permanent forms of climate damage,” said Tim Searchinger, a senior energy and environment research scholar at Princeton.

Over the last decade a wave of biomass plants have opened their doors or ramped up production across the US south, where they have access to the region’s vast hardwood and other wetland forests, many of which are on unprotected private lands.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 6/25/21

banner 13

Welcome back.

The developers of a proposed gas/oil peaking power plant in Peabody, MA finally presented their project before a public forum on Tuesday. Two hours into what was essentially a sales pitch for this new piece of fossil fuel infrastructure, it was clear that no serious effort had yet been undertaken to develop a non-emitting alternative. We lead with an excellent op-ed from Sarah Dooling, executive director of Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN), in which she lays out the case for a better plan. News from Ireland this week was timely and instructive. It shows how effective battery storage is in providing grid services traditionally handled by fossil peakers, and how batteries are key to rapid deployment of renewable generating capacity.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, a new tidal turbine design for clean power generation is undergoing tests in the Cape Cod Canal. This includes monitoring effects on marine animals in an attempt to collect data supporting initial observations that fish tend to avoid the spinning blades.

The state’s highly-touted energy efficiency program, Mass Save, could do much more to bring its benefits to underserved communities. And bills making their way through the legislature aim to remake the public utility business model and remove incentives that currently work against decarbonization.

Now that we’ve had time to digest recent news that the Keystone XL pipeline is dead, let’s consider how pivotal it was in tying global heating to fossil fuel dependence in the popular imagination. While protests and actions were already underway, the level of public engagement and the support of key political leaders can be separated into pre- and post-KXL eras.

A number of leading steel manufacturers are attempting to develop zero carbon steel – a critical step toward building a green economy. Swedish joint venture HYBRIT has made significant progress, and moved their process from the lab into pilot phase – one step below full commercialization.

The American west is now in the grip of extreme heat and drought long predicted by climate models. With hundreds of new high-temperature records posted, reservoir water levels at critical lows, and a frightening fire season just beginning, read what climate experts who live there are saying now.

The electric vehicle you drive in the near future may serve as a mini power plant. You’ll have a contract that allows your electric utility to purchase a little of its stored charge to help take the edge off peak demand times. But some auto manufacturers are talking a good game about rolling out electric models while doubling down on their efforts to sell an increasing number of gas-guzzling SUVs in the near term.

As usual, the fossil fuel industry has been up to no good. Stories this week include revelations about massive methane leaks from Europe’s natural gas distribution and storage system, plus a shoot-down of an industry-driven narrative touting oil from offshore drilling as somehow being clean-ish…. And a really scary piece revealing the use of extremely dangerous chemicals in some U.S. refineries located near dense neighborhoods.

We close with news supporting the idea that fortunes may be fading for both liquefied natural gas and biomass, as market forces batter the former and European regulators take aim at the latter.

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

no justification
No justification for proposed Peabody gas plant
Clean energy future doesn’t begin with a ‘dirty’ peaker
By Sarah Dooling, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
June 19, 2021
Sarah Dooling is executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network.

THE MASSACHUSETTS Municipal Wholesale Electric Company and the staff at some participating municipal light plants say that building a new, 60-megawatt combined natural gas and oil peaker power plant in Peabody is absolutely necessary.

The proposed peaker plant will run only when energy demand is high – and will cost ratepayers in 14 communities with municipal light plants $85 million to build. The proposal for a dirty peaker plant, initiated in 2015, is disconnected from the recent landmark passage of the Next Generation Roadmap climate change bill and increasing statewide recognition that Massachusetts must transition away from fossil fuels.

In his June 1 op-ed in CommonWealth, Ronald DeCurzio identified two reasons for building the plant: to prevent an energy crisis like the one that occurred in Texas, and to reduce carbon emissions. These issues are important, but constructing a new fossil fuel power plant in 2021 is not the best way to address them.

While Massachusetts infrastructure is not as vulnerable [as Texas] to extreme cold weather events, there are important lessons the Texas energy disaster offers the Commonwealth. First, the climate emergency is here and is affecting our daily lives now. Scientific research attributed the extreme weather event in Texas to climate change. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels for our energy will worsen the climate crisis and contribute to more extreme fluctuations in weather.

Second, other energy options that can operate independently of the utility grid and large distribution systems — such as battery storage — may be more effective than natural gas peaker plants at increasing resilience at the community level. Distributed clean energy systems, particularly solar paired with battery storage, can prevent outages during extreme weather by quickly responding to grid fluctuations and, when an outage does occur, continuing to provide local power by operating like small, self-sufficient grids, powering essential community services until utility service is restored. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s recent study identified a primary benefit of battery storage systems as being the avoided costs of a power outage.  Municipal light plants in Massachusetts — including Sterling Municipal Light Plant — experience these benefits first hand.

If municipal light plants and utilities want to prevent a Texas-like crisis, clean technology offers a better solution than continued reliance on peaker plants that run on fossil fuels. By investing in clean technology, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company can more effectively achieve its goal of meeting the capacity requirements for municipal light plants while reducing harmful emissions.
» Read article        

step oneOpponents: Power plant changes a start
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
June 24, 2021

PEABODY — Plans to build a carbon-emitting “peaker plant” in the city have been in the works since 2015, but this past Tuesday night marked the first major community forum about the project.

“I’m glad this event happened,” said Logan Malik, the clean energy director at Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “I think it was high time for something of this sort to take place, but I think the structure was flawed in that it wasn’t conducive to community members providing feedback.”

During the forum, which lasted four and a half hours and was hosted by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center, Malik and numerous others called for more community meetings to be held in the future.

“MMWEC did answer some questions which is good and we’re grateful for that, but there is very much a feeling that more needs to be done to ensure residents are fully informed,” Malik said. “There needs to be more of these conversations, and we feel strongly that MMWEC should go to every one of the communities investing in this plant and hold a similar meeting.”

The plant, referred to as Project 2015A in public documents, would be owned and operated by MMWEC. Project 2015A was previously approved to be built at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River Substation, behind the Pulaski Street Industrial Park, but over the past two months, MMWEC’s plans to build the plant have come under fire by residents, local and state officials, and community groups who say they weren’t informed about the project until recently and are concerned about how the fossil-fuel powered plant could impact the health of the surrounding community.

In a response to the outcry of criticism, MMWEC announced on May 11 they were pausing plans to build the plant. In a statement, MMWEC said the time during which the project is on hold would be used to meet with and seek input from community members, state officials and others in order to address environmental and health concerns and consider alternative energy options.
» Read article              

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

KXL requiem
Requiem for a Pipeline: Keystone XL Transformed the Environmental Movement and Shifted the Debate over Energy and Climate
Its beginnings coincided with a booming oil market, but the pipeline also made a perfect target for activists demanding an end to fossil fuels.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
June 20, 2021

It was meant to be an express line from North America’s largest proven oil reserve to its biggest refining center and to deepen the bond between Canada and the United States as petroleum partners.

And it would have stood—or rather, lain—four feet underground, as a 1,700-mile steel monument to humanity’s triumph over the forces that at the time seemed to threaten the future of an oil-driven economy. Conventional oil reservoirs might be running out and alarms might be sounding over the damage that carbon dioxide pollution was doing to the atmosphere, but the Keystone XL pipeline would show America’s determination to carve out ever new oil corridors.

At least, that’s how it looked in 2008, when TransCanada and its partners announced plans to forge a $7 billion link between Alberta’s tar sands and the Texas Gulf Coast. By the time the company now known as TC Energy announced earlier this month that it was giving up the effort to build the pipeline, it was clear that oil could not so easily conquer the realities of the 21st century.

The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the U.S. environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. Instead of trying to get people to care about the future impact of a gas—carbon dioxide—that they couldn’t smell or see, environmentalists began focusing on the connection between climate change and the here-and-now effects of fossil fuel dependence: the takeover of land; the risk to air and water; and the injustice to those in the path of the fossil fuel industry’s plans. President Barack Obama’s presidency was a barometer of this change. Early on, his administration seemed poised to approve Keystone XL. Near the end of his second term, Obama became the first world leader to block a major U.S. oil infrastructure project over climate change.
» Read article              

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

held accountable
Judge denies ExxonMobil requests to dismiss AG’s lawsuit

By Jeremy C. Fox, Boston Globe
June 23, 2021

A Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied two requests from ExxonMobil Corp. to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Maura Healey alleging that the company deceived Massachusetts consumers and investors about the impact of climate change, court documents show.

Judge Karen F. Green refused to dismiss the case, which alleges ExxonMobil misrepresented important facts about climate change, exaggerated the supposed environmental benefits of some of its products, and downplayed financial risks to the company, according to court filings.

Healey said that Green’s “rulings represent a significant step forward for my office’s work to hold Exxon accountable for lying to Massachusetts consumers about the climate harms of using its fossil fuel products and to Massachusetts investors about the negative impact of climate change on the value of its business.”

“To this day, Exxon is continuing to promote its fossil fuel products to consumers as good for the environment and misleading investors that demand for fossil fuels will remain strong for the foreseeable future,” she said in a statement.
» Read article              

no stopping
‘We will not stop’: pipeline opponents ready for America’s biggest environmental fight
Activists have traveled from all over the US to protest against the construction of Line 3, a giant project that crosses Indigenous land
By Sheila Regan, The Guardian
June 20, 2021

As the sun set, more than a dozen young people carried a wooden bridge toward a narrow section of the Mississippi River. The bridge allowed the group to cross more easily from their camp to where the immense oil pipeline was being built on the other side.

They were cited for trespassing – but they had symbolically laid claim to the marshy landscape.

That same day, Dawn Goodwin’s voice was soft but forceful as she spoke into the camera: “I’m calling on you, Joe Biden, to uphold our treaties, because they are the supreme law of the land.”

Goodwin, an Ojibwe woman and environmental activist, was recording a livestream from a picturesque camp site amid northern Minnesota’s natural beauty – where she and dozens of others had come together to protest the construction of the Line 3 pipeline.

Across the state, along the pipeline’s planned route of construction, activists have traveled from all over the country to do the same: many have locked themselves to construction equipment, and hundreds have been arrested. Goodwin’s preferred method of protest is arguably less physical – she was in the middle of leading a four-day prayer ceremony – but she hoped it would be no less effective to draw attention to the potential harm the pipeline represents.

“We’re done messing around with the process and trusting that the process is going to work, because in the end, it failed us,” she said. “What am I trusting instead? The power of the people, and the creator.”

The proposed Line 3 pipeline – which, if expanded, would move crude oil from Alberta in Canada through Minnesota to Wisconsin – has quickly become the biggest target of US environmental advocates. In addition to attracting protesters from around the country, it’s bringing attention to Biden’s unfulfilled promises so far on the climate crisis, as advocates argue he could step in to stop an expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure but hasn’t. The US already produces more oil than it can use, and is increasing exports of oil and natural gas, despite vowing to cut its own climate pollution.

The ramp-up in protests in Minnesota comes on the heels of a major environment win, with developers canceling the Keystone XL pipeline – something Indigenous activists fought for about a decade. Now, advocates are framing Line 3 as the latest frontier in environmental justice, in part because of the risks it poses to the waterways Indigenous Americans rely on.

“For all of the reasons that Keystone XL was shuttered and more, Line 3 needs to be stopped as well,” said Collin Rees, a senior campaigner for Oil Change International. “There’s an increasing understanding that we can’t continue to expand fossil fuels.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

HYBRIT
Inside Clean Energy: From Sweden, a Potential Breakthrough for Clean Steel
A Swedish partnership is cheering a milestone in its quest to make steel in a way that sharply reduces emissions.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 24, 2021

In the deluge of breathless announcements of emissions-cutting technologies, I often ask myself some variation on the same question: “Is this a big deal?”

Today, I’m going to tell you about one that looks like a big deal, providing hope that the world can find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of heavy industry.

In Sweden on Monday, the partnership of a steel company, a mining company and an electricity producer announced that it had succeeded in producing a form of iron using a nearly emissions-free process.

The companies have been working for five years on a joint venture called HYBRIT, with the goal of using renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and then using the hydrogen, along with iron ore pellets, to make “sponge iron,” which can be used to make steel. Now, the companies report that they are the first to have used this process to produce sponge iron on a pilot scale, which is a step up from laboratory scale and a sign of progress toward being able to do it on a commercial scale.

“This technological breakthrough is a critical step on the road to fossil-free steel,” said Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO of SSAB, a global steel company based in Sweden and one of the partners behind HYBRIT, in a statement. “The potential cannot be underestimated. It means that we can reach climate goals in Sweden and Finland and contribute to reducing emissions across Europe.”

This follows the opening of the HYBRIT plant last year in Luleå, Sweden, a small city near the Arctic Circle.

Corporations throw out words like “breakthrough” way too often, but this time it may be warranted. The steel industry is responsible for 7 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, with most of the world’s steel produced by burning coal or natural gas in blast furnaces.

The industry has been able to use electric arc furnaces to make “secondary steel,” which comes from melting down and repurposing scrap steel. But the demand for steel exceeds what can be met using scrap, so companies need to find cleaner ways to make “primary steel” from iron ore. HYBRIT is developing one of the most promising options.
» Read article              

Boston heat islands
Boston’s ‘heat islands’ turn lower-income neighborhoods from hot to insufferable
By David Abel, Boston Globe
June 22, 2021

Three years ago, after city officials repeatedly promised that a traffic project in the heart of their neighborhood would create significantly more green space, they left Jamaica Plain residents with more concrete and asphalt.

In an effort to slow traffic and make Hyde Square’s signature rotary easier to cross, the city widened sidewalks, broadened the circle with new pavers, and created multiple large concrete pedestrian islands. There were no new planters or flowers, though the city did add a small tree.

“It’s profoundly disappointing what the city left,” said Richard Parritz, a neighbor who chairs the design committee of Three Squares, a local nonprofit group that has pressed the city to add more green space to the neighborhood. “This is a health and equity issue. It’s not right.”

As Boston warms from climate change, city officials will have to do more to reduce such redoubts of asphalt and concrete, known as “heat islands,” which exacerbate the rising temperatures that residents will endure in the coming years, environmental advocates say.

By the end of the decade, city temperatures could exceed 90 degrees for over 40 days a year — and by as many as 90 days annually in 2070 — compared with an average of 11 days in 1990, according to city projections. Those increases in temperatures could have serious health consequences, with one major study estimating that heat-related deaths in the coming decades could be more than 50 percent higher than they were a few decades ago.
» Read article              
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

getting real‘Potentially the worst drought in 1,200 years’: scientists on the scorching US heatwave
Researchers had long forewarned of this crisis and now they’re seeing their studies and models become real life
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
June 18, 2021

The heatwave gripping the US west is simultaneously breaking hundreds of temperature records, exacerbating a historic drought and priming the landscape for a summer and fall of extreme wildfire.

Salt Lake City hit a record-breaking 107F (42C), while in Texas and California, power grid operators are asking residents to conserve energy to avoid rolling blackouts and outages. And all this before we’ve even reached the hottest part of the summer.

Among the 40 million Americans enduring the triple-digit temperatures are scientists who study droughts and the climate. They’d long forewarned of this crisis, and now they’re living through it. The Guardian spoke with researchers across the west about how they’re coping.
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal turbine researchHarnessing the tides: The future of renewable energy could begin in Cape Cod Canal
By Beth Treffeisen, Cape Cod Times
June 23, 2021

BUZZARDS BAY — Attached to a metal pole, a small tidal turbine resembling a metal rocket ship was placed Tuesday morning under the ripping currents of the Cape Cod Canal.

The tidal turbine could be the start of another form of renewable energy that would be able to provide electricity for decades to come.

“It’s an industry that is well-poised to take off,” said David Duquette, CEO of Littoral Power Systems Inc., based in New Bedford, that provided the model tidal turbine for the demonstration Tuesday. “But it does have some cost constraints, which is why we are looking at things such as saving costs on civil works.”

The tidal turbine, which was not producing electricity, was the first of its kind to be tested on the Bourne Tidal Test Site structure situated next to the railroad bridge near the Buzzards Bay side of the canal. It will be monitored using a camera system to see if it will affect fish and marine wildlife in the area.

“We wanted to spin up something in our backyard here — we’ll do it,” said Duquette before the turbine was launched.

The next generation of the device being tested in the canal will be deployed to Fairbanks, Alaska, where it will be tested in a “mightier” river, Duquette said.

On Monday, two sensors were installed to monitor water conditions and fish behavior. Since video cameras require light to work, which at night would affect fish behavior, an acoustic camera was also deployed.

The model tidal turbine was due to remain in the water for about 48 hours as cameras watch how it affects the environment around it, said John Miller, the New England Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative executive director.

In past experiments, such as in Scotland or in the East River in New York, cameras have found that fish generally avoid the turbines, Miller said.
» Read article              

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

HVAC techEnergy efficiency is a low-hanging fruit to combat climate change. So why can’t everyone get access to it?
By Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe
June 12, 2021

Environmental justice isn’t only about where power plants get built and which neighborhoods have enough trees.

Sometimes, it’s about something smaller and less visible than that — about the people who are left out, even when we’re making progress.

Today’s Exhibit A: Mass Save, the free program that brings an energy-efficiency expert into your home to help lower your energy costs. Funded by surcharges on our utility bills, Mass Save provides or subsidizes weather stripping and low-energy light bulbs, and offers rebates and loans that can be worth thousands for better insulation or more efficient boilers. It is a thing of beauty, and it has helped make this state a national leader in energy efficiency — the low-hanging fruit of combating climate change. Every dollar spent on the program yields three dollars in savings, and even more valuable emissions reductions for all of us.

Everybody wins. Except they don’t.

Though Mass Save is available to every ratepayer in the Commonwealth, those who live in affluent towns are more likely to take advantage of it: Participation in places like Bolton, Carlisle, and Hingham is up to seven times greater than in Lawrence, Fall River, and New Bedford.

“The program as designed works really well for single-family homeowners who have money to spend to make their homes more efficient, and who speak English,” said Eugenia Gibbons, Boston director of climate policy at Health Care Without Harm. For others, not so much.

It takes time, trust, and money to participate in Mass Save: time to apply for a visit and to meet with a consultant; trust that the energy utility, which administers the program, is really offering you something for free, with no catch; and money to pay your share of the subsidized insulation and boiler bills. All three are in short supply in places where blue collar workers, immigrants, and renters are concentrated. Language barriers widen the gap.
» Read article              
» Read letters responding to this article

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

grid services supportGrid services support: Battery projects stepping up and supporting the grid
By Bernice Doyle, Current± | Blog post
June 15, 2021
Bernice Doyle is Head of Grid Services, Statkraft.

In May this year the Irish grid dropped below normal operating range (49.9Hz- 50.1Hz) for about 14 minutes. According to our data, it was the longest under-frequency event seen in years. Statkraft’s Kilathmoy and Kelwin-2 battery storage projects immediately stepped up to support the electricity grid, with data showing they provided an initial response to the event in just 180 milliseconds.

Most of the time batteries such as these sit in standby watching the frequency. But, as soon as it sees the frequency drop below the trigger level, it responds automatically. In the blink of an eye, it injects active power to support the grid and stabilise the system. Over the full period of the under-frequency event, the batteries did just what they were designed to do from the initial drop below the 49.8Hz trigger, to the eventual recovery above that level about 12 minutes later.

Solar and wind power plants provide clean renewable energy, but the electricity grid has historically relied on fossil fuel generators to provide stability in the grid. As renewables grow, displacing fossil fuels, we need to find new ways of providing the stability the grid requires. As this under-frequency event shows, battery storage facilities can provide a vital support to the Irish grid and help us to facilitate more and more renewable energy on the system.

Keeping the power grid stable has become more challenging as we get more and more of our energy from wind and solar power. The major challenge is to ensure we maintain a stable frequency and voltage on the grid.

Here in Ireland, we are not using all of the renewable energy that we are producing. The system operators rely on running gas or coal power plants not for energy purposes, but to provide support services to the grid and in doing so they shut down wind power plants that could have supplied electricity, in order to make room for these fossil fuel plants. We aim to increase the share of renewable electricity from the current 40% to 70% by 2030. If we are to achieve that goal, we must support and progress stability solutions for the grid that do not emit CO2.

Battery technology is a very efficient method of delivering zero-carbon frequency support services such as this. In an emergency, batteries can both absorb and deliver power to the grid in milliseconds. However, batteries are not yet deployed to store large amounts of energy in the Irish market. The battery projects deployed in the Irish market to date have reserves for half an hour of operation, but in the future batteries will deliver longer-duration storage, which will be crucial to enabling our 2030 targets.
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

V to GYour electric vehicle could become a mini power plant
And that could make the electrical grid work better for everyone.
By Maria Gallucci, Grist
June 21, 2021

In an asphalt lot just north of New York City, yellow school buses are resting their wheels until classes resume in September. But three electric buses at the depot in White Plains, New York, will be working overtime this summer break. Rather than transport students, they’ll mainly serve as a big battery bank, storing power and feeding it to the local utility’s electrical grid when demand is high. Starting this month, Con Edison will use the buses daily to help keep its grid running smoothly during the hot summer months.

The demonstration project is among dozens of so-called “vehicle-to-grid” initiatives underway in the United States and around the world. As bigger vehicles like buses, garbage trucks, delivery vans, and even the Ford F-150 pickup truck ditch their engines and go electric, their batteries represent a potentially enormous source of energy storage and backup power supply. Although the concept was developed in the late 1990s, vehicle-to-grid is gaining traction now as automakers release more electric models, smart charging technologies improve, and millions of new electric vehicles, or EVs, hit the road every year.

Last December, the buses began exporting power to the grid on weekends during six-hour shifts. On June 25, they’ll begin delivering a combined 33.5 kilowatts, or 0.03 megawatts, of power for six hours every day. That amount of power is relatively tiny, but there’s potential to expand. About 8,000 school buses operate in Con Ed’s service area of New York City and neighboring Westchester County, which includes White Plains. If electrified, the bus fleet could collectively supply more than 100 megawatts of power to the grid for short periods — or nearly 1 percent of Con Ed’s peak summer power demand, an amount Ross said makes a “material” difference. That could reduce Con Ed’s reliance on gas-fired power plants and offset the need to upgrade grid equipment.

“Using electric school buses this way on a wider scale would provide significant benefits,” Ross told Grist.

On a broader level, vehicle-to-grid systems could help utilities navigate the transition to cleaner electricity and transportation. As more wind and solar power comes online, the batteries could absorb excess renewable energy and deliver it later, after the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down. And the systems could prevent electric vehicles from overtaxing the grid by managing how and when they charge. Around 550 million battery-powered vehicles are expected to hit the road globally by 2040 — up from 13 million vehicles today — representing a huge boost in power demand, according to the clean energy research firm BloombergNEF.
» Read article              

Yukon fumes
Automakers Tout EV’s but Keep Pushing Gas-Guzzling SUV’s, Report Finds
By The Energy Mix
June 20, 2021

A new report from Environmental Defence Canada finds that pledges from automakers to drive an EV revolution are at odds with their continued hard-sell of fossil-driven SUVs in Canada.

“The car companies are talking a big game, filled with new promises of a cavalcade of electric cars, trucks, and SUVs that’s just around the corner. But Canadians should take these claims with a big grain of salt,” Programs Director Keith Brooks said in a release. He pointed to GM and Ford, with plans to deliver 300,000 EVs by 2026 in North America, while their output of fossil-fuelled SUVs and trucks will hit five million over that period.

And the larger the fossil-burning vehicle, the higher the emissions.

“Transportation is the second-largest source of emissions in Canada, second only to oil and gas extraction. And it’s a sector in which emissions have been steadily rising for decades even while vehicle fuel efficiency has been steadily improving,” said Brooks.

Noting that 80% of passenger vehicles sold today in Canada are SUVs and light trucks (and only 1.6% of them electric), Environmental Defence says that sales activity has added “about 18 million additional tonnes of carbon emissions” to the global atmosphere since 2010.

Meanwhile, automakers’ advertising budgets remain skewed in favour of fossil-fuelled models, the report states. EVs remain very thin on the ground in dealer lots, and automakers still “lobby against climate policy, including any policy that would force them to sell more EVs.”

What’s needed to counteract this “duplicity,” the organization says, is government intervention in the form of “carrot and stick”–style policy to encourage automakers to walk their talk on EVs while making it easier for Canadians to purchase one. Among the report’s recommendations: new taxes on fossil-fuelled vehicles to fund EV purchasing incentives, and “a strict zero-emission vehicle standard to require car companies to sell an increasing percentage of electric cars,” reaching 100% EV sales by 2035 “at the latest.”
» Read article              
» Read the Environmental Defence Canada report

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATION

sweetheart dealStop sweetheart deals with state utilities
3% revenue increase each year not fair to ratepayers
By Natalie Blais, Joanne Comerford and Daniel Sosland, CommonWealth Magazine
June 24, 2021

Electrifying buildings and appliances that now run on gas, oil, and other fossil fuels will be a key piece of meeting Massachusetts’ climate targets. The region’s investor-owned utilities will be vital partners in making this possible. However, it has recently come to light that Eversource has been quietly funding a campaign to fight against electrification and in support of propping up the gas system, despite the fact that the region must transition away from gas as quickly as possible.

One of the primary reasons utilities like Eversource continue to fight so hard for fossil fuels is because the current utility business model, which has helped deliver reliable energy for almost a century, is no longer compatible with the transformations within the power sector that are necessary to address climate change.

Today, utilities earn income based not on how well they serve residents, but on how expensive it is to run their companies. As expenses for maintaining the grid go up, utilities regularly ask the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) for approval to increase customer rates to help cover costs. Regulators usually approve these requests – and as legislators we hear frequently from constituents when they notice these new or increased charges on their electric bills and want to know what they are paying for and why.

Automatically increasing customer rates without requiring real change is not the answer. Massachusetts needs a better deal from its utilities – a real commitment to consumer interests, environmental justice, fighting climate change, and creating a reliable grid powered by clean energy resources.

Under existing state utility regulation, Eversource’s incentives do not serve the interests of the Commonwealth’s residents. Eversource’s own securities filings identify that clean energy alternatives are a risk to its revenues. In other words, the path the Commonwealth is seeking to shift away from fossil fuels is bad for Eversource and its shareholders. This is incongruous with meeting Massachusetts’ ambitious climate goals.

We cannot continue to put the financial health of utility companies on the backs of ratepayers by providing annual revenue increases with little in return for residents or the environment. That’s why we introduced “An Act to Protect Ratepayers” (Bill H.3259/S.2143) and “An Act Promoting Local Energy Investment and Infrastructure Modernization” (Bill H.3261/S.2144). These bills will stop sweetheart deals and ensure broader stakeholder participation in decisions related to modernizing our energy system.
» Read article              

» More about legislation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

massive methane leaks‘Massive’ Methane Leaks Found Coming From Oil and Gas Sites in Europe
For the first time, researchers in Europe use optical imagery to measure methane leaking from oil and gas infrastructure in seven countries. The data reveals a “pervasive” emissions problem.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 24, 2021

Leaking methane from oil and gas infrastructure is widespread across the European continent, reveals an investigation of more than 150 sites in seven countries. More than 60 percent of the sites analyzed by researchers using state-of-the-art technology were releasing large volumes of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere.

This is the first large investigation of methane leakage from oil and gas sites in Europe.

“We’ve all been shocked by just how pervasive methane emissions are across Europe,” James Turitto, who filmed methane emissions for Clean Air Task Force (CATF), said in a statement. CATF is based in Boston but recently launched a European office.

Deploying an optical gas camera that uses infrared radiation to detect the typically invisible methane leaking from oil and gas infrastructure, CATF conducted a months-long investigation of fossil fuel sites in Europe. This type of camera is used widely by the oil and gas industry itself to find and detect leaks.

Images and video of methane leaks have been increasingly commonplace in places like the Permian basin, where environmental group Earthworks has extensively documented rampant methane leaks at drilling sites, drawing attention to a vast source of once-overlooked climate pollution.

But the documentation conducted by Turitto and CATF using an optical camera shows this isn’t confined to the Permian – it’s an international problem. On June 24, CATF released an online library of videos and data of its research, along with a new website.

“It’s clear that industry best practice is being ignored up and down the supply chain. Even as one person with an infrared camera, I’ve been able to find multiple leaks in every country I’ve visited. It begs the question – why aren’t the companies and national regulators doing this already?” Turitto said in a statement.

Turitto visited Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Romania. He documented significant methane leaks at 123 of the 150 sites visited. Overall, more than 60 percent of the surveyed sites had significant concentrations of methane leaking. In some countries, that share stood at more than 90 percent of sites, with Italy and Hungary standing out as particular problems.

Europe is not a large producer of oil and gas, but it is the largest importer of both oil and gas and has an extensive pipeline network and storage facilities. It is at these sites – storage tanks, pipelines, liquefied natural gas import terminals – where methane is leaking in large volumes.
» Read article              

pointing fingers
The weird argument that offshore oil is good for the climate, debunked
Oil companies are blaming each other for climate pollution.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
June 22, 2021

When President Biden took office in January, a peculiar idea about oil and gas started to make the political rounds: that certain parts of the industry are more environmentally responsible and can actually reduce emissions, compared to other parts of the industry that are worse for the Earth.

“If you want to reduce emissions, the offshore arena is better,” Scott Angelle, who was the top environmental regulator of offshore energy under the Trump administration, told the trade publication Offshore in late January.

Questionable claims about the climate might be expected from a Trump administration official who rolled back oil and gas regulations, but the same argument has also seeped into Democratic politics.

“Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production produces substantially fewer greenhouse gas emissions than oil and gas production in any other region of the world,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, testified to the Senate Energy Committee in May.

Documents show that these claims originated with a little-known lobbying group that advocates for offshore oil — and experts told Vox that they’re dubious at best. By focusing on the emissions of oil and gas production, the industry is ignoring the much larger share of pollution that comes from the burning of fossil fuels. This is a clear attempt at greenwashing: Parts of the oil industry are arguing, perversely, that more fossil fuels can help solve the climate crisis.

Yet these tactics also suggest that fossil fuel companies foresee a fight for survival in a shrinking market for oil and gas — and one emerging industry tactic is pointing fingers to claim that a particular source of oil and gas isn’t as dirty as the next person’s.

“They’re falling over themselves” to claim “their oil is cleaner than someone else,” Lorne Stockman, a research analyst at Oil Change International, a nonprofit advocacy group, told Vox.

What’s worrying is that attempts to rebrand some oil and gas as sustainable has gained traction even among prominent Democrats, and could influence an administration that has pledged to slash emissions by half within the decade in the hope of preventing catastrophic climate change.
» Read article              

chemical risk
The Chemical Weapon Next Door
Modified hydrofluoric acid (MHF), used in oil refining, could turn into a flesh-eating vapor cloud if leaked. 400,000 refinery neighbors in LA are at risk.
By Lucy Sherriff, Drilled News
April 16, 2021

The morning of Wednesday, February 18, 2015, had started just like any other day for Summer Spencer. Back then, she was a sixth grader at South High School in Torrance, a coastal city in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County. But at around 9am, Spencer and her classmates were given a ‘shelter in place’ order by their teacher. It was, the now 17-year-old says, pretty exciting at first. “I just figured I might not have to go to my next class.”

Summer’s teachers closed the doors, secured the windows, and pulled the drapes shut. It was only when she went home that day and spoke to her dad, an environmental safety expert, that she realized she, her classmates, and thousands of other Torrance residents, had had a near miss with a chemical so deadly the Department of Homeland Security lists it as a substance of interest for terrorists.

“I told [my dad] all we did was shut the windows and he explained it wouldn’t have been enough to protect the students,” she recalls.

Spencer’s dad explained if the chemical had been released, “thousands of Torrance residents would have died”.

The threat came from the Torrance Refinery, just three miles away from Summer’s school, a 700-acre plot which processes around 155,000 barrels of crude oil every day, and uses hydrofluoric acid (HF)—or “modified hydrofluoric acid” (MHF) as refineries often refer to the substance—to make high octane gasoline. Around 400,000 people live within three miles of the refineries.

On that Wednesday morning, unbeknown to Summer, pent up gases at the refinery, back then owned by Exxon, had triggered an explosion so big that it registered as a 1.7 tremor. A processing unit had burst open, propelling a large piece of equipment into the air, which narrowly avoided hitting a tank that contained more than 50,000-pound of the deadly HF.

“It was a complete surprise. Nobody really knew the danger of the Torrance refinery,” Spencer told Drilled.

Although the 48 US oil refineries that use MHF claim it is safer than HF, both substances are deadly to humans. And in fact scientists say the two substances are virtually identical. When released, both substances travel in a vapor cloud that can reach eight feet in height, penetrating buildings and causing catastrophic eye, bone, deep tissue, lung and nervous system damage. Essentially, as Torrance-based scientist Dr. Sally Hayati put it, the substance can liquefy your organs.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

sailing to nowhereGlobal LNG Industry Reeling as its Image as a Climate Solution Shifts to ‘Climate Problem’
Nearly two dozen major LNG projects around the world are struggling to move forward, a new report reveals, as investors grow skittish from poor economics and increasing scrutiny on the industry’s large carbon footprint.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 24, 2021

As recently as 2019, the global market for liquefied natural gas (LNG) looked bright. Analysts saw demand for LNG in Asia rising in both a steady and unrelenting fashion, expanding for years or even decades into the future. The industry gave the greenlight to 71 billion tonnes per annum (mtpa) of new LNG capacity in 2019, an all-time record.

But a lot has changed in the past two years, with “business conditions drastically diminished,” and even “the basic rationale of an industry built around a relatively small number of massive but highly vulnerable facilities” now called into question, according to a new report from Global Energy Monitor.

“LNG was sold to policymakers and to investors as a safe, clean, secure bet,” said Lydia Plante, lead author of the report. “Now all those attributes have turned into liabilities.”

Not only did the pandemic disrupt demand projections, but the positive perception of LNG as a somewhat climate-friendly alternative to coal – a perception assiduously promoted by the industry – has fallen apart. “Most striking is the shift in LNG’s public image from climate solution to climate problem,” the report said.

A December 2020 study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that the climate benefit of LNG compared to coal is only modest at best, and because it is a fossil fuel with a large carbon footprint, it ultimately presents a big threat to the climate.

If the U.S. LNG projects on the drawing board went forward as planned, it would result in 130 to 213 million metric tons of new greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the equivalent of adding 28 to 45 million cars to the road, and enough to wipe out the 1 percent per year decline in emissions the U.S. achieved over the past decade, according to NRDC.

As a result of the increased scrutiny, along with growing financial risks, major LNG projects are struggling to get off the ground. At least 21 major LNG export terminals representing 265 mtpa have either seen their final investment decision (FID) delayed, or are suffering other serious setbacks. That’s roughly 38 percent of the total capacity under development around the world, with ten of those projects located in North America.
» Read article        
» Read the Global Energy Monitor report
» Read the NRDC study

opposition abounds
Opposition abounds for Nova Scotia’s planned LNG export facility
By Moira Donovan, National Observer
June 22, 2021

For much of the pandemic, Nova Scotia has been closed to the outside world. But a proposed natural gas project in the province — dubbed “the last one standing” by the CEO of the company behind it — is reaching across borders nonetheless.

The Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, proposed by Calgary-based Pieridae Energy Limited, would see the company exporting 5.2 million tonnes of natural gas annually, mostly for the German utility Uniper, starting in 2025. With many other LNG projects being cancelled, Pieridae CEO Alfred Sorensen has said the Goldboro project looks increasingly like the only one left of its kind in North America (construction on an LNG export facility that will export to Asian markets is underway in B.C., with three others proposed in that province).

As the project approaches the deadline set by Pieridae to decide its fate, it’s facing hurdles, including an as-yet-unsuccessful pitch for nearly $1 billion in federal funding — without which the company has said moving ahead with the project would be “difficult.” Aside from the money, the biggest threat to the project is a pending regulatory decision in Alberta that will determine the viability of its gas supply.

In the interim, Pieridae is being inundated with complaints from communities across North America — from Mi’kmaw groups in Nova Scotia to advocates in Alberta and Massachusetts. They are pushing back against the proposal, citing concerns with everything from the work camps required to construct the facility to the infrastructure required to produce the gas and pipe it to Nova Scotia.

One of Pieridae’s biggest obstacles is in Alberta, where advocates for better management of orphaned oil and gas wells have identified issues with Pieridae’s plan for sourcing the gas that would be exported from the facility.

In 2019, Pieridae made a play to acquire aging sour gas wells and infrastructure in Alberta from Shell to supply the Goldboro LNG facility.

But the transfer of the licences was blocked in May 2020 by the Alberta Energy Regulator, which cited concerns about the division of responsibility (Shell had said it would remain responsible for groundwater contamination, and Pieridae for well cleanup).

The spectre of that transfer has been revived recently after Shell made another bid to sign over the licences to Pieridae, prompting the filing of several dozen statements of concern to the Alberta Energy Regulator.

One of those statements was from the Polluter Pay Federation (PPF). PPF Chair Dwight Popowich — who has seen the effects of orphan wells first-hand after the operator of a well on his land went bankrupt — said the transfer is a clear example of “liability dumping,” whereby oil and gas producers dodge responsibility for well cleanup by selling assets to smaller producers without the resources to manage them in the long term.
» Read article         

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

last resort
EU eyes tighter rules for ‘renewable’ biomass energy – draft
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
June 16, 2021

BRUSSELS, June 16 (Reuters) – The European Union is considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals, according to a draft document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The aim is to protect delicate ecosystems like old growth forests and stop wood fit for other purposes, like making furniture, from ending up as pellets or chips burned to produce biomass energy.

The draft European Commission proposal to update the EU rules would require biomass-fuelled power and heat plants with a capacity of 5 megawatts (MW) or above to meet sustainability criteria, and provide substantial emissions cuts versus fossil fuels.

Biomass plants with a capacity below 20MW are currently exempt from those requirements.

Renewable sources provide around 20% of EU energy in 2019. More than half of that is biomass, which the EU ranks as having a low carbon footprint since carbon dioxide emissions produced from wood-burning are partly balanced by CO2 absorbed by the trees as they grew.

Environmental groups have criticised that accounting and some said the draft proposal would fail to protect forests.

The draft said biomass-fuelled installations will count as renewable if they produce 70% fewer emissions than fossil fuels. Currently, that applies only to installations that started operating this year.

The draft said national support schemes promoting biomass energy use must follow a “cascading principle” that wood should only be burned for energy as a last resort.
» Read article              

» More about biomass

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