Tag Archives: mercury pollution

Weekly News Check-In 4/17/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

We kick off with a note acknowledging that the relentless drive to build pipelines hasn’t yielded to a mere pandemic. The Keystone XL is pushing south into Montana with an initial work crew of 100 – many more to come.

Our climate section leads with a remembrance from Drilled News of notorious climate change denier Fred Singer, who passed away at 95. During his long career he spun layers of falsehoods and confusion in service of the planet’s biggest polluters.

Because improving the energy efficiency of buildings is critical to achieving necessary emissions reductions, it’s notable that the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulation and Standards (BBRS) appears skeptical of building design experts – apparently favoring developers who prefer existing methods and performance levels. We offer an excellent CommonWealth Magazine article to explain the headwinds faced by the net-zero building code campaign.

The pandemic highlights a multitude of fractures in American society. Clean energy development may offer a rare opportunity to lift people up from under-served and vulnerable communities. The economic potential is huge for post-pandemic recovery. We found a hopeful vision of how benefits might be broadly shared.

Now that the Trump administration has gutted vehicle emissions requirements, clean transportation may still be saved by California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards, combined with the likelihood that a future administration will put transportation sector decarbonization back on track.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been busy under Administrator Andrew Wheeler – continuing its planetary assault while a raging pandemic diverts public attention. In a particularly elegant bit of regulatory jujitsu, the agency rewrote a mercury pollution rule by leaving current standards in place but changing “how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains.” This subtle language has significant implications for many classes of pollutants and their future environmental impact.

Our fossil fuel industry section is particularly interesting. We found the usual press coverage of its precarious financial condition – already on the edge of insolvency even before the Saudi-Russian price war and sudden economic shutdown. Now there are emerging calls for a federal government takeover. And why not? The whole industry is in crisis, and a bargain at current share prices. If it were under federal control, a climate-minded administration could manage the phase-out and transition to a carbon-free future. It’s arguably a good investment, considering the massive costs associated with alternative, business-as-usual or go-slow climate scenarios.

We close on a  related topic. The pandemic and global economic crash have dealt a serious blow to expansion plans for the liquefied natural gas market. Australia is feeling that now, with LNG exports facing an uncertain future down under.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Keystone corona style
Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
April 07, 2020

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.

As EcoWatch reported, last week Canada-based TC Energy said it would start construction despite the climate impacts of the pipeline and the concerns about transporting construction crews during the coronavirus outbreak.

The construction that began yesterday involved around 100 workers in a remote border crossing between Montana and Canada, which is home to cattle ranches and wheat fields, according to a spokesperson from TC Energy, as the AP reported. The number of people involved in the construction is supposed to grow into the thousands as construction advances.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines    

CLIMATE

ding dong FSFred Singer Has Passed. He Took Pleasure In Bullying Scientists. May He Rest.
­Why speak well of the late climate denier Fred Singer, who spent over half a century attacking credible science and scientists?
By Paul Thacker, Drilled News
April 16, 2020

A chief talent of Fred Singer, the world-famous climate denier who died on April 6 at 95, was bullying scientists whose work he could never match, and whose findings threatened the bottom lines of his corporate polluter clients.

Singer was a physicist, whose most notable scientific work involved contributions to planetary science, as well as early satellite and rocket technologies. But beginning in the 1950s, and for a half-century thereafter, Singer offered up to the media his takes on the shortcomings of other sciences and scientists, especially those studying the impacts of toxic chemicals, air pollution, and smoking on the environment or public health. Singer’s opinion pieces appeared in newspapers all across the country, and he relished providing that perfect contrarian quote to a reporter on deadline who needed to “balance” a story about environmental regulations.

Singer seemed to take special pleasure in discrediting scientists who investigated the ways that human activity threatens public health and the safety of our planet, the sort of research that informs regulations to solve problems ranging from acid rain’s toll on forests to DDT’s impacts on wildlife, as well as — of course — the effects of climate change on us all.
» Read article     

cooperate and commit
Strengthen worldwide climate commitments to improve economy, study finds
Global economy could lose out by $600tn by end of century on current emissions targets
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

Every country in the world would be economically better off if all could agree to strengthen their commitments on the climate crisis through international cooperation, new research has found.

But if countries go no further than their current CO2 pledges – which are too weak to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and would lead to dangerous levels of global heating – then they face steep economic losses.

