Tag Archives: Merrimack Valley

Weekly News Check-In 8/28/20

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Welcome back.

The Department of Public Utilities held public hearings on the pending purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts by Eversource. This follows the disastrous series of fires and explosions in the Merrimack Valley two years ago. Many commenters shared a skepticism that transfer of corporate ownership would result in any public safety improvement. And as a growing list of communities push back against Big Gas, the first half of 2020 resulted in more pipelines being scrapped than were put into service.

In fossil fuel divestment news, a large Nordic hedge fund dumped its stock in some of the world’s foremost oil and mining companies – calling out those firms’ lobbying efforts against climate action.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Democrats published a plan for achieving a net-zero energy economy – offering a more general outline than the much more detailed work recently published by the House. Of course, any transformation of this magnitude displaces workers from mothballed industries. We’re keeping an eye on coal country where the upheaval is already underway, and where public support for a green future depends on jobs.

This week’s climate news features three separate studies, including a surprising revelation of global ice lost in recent decades, expanding tropical and arid climate zones, and techniques for optimizing carbon sequestration in natural forest systems.

The shear volume of reporting on clean energy makes it difficult to understand and prioritize the trends. We found an article that highlights the five most important technologies driving the energy transition. New York City has an immediate opportunity to apply some of these technologies as it grapples with plans to replace aging oil-burning “peaker” power plants. Meanwhile, New Hampshire is looking at ways for utilities to compensate operators of battery storage facilities for the services they provide the grid.

Not exactly green, but better than status quo is this week’s theme for clean transportation. We looked at aviation and heavy shipping and found news about cleaner, lower-carbon fuels being developed for both sectors.

The Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump has become a polluter’s best friend. The non-profit EcoWatch reports ten ways life has become more hazardous as a result.

The Guardian published an important report this week, detailing how the natural gas industry is working against climate action in a desperate and coordinated bid to uphold the fiction that it is a clean, low-emission “bridge fuel”. Meanwhile, in a not-so-subtle indicator of Big Oil’s declining power, the Dow Jones Industrial Average kicked ExxonMobil off the index – replacing it with Salesforce.com.

We wrap up with two stories from the liquefied natural gas beat. DeSmog Blog makes a case that the industry’s economics just don’t add up, so LNG can’t be profitably exported – especially to China. But it can be used to move natural gas domestically where pipelines aren’t available. If the Trump administration has its way, this highly concentrated and volatile fuel will soon be rumbling along in cryogenic train cars on a rail line near you.

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

— The NFGiM Team

COLUMBIA GAS INCIDENT / EVERSOURCE PURCHASE

EverColumbia
Not everyone happy about Columbia Gas deal
By Bill Kirk, Eagle-Tribune
August 25, 2020

Different company, same end result?

That pretty much sums up the fears of some Merrimack Valley residents who testified in front of the Department of Public Utilities during a Zoom public hearing Tuesday night to get input on the proposed buyout of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts by Eversource Energy.

“It feels like more of the same thing with a different name,” said Lawrence resident Justin Termini, who lived through the Sept. 13, 2018 gas explosions, fires and evacuations that left one dead and dozens injured. “I don’t feel safe. I’m disappointed in the whole idea. We want to feel safe and not get hurt again.”

The deal, prompted by the 2018 calamity, was crafted by the Massachusetts Attorney General with the cooperation of NiSource — the parent company of Columbia Gas — and Eversource, which currently has gas customers throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

This deal will double the number of its customers, as Eversource will take over all Columbia Gas customers in three regions of the state — Brockton, Springfield and Lawrence — if the deal is approved by the DPU.
» Read article          

» More about the Columbia Gas disaster     

PIPELINES

H1 2020 scap
More Gas Pipelines Scrapped Than Put In Service In H1 2020
By Charles Kennedy, oilprice.com
August 24, 2020

Some 5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of new pipeline capacity was placed into service in the United States in the first half this year, but an estimated 8.7 Bcf/d of pipeline projects have been canceled so far in 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Monday.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines            

DIVESTMENT

holding us backMajor investment firm dumps Exxon, Chevron and Rio Tinto stock
Storebrand says corporate lobbying to undermine climate solutions is ‘unacceptable’
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
August 24, 2020

A Nordic hedge fund worth more than $90bn (£68.6bn) has dumped its stocks in some of the world’s biggest oil companies and miners responsible for lobbying against climate action.

Storebrand, a Norwegian asset manager, divested from miner Rio Tinto as well as US oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron as part of a new climate policy targeting companies that use their political clout to block green policies.

The investor is one of many major financial institutions divesting from polluting industries, but is understood to be the first to dump shares in companies which use their influence to slow the pace of climate action.

Jan Erik Saugestad, the chief executive of Storebrand, said corporate lobbying activity designed to undermine solutions to “the greatest risks facing humanity” is “simply unacceptable”.
» Read article          

» More about divestment        

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Sen Dem plan
US law makers must ‘use every proven tool’ to create net zero economy
By Liam Stoker, PVTech
August 26, 2020

The US federal government must use every tool available, and do so at an unprecedented scale, if it is to sufficiently tackle the climate crisis and stimulate a clean economy.

The benefits of doing so, a new report published by the Senate Democrats claimed, would pose multiple benefits for US citizens, ranging from public health benefits to enormous job creation.

Yesterday (25 August 2020) the Senate Democrats published the report, dubbed ‘The Case for Climate Action’, which provides detailed recommendations on how the country could establish a clean economy for the good of its people.

The document claims that the federal government must “use every proven tool at its disposal”, and at a scale not seen before, in order to accelerate the decarbonisation of the US’ power supply. Included within these tools are;

  • Direct spending and financing of new build renewable generation
  • Investments in transmission to increase the effectiveness of the grid across the entire US
  • Ramp up the use of market mechanisms such as a federal clean energy standard or carbon price to scale-up clean technologies over fossil fuels
  • Predictable, technology-neutral tax incentives focused on reducing emissions
  • Increased R&D spending aimed at reducing the cost of associated technologies

The benefits of doing so, the senate democrats have argued, would be plentiful and extensive, ranging from reducing emissions, allowing consumers to save money on energy bills, improving health and wellbeing and creating sustainable jobs for US citizens in the wake of COVID-19.

Amongst specific recommendations included within the report is policy to make the adoption of solar, energy efficiency retrofits and electric vehicles more accessible to US citizens. Senate Democrats point to institutions created by the US government in the 1930s, which increased home ownership by making available more affordable mortgages. Similar institutions could and should be created today for this purpose.
» Read article 
» Read ‘The Case for Climate Action’

reclamation opportunities
Survival is anything but certain for coal country

Coal country is not without options. But coal’s long legacy of hope, promises and failure has instilled a political inertia that won’t soon be overcome.
By Dustin Bleizeffer and Mason Adams, Energy News Network
Photo By Dustin Bleizeffer / WyoFile
August 25, 2020

Perhaps the biggest factor when it comes to efforts to transition, for both Wyoming and Appalachia, is whether voters will continue to endorse efforts to save coal or help coal-dependent communities move beyond it.

States actively seeking coal transition strategies, such as Colorado, are looking toward securitization. It’s a refinancing tool that can help reduce the ratepayer impact of retiring coal units early. Portions of savings from securitization go toward renewable energy and community development projects, which can in turn attract additional funds from the federal government.

Grassroots nonprofit groups such as the Powder River Basin Resource Council (which hosted a series of four webinars this summer focusing on communities in transition), Appalachian Voices and others have generated a font of ideas for assisting communities in transition from coal.

In late June, a range of local, tribal and labor leaders from coal communities across America endorsed the National Economic Transition (NET) Platform, developed through a process led by the Just Transition Fund. (The Just Transition Fund also provided a grant to fund this series.) The platform outlines principles and processes, but largely leaves specific details to be developed by local communities.

Coalfield communities “literally fueled the growth of the nation,” said Peter Hille, president of the community economic development nonprofit Mountain Association in eastern Kentucky. “There is a debt to be paid. Justice demands we bring new investment to these places: to build a new economy, to revitalize communities and to educate people of all ages to be ready.”
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy      

CLIMATE

mushing for miraclesEarth has lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice in less than 30 years
‘Stunned’ scientists say there is little doubt global heating is to blame for the loss
By Robin McKie, The Guardian
August 23, 2020

A total of 28 trillion tonnes of ice have disappeared from the surface of the Earth since 1994. That is the stunning conclusion of UK scientists who have analysed satellite surveys of the planet’s poles, mountains and glaciers to measure how much ice coverage lost because of global heating triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientists – based at Leeds and Edinburgh universities and University College London – describe the level of ice loss as “staggering” and warn that their analysis indicates that sea level rises, triggered by melting glaciers and ice sheets, could reach a metre by the end of the century.

“To put that in context, every centimetre of sea level rise means about a million people will be displaced from their low-lying homelands,” said Professor Andy Shepherd, director of Leeds University’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.

The scientists also warn that the melting of ice in these quantities is now seriously reducing the planet’s ability to reflect solar radiation back into space. White ice is disappearing and the dark sea or soil exposed beneath it is absorbing more and more heat, further increasing the warming of the planet.

In addition, cold fresh water pouring from melting glaciers and ice sheets is causing major disruptions to the biological health of Arctic and Antarctic waters, while loss of glaciers in mountain ranges threatens to wipe out sources of fresh water on which local communities depend.
» Read article          
» Read the study

parched zones expanding
Hotter oceans make the tropics expand polewards
The tropical climate zones are not just warmer, they now cover more of the planet. Blame it on steadily hotter oceans.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 27, 2020

The tropics are on the march and US and German scientists think they know why: hotter oceans have taken control.

The parched, arid fringes of the hot, moist conditions that nourish the equatorial forest band around the middle of the globe are moving, unevenly, further north and south in response to climate change.

And the role of the ocean is made even more dramatic in the southern hemisphere: because the ocean south of the equator is so much bigger than in the north, the southward shift of the parched zone is even more pronounced.

Across the globe, things don’t look good for places like California, which has already suffered some of its worst droughts and fires on record, and  Australia, where drought and fire if possible have been even worse.

In the past century or so, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from what was once a stable average of 285 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures are now at least 1°C higher than they have been for most of human history.

Now a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres offers an answer. The expansion of the tropics has been driven by ocean warming.
» Read article         
» Read the study

faster recovery
Restoring forests can reduce greenhouse gases
In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 21, 2020

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.
» Read article    
» Read the report

» More about climate   

CLEAN ENERGY

five key technologies5 technologies propelling the energy transition
By Utility Dive Editors – series
August. 24, 2020

As states continue efforts to pursue clean energy targets, new technologies are emerging to help usher sweeping changes.

Utility Dive spoke with a wide array of experts to identify five key technologies that will propel the power sector’s transformation: green hydrogen, distributed energy aggregation, transmission development, fine-tuning wind and solar power, and power sector digitization.

This series is focused on technologies that could strengthen the grid, increasing reliability and making clean energy more affordable and available. Such developments are crucial to deploying higher levels of renewable energy onto the grid.
» Read article        

low hanging fruit
New York City’s hottest new energy fight
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost, in Grist
August 23, 2020

NRG Energy has quietly revived plans to replace its 50-year-old oil-burning generators with new gas-fired units, part of a $1.5 billion makeover the utility giant says will allow it to comply with state pollution rules while meeting electricity demand.

But the new cadre of climate-change hard-liners who unseated incumbents in this summer’s primary wants to upend that. The group of more than half a dozen campaigned for the New York State Legislature on platforms that included shutting down fossil fuel generation and bringing private utilities under government control.

“This is what it means to live out your belief in the Green New Deal,” said Zohran Mamdani as he squinted through the fence on a sunny recent Saturday morning. The 28-year-old democratic socialist unseated 10-year incumbent Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas in the Democratic primary for the 36th Assembly District last month.

New York City’s roughly 15 “peaker” plants — which produce extra generating capacity when the city’s demand eclipses the regular supply, like during a heatwave — are aging, and they run primarily on oil and gas. As the city looks to shrink its output of planet-heating gases, the plants seem like low-hanging fruit.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy      

ENERGY STORAGE

Concord capitol
New Hampshire looks for ways to pay battery owners for benefits they provide
A new state law asks regulators to investigate options for compensating energy storage projects for avoided distribution and transmission costs.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Alexis Horatius  / Wikimedia Commons
August 24, 2020

A well-placed battery has the potential to ease electric grid congestion, bolster resilience, and even postpone costly utility equipment upgrades.

Owners of energy storage systems are rarely compensated for all of that value, though, because most states simply haven’t calculated what it’s worth.

New Hampshire regulators will take a step toward fixing that problem as a new state law calls for them to study how energy storage projects might be made whole for the benefits they provide to the state’s electric grid.
» Read article           

» More about energy storage          

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

small steps
Sustainable aviation fuels could soon take flight
The Midwest is ready for takeoff as a leader in cleaner aviation, thanks to researchers in Ohio and elsewhere and a cleantech startup in Illinois.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
Photo by sigmama / Flickr / Creative Commons
August 28, 2020

Presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2020 conference last week outlined various approaches to developing sustainable aviation fuels and ways to reduce costs and time for approvals. So, even if rules for aircraft engines include a business-as-usual approach, the fuel they burn could have lower lifecycle emissions, compared to the current use of all fossil fuels.