The global economy would lose out by as much as $600tn (£476tn) by the end of the century, on current emissions targets, compared with its likely growth if countries meet the Paris goals, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.
» Read article     
» Download the study       

credibility gap
To advise on green stimulus, the IEA needs to upgrade its own climate toolbox
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International / Blog Post
April 9, 2020

Oil Change International (OCI) has tracked how the IEA has historically hindered the bold climate ambition we need by normalizing and promoting fossil fuel-friendly scenarios and investments. In this post, we delve deeper into key shortcomings the IEA needs to correct in its own modelling toolbox in order to credibly advise governments on crafting ambitious, climate-proof economic recovery plans.
» Read article     

» More about climate    

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

BBRS and Net Zero
Cracking the climate code
Battle raging over building energy standards
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 8, 2019

AN ARCANE STATE BOARD, known to few outside the world of design and construction, is the setting of a furious clash the outcome of which could influence the amount of climate-curdling emissions that pour out of chimneys, as well as the future supply of housing in Massachusetts, where affordable homes are already scarce.

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards might seem an odd venue for the drama that has unfolded there. The BBRS adopts and administers the statewide building code and the building energy code, sets of rules that are important but would bore the average reader to tears. It is the domain of professionals who think in cubic feet, seismic loads, and kilowatt hours. Now, the problems of the world are before it.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency      

CLEAN ENERGY

get it right
Advocates call for methodical approach to make sure offshore wind benefits all
Low-income populations and people of color were largely left out of Massachusetts’ biotechnology and cannabis booms.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo by Wind Denmark / Flickr / Creative Commons
April 13, 2020

With offshore wind expected to add as much as $100 billion to the economy along the East Coast over the next 30 years, activists and business leaders in Massachusetts are urging the state to take steps ensuring that low-income populations and people of color are able to share in the benefits of the burgeoning industry.

“There will be a lot of economic opportunity and jobs,” said Elizabeth Henry, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Think about what even just a fraction of that could do for communities that have been persistently left behind — it’s really exciting.”
» Read article     

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

impact on EVs
Trump’s new fuel-efficiency rule: The devil is in the details for electric cars
By Bradley Berman, Electrek
April 10, 2020

It’s well known that on March 31, the Trump administration gutted fuel-economy and greenhouse gas rules for model years 2021 to 2026. But what does it mean specifically for electric vehicles? Environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond broke down the new rule, shedding light on provisions for EVs.

Beveridge & Diamond warns that automakers who immediately start disregarding California ZEV standards “do so at their own risk.” The lawsuits are only beginning, and if the administration changes next year, it will likely invalidate the rules.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation    

EPA

change in calculations
Trump’s EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution Rule
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 17, 2020

As many Americans fight for their lives in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, the Trump administration Thursday axed the justification for a mercury pollution rule that saves more than 10,000 lives and prevents as many as 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

The new rollback leaves mercury emission standards in place for now, but changes how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains, The New York Times reported. The move provides a legal opening to challenge other pollution controls even as evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution might increase one’s chances of dying from the new coronavirus.

“This is an absolute abomination,” former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head under Obama and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) president Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This final rule will increase the risk of more kids with asthma and brain damage, and more people with cancer. Undermining these vital safeguards now also directly threatens the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even harder to breathe and putting people with respiratory illnesses at even higher risk.”
» Read article    

quicksilver play by EPA
E.P.A. Weakens Controls on Mercury
The agency is changing the way it calculates the benefits of mercury controls, a move that would effectively loosen the rules on other toxic pollutants.
By Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 16, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday weakened regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants, another step toward rolling back health protections in the middle of a pandemic.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution that environmental lawyers said would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.

By reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.

“That is the big unstated goal,” said David Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. “This is less about mercury than about potentially constraining or handcuffing future efforts by the E.P.A. to regulate air pollution.”
» Read article     

science schmience
Ignoring Scientists’ Advice, Trump’s EPA Rejects Stricter Air Quality Standard
The decision flies in the face of large-scale studies that indicated tightening the standard would save tens of thousands of lives.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
April 15, 2020

Sweeping aside a broad body of evidence that air pollution is killing as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year, the Trump administration on Tuesday rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for fine soot.

The proposal to maintain the current standard for PM 2.5—microscopic particles known as fine particulate matter—in the face of alarming new science documenting its potentially deadly health effects, is a win for the fossil fuel industry. It comes amid a frenzy of major decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say is designed to secure the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy in the face of an uncertain future.

The Trump EPA has raced to loosen or reject a slew of clean air protections, even as the nation has been brought to a virtual standstill by a highly contagious virus that can produce serious or even fatal respiratory symptoms. In the last month, the Trump EPA has weakened fuel economy standards, advanced a proposal to discount the findings of scientific studies on health in rulemaking and announced a blanket suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws.

The decision to maintain the status quo on PM 2.5 was especially striking in the context of the pandemic, and came just days after Harvard researchers released preliminary results of a study showing that U.S. counties with high PM 2.5 levels have higher coronavirus death rates.
» Read article     

fine particles - EPA
Trump administration declines to stiffen US clean air standards
EPA chief Wheeler says current soot regulations are adequate despite research that shows stricter rules could save thousands of lives
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

The Trump administration has said it will not tighten rules for soot pollution, despite research showing that doing so could save thousands of lives each year.

The fine particles, which come from the burning of coal, oil and wood, penetrate the respiratory system and are linked with heart and lung diseases, higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and cancer.

Under the current standard, which was set in 2012, polluters can emit enough soot to measure 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Strengthening the standards to 11 micrograms could save about 12,000 lives per year, according to one Harvard study of US seniors.

Other research, noted in the government’s own analysis, found that maintaining the soot standard at its current level could allow as many as 52,000 deaths a year in just 47 urban areas.
 » Read article     

evidence
‘Unbelievable’ Timing: As Coronavirus Rages, Trump Disregards Advice to Tighten Clean Air Rules
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 14, 2020

WASHINGTON — Disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates, the Trump administration declined on Tuesday to tighten a regulation on industrial soot emissions that came up for review ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew R. Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency will not impose stricter controls on the tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, a regulatory action that has been in the works for months. The scientific evidence, he said, was insufficient to merit tightening the current emissions standard.
» Read article     

» More about the EPA        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

CARES Act oil bailout
Fed’s Corporate Debt-Buying Could Mean Billion-Dollar Big Oil Bailout
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams in EcoWatch
April 16, 2020

As calls for a People’s Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country’s Big Oil companies “stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout” thanks to the Federal Reserve’s plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.

The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
» Read article     
» Read FOE analysis         

the case for public ownership
Discussion Paper: The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
April 14, 2020

The U.S. fossil fuel industry continues to seek bailouts during the COVID-19 crisis, as global oil demand craters and crude oil floods an already oversupplied market.

During this crisis, the U.S. government should assert long-term ownership and control over fossil fuel companies to safeguard long-term economic security for workers, avoid taxpayer-funded windfalls for fossil fuel executives, restore communities exploited by fossil fuel corporations, save taxpayer dollars, and ensure an eventual managed phase-out of coal, oil, and gas production.

Bailing out the oil, gas, and coal industries with no strings attached would return our economy to a precarious status quo in which the fossil fuel industry’s volatile and environmentally destructive business model worsens our economic and environmental crises. It would allow a handful of executives and wealthy shareholders to continue to extract the vast majority of profits, while taxpayers, workers, and exploited communities shoulder the burden of corporate and social risks and externalities.
» Read overview    
» Download discussion paper
» Read related press release        

late 80s bad
Big Banks Pull Financing, Prepare To Seize Assets From Collapsing Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 13, 2020

While banks seizing assets from borrowers who can’t repay loans is common for industries like real estate — especially residential real estate — it is an unusual move for the oil and gas industry. Reuters reported that the last time it happened was during the oil price crash of the late 1980s. In the most recent oil price crash, when oil dropped from prices over $100 a barrel to $40 a barrel, there was a rash of bankruptcies, but the banks did not seize assets.

One difference now is that shale oil companies have continued to increase debt — thanks to loans from the banks — to the point where most of these companies are not viable with low oil prices. As one industry observer recently noted in the New York Times, “This is late ’80s bad.”

One new angle that didn’t exist in the 1980s is a dramatic change in sentiment from parts of the investment community about the viability of the oil industry as an investment. Television investment advisor Jim Cramer of CNBC was saying oil stocks were in the “death knell phase” in January, before oil prices crashed to the current lows and the coronavirus had crushed global oil demand.

More recently, in a remarkable opinion piece for Seeking Alpha, Kirk Spano advised investors to get out of the industry now with a unique twist on why this was urgent.

“We are about to see a massive wave of shale oil bankruptcies by thieving executives who have borrowed against assets and paid themselves bonuses for years without regard to shareholder value.”

While DeSmog has commented on issues of potential industry fraud and executives paying themselves while the companies they ran lost money, it is a decided shift in sentiment when sites like SeekingAlpha are calling for investors to get out and then “sue the dirt out of the executives who have almost all broken fiduciary duties.”

Which is why banks are now considering seizing the assets of the failed oil  companies — it is a bad option for the banks but it is the best one left.
» Read article     

cuts are complicated
Oil Nations, Prodded by Trump, Reach Deal to Slash Production
The deal will reduce output by 9.7 million barrels a day. While significant, the cut falls far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 12, 2020

HOUSTON — Oil-producing nations on Sunday agreed to the largest production cut ever negotiated, in an unprecedented coordinated effort by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States to stabilize oil prices and, indirectly, global financial markets.

Saudi Arabia and Russia typically take the lead in setting global production goals. But President Trump, facing a re-election campaign, a plunging economy and American oil companies struggling with collapsing prices, took the unusual step of getting involved after the two countries entered a price war a month ago. Mr. Trump had made an agreement a key priority.

It was unclear, however, whether the cuts would be enough to bolster prices. Before the coronavirus crisis, 100 million barrels of oil each day fueled global commerce, but demand is down about 35 percent. While significant, the cuts agreed to on Sunday still fall far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
» Read article     

wink and nod
Coronavirus May Kill Our Fracking Fever Dream
America’s energy independence was an illusion created by cheap debt. All that’s left to tally is the damage.
By Bethany McLean, New York Times Opinion
April 10, 2020

Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the idea of energy independence, which in its grandest incarnation meant freedom from the world’s oil-rich trouble spots, has been a dream for Democrats and Republicans alike. It once seemed utterly unattainable — until the advent of fracking, which unleashed a torrent of oil.

In reality, the dream was always an illusion, and its collapse was already underway. That’s because oil fracking has never been financially viable. America’s energy independence was built on an industry that is the very definition of dependent — dependent on investors to keeping pouring billions upon billions in capital into money-losing companies to fund their drilling. Investors were willing to do this only as long as oil prices, which are not under America’s control, were high — and when they believed that one day, profits would materialize.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, the spigot was drying up. Now, it has been shut off.
» Read article     
Ms. McLean is the author of “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World.”

climate deception
Baltimore, Rhode Island Argue They’re Suing Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Deception
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 10, 2020

At a time when fossil fuel companies are using a public health crisis to demand financial and regulatory support, the governments of Baltimore and Rhode Island are calling out a “decades-long campaign of deception” by these companies in urging courts to advance lawsuits trying to hold polluters responsible for climate damages.

Over a dozen of these climate liability lawsuits are currently pending, brought by cities, counties, one state, and one trade association seeking payments to help cover climate change-related costs. The lawsuits target major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, alleging they deliberately deceived the public and policymakers on the dangers of fossil fuels.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels        

LNG

LNG hits pause down under
Australia’s booming LNG industry stalls after fall in oil prices amid coronavirus
More than $80bn of investment decisions are delayed due to a collapsed oil price and a geopolitical price war
By Adam Morton, The Guardian
April 12, 2020

The extraordinary growth in Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, the main cause of recent rises in national greenhouse gas emissions, has stalled indefinitely, with decisions on more than $80bn of investments delayed due to a collapsed oil price sunk by coronavirus and a geopolitical price war.

The price of Brent crude oil is less than half what it was in early January, having fallen again on Friday despite the Opec oil cartel and its allies reaching a supply deal to stop Saudi Arabia and Russia flooding the world with more oil than it can use. The Asian spot price for LNG, which is linked to the oil benchmark, is down about two-thirds in six months.

The unprecedented crash had already prompted oil and gas giants to defer investment decisions on projects including Woodside’s massive Burrup Hub expansion off the Western Australian coast and Santos’ $7bn Barossa project 300km north of Darwin. A decision on the first parts of the Burrup Hub expansion, including a $17bn development of the Scarborough gas field, has been pushed to 2021.
» Read article     

» More about LNG         

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