“In most cases, the reductions come from the fact that our carbon molecules [are] pulled from the atmosphere by plants, or from other circular economy sources, instead of continuing to pull carbon molecules from the ground,” said research engineer Derek Vardon at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Vardon’s report at the American Chemical Society conference noted that while direct exhaust emissions would be generally comparable to those from regular jet fuel, the lifecycle emissions of greenhouse gases would be lower. Much of that could come from preventing emissions that would otherwise result from biogas feedstocks. Sustainable fuels would also avoid a chunk of emissions from fossil fuel extraction and production. And emissions of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants would be lower.
» Read article          

dirty fuelHydrogen Is Cleaning Up One Of The World’s Dirtiest Industries
By Haley Zaremba, Oilprice
August 27, 2020

“If all the ships on Earth were a single country, that country would be the sixth-largest polluter in the world.” This jaw-dropping fact comes from an NPR report from late last year. The shipping industry, by way of its massive scale and its dirty fuel, ranks just behind Japan in its pollution levels. But the shipping sector’s open approach to change makes it pretty unique.

Last year, Oilprice reported on what was then the most promising approach to provide the worldwide shipping industry with a meaner, greener fleet. This would be the implementation of hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has already been around for decades. Experiments with hydrogen-powered yachts were already underway, and one poll showed that the industry as a whole largely favored the implementation and adoption of hydrogen fuel cells within the next five years.

But the industry has not put all its eggs in one basket. Just this week the Maritime Executive reported on a brand new green shipping fuel option that South Korea is bringing to the table. “A new cooperation of South Korean companies is being formed to develop bio heavy fuel as an alternative for the shipping industry to meet its goal for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” wrote the Executive in its Monday report.

This marine biofuel would be created from biomass including “animal and plant oils, along with the production [residues] from the more common biodiesel fuel.” This reuse, reduce, recycle approach to shipping fuel would make for a much more eco-friendly shipping industry. As HMM has already found the materials as well as tested them out, all that’s left is bringing a product to market. “The partners will work together on R&D efforts to further establish standards for bio heavy oil and to commercialize the fuel through the development of a supply system,” reported the Executive. “If proven successful, the partners believe bio heavy fuel could become an alternative to the current fuels used in the shipping industry.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation         

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

toxic wake
Trump’s Toxic Wake: 10 Ways the EPA Has Made Life More Hazardous
By Melanie Benesh, Legislative Attorney with Environmental Working Group, in EcoWatch
August 23, 2020

From the beginning, the Trump administration has aggressively slashed environmental regulations. A New York Times analysis identified 100 environmental protections that have been reversed or are in the process of getting rolled back. The administration’s record on chemical safety has been especially hazardous for the health of Americans, especially children.

One year into President Trump’s term, EWG detailed how the Trump administration has stacked the Environmental Protection Agency with industry lawyers and lobbyists, undermined worker safety and cooked the books on chemical safety assessments. Midway through his second year, we reported how the EPA reversed a ban on a brain-damaging pesticide, delayed chemical bans and killed a rule to protect kids from toxic PCBs in schools. Last year, we reported that the EPA had rescinded safety rules at chemical plants, rubber-stamped untested new chemicals and silenced researchers.

As Trump’s first term nears its end, things are even worse. Here are 10 more ways the Trump administration has continued to make life more toxic for Americans.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA   

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Mentone flare
Revealed: how the gas industry is waging war against climate action
In a nationwide blitz, gas companies and their allies fight climate efforts that they consider an existential threat to their business
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
August 20, 2020

When progressive Seattle decided last year to wipe out its climate pollution within the decade, the city council vote in favor was unsurprisingly unanimous, and the easiest first step on that path was clear.

About one-third of the city’s climate footprint comes from buildings, in large part from burning “natural” gas for heating and cooking. Gas is a fossil fuel that releases carbon dioxide and far more potent methane into the atmosphere and heats the planet. It is plentiful and cheap, and it’s also a huge and increasing part of America’s climate challenge.

So, a city councilman drafted legislation to stop the problem from growing by banning gas hookups in new buildings. Suddenly, the first step didn’t look so easy.

“From there, we just ran into a wall of opposition,” said Alec Connon, a campaigner with the climate group 350 Seattle.

Local plumbers and pipe fitters warned of job losses. Realtors complained their clients would still want gas fireplaces. Building owners feared utility bills could soar.

The effort died. The ban wasn’t politically tenable, it seemed.

But internal records obtained by the Guardian show the measure’s defeat and the “wall of opposition” that advocates experienced were part of a sophisticated pushback plan from Seattle’s gas supplier, Puget Sound Energy.

Seattle’s story isn’t unique. In fact, it’s representative of a nationwide blitz by gas companies and their allies to beat back climate action they consider an existential threat to their business, according to emails, meeting agendas and public records reviewed by the Guardian.

The documents show the multibillion-dollar gas industry has built crucial local coalitions and hired high-powered operatives to torpedo cities’ anti-gas policies – sometimes assisted by money those same cities have paid into gas trade associations.
» Read article           

veggie oil refinery
Crude oil or cooking oil? For some U.S. refiners, it’s now a choice
By Stephanie Kelly and Laura Sanicola, Reuters
August 27, 2020

A slump in demand for gasoline since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has several refining companies accelerating their plans to retrofit facilities to produce so-called renewable diesel made from, among other things, used cooking oil from fast-food restaurants.

The shift helps, they say, because it allows them to tap into lucrative federal and state incentives for production of low carbon fuels at a time when slumping fuel demand has squeezed profit margins for conventional fuels like gasoline.

Renewable diesel fuel burns cleaner than conventional diesel and can run without blending. Refiners can produce it by converting gasoline-making units to hydrotreaters that can process soybean oil or used cooking grease.
» Read article          

replaced by Salesforce on djia
An Oil Giant’s Wall Street Fall: The World is Sending the Industry Signals, but is Exxon Listening?
The company, which dropped off the Dow this week, has remained defiant as the oil market has plummeted and its competitors have begun to shift gears.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
August 26, 2020

In case anyone doubted the existential threats bearing down on the oil industry, Wall Street delivered another sign that oil and gas companies are in deep trouble this week, with the announcement that ExxonMobil was falling off the Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index. While the decisive blow might have come from the novel coronavirus, which has sent oil demand plummeting, it’s becoming harder to dispute that the industry may be in irreversible decline, as governments accelerate efforts to tackle climate change and move away from fossil fuels.

The companies included in the Dow Jones index are meant to represent the might of American commerce, and Exxon and its predecessor Standard Oil of New Jersey had held a secure place on the list since 1928, the longest run of any company.

On Monday, however, the keeper of the list announced Exxon would be replaced by Salesforce.com, the software company, as part of a shakeup prompted by a stock split by Apple. It’s hard to imagine a more symbolic end to Exxon’s tenure.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

biz model blowupU.S. LNG Industry’s Business Model Doesn’t Work
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 25, 2020

In mid-July, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette signed an order authorizing the export of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a proposed $10 billion terminal and gas pipline project in Oregon. The news release accompanying Brouillette’s order hailed the approval as having “profound economic, energy security, and environmental implications, both at home and abroad.”

Although the project, known as the Jordan Cove LNG terminal, has struggled to obtain state permits and faces vocal opposition from tribes and others, this consistent Trump administration refrain has not changed. The Obama administration made similar claims about natural gas production and energy security, jobs, and the environment, when it oversaw a rapid expansion of the LNG export industry.

President Obama and President Trump were on the same page about LNG exports. They also share something else in common: They were both dead wrong.

The LNG export industry is an economic disaster and is also a climate disaster, factors that are both contributing to its downward spiral. And while the Department of Energy has talked about exporting “freedom gas” to American allies to improve energy security, when the largest potential customer is China and current headlines highlight a potential new U.S.-China cold war, that isn’t a very credible argument, either.

Just two weeks after Brouillette signed his order, and toured the Jordan Cove site in Coos Bay, the project appears to be dead in the water because the economics don’t work.
» Read article           

LNG by rail challenged
Environmental groups, states sue feds over LNG by rail
Federal regulation on transporting liquefied natural gas by rail goes into effect Monday
By Joanna Marsh, FreightWaves
August 24, 2020

Environmental groups, 14 states and the District of Columbia are suing federal agencies over regulation allowing the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) via rail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in June authorized the bulk transportation of LNG by rail, and the rule was expected to take effect Monday, a month after it was published in the Federal Register.

The rule, which was made in consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), allows for the bulk transportation of LNG using DOT-113 tank cars with enhanced outer tank requirements and additional operational controls.

But the states and the environmental groups argue that the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

U.S. House Democrats have also criticized federal agencies for moving along with LNG-by-rail regulations, saying more reviews on the safety and operational practices to haul LNG via rail need to be conducted.

The environmental groups that filed the lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last Tuesday include the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Mountain Watershed Association.

The states bringing the lawsuit before the federal court are Maryland, New York, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The Trump administration has been eager to export LNG. PHMSA and FRA have said previously that the regulation is the result of President Trump’s executive order recognizing the growing role of the U.S. as a producer of LNG in both domestic and international markets.
» Read article          

» More about LNG       

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Weekly News Check-In 6/26/20

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Welcome back.

With construction continuing at the Weymouth compressor station even though Enbridge’s air quality permit was recently vacated, we found a good review of the situation that includes a look  at what to expect in the future.

Three months after pleading guilty, Columbia Gas was sentenced to pay a $53 million criminal fine for its role in causing the 2018 Merrimack Valley disaster that killed one person and injured many more.

In what may be the most absurd application yet of a recent wave of state laws criminalizing civil protests, two activists in Louisiana were charged with “terrorizing” a lobbyist promoting a new plastics plant. Their menacing weapon was a box containing a collection of plastic pellets found polluting a nearby beach. After turning themselves in for this harmless “crime”, the two women were led away in handcuffs and leg manacles.

A useful tool for greening the economy is to quantify the cash value of services provided by the environment and ecosystem – clean air and water, pollinated food crops, insect and rodent control, etc. We found an interesting article exploring that concept. Of course another critical piece of the “greening” puzzle is equitably caring for people and communities that are currently supported by unsustainable industries that must be eliminated in favor of green alternatives. We have an immediate and urgent test case, because the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the timeline for coal’s demise.

The climate signaled a clear warning last week, with record-smashing temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit north of the Arctic circle. We’re suddenly seeing meteorological behavior that climate models didn’t anticipate until at least the end of the century. Meanwhile, a new study concludes that even “climate progressive” countries are falling far behind implementing steps to meet their targets under the Paris agreement. We’re much better at understanding the problem than at making known, necessary changes.

We take a sobering look at the cost of clean energy, focusing on U.S. demand for large-scale Canadian hydro power, and the resulting environmental devastation suffered by northern indigenous communities. To reduce demand for hydro, we’ll need alternative technologies – some of which are considered in this section.

Energy storage is facing a shortage of high-quality lithium for batteries as demand for them soars. Clean transportation requires a rapid upgrade of the existing maritime fleet to cleaner fuels and engines – rather that relying on attrition to replace older ships with new, green ones.

Legal troubles keep mounting for the fossil fuel industry. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and a grand jury concluded that the state’s regulators allowed the fracking industry to harm its citizens. Minnesota filed suit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute for lying to consumers about product safety. This is different from most other suits making their way through state courts, which seek compensation for damages related to climate change.

Finally, the woody biomass industry threatens the last of the temperate rainforest in British Columbia, and the newly-elected progressive Provincial government is weighing options to save it.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Senators weigh in again
Breathing Room for Weymouth: Compressor Station Air Permit Vacated by Federal Court
By Take Back The Grid, Blog Post
June 23, 2020

TakeBacktheGrid was thrilled to learn that on June 3, 2020, the First Circuit of the US Court of Appeals vacated the air quality permit for the fracked gas compressor station under construction in Weymouth, MA. The permit, originally granted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), allowed the parent company Enbridge to begin construction. The vacatur of this air quality permit is a welcome victory following a long string of defeats and setbacks for the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) who have opposed the construction of this compressor station for over five years. The MA DEP has 75 days (beginning June 3rd) to re-evaluate the cost efficacy of various technologies considered in the air permit.

We decided to dig into the text of this vacatur to learn more about the judge’s decision and what the implications are for Weymouth and surrounding communities in the months ahead.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

COLUMBIA GAS DISASTER

fifty-three big ones
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts ordered to pay $53M fine for explosions that killed The company has said it takes full responsibility for the disaster.
By Associated Press, in Boston.com
June 23, 2020

A utility company was ordered Tuesday to pay a $53 million criminal fine for causing a series of natural gas explosions in Massachusetts that killed one person and damaged dozens of homes.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was sentenced more than three months after the company pleaded guilty in federal court to causing the blasts that rocked three communities north of Boston in September 2018.

As part of the plea agreement, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will pay a $53 million fine for violating the Pipeline Safety Act. It’s the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the pipeline safety law.

The judge also sentenced the company to a three-year probation period during which its operations will be monitored to ensure its complying with safety regulations, authorities said.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts has said it takes full responsibility for the disaster.
» Read article        

» More about the Columbia Gas disaster

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

nurdleterror
US climate activists charged with ‘terrorizing’ lobbyist over plastic pollution stunt
Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh face up to 15 years in prison after delivering box of plastic pellets found as pollution
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
June 25, 2020

Environmental activists opposing a plastics manufacturing facility in Louisiana have been booked with a felony for “terrorizing” an oil and gas lobbyist by delivering a box of plastic pellets found as pollution in bays on the Texas coast.

Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh, with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, turned themselves into the Baton Rouge police department on Thursday, as first reported by the Times-Picayune.

The charges stem from a plastic pollution awareness event in December called “Nurdlefest”, which focused on the impacts of an expansive petrochemical and plastics complex approved to be built by Formosa Plastics in St James Parish.

Nurdles are the plastic pellets used to make plastic products. The Guardian has extensively covered the activism in its Cancer Town series from Reserve, Louisiana.

The offenses are punishable with up to 15 years in prison. The advocates’ lawyer, Pam Spees, with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the charges have no merit and seem to be meant to discourage protesters.
» Read article        

honor treaty rights
Across the U.S., Anti-Protest Laws Target Movements for Climate and Racial Justice
By Karen Sokol, Drilled News
June 19, 2020

As people nationwide are courageously fighting for Black lives by exercising their First Amendment rights to protest, even in the face of widespread police violence, 28 anti-protest bills are pending in 18 state legislatures and in Congress. Thirteen states have already enacted such legislation, with a total of 23 anti-protest laws currently in force. Indeed, these laws’ clear targeting of the exercise of free speech is so alarming that the rapid pace of their enactments all over the country led the International Center for Nonprofit Law to create a “U.S. Protest Law Tracker.”

The legislation has come in two waves, the first starting in 2016 in response to protests inspired by a police officer’s shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri and the creation of the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

The second wave of legislation began in 2017 and criminalizes protests near oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel industry infrastructure.The oil and gas industry began lobbying for such restrictions in response to the protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline….

These laws target protests of oil and gas pipelines and the polluting facilities they feed by declaring them “critical infrastructure” and making the unauthorized entry in or around them felony offenses subject to draconian penalties of imprisonment and fines. The oil and gas industry has been successful in its effort to silence protesters by criminalizing dissent essential to any just society: Since 2017, 11 states, including Louisiana and North Dakota, have enacted such legislation. Notably, three of those states enacted anti-protest “critical infrastructure” legislation under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic. Louisiana’s governor just vetoed a bill that would have made the penalties stiffer still. Meanwhile, a bill is currently pending at the federal level.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

gross ecosystem product
Nature’s accounts show what the world does for us
People go on getting richer, and the planet pays a mounting price. There’s a better way to balance nature’s accounts.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
June 24, 2020

LONDON, 24 June, 2020 – It may take a while to catch on, but one day the financial pages of the daily newspaper could be quoting a new register of national wealth: called gross ecosystem product, this way of balancing nature’s accounts makes clear how much we really depend on the Earth.

And it would be a real-world indicator of prosperity you could have confidence in: a measure in cash terms of the health of the forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife of both nations and regions and – more precisely – of the benefits heedless humans take for granted.

These include the insect pollination of crops; the control of insect pests by birds and bats; the supply of fresh, safe water from mountain streams, rivers, springs and lakes; the management of waste by scavengers and microbes; the recycling of nutrients; and all the myriad services provided by plants, animals and topography. This is sometimes called “natural capital.”

The measure has already formally been tested in one province in China and matched with the more familiar indicator: Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.
» Read article        

hard skills to transfer
Thousands of coal workers lost jobs. Where will they go?
As the long-shrinking coal industry hemorrhages jobs, states and local groups are seeking new ways to transition to a lower-carbon economy without leaving coal workers behind.
By Arianna Skibell, E&E News, in Energy News Network
Photo By Claudine Hellmuth / E&E News (illustration) / Cyndy Sims Parr / Wikipedia; ©b3d_ / Flickr
June 25, 2020

Dozens of coal workers stormed the Senate office building during the Maryland legislative session earlier this year to protest a plan that would phase out the state’s remaining six coal-fired power plants.

The bill in question included grant money for displaced workers and affected communities, but the local labor union dismissed the provision as inadequate.

“It was a non-starter,” said Jim Griffin, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1900. “Those bills were essentially written by the Sierra Club.”

David Smedick, a campaign representative with the Sierra Club who was active in supporting the measure, said Maryland’s transition away from coal should include support for affected workers, but he stressed the urgency of shutting the plants down.
» Read article        

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

simmering Siberia
‘This Scares Me,’ Says Bill McKibben as Arctic Hits 100.4°F—Hottest Temperature on Record
“100°F about 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle today in Siberia. That’s a first in all of recorded history. We are in a climate emergency.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
June 22, 2020

A small Siberian town north of the Arctic Circle reached 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, a figure that—if verified—would be the highest temperature reading in the region since record-keeping began in 1885.

“This scares me, I have to say,” environmentalist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted in response to news of the record-breaking reading in Verkhoyansk, where the average high temperature in June is 68°F.

Washington Post climate reporter Andrew Freedman noted Sunday that if the reading is confirmed, it “would be the northernmost 100-degree reading ever observed, and the highest temperature on record in the Arctic, a region that is warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the globe.”
» Read article            

factor of two‘Climate progressives’ fail on Paris carbon target
Even states seen as “climate progressives” are far from meeting their global commitments to avert dangerous climate change.
By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network
June 19, 2020

LONDON − Nations which pride themselves on their zeal in tackling climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions as they have promised, the so-called “climate progressives”, are a long way from living up to their promises, scientists say.

They say the annual rate that emissions are expected to be cut is less than half of that needed, and suggest the UK should reduce them by 10% each year, starting this year. It also needs to achieve a fully zero-carbon energy system by around 2035, they say, not 2050 as UK law requires.

The study was led by Kevin Anderson from the University of Manchester,  and is published in the journal Climate Policy.

Professor Anderson said the study showed how experts had underestimated the difficulty of tackling the climate crisis: “Academics have done an excellent job in understanding and communicating climate science, but the same cannot be said in relation to reducing emissions.

“Here we have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users. Our paper brings this failure into sharp focus.”
» Read article
» Read the study

formerly cool and dark
Forests are a solution to global warming. They’re also vulnerable to it.
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
June 25, 2020

Investing in forests to fight climate change seems like a sure bet. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, pump out oxygen, and live for decades. What could go wrong?

The answer, according to a newly published paper in Science, is: a lot. Fires, rising temperatures, disease, pests and humans all pose threats to forests, and as climate change escalates, so too do these threats. While forest-based solutions need to play an important role in addressing climate change, the risks to forests from climate change must also be considered.

“Current risks are not carefully considered and accounted for, much less these increased risks that forests are going to face in a warming climate,” William Anderegg, a biologist at the University of Utah and first author of the new paper, told Mongabay.
» Read article            
» Read the paper        

clear skies dataPandemic’s Cleaner Air Could Reshape What We Know About the Atmosphere
Coronavirus shutdowns have cut pollution, and that’s opened the door to a “giant, global environmental experiment” with potentially far-reaching consequences.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
June 25, 2020

WASHINGTON — In the crystalline air of the pandemic economy, climate change researchers have been flying a small plane over Route I-95, from Boston to Washington, measuring carbon dioxide levels. Scientists have mounted air quality monitors on Salt Lake City’s light rail system to create intersection-by-intersection atmospheric profiles.

And government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have started a Covid air quality study to gather and analyze samples of an atmosphere in which industrial soot, tailpipe emissions and greenhouse gases have plummeted to levels not seen in decades.

The data, from Manhattan to Milan to Mumbai, will inform scientists’ understanding of atmospheric chemistry, air pollution and public health for decades to come, while giving policymakers information to fine-tune air quality and climate change laws and regulations in hopes of maintaining at least some of the gains seen in the global shutdown as cars return to the roads and factories reopen.

Policy experts say the new data could even bolster legal fights against the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back major air pollution regulations. Early studies appear to show that even as the coronavirus took more than 100,000 American lives, deaths related to more typical respiratory illnesses like asthma and lung disease fell in the clean air, boosting the case that Mr. Trump’s environmental rollbacks will contribute to thousands of deaths.
» Read article            

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

RigoletUS demand for clean energy destroying Canada’s environment, indigenous peoples say
Push is inadvertently causing long-term environmental damage to the traditional hunting grounds on Inuit public lands
By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, The Guardian
June 22, 2020

Canada’s indigenous leaders say an unprecedented push for clean energy in the United States is inadvertently causing long-term environmental damage to the traditional hunting grounds on their public lands.

Rigolet lies downstream of Muskrat Falls, a $12.7bn dam on the Churchill River, a key drainage point for Labrador’s biggest watershed. Nalcor, the state-owned company that completed Muskrat Falls last year, is already planning Gull Island, another Churchill dam that would produce three times as much electricity, mostly for export to the US.

The Nunatsiavut government, which governs 2,700 Inuit in the area, says those dams will disrupt the hydrologic cycle underpinning the ecosystem, and increase exposure to a toxin associated with dam reservoirs.

When land is flooded, naturally occurring mercury is unlocked from the soil and vegetation and released into the water column, where it is taken up by bacteria and transformed into methylmercury, a neurotoxin that makes its way up the food chain and bioaccumulates in fish, waterbirds and seals.

Those species are critical to the sustainable lifestyle practiced by the Inuit.
» Read article        

prime impact
$50 Million Prime Impact Fund Launches to Invest in Early-Stage Cleantech
The fund screens startups for gigaton-level carbon-reduction potential.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
June 22, 2020

A new fund is channeling philanthropic dollars into early-stage clean technology investments in the hopes of catalyzing major climate-change impacts.

The Prime Impact Fund closed a $50 million raise in recent weeks and has already made eight investments. The fund uses an unusual structure: It screens prospective investments for their carbon-reduction potential in order to direct investment to high-impact technology companies that might struggle to find funding through conventional means.

The investment team is professionally trained in hard sciences; it is looking to cut checks up to around $5 million for the sort of hard-technology startup that would scare the Patagonia vest off a typical Silicon Valley investor.
» Read article        

wasserstoffstrategieGerman hydrogen economy to spark traded market for imports: consultants
By Vera Eckert, Reuters
June 22, 2020

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany’s push to increase the use of hydrogen as a clean fuel to meet climate targets will require imports and a traded market to supplement home-produced supplies, a consultancy close to protagonists in the emerging industry said.

“There will have to be a mix of domestic and foreign hydrogen volumes, depending on where the cheaper source is,” said Andreas Schwenzer, principal consultant at Horvath & Partners, which advises the gas network Open Grid Europe.

“The energy market is already discussing how a euro-denominated wholesale market can emerge,” he said in an interview.

Germany this month agreed a national hydrogen strategy, which in July will be embedded in a wider European Union plan for a fossil-free future for the bloc’s industries.

Germany, one of Europe’s biggest gas markets, consumes 55 terawatt hours annually of CO2-intensive hydrogen from natural gas.

But it lacks land and offshore resources to produce sufficient carbon-free hydrogen from renewable energy to meet the EU goal to reduce net emissions to zero by 2050.
» Read article        

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

looming lithium shortage
Battery makers face looming shortages of high-quality lithium

By Guy Burdick, Utility Dive
June 25, 2020

Battery makers are facing a shortage of lithium, and ongoing financial problems in markets suppressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to industry insiders at an Atlantic Council panel on Wednesday.

Despite material shortages, lithium-ion markets are taking off and supply problems will not result from a shortage of lithium raw materials, panelists said.

“What matters is the production of a high-purity, high-quality chemical that can be used in battery manufacturing,” Kumar said. “The number of companies that can produce a large volume of these high-purity chemicals is very small and they are constantly capital-constrained.”
» Read article        

» More about energy storage         

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Puffy McPuff Face
Clean ships needed now to cut polluting emissions

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.
By Kieran Cooke, Climate News Network
June 25th, 2020

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”
» Read article        
» Read the study on maritime traffic emissions         

10-4 little buddy
New Rule in California Will Require Zero-Emissions Trucks
More than half of trucks sold in the state must be zero-emissions by 2035, and all of them by 2045.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 25, 2020

Rebuffing strong opposition from industry, California on Thursday adopted a landmark rule requiring more than half of all trucks sold in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035, a move that is expected to improve local air quality, rein in greenhouse gas emissions and sharply curtail the state’s dependence on oil.

The rule, the first in the United States, represents a victory for communities that have long suffered from truck emissions — particularly pollution from the diesel trucks that feed the sprawling hubs that serve the state’s booming e-commerce industry. On one freeway in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, near the nation’s largest concentration of Amazon warehouses, a community group recently counted almost 1,200 delivery trucks passing in one hour.

Oil companies, together with farming and other industries, opposed the measure, calling it unrealistic, expensive and an example of regulatory overreach. Truck and engine manufacturers also opposed the rule, and began a last-ditch effort in March to delay it, saying companies were already suffering from the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.
» Read article        
» Read California Air Resources Board (CARB) fact sheet

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

PA grand jury slams shale gas oversightState AG Shapiro: Grand jury report reveals Pa.’s systemic failure to regulate shale gas industry
By Don Hopey and Laura Legere, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 25, 2020

A statewide grand jury investigating the operations and regulation of the shale gas drilling industry has issued a scathing report detailing the systemic failure of the state environment and health departments in regulating the industry and protecting public health.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who released the 235-page report on the grand jury’s two-year investigation Thursday morning, said it uncovers the “initial failure” more than a dozen years ago of the state Department of Environmental Protection to respond to and regulate the shale gas industry and the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

And, while the Wolf administration has made improvements at the agency, the grand jury said, there remains room for improvement.

“This report is about preventing the failures of our past from continuing into our future,” Mr. Shapiro said. “It’s about the big fights we must take on to protect Pennsylvanians — to ensure that their voices are not drowned out by those with bigger wallets and better connections. There remains a profound gap between our constitutional mandate for clean air and pure water, and the realities facing Pennsylvanians who live in the shadow of fracking giants and their investors.”
» Read article        
» Read the grand jury report

consumer fraud in MN
Alleging Consumer Fraud, Minnesota Sues Exxon, Koch, and API for Climate Change Deception
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
June 24, 2020

Minnesota on Wednesday joined the growing number of states and municipalities seeking damages from the fossil fuel industry for knowingly deceiving consumers about climate change and its impacts. But Attorney General Keith Ellison is charting a different and potentially groundbreaking legal course from those lawsuits, by suing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute under state laws that prohibit lying to consumers.

To date the majority of this generation of climate suits are nuisance cases. They allege that fossil fuel companies’ efforts to misinform the public on climate change successfully delayed for decades any regulations and other actions to slow or stop it, creating the need for billions of dollars in mitigation costs that municipal and state governments could otherwise have avoided. In those cases, which include among others suits filed by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, Calif., and Boulder, Colo.,, the plaintiffs are seeking damages: They want fossil fuel companies to pay their fair share of the cost of climate adaptation.

The Minnesota case is different in a few key ways:
» Read article        
» Read the complaint        
» Read Attorney General Ellison’s press release            

SCOTUS photo
Fossil Fuel Companies and Their Supporters Ask Supreme Court to Intervene in Climate Lawsuits
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
June 23, 2020

California communities last month got an important procedural win in their efforts to get fossil fuel companies to pay for climate-related impacts. On May 26, a federal appeals court ruled that their lawsuits could go ahead in state court, which is their preferred venue, rather than federal court.

Similar lawsuits filed by Colorado communities, Baltimore, and Rhode Island are also marching on in state courts following unsuccessful attempts by fossil fuel companies to have the cases heard in federal courts, where they are more likely to be dismissed. Overall, the communities lodging these legal battles seem to be gaining momentum.

However, some of the companies facing those lawsuits appear to be gearing up for a larger battle, looking to the Supreme Court to weigh in and using their network of promoters to continue attacking these lawsuits outside the courtroom.

One such supporter of fossil fuel companies is the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP). An initiative of the trade group the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), it’s designed to push back against climate litigation targeting NAM members such as ExxonMobil and Chevron. Since the project launched in November 2017, MAP has been fiercely criticizing climate liability lawsuits like those in California.

In the wake of the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, MAP Special Counsel Phil Goldberg issued a statement calling on the Supreme Court to take a definitive stance on these climate cases.
» Read article               
» Read the MAP statement

closing time
Support grows for taxpayer-funded oil well cleanup as an economic stimulus
Democrats leading the push say their plan has no real downside, while critics say it gives the industry a pass.
By Mark Olalde, Energy News Network
June 23, 2020

When the U.S. was fighting to emerge from the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched ambitious public works projects to put people back on the job. Now, with the country in the midst of another crushing economic slowdown, can cleaning up oil and gas wells fill in as a similar stimulus?

Environmental groups have generally supported the plan if it focuses on orphan wells and comes with the possibility of bonding reform. “We strongly urge you to take steps to ensure this orphaned well problem does not reoccur due to insufficient bonding standards,” Sara Kendall, program director with the Western Organization of Resource Councils, which advocates for landowners and the environment, said during the June 1 forum.

And a report published Thursday by CarbonTracker found the industry is facing hundreds of billions of dollars of cleanup costs, most of which it will be unable to fund.

A federal program would come with precedent. Canada recently unveiled a very similar push, which included CA$1.7 billion for orphan well cleanup, nearly all that money as a grant that wouldn’t need to be paid back.

Regan Boychuk is a Canadian environmentalist and expert on well decommissioning costs with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, a coalition of landowners, former regulators and other stakeholders. He said that it’s “wonderful to put people back to work, wonderful to get this stuff cleaned up. But if the wrong people are paying for it, we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

In America, some green groups agree with Boychuk and oppose the centrist approach of paying for — some say subsidizing — the oil and gas industry’s cleanup with potentially minimal strings attached.
» Read article               
» Read the Carbon Tracker report       

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

white rhino
British Columbia poised to lose ‘white rhino of old growth forests’
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
June 22, 2020

The lush, green interior of British Columbia, Canada, is renowned as the home of one of the last-remaining inland temperate rainforests on earth. BC’s towering, centuries-old red cedar, western hemlock, spruce and subalpine fir make up a wet, complex ecosystem brimming with wildlife, ranging from endangered woodland caribou, grizzlies, diverse birdlife and tiny lichens.

But the province’s rare old-growth forests are shrinking dramatically due to encroaching timber harvesting, especially for wood-pellets used to fuel the industrial biomass-burning industry, now fast replacing coal-fired electrical power plants around the globe.

British Columbia’s old-growth is in desperate need of protection, according to the stark findings of two recent studies prepared for the Victoria-based provincial government, which for the first time in a generation is considering a new old-growth forest management plan that could permanently save what’s left from chainsaws, sawmills and wood pelletizing plants.

“Almost every productive ecosystem across BC has very low levels of old forest remaining, and in many areas of BC, this remaining productive old growth is at risk of being logged in the next five years,” said Rachel Holt, a forest ecologist and co-author of one of the studies. “Current provincial policies are inadequate to protect old-growth ecosystems. And without immediate change to both the policy and how it is implemented, BC is on a path to losing these irreplaceable forests forever.”

“We want to stop the harvesting of primary forests here, and we think the forest industry should start focusing on second-growth forests,” said Michelle Connolly, a forest ecologist with the environmental advocacy group Conservation North, which provided research for a second study. “With the advent of bioenergy [wood pellets for export], we have to extend our area of immediate concern to all primary forests. None of it is safe now.”
» Read article        

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 6/19/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

We covered a lot of ground this week, but similar themes cropped up with a frequency that made the journey feel like running laps on an oval track.

With the Weymouth compressor station air quality permit recently vacated by court order, Massachusetts’ two U.S. Senators have sent a letter to Federal regulators demanding a halt to construction. Their prior letter sought a stop-work order due to public health concerns related to the construction itself.

In the Merrimack Valley, some attorneys handling settlement claims against Columbia Gas for the 2018 disaster are skimming fees. The practice is being called out as double-dipping at victims’ expense.

We found three great articles for our Protests and Actions section, exploring how fossil fuel supporters along with the conservative lobbying group ALEC are attempting to criminalize non-violent acts of civil disobedience – especially against pipelines and similar infrastructure projects. Louisiana’s Democratic governor recently vetoed such a bill, but in West Virginia some forms of nonviolent direct action are now felony offenses carrying steep fines and jail time.

Other pipeline news includes a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. Farther west, a farm in Nebraska transferred a small plot of land to the Ponca Tribe – a move that will force TransCanada to negotiate under terms of the tribe’s special legal status for Keystone XL pipeline right-of-way.

In divestment news, dozens of Massachusetts lawmakers have asked insurance giant Liberty Mutual to stop investing in or providing coverage for fossil fuel projects – including the Keystone XL and Mariner East pipelines.

Our Greening the Economy section has a critique of the International Energy Agency’s recent report on its vision for a sustainable recovery – plus an essay from CBS News on why America needs social justice. This is all about reversing climate change, which is made doubly difficult by the twin threats of over-abundant cows and anti-science department managers at all levels of government agencies.

Even clean energy and clean transportation face threats from shadowy groups spreading confusion and disinformation. But we found progress there too – like initiatives taking hold in New England to offer rebates on the purchase of electric bikes.

We close with three articles on the fossil fuel industry. The first two describe deceptions and regulatory agency influence aimed at extending fossil’s destructive run. The last shows BP finally dipping a toe into the cool, clear, pool of reality – writing billions of dollars off the value of its reserves in a first, tentative admission to shareholders that the company doesn’t expect to actually burn it all up.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Senators weigh in again
With Air Permit Vacated, Senators Call For Construction To Stop On Weymouth Compressor
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
June 19, 2020

On Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey wrote to federal regulators asking to halt construction of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth. The letter comes after a federal court vacated the compressor’s air permit earlier this month.

“Given the invalidation of the facility’s air quality permit, construction must stop immediately,” the senators wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate gas transmission.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) granted the air quality permit after contentious hearings last May, during which MassDEP admitted that the project’s provisional air permit was based on incomplete data. On June 3, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that MassDEP did not follow its own established procedures, and vacated the permit.
» Read article            
» Read the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor station   

COLUMBIA GAS DISASTER

Gas disaster settlement fees in question
By Jill Harmacinski, Eagle Tribune
June 13, 2020

A total of $26.1 million of the $143 million Merrimack Valley gas explosion class-action settlement was earmarked for payment of legal fees and administrative costs.

And yet, some victims are being asked to pay an 11% fee to get their checks, which are compensation for everything from spoiled food and property damage, to lodging costs, mental anguish and other fallout from the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster.

The first round of checks was recently issued with an average settlement payment of $8,000. Eleven percent of that payment is $880.

As of Friday, a spokesperson for Attorney General Maura Healey said the office had heard from eight recipients about the fee being assessed by attorney David Raimondo of the Raimondo Law Firm. Healey’s office is looking into this.
» Read article             

» More about Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley disaster      

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

assault on accountability
From the Streets to the Courts, Fossil Fuel Is Trying to Outlaw Climate Accountability
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
June 12, 2020

There are a couple ways so-called “average” Americans can try to hold the powerful to account: We can take to the streets or take to the courts. But for decades, powerful industries and their allies in state houses nationwide have been slowly, surgically narrowing those options.

Now, with an alarming number of states moving to criminalize protest, and a renewed effort to push “tort reform,” a euphemism for eroding the public’s ability to hold companies legally and financially liable for the harms they cause, these two key tools are very much in danger.

The social movements of the 1960s and 1970s brought big wins for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and environmental and consumer protections. In a lot of ways, efforts to roll back those wins over the last several few decades have been one long counter-reaction to those initial reforms.
» Read article            

Governor Edwards
Louisiana’s Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Imposed Harsh Penalties for Trespassing on Industrial Land
Activists had argued that the law, if enacted, would intimidate opponents of pipelines and chemical plants by threatening prison sentences for minor infractions.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
June 13, 2020

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday vetoed a bill that would have stiffened penalties for trespassing on pipelines, levees and a long list of other facilities in the state. The veto handed a victory to civil liberties advocates and local organizers, who said the bill would have trampled on their right to protest industrial development.

The legislation would have imposed a mandatory minimum three-year sentence for stepping onto “critical infrastructure” during a state of emergency and expanded the list of what falls under that definition, to include flood control structures, which criss-cross the state.

Advocates said the bill would have extended the reach of an already vague law that imposes harsh penalties for trespassing on oil and gas industry land and other sites.
» Read article             

new WVA felonyA Powerful Petrochemical Lobbying Group Advanced Anti-Protest Legislation in the Midst of the Pandemic
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
June 7 2020

One day after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the governor quietly signed into law the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the law created new felony penalties for protest actions targeting oil and gas facilities, as the state continues to confront opposition to two massive natural gas pipelines designed to cut through delicate forests, streams, and farmland.

If construction is completed, the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would transport gas extracted via fracking in West Virginia to markets in Virginia and North Carolina, passing through the crumbly limestone landscapes known as karst that underly much of the mountainous region. Such projects are key to keeping fracking companies operating at a time when gas prices are at historic lows and allowing a booming petrochemical industry to continue its expansion. Local landowners and residents concerned with environmental issues have attempted to stop construction by locking themselves to equipment and camping out in trees in the pipelines’ paths. Along with more conventional actions such as lawsuits, the protest efforts have cost the projects’ backers billions of dollars in delays.

Now, a person who trespasses on a West Virginia property containing “critical infrastructure” with the intention of defacing or inhibiting operations could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The law creates a new felony and fines of up to $20,000 for any person who conspires to deface or vandalize such properties if the resulting damage is more than $2,500. “Critical infrastructure” is defined as an array of oil and gas facilities including petroleum refineries, compressor stations, liquid natural gas terminals, and pipelines.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions      

PIPELINES

the pipeline stops here
Supreme Court clears way for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

By Lyndsey Gilpin, Grist
June 15, 2020

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday. By a 7 to 2 margin, the court reversed a lower court’s decision and upheld a permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service that the project’s developers could tunnel under a section of the iconic wilderness in Virginia.

The case looked at whether the Forest Service had authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant rights-of-way within national forest lands traversed by the Appalachian Trail. “A right-of-way between two agencies grants only an easement across the land, not jurisdiction over the land itself,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s opinion. So the Forest Service had enough authority over the land to grant the permit. The dissent, by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, argued that the “outcome is inconsistent with the language of three statutes, longstanding agency practice, and common sense.”

Though this decision is significant, it doesn’t determine the ultimate fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. While the Supreme Court has granted the Forest Service the ability to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ striking down of the Forest Service’s permit still stands. Dominion is required to look at other routes that avoid parcels of protected federal land, and the Forest Service is prohibited from approving a route across these lands, if reasonable alternatives exist, according to [Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center].
» Read article            
» Read the Supreme Court decision        

Ponca land acquisition
‘Historic First’: Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
June 15, 2018

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government’s long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

At a deed-signing ceremony earlier this week, farmers Art and Helen Tanderup transferred to the tribe a 1.6-acre plot of land that falls on Ponca “Trail of Tears.”

Now, as the Omaha World-Herald explained, rather than battling the farmers, “TransCanada will have to negotiate with a new landowner, one that has special legal status as a tribe.”

The transfer was celebrated by members of the Ponca Tribe as well as environmental advocates who oppose the construction of the pipeline and continue to demand a total transition to renewable energy.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines        

DIVESTMENT

Liberty unveiled
Massachusetts lawmakers ask Liberty Mutual to stop financing fossil fuels
As other major insurers commit to backing off oil and gas projects, activists say Liberty Mutual isn’t keeping pace.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By User54871 / Wikimedia Commons
June 18, 2020

Dozens of Massachusetts state legislators have sent a letter asking Boston-based insurance giant Liberty Mutual to stop investing in or providing coverage for fossil fuel projects. The demands are the latest move in an ongoing campaign to fight climate change by undermining financial support for fossil fuel extraction and development.

“Arguably, the main reason that these projects keep getting built is because there are still companies willing to provide the insurance for what is becoming more and more of a risky project,” said state Sen. James Eldridge, one of the lawmakers who organized the effort. “It really doesn’t make environmental or financial sense.”

Liberty Mutual is the fifth-largest property-casualty insurance company in the United States, with just under $39 billion in premium revenue in 2019. While other major insurance companies, especially in Europe, have announced plans to stop covering and investing in fossil fuel projects, Liberty Mutual’s commitment has not kept pace, activists argue.

Liberty Mutual’s clients include some major, and controversial, fossil fuel projects, including the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada and the Pacific Northwest, and the Mariner East II natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania. Further, the insurer has $8.9 billion invested in fossil fuel companies or utilities that make extensive use of fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about divesting from fossil fuels        

GREENING THE ECONOMY

IEA sustainable recovery
Oil Change International Response to IEA Sustainable Recovery Report
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International, Press Release
June 18, 2020

“The IEA again misses the mark where it matters the most, completely ignoring the link between sustainable recovery and staying within 1.5°C of warming. Nowhere in the report is there mention of the critical 1.5-degree warming limit, let alone analysis of what’s needed for a recovery plan to be fully aligned with it.

“As trillions of dollars shift as part of the COVID-19 recovery, governments need clarity on the bold and decisive steps required to halve carbon emissions within this decade, the key guidepost laid out by climate scientists for staying within 1.5°C. This report does not deliver it.

“While eventually concluding the obvious, that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the best recovery investments, the IEA does not assess how governments can drive a transition to those solutions at the pace and scale needed to meet global climate goals. Moreover, the IEA sends confusing messages by considering measures that would prolong, rather than phase out, fossil fuels.
» Read full press release                
» Read the IEA report           

NY for clean power
Why America Needs Environmental Justice
By Jeff Berardelli, CBS News
June 16, 2020

In recent weeks, our nation has been forced to come to grips with the variety of ways in which inequality harms minority communities, from the death of George Floyd at the hands of police to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. A recent Harvard study concluded that air pollution — which is typically worse in areas with larger minority populations — is linked to higher coronavirus death rates, along with a slew of other health problems.

This is just one form of environmental injustice, which Peggy Shepard has dedicated the better part of her life to combating. Shepard is the co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York City nonprofit organization that’s been working to improve the environment of local communities since 1988. The mission of WE ACT is to “build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.”

Environmental justice has become a mainstream topic recently as awareness grows of the worsening impacts of climate change and the proposal for a Green New Deal. So this week CBS News asked Peggy Shepard to discuss how environmental issues disproportionately impact minority communities and what needs to be done to fix that. Here is a portion of that conversation.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy     

CLIMATE

cow burps
Don’t have a cow, but Big Dairy’s climate footprint is as big as the UK’s
By Joseph Winters, Grist
June 18, 2020

If dairy cows were a country, they would have the same climate impact as the entire United Kingdom. That’s according to a new analysis from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), which considered the combined annual emissions from the world’s 13 largest dairy operations in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available.

The institute’s report follows up on a similar analysis the organization undertook for 2015. That year, the IATP found that the five largest meat and dairy companies combined had emissions portfolios greater than those of some of the world’s largest oil companies, like ExxonMobil and Shell. Most of the emissions were from meat, but this latest report finds that dairy remains a significant and growing source of emissions: In the two years between reports, the 13 top dairy companies’ emissions grew 11 percent — a 32.3 million metric ton increase in greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions that would be released by adding an extra 6.9 million cars to the road for a year.

Dairy emissions come mostly from the cows themselves — specifically, from their notorious burps. Fermentation processes in cows’ stomachs produce the byproduct methane, which doesn’t stick around in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide but absorbs more heat. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says methane from ruminants like cows are an important contributor to the increase of atmospheric methane levels.
» Read article            
» Read the IATP analysis
» Read the 2015 IATP analysis on meat & dairy emissions

agency corrosion
A War Against Climate Science, Waged by Washington’s Rank and File
Efforts to block research on climate change don’t just come from the Trump political appointees on top. Lower managers in government are taking their cues, and running with them.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
June 15, 2020

WASHINGTON — Efforts to undermine climate change science in the federal government, once orchestrated largely by President Trump’s political appointees, are now increasingly driven by midlevel managers trying to protect their jobs and budgets and wary of the scrutiny of senior officials, according to interviews and newly revealed reports and surveys.

Government experts said they have been surprised at the speed with which federal workers have internalized President Trump’s antagonism for climate science, and called the new landscape dangerous.

“If top-level administrators issued a really clear public directive, there would be an uproar and a pushback, and it would be easier to combat,” said Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, which supports scientists. “This is a lot harder to fight.”

An inspector general’s report at the Environmental Protection Agency made public in May found that almost 400 employees surveyed in 2018 believed a manager had interfered with or suppressed the release of scientific information, but they never reported the violations. A separate Union of Concerned Scientists survey in 2018 of more than 63,000 federal employees across 16 agencies identified the E.P.A. and Department of Interior as having the least trustworthy leadership in matters of scientific integrity.
» Read article            
» Read the inspector general’s report

» More about climate             

CLEAN ENERGY

Boulder panels
Inside Clean Energy: Rooftop Solar Could Lose Big in Federal Regulatory Case
Regulators are considering a proposal one opponent called “pretty close to saying solar is illegal.”
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
June 18, 2020

Rooftop solar as we know it is under threat from a case before federal regulators, and a broad array of clean energy advocates and state officials are getting nervous.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering a request from an obscure consumer group that wants to end net metering, which is the compensation mechanism that allows solar owners to sell their excess electricity to the grid. By selling the electricity they don’t need, solar owners get credits on their utility bills, producing savings that help to cover the costs of solar systems.

Monday was the deadline to file comments in the case, and those who responded were overwhelmingly opposed to the petition, but clean energy advocates say there is still a real chance that FERC will decide to throw out state laws that allow net metering.
» Read article            

growth spurt
GE will make taller wind turbines using 3D-printing
Turbines with a 3D-printed base could be taller than the Seattle Space Needle
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 17, 2020

GE announced today that it’s developing skyscraper-sized wind turbines with massive 3D-printed bases. The conglomerate plans to work with partners in the construction industry to produce both a printer and materials that could eventually be deployed around the world.

Taller turbines can capitalize on stronger winds at higher altitudes, and the structures support larger blades that generate more power. But building bigger turbines makes transporting the pieces needed to put it together a logistical nightmare. GE hopes to 3D print the base of a turbine wherever they want to place it, so that they won’t need to haul around such a gigantic hunk of concrete or steel. The company says its onshore turbines could reach up to 200 meters tall, which is taller than the Seattle Space Needle and more than double the average height for wind turbines in the US today.
» Read article            

CCUS subsidies
Carbon Capture Will Require Large Public Subsidies to Support Coal and Gas Power
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
June 15, 2020

In April, the Center for Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University released a report concluding that, without major new subsidies from the American public, technologies for capturing heat-trapping carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas-fired power plants will remain uneconomical.

However, CGEP, which has a history of strongly supporting the interests of the fossil fuel industry, concludes in this report that the government should implement new publicly financed policies in order to ensure investors are willing to take the risk of investing in carbon capture — and use the public to backstop that risk so those investors make money.

While prices for renewable energy continue to fall, this report is suggesting that prices for gas and coal-fired power will have to increase if CCUS is implemented.

The report also leaves no doubt that this will require significant policy changes and subsidies, concluding that “additional incentives are needed to stimulate private investment in CCUS projects and to scale deployment.”

Carbon capture is currently a favored approach for the fossil fuel industry because it is premised on long-term use of fossil fuels. One reason investors are hesitant to put their money into risky carbon capture projects is the fact that renewable power generation offers a better investment opportunity — while also being carbon free.
» Read article           
» Read the CGEP report

» More about clean energy                 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

RapidRide
Transportation Fairness Alliance Revealed: Behind the Oil Industry’s Latest Attack on Electric Cars
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
June 18, 2020

Earlier this spring, while much of the nation’s attention focused on the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. oil and gas industry quietly launched a new coalition using messaging that invokes “transportation fairness.” Like other petroleum interest front groups that have campaigned against clean transportation measures, this new coalition appears poised to counter policies designed to accelerate the transition away from petroleum-powered transportation.

The Transportation Fairness Alliance (TFA), as the new coalition is called, describes itself as “a diverse partnership of businesses, associations, and organizations that support a competitive and equitable transportation sector. Collectively, we represent our nation’s manufacturers, small business owners, farmers, and folks who pay utility bills.”

Despite claims of “diversity” and “equity,” the coalition is comprised mainly of oil and gas trade associations with a vested interest in maintaining the petroleum-dependent transportation system status quo. Logos for these trade associations appear near the bottom of the website’s “About Us” section, making it no secret who is funding and driving this new alliance.

The coalition outlines its policy positions and statements of principle on its website. Many rely on easily debunked talking points and cherry-picked data that have been perpetuated by the oil industry for years.
» Read article            

e-bike rebate
In New England, declining car sales prompt call for electric bike rebate
s
Supporters in Connecticut argue that e-bike incentives, like those in Vermont, would be a timely investment.
By Lisa Prevost and David Thill, Energy News Network
Photo By Richard Masoner / Flickr / Creative Commons
June 17, 2020

As interest in cycling rises and electric vehicle sales drop off amid the pandemic, advocates are calling on Connecticut officials to extend the state’s rebate program to include electric bicycles.

About 80 organizations, businesses and individuals have signed a letter to state officials seeking rebates for e-bikes, which use an electric motor to amplify the rider’s pedal force and are seen as a way to replace car trips. The state’s existing electric vehicle rebate program is “inequitable,” they argue, because it only applies to electric cars, which are unaffordable for many middle- to lower-income households.

The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program, or CHEAPR, has $3 million in annual funding. Spending that money may be a challenge this year with car sales depressed, and that makes the addition of e-bike rebates particularly timely, said Anthony Cherolis, an avid cyclist and coordinator of Transport Hartford, which is leading the effort.

“I could see an e-bike rebate from $200 to $500 as a game-changer for the equity and mobility of low-income households, particularly in Connecticut’s large cities,” said Cherolis, who noted that about a third of households in Hartford do not own a car.
» Read article          
» Read the sign-on letter         

» More about clean transportation          

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

cookin with gas
The gas industry is paying Instagram influencers to gush over gas stoves
By Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones, in Grist
June 19, 2020

Amber Kelley has a “super-cool way” to make fish tacos. “You’re going to start with the natural gas flame,” the teenage one-time Food Network Star Kids winner explained in a professionally produced video to her 6,700 Instagram followers, adding, “because the flames actually come up, you can heat and cook your tortilla.”

Kelley’s not the only Instagram influencer praising the flames of her stove. “Chef Jenna,” a 20-something with cool-girl rainbow hair and 15,800 followers, posted, “Who’s up for some breakfast-for-dinner? Chef Jenna is bringing you some stovetop Huevos Rancheros this evening! Did you know natural gas provides better cooking results? Pretty nifty, huh?!” The Instagram account @kokoshanne, an “adventurous mama” with 131,000 followers, wrote in a post about easy weeknight dinners that natural gas “helps cook food faster.”

The gas cooking Instatrend is no accident. It’s the result of a carefully orchestrated campaign dreamed up by marketers for representatives with the American Gas Association and American Public Gas Association, two trade groups that draw their funding from a mix of investor- and publicly owned utilities. Since at least 2018, social media and wellness personalities have been hired to post more than 100 posts extolling the virtues of their stoves in sponsored posts. Documents from the fossil fuel watchdog Climate Investigations Center show that another trade group, the American Public Gas Association, intends to spend another $300,000 on its millennial-centric “Natural Gas Genius” campaign in 2020.
» Read article            

Bill Cooper DoE
From Hurricane Maria to COVID, Gas Lobbyist-turned-Trump Energy Lawyer Uses Crises as ‘Opportunity’
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
June 14, 2020

Among a string of recent environmental rollbacks, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) aims to vastly narrow the scope of environmental reviews for those applying for liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits. The proposal has been guided by Bill Cooper, a former oil and gas industry lobbyist who’s now a top lawyer for the DOE.

On May 1, the DOE issued a proposal to limit environmental reviews for LNG export permit proposals so that the review applies to only the export process itself — literally “occurring at or after the point of export.” The rule would take off the table for consideration lifecycle greenhouse gas analyses, broader looks at both build-outs of pipelines and power plants attached to the export proposals, and other potential environmental impacts.

It comes as many larger forces up the pressure on LNG projects: The oil and gas industry is facing financial crisis, exports of fracked gas to the global market are steeply waning, and the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic nosedive are marching on in the United States.
» Read article           

BP or not to BP
“Historic moment” as BP writes-off billions of reserves as stranded assets
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 16, 2020

For years, climate activists have been warning Big Oil and their loyal investors that there would come a time when their most prized assets, their oil, would become their greatest liability, due to climate change. They came up with a term for the concept: stranded assets.

At first, activists were dismissed out of hand. Oil majors and pundits said the world would always need more oil. And so companies carried on drilling. But slowly, the concept gained traction amongst influential climate scientists, investors, and bankers such as Mark Carney, the ex-Governor of the Bank of England.

In 2015, Carney warned about the risks of climate change — or as he called it — the “tragedy of the horizon.” Carney cautioned that “the vast majority of reserves” of oil, gas, and coal could become “stranded” and literally become “un-burnable.”

Climate reality has finally caught up with BP’s corporate dreamland that it could carry on drilling forever. Bernard Looney, chief executive of BP, said, “we have reset our price outlook to reflect that impact and the likelihood of greater efforts to ‘build back better’ towards a Paris-consistent world.”
» Read article            

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 2/28/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

More allies have joined the fight against the Weymouth compressor station. Both Massachusetts U.S. Senators and Rep. Stephen Lynch have asked FERC Chairman Chatterjee to send federal inspectors to the construction site to address concerns.

In other pipeline news, the 125 mile Constitution Pipeline planned to run through Pennsylvania and New York, has been cancelled after eight years of resistance. The developer, Williams Companies, reported a $345M write-off.

Columbia Gas plead guilty to criminal charges related to the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster, and will pay a $53M fine. Eversource will buy Columbia’s Massachusetts operations.

In climate news, we learned that the Environmental Protection Agency has relaxed leak detection regulations on refrigerants. This saves businesses money but allows higher volumes of these powerful greenhouse gas polluters to vent into the atmosphere.

In the clean energy department, we found news that a Michigan electric utility has developed a renewable energy transition plan that may challenge other utilities to do better. Troubling news from Massachusetts though – solar installations have stalled for a variety of reasons.

Tesla is making a splash in clean transportation, approaching 400 miles of driving range in their new Model S.

We spotted plenty of dark clouds over the fossil fuel industry. Both Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have refused to finance drilling in the Arctic. Meanwhile, Canadian energy developer Teck Resources has withdrawn its bid to develop a huge new oil sands operation in Alberta.

In the plastics/fracking connection, Congressional Democrats introduced a bill that would impose a 3-year moratorium on new plant construction in parts of Appalachia and the Gulf Coast. This is motivated by the alarming buildup of ethane cracker plants and related industrial infrastructure aimed at turning fracked gas into plastic products like single-use water bottles.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

N Phillips
Nathan Phillips, Who Went On Hunger Strike To Stop The Weymouth Compressor Station, Calls On Gov. Baker To Denounce The Project
By Zoe Mathews, WGBH
February 27, 2020

Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips didn’t eat for two weeks to raise awareness to serious climate implications he says are related to a compressor station sited in Weymouth. He had three demands during his hunger strike: that more is done to decontaminate trucks leaving the site ; that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) test old burner bricks on the property for asbestos; and that the state install a permanent air monitor near the site.

Of those demands, the state has so far only committed to installing an air monitor near the site. Phillips joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to discuss what’s next.
» Listen to report     

requesting the Feds
Legislators ask federal regulators to inspect compressor site
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
February 21, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Several members of Congress are calling on federal regulators to send inspectors to the construction site of the natural gas compressor station to ensure crews are following the approved plan and protocols.

U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch sent a letter Friday to Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, asking that he send inspectors to the compressor site due to concerns from residents and local officials that construction crews are not following the approved plans.

“Community members have raised concerns over potential changes to the traffic pattern for construction vehicles, the soil removal process, and the construction height of pylons needed to raise the construction site to a safe level,” the letter reads. “An on-site FERC inspection would help either confirm or allay concerns that misconduct is taking place.”

The compressor station is being built by Algonquin, a subsidiary of Enbridge, and is part of the Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the Houston company’s pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Algonquin got the final go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November and started cleanup of existing contamination at the site shortly after.
» Read article       

risk study requested
Risk study sought for Weymouth compressor area
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
February 21, 2020

A high-pressure gas pipeline underneath the Fore River Bridge and a future gas conduit for a compressor station being built nearby pose explosion risks that could disrupt travel across the overpass, according to several South Shore lawmakers.

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R- Weymouth, and his legislature colleagues are requesting Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to order a risk assessment of the Fore River Basin.

“We want MassDOT to analyze all the risks with respect to the Fore River Bridge and all the major points that include the Citgo Terminal, and the MBTA buses that use the bridge,” O’Connor said. “These things are incredibly important, and we want to know what the risks are with this compressor station being built.”
» Read article       

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

OTHER PIPELINES

Pittsburgh bumming
Major Pennsylvania-New York gas pipeline scrapped
By Paul J. Gough, Pittsburgh Business Times
February 24, 2020

A proposed natural gas pipeline that would have brought Pennsylvania natural gas to New York has been canceled.

The Williams Cos. confirmed late Friday it will not be moving ahead with the Constitution Pipeline, a 125-mile route that had been approved in 2014 but ran into controversy, including opposition by New York state officials.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams said in a statement published by The Daily Star newspaper and Kallanish Energy. Williams didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

While the pipeline would have been on the other side of Pennsylvania, there are local connections: Williams’ regional headquarters is in Pittsburgh and the regional headquarters of one of its partners on the Constitution Pipeline, Cabot Oil and Gas (NYSE: COG), is also in the Pittsburgh region. The other partners are Duke Energy and AltaGas.
» Read article       

Williams scraps Constitution Pipeline project
By Carl Surran, Seeking Alpha
February 21, 2020

Williams (NYSE:WMB) says it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, the proposed 650K dth/day Pennsylvania to New York natural gas pipeline that triggered an eight-year battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams says.
» Read article       

Constitution scrapped
Constitution Pipeline Project Scrapped
Victory: Decision is a major win for advocates fighting to protect clean water and our climate
By Moneen Nasmith, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice
February 21, 2020
“Defeating the Constitution Pipeline is an enormous victory for advocates who have been fighting for eight years to protect New York State and its waterways. At this critical moment for our climate, we cannot afford unnecessary fossil fuel projects that will lead to more fracking and exacerbate our climate crisis. It’s time to embrace a 100% clean energy future, and today’s news is an important step in the right direction.”

On behalf of clients such as Catskill Mountainkeeper, Riverkeeper, and Sierra Club, Earthjustice has been engaged in close partnership with other groups in numerous legal battles to stop the project, including challenging the original approval of the pipeline by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and helping to defend the State of New York’s decision to deny Constitution’s application for a critical permit under the Clean Water Act.
» Read article       

energy giant backs out
Energy giant backs out of Constitution Pipeline
By Joe Mahoney, The Daily Star
February 21, 202
0

ALBANY — Williams Companies, the Oklahoma energy giant, confirmed Friday that it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that triggered a prolonged battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates.

“Williams — with support from its partners, Duke, Cabot and AltaGas — has halted investment in the proposed Constitution project,” the company said in response to questions from CNHI.

“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams added.

Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer who helped form the opposition group Stop the Pipeline, said the group “fought this epic 8-year battle with courage, conviction and intelligence, adding: “Perseverance pays off.”

Williams disclosed this week in a financial report that the investors in the Constitution Pipeline took a $345 million “impairment,” suggesting that the investment in the mammoth 124-mile pipeline was being written off.
» Read article       

Stop the Pipeline - logo
Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead!
By Anne Marie Garti, Stop the Pipeline
February 20, 2020

Williams has written off its investment in the proposed Constitution Pipeline and stated that work on it has ended.

After more than 8 years of fighting, the company is throwing in the towel and walking away from its failed bid to build this enormous and unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure project. The Constitution Pipeline is dead!
» Read post        

» More about other pipelines    

COLUMBIA GAS

gas utilities service areas
Baker Cites ‘Real Benefits’ In Eversource-Columbia Gas Deal
By Colin A. Young, SHNS, on WGBH News
February 27, 2020

“First of all, I think all of us were glad to see the U.S. attorney take this one on and to see Columbia settle it in the way that they did because, obviously, it sends a big message about safety which we think is critical and important,” Baker said Thursday. He added, “Obviously, we had a lot of experience with Eversource up in up in the Merrimack Valley during that terrible tragedy a couple years ago and I think we saw at that point in time that there are real benefits to having a locally-owned, locally-managed company worrying about utility issues.”

In the days following the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, Baker declared a state of emergency and used the authority that afforded him to replace Columbia Gas and put Eversource in charge of the recovery efforts “on behalf of the Commonwealth.” Baker said at the time that he believed the switch would “make a big difference” in the relationship between what state and local officials are told, and what actually happens.
» Read article       

the fallout
Columbia Gas Will Pay $53M Fine For Merrimack Valley Explosions
By WBZ, CBS Boston Channel 4
February 26, 2020

BOSTON (CBS) – Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will pay a $53 million fine for its role in the deadly 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions. As part of a plea agreement, the company will also sell its business in Massachusetts. Eversource announced Wednesday night it has reached an agreement to purchase the natural gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion.

The FBI Boston said a joint investigation led to the decision to hold Columbia Gas “criminally & financially accountable” for the explosions and fires that killed a young man and damaged or destroyed several homes and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on September 13, 2018.

Money from the fine will go to the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said during a Wednesday press conference that Columbia Gas agreed to plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act.

“This is by far the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the Pipeline Safety Act,” said Lelling, adding that “this disaster was caused by a wholesale management failure” on the part of Columbia Gas.
» Read article       

» More about Columbia Gas and Merrimack Valley disaster

CLIMATE

fridge rules relaxed
New EPA Rule Change Saves Industry Money but Exacts a Climate Cost
The reversal of an Obama-era regulation relaxes leak detection rules for climate super-pollutants.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
February 28, 2020

For the latest Trump Administration rollback of Environmental Protection Agency rules, the math goes something like this: The change will save businesses and industries $24 million a year. Earth’s atmosphere, on the other hand, will receive emissions of pollutants equivalent to at least 625,000 new cars being added to the road.

This week, EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler signed a new rule that relaxes the requirements that owners and operators of refrigeration equipment have leak detection and maintenance programs for hydrofluorocarbons, a set of refrigerants often referred to as “climate super-pollutants.”

The rule change—the latest reversal of an Obama-era regulation—was part of the administration’s agenda to ease burdens on industry.
» Read article        

bots in denial
Revealed: quarter of all tweets about climate crisis produced by bots

Draft of Brown study says findings suggest ‘substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 21, 2020

The social media conversation over the climate crisis is being reshaped by an army of automated Twitter bots, with a new analysis finding that a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots, the Guardian can reveal.

The stunning levels of Twitter bot activity on topics related to global heating and the climate crisis is distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise.

An analysis of millions of tweets from around the period when Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement found that bots tended to applaud the president for his actions and spread misinformation about the science.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

raising the bar
Inside Clean Energy: A Michigan Utility Just Raised the Bar on Emissions-Cutting Plans
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 27, 2020

At least a half-dozen U.S. utilities have released plans to get to net-zero emissions, or close to it, by 2050. Now a Michigan company has elbowed its way into the mix and said, “We can top that.”

Consumers Energy of Jackson, Michigan, said this week that it will get to net-zero emissions by 2040, the fastest timetable of any major utility in the country.

The company is doing this with a plan that differs from those of the other utilities and includes building no new fossil-fuel power plants.
» Read article       

MA solar stumbles
As Massachusetts solar installs plummet, stalled interconnections, land use questions are key hurdles
Last year, solar installments slowed and jobs disappeared in Massachusetts. Now, developers are trying to overcome regulatory barriers and local opposition to land development.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
February 27, 2020

New England clouds can’t keep the power of the sun from Massachusetts — but stalled interconnection queues and land use concerns are giving developers pause, according to panelists at this year’s Solar and Storage Northeast conference in Boston.

Massachusetts in 2018 launched its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program — with incentives intended to spur an additional 1.6 GW of solar by 2020. The state quickly exceeded that goal and currently has 2.5 GW of solar installed, with almost 1 GW in the interconnection queue.

But in 2019, Massachusetts’ solar industry hit a rut — new installations fell 50% and the sector’s workforce shrank by 30%, according to a September Vote Solar report. Meanwhile, rural opposition led to tensions among developers, municipalities and some conservationists, and some towns considered or put in place temporary solar bans.
» Read article

FERC blows NYISOFERC deals blow to New York renewable, storage projects, adding hurdles to NYISO capacity market
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
February 21, 2020

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved four separate orders to narrow exemptions of buyer-side mitigation (BSM) market rules in the New York Independent System Operator’s (NYISO) capacity zones during Thursday’s public meeting, which critics say will stifle the competitiveness of clean energy resources.

The decisions would make it more difficult for new clean energy projects expected in the state to clear NYISO’s capacity auction. Clean energy advocates say bidding into NYISO’s capacity market is critical to the financial viability of projects like offshore wind and energy storage.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Tesla approaching 400
Inside Clean Energy: Tesla Gets Ever So Close to 400 Miles of Range

The increased range is a step toward bringing EVs—and their contribution to combating climate change—into the mainstream.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
February 20, 2020

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that his company’s Model S sedan now has an estimated range of more than 390 miles, the result of hardware and software improvements.

Last year, AAA issued a report showing range loss of about 40 percent when it tested five EV models in cold temperatures, and also found some loss during unusually hot weather. The models tested were the BMW i3s, the Chevrolet Bolt, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

Automakers’ efforts to expand range are a way to counteract the many factors that can reduce range, said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean vehicles program.

The aim for automakers is to reassure customers that an EV can work for them, even if few people would drive their EV more than 300 miles.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation  

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

arctic divestment
Goldman Sachs Refuses to Finance Drilling in the Arctic
The bank is the first in the US to make this commitment
By Chloe Zilliac, Sierra Magazine
February 26, 2020

In December, Goldman Sachs became the first US bank to announce that it would no longer finance oil projects in the Arctic, citing concerns about how drilling would affect the Indigenous peoples of Alaska and endangered species and how it would contribute to the climate crisis. The bank’s new lending policy is a milestone in the fight to preserve the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress opened for drilling in 2017.
» Read article       
» Update: At the end of February, JPMorgan Chase became the second US bank to announce that it would not finance oil and gas extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Read about it
here.

real-time monitoring
Momentum Builds to Monitor Cancer Alley Air Pollution in Real Time After Exxon Refinery Fire in Louisiana
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
February 24, 2020

A large fire at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge oil refinery late on February 11 lit up the sky for miles and continued until dawn. The night of the fire, ExxonMobil representatives claimed that air monitoring inside the plant and in surrounding neighborhoods did not detect the release of harmful concentrations of chemicals, a claim echoed by first responders and state regulators. What unfolded, however, reinforced a growing community movement to require real-time independent air pollution monitoring at industrial facilities.
» Read article       

no path forward
Canada Oil-Sands Plan Collapses Over Politics and Economics
A developer has abandoned a nine-year effort to extend mining, sparing Justin Trudeau a choice between energy interests and environmental concerns.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
February 24, 2020

A major effort to expand development of Canada’s oil sands has collapsed shortly before a deadline for government approval, undone by investor concerns over oil’s future and the political fault lines between economic and environmental priorities.

Nine years in the planning, the project would have increased Canada’s oil production by roughly 5 percent. But it would have also slashed through 24,000 acres of boreal forest and released millions of tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide every year.

Some Canadian oil executives had predicted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet would approve the project by a regulatory deadline this week, though with burdensome conditions. But in a letter released Sunday night, the Vancouver-based developer, Teck Resources, declared that “there is no constructive path forward.”

The oil sands are a watery mixture of sand and clay soaked with a dense, viscous form of petroleum known as bitumen. But in addition to being a fossil fuel, bitumen is difficult to extract and energy-intensive to process.
» Read article       

tar sands canned
Mining Company’s Decision Lets Trudeau Off Hook, But Doesn’t Resolve Canada’s Climate Debate
While the cancellation of the tar sands mine, planned for Alberta, was a victory for activists, low oil prices meant the project was unlikely to move forward.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
February 24, 2020

A Canadian mining company’s announcement that it would shelve a major oil project spared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a difficult decision that had pitted his Liberal Party base and environmental advocates against the country’s powerful oil industry and the Western provinces whose economies rely on it.

The decision Sunday came just days before the government was set to decide whether to approve a mine planned by Teck Resources Limited that would have been one of the country’s largest oil sands operations yet.

But the Frontier mine’s fate may have been sealed more by market economics than by whether Trudeau approved the project or not: It was unlikely to have been built anytime soon, if at all. And by canceling the project before a final regulatory decision was issued, Teck Resources avoided the controversy that would surely have continued no matter the government’s decision.
» Read article       

Teck out
Canadian mining giant withdraws plans for C$20bn tar sands project
Teck Resources’ surprise decision drew outrage from politicians in oil-rich Alberta and cheers from environmental groups
By Guardian staff and agencies, The Guardian
February 24, 2020

A Canadian mining giant has withdrawn plans for a massive C$20.6bn ($15.7bn) tar sands mine, days before the federal government was to decide on whether to approve the controversial project.

Teck Resources’ surprise decision to withdraw from open pit Frontier Mine project landed as a bombshell on Sunday night, prompting outrage from politicians in oil-rich Alberta and cheers from environmental groups.
» Read article       

Permian going bust
To Many’s Dismay, Permian Produces More Gas and Condensate Instead of Oil and Profits
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
February 21, 2020

As oil prices plummet, oil bankruptcies mount, and investors shun the shale industry, America’s top oil field — the Permian shale that straddles Texas and New Mexico — faces many new challenges that make profits appear more elusive than ever for the financially failing shale oil industry.

Many of those problems can be traced to two issues for the Permian Basin: The quality of its oil and the sheer volume of natural gas coming from its oil wells.

The latter issue comes as natural gas fetches record low prices in both U.S. and global markets. Prices for natural gas in Texas are often negative — meaning oil producers have to pay someone to take their natural gas, or, without any infrastructure to capture and process it, they burn (flare) or vent (directly release) the gas.

As DeSmog has detailed, much of the best oil-producing shale in the Permian already has been drilled and fracked over the past decade. And so operators have moved on to drill in less productive areas, one of which is the Delaware sub-basin of the Permian. Taking a close look at the Delaware Basin highlights many of the current challenges facing Permian oil producers.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

ethane cracker
Congressional Democrats Join the Debate Over Plastics’ Booming Future

A new bill would impose a three-year moratorium on new plant construction in parts of Appalachia and the Gulf Coast.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
February 21, 2020

As industry and local authorities count thousands of new jobs and millions in tax revenues, battle lines have been drawn. Scientists warn of premature deaths from air pollution. Environmentalists foresee a plastics climate bomb. And now congressional Democrats have entered the fray, proposing a three-year moratorium on all new plastics plant construction nationwide, while the National Academy of Science studies the consequences of such a build-out on health and climate change.

A far-reaching bill that Democrats call the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, has nary a Republican sponsor. But the legislation, which would also hold plastics manufacturers responsible for cleaning up plastic waste, helps frame a raging national debate over plastics in an election year. And it could set the stage for action on plastics reform, should the Democrats defeat President Trump and win the Senate.
» Read article       

» More about the plastics-fracking connection

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Weekly News Check-In 11/1/19

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

On the local scene, we’re following the Weymouth compressor station, a proposed pipeline replacement/enlargement in Ashland, and continuing consequences to Columbia Gas for last year’s disaster in the Merrimack Valley.

With the Trump administration attempting to relax safety rules for oil transport by rail, we’re keeping a close eye on virtual pipeline news. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts legislature is considering the 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983), to address climate change and pivot away from fossil fuels.

Reporting on climate includes a new study illuminating what types of forests sequester the most carbon. And Canadian youth have now joined others in suing their government for climate inaction that threatens their future. Progress toward that future is highlighted in stories on energy efficiency, clean energy alternatives, clean transportation, and battery storage.

We come into the home stretch with a routine basket of news about fossil fuel bankruptcies, denials, and deceptions, and a warning that the promoters of biomass appear to have a tailwind because of favorable changes to legislation and regulations – in spite of warnings from the science and environmental communities. Heads up, Massachusetts – the Baker administration is trying very hard to classify biomass as clean, renewable, and carbon neutral.

We close this week with a notable advancement in plastics recycling from startup Carbios. They have developed a way to biologically break down many types of plastic and then make new plastic without degradation.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor protesters
Planning agency seeks review of Weymouth compressor study
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, reprinted in The Patriot Ledger
October 28, 2019

BOSTON — Five months after it became clear that a study clearing the way for a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth was based on incomplete data, the regional planning agency that produced it is seeking an outside review to determine if its conclusions were in error.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council announced last week that it had hired London-based Public Health by Design to re-examine its health impact assessment, which found that there would be “no substantial changes in health” for Weymouth and the surrounding communities as a result of the gas plant’s operations. The assessment’s findings have been cited by the Baker administration in approvals of project permits.

In May, amid a contentious appeal process over an air-quality permit the state issued, the Department of Environmental Protection revealed that the data used in the MAPC’s work was less than two-thirds of what regulators had originally sought. The MAPC soon said that its original conclusions could not be assumed to remain valid.
» Read article     

compressor site WBUR
With Permits Upheld, Weymouth Compressor Opponents Plan Legal Challenge
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
October 25, 2019

Massachusetts’ lead environmental regulator upheld wetlands and waterways permits for a natural gas compressor station, drawing renewed promises of a legal challenge from opponents.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg on Thursday announced that the two permits would go forward after facing an appeal from opponents in the community, an expected step after the DEP’s hearing officer earlier this week recommended allowing the approval to stand.

On Friday morning, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said it would appeal the decision to Superior Court, arguing the permits in fact violate environmental regulations. The group had said earlier it would challenge Suuberg’s decision.
» Read article     

» More on Weymouth compressor station

ASHLAND PIPELINE

Ashland residents rally against Eversource natural gas pipeline project
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
October 3, 2019

ASHLAND- Deeply troubled over Eversource’s plan to replace a 3.7-mile natural gas line that runs through town, Joel Arbeitman can’t help but feel that the state’s review system has taken away residents’ power to decide what should happen in their town.

“Right now, we have this case in front of the Energy Facilitates Siting Board. We don’t get to decide what happens in our community. They do. We could go to court. We can fight, but ultimately, they decide and that’s a problem,” Arbeitman said Wednesday in Ashland’s Senior Community Center.

Arbeitman was one of at least 30 people who attended Wednesday’s session during which a student documentary “Under Pressure” about last year’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions was screened. Eversource’s local pipeline project was the central focus during the question-and-answer portion of the night’s discussion.

The company is looking to decommission a six-inch 3.7-mile gas line that runs through Ashland and Hopkinton and place new 12-inch pipes alongside them. The company said the project is needed to improve line pressure and better serve customers in Greater Framingham. The easement intersects through the property of more than 80 Ashland homes, two parcels owned by the town, the Chestnut Street Apartments and a number of environmentally sensitive areas, including portions of the wetlands and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.
» Read article     

FSU professor: Eversource pipe proposal is not necessary
Metro West Daily
April 13, 2019

Lawrence McKenna, an earth and environmental science associate professor at Framingham State University, recently completed a report on the pipeline project. He says he sees some flaws, which he relayed to Ashland selectmen earlier this month.

McKenna’s takeaway: There is no immediate need for pipes to be replaced and doubled in size. In fact, current piping “is reliable at the 99.999% level,” he said.

“Ashland has time, because there is no emergency,” McKenna told the Daily News. “Ashland has time to have a vigorous honest debate about where this pipeline should go and why.”

Eversource officials declined to address the professor’s findings, noting that their proposal is still being reviewed by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB).
» Read article  

» More on Ashland pipeline

COLUMBIA GAS – MERRIMACK VALLEY

North Andover Selectmen Ask For Town Voice In Columbia Gas Audit
By Christopher Huffaker, The Patch
October 29, 2019

North Andover’s selectmen are asking the state to give them more of a role in oversight of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions restoration work. On Oct. 2, the state ordered that Columbia Gas pay for an audit of all gas pipeline work they’ve done since the deadly explosions. North Andover asked in a letter sent that the engineering firm Environmental Partners, which they partnered with alongside Andover and Lawrence following the accident, participate in the audit.

“It is important that the towns have a voice and independent oversight in this process. We hope that this work will begin soon so that we have a final determination on whether the work completed was done correctly,” Town Manager Melissa Rodrigues wrote on behalf of the selectmen.
» Read article  

» More on Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

oil train explosion
Four States, Led by New York, Challenge Trump Admin Over Oil Train Safety Rule
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 29, 2019

On October 23, New York Attorney General Letitia James, joined by attorneys general from Maryland, New Jersey, and California, sent a letter of support to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) over a Washington state law that would limit the volatility of oil transported by train through the state.

That oil originates in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana, where trains help take the place of scarce pipelines in order to move fracked crude oil to Washington’s refineries and ports along the coast. North Dakota and Montana have fought back against Washington’s law, which was passed in May, and filed a petition to PHMSA in protest just two months later.

Spurred by safety concerns about oil trains derailing and exploding, the Washington law would cap the vapor pressure of crude oil moved by rail at 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi) and would be triggered by a rise in oil train traffic in the state.
» Read article     

tanker train
California Attorney General pushes back on regulation of trains carrying flammable oil being retained at the federal level
By David C. Lester, RT&S
October 28, 2019

Several states are pushing back on the notion that regulation of crude oil trains in the United States belongs in the hands of the federal government, as opposed to being regulated by the states.  The Sierra Times reports that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation, and expressed support of the State of Washington efforts to retain state control with laws that limit the vapor pressure level in cars that are carrying very flammable crude oil by rail.

Interestingly, North Dakota and Montana are opposed to these Washington state laws, and the Attorney General’s letter expressed opposition to the position of these two states.  The transportation of crude oil by rail is relatively safe, but an accident can have disastrous consequences. The railroads have made efforts to minimize the impact of oil train derailments by building stronger tank cars that are better equipped to retain leaks and prevent fires.

However, if things go wrong, as they have in past years before stronger tank cars were in place, all bets are off as to the level of havoc that can be wrought by derailments.  In fact, many refer to these trains as “bomb trains,” as violent explosions and intense heat can result from derailments. Trains moving in California often pass areas that are among California’s very sensitive ecological areas, as well as highly populated communities.  Several states have noted that the Environmental Protection Agency has not been active in keeping communities safe, and have failed to enact more robust standards, putting areas through which the trains pass at risk.
» Read article     

LNG on trains for export
Trump Admin Proposes New Rule to Allow Shipping Flammable LNG by Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 25, 2019

While the DOT press release announcing the rulemaking emphasizes safety (the word or a variant is repeated no fewer than eight times), the actual document proposing this new rule details a worrisome scenario for what could happen if a train of LNG tank cars derails, breaching and releasing the liquefied fossil fuel — what PHMSA calls “Scenario 3”:

“Although Scenario 3 has a low probability, a breached inner tank during a transportation accident could have a high consequence because of the higher probability of a fire due to the formation of a flammable gas vapor/air mixture in the immediate vicinity of the spilled LNG. This probability is based on the likelihood of ignition sources (sparks, hot surfaces, etc.) being generated by other equipment, rail cars, or vehicles involved in a transportation accident that could ignite a flammable vapor cloud.”

According to PHMSA, the derailment of a train full of LNG could have “high consequences” — as in, a major fire or explosion — but because the agency says there are lower odds that it would happen, the public should feel assured this proposed transportation mode, using DOT-113 rail tank cars, is safe.
» Read article     

» More on virtual pipelines

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

A roadmap for combatting climate change
Let’s build on Global Warming Solutions Act
By Joan Meschino and Alyssa Rayman-Read, CommonWealth Magazine
October 26, 2019

Massachusetts has been a leader in the fight against climate change. Yet, several alarming reports by top climate scientists have made it clear that this fight is just beginning. If we are serious about safeguarding the character and nature of our communities, we must take action now. We need a bold commitment to addressing the climate crisis that includes concrete steps for reaching net-zero carbon emissions while promoting a just transition to a clean energy economy.

That is why 59 legislators in the Massachusetts House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle, have signed onto the 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983). Developed with input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including labor and business leaders, local officials, environmentalists, and our utilities, the 2050 Roadmap Bill is a bold response to the crisis currently at our doorstep. The bill gives us a plan for steadily reducing our carbon pollution, while ensuring that the opportunities and benefits of a cleaner, healthier, more just economy are enjoyed by everyone in Massachusetts.
» Read article    
» Read 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983)

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

forest damage - Peru
In the Fight Against Climate Change, Not All Forests Are Equal
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
October 30, 2019

Forests are a great bulwark against climate change, so programs to reduce deforestation are important. Those efforts usually focus on stopping the destruction in areas where it is already occurring.

But a new study suggests these programs would do well to also preserve forests where deforestation and degradation haven’t begun. Gradual loss of these largely pristine, intact forests has a much greater climate impact than previously accounted for, the researchers said.

Immediate clearing of intact forests, what might be considered “classic” deforestation, over that period accounted for about 3 percent of global emissions from deforestation in all tropical forests, the researchers said. But when they looked at other, more gradual types of loss and disturbance — forests that had been opened to selective logging for firewood, for example, or road-building that exposed more trees to drying or windy conditions — they found that the carbon impact increased sixfold over the period.
» Read article    
» Read study

A Couple A’s, One F: Again, A Mixed Environmental Report Card For Baker
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
October 29, 2019

Six of the state’s leading environmental organizations gave Gov. Charlie Baker mixed grades on environmental issues.

Each year, the groups release a report card assessing the administration’s performance in nine categories. While Baker enjoyed two A’s and two B’s in this year’s report, he also earned two C’s, two D’s and an F.

“The takeaway is a mixed record on environmental issues,” said Nancy Goodman, vice president for policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
» Read article    
» Read report

Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows
By Denise Lu and Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 29, 2019

Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities.

The authors of a paper published Tuesday developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic. The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury.
» Read article     

Secret Deal Helped Housing Industry Stop Tougher Rules on Climate Change
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 26, 2019

A secret agreement has allowed the nation’s homebuilders to make it much easier to block changes to building codes that would require new houses to better address climate change, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The agreement shows that homebuilders accrued “excessive power over the development of regulations that governed them,” said Bill Fay, head of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, which has pushed for more aggressive standards. Homes accounted for nearly one-fifth of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions nationwide last year.

The consequences of the [2002] deal between the code council and homebuilders are easiest to measure when it comes to energy efficiency, which came under the influence of the homebuilders’ agreement in 2011.

Until that point, the model building codes had drastically improved the energy efficiency of new homes with each new three-year edition. The 2009 and 2012 development cycles together reduced homeowners’ annual energy costs by 32 percent, according to an analysis by the Department of Energy.

Then, after energy-efficiency codes fell under the agreement between the code council and the homebuilders, that momentum ground to a halt. The 2015 codes, the first to be negotiated after the change, reduced residential energy use and costs by less than 1 percent, the Energy Department found. Savings from the 2018 codes were less than 2 percent.
» Read article     

children's climate lawsuit Canada
15 Canadian Kids Sue Their Government for Failing to Address Climate Change
The young plaintiffs are already dealing with effects of wildfires, flooding and thawing permafrost. They say the government is contributing to the climate crisis.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
October 25, 2019

Fifteen children and teenagers from across Canada sued their government on Friday for supporting fossil fuels that drive climate change, which they say is jeopardizing their rights as Canadian citizens.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Vancouver, is the latest from young climate advocates around the globe who are increasingly leading public protests and filing legal challenges to make their concerns about their future in a warming world heard.

“The federal government is knowingly contributing to the climate crisis by continuing to support and promote fossil fuels and through that they are violating our charter rights,” said Sierra Robinson, 17, a youth climate activist and plaintiff in the case from Vancouver Island, Canada.
» Read article    
» Read complaint

» More on climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

City of Cambridge and Eversource Launch Building Energy Retrofit Program
Eversource News Post
October 28, 2019

The City of Cambridge and Eversource announced a new energy efficiency initiative, called the Cambridge Building Energy Retrofit Program, which targets buildings that are over 25,000 square feet or 50 units for energy-saving improvements. The program, which will proactively connect building owners and facility managers to energy efficiency services, incentives, and technical support, aligns with Cambridge’s Net Zero Action Plan to reduce building greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“In Cambridge, buildings account for 80% of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The Cambridge Building Energy Retrofit program helps large buildings access the resources they need to make energy efficiency upgrades that will reduce their energy use and cut their carbon footprint – an important step in furthering our Net Zero Action Plan,” said Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development.
» Read article     

» More on energy efficiency

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Mayflower Wind location
Mayflower Wind Picked For 800-Megawatt Project Off Of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, on WBUR
October 30, 2019

An offshore wind development that boasts it will deliver “the lowest cost offshore wind energy ever in the U.S.” has been selected by state utilities, in coordination with the Baker administration, to deliver about 800 megawatts of clean power to Massachusetts.

Mayflower Wind, a joint venture of Shell and EDPR Offshore North America, was the unanimous choice of the administration and three utilities to build an array of wind turbines approximately 26 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 20 nautical miles south of Nantucket, state energy officials announced Wednesday.
» Read article     

» More on clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

‘General Motors better wake up’ before China takes EV market, former California Gov. Brown tells Congress
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
October 30, 2019

The Trump administration’s efforts to prevent California from enforcing implementing its own fuel standards is a national threat to the electric vehicle market, say EV advocates. Some 15 states, representing almost 40% of the automobile industry, have adopted California’s standard, which also provides a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that states rely on in part to provide zero emissions vehicle rebates.

“The California waiver is important. It means California can set higher standards. It means California can be a laboratory of energy innovation, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Brown.

Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen in July struck a deal with California that loosened the emissions standard for those four companies, while awarding them additional EV credits to meet those standards. As a result, automakers agreed to cooperate with those emissions benchmarks.

But the president, reportedly incensed by that deal, announced in September he would be revoking California’s ability to implement its own standards, and his Department of Transportation shortly after filed a proposal to act on his directive.
» Read article     

General Motors Sides With Trump in Emissions Fight, Splitting the Industry
Along with Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, the auto giant backed the administration in its clash with California over pollution standards.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
October 28, 2019

Breaking with some of their biggest rivals, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota said Monday they were intervening on the side of the Trump administration in an escalating battle with California over fuel economy standards for automobiles.

The Trump administration has proposed a major weakening of federal auto emissions standards set during the Obama administration, prompting California to declare that it will go its own course and keep enforcing the earlier, stricter standards.

In July, Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW sided with California in the battle, striking a deal with the state to follow more stringent standards close to the original Obama-era rules. That surprise agreement would allow those automakers to meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations.

The pact came as an embarrassment for the Trump administration, which assailed the move as a “P.R. stunt.” In what was widely seen as a retaliatory move, the Justice Department subsequently opened an antitrust inquiry into the four automakers on the grounds that their agreement with California could potentially limit consumer choice, according to people familiar with the matter at the time the inquiry was opened.
» Read article     

» More on clean transportation

BATTERY STORAGE

ESS gets juiced
Iron Flow Battery Startup ESS Raises $30M From SoftBank and Breakthrough
The flow battery survivor marks the latest in a series of recent investments in unconventional long-duration storage technologies.
By Julian Spector, Green Tech Media
October 29, 2019

Iron flow battery startup ESS raised an additional $30 million to take its technology from pilots to commercial scale.

Since 2011, the company has been developing a low-cost, nonflammable long-duration storage technology to compete across domains where the dominant lithium-ion battery chemistries are weaker. Flow batteries have been one of the more prominent lithium-ion alternatives, but companies working in the space have struggled to stay afloat financially and move beyond the pilot stage.

With the new Series C investment, ESS has won a vote of confidence from prestigious and well-heeled backers. SoftBank’s SB Energy and Bill Gates-funded Breakthrough Energy Ventures led the round, which also brought in Evergy Ventures and PTT Global Chemical, in addition to previous investors.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal bankruptcies
Murray Energy Is 8th Coal Company in a Year to Seek Bankruptcy
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
October 29, 2019

Murray Energy, once a symbol of American mining prowess, has become the eighth coal company in a year to file for bankruptcy protection. The move on Tuesday is the latest sign that market forces are throttling the Trump administration’s bid to save the industry.

The collapse of the Ohio-based company had long been expected as coal-fired power plants close across the country.
» Read article     

Exxon Knew
Massachusetts Sues ExxonMobil For Climate Disinformation, Greenwashing
By Brendan DeMelle, DeSmog Blog
October 24, 2019

Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil today over the company’s misinformation campaign to delay action to address climate change.

Attorney General Maura Healey told reporters in a press conference today that “Exxon has fought us every step of the way,” and was “completely uncooperative,” noting that the company failed to comply with requests for documents and depositions.

“Exxon has yet to produce to our office a single document. They have yet to provide to our office a single witness. So they have been completely uncooperative with our investigation,” Healey told reporters.

ExxonMobil misstated facts and failed to disclose important information to both consumers and investors, according to the complaint, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court by the attorney general’s office.
» Read article   
» Read complaint

» More fossil fuel industry news

BIOMASS

Potential Grows for Biomass Energy
By ERICA GIES, New York Times
October 20, 2009

Woody biomass provides just 0.94 percent of all U.S. energy now, supplying the equivalent of 3.5 million American homes. But Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, a group in Portland, Maine, that represents about 80 plant-burning incinerators in 16 states, says available raw material would allow the industry to double its output. New incinerators are already being planned in many states.

The idea of homegrown, renewable energy, is appealing. It would qualify for tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and could benefit from support for renewables in the climate bill now going through the Senate.

But many environmentalists are worried. Some, like Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, warn that biomass incineration could cause major environmental damage, including the clear cutting of forests and the use of vast quantities of water for cooling. They also say that its combustion emissions are worse than coal’s — a serious charge because in both House and Senate versions of the climate bill, the technology falls into a “biomass loophole.” Categorized as a renewable energy source, biomass would be exonerated from emission caps.
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PLASTICS RECYCLING

Carbios biorecycling
In this “biorecycling” factory, enzymes perfectly break down plastic so it can be used again
The process lets any plastic—say a polyester shirt—be recycled into any other plastic (like a clear water bottle). It could fundamentally change the market for recycling.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
October 17, 2019

Inside a bioreactor in the laboratory of the France-based startup Carbios, pulverized PET plastic waste—the kind of plastic found in drink bottles and polyester clothing—is mixed with water and enzymes, heated up, and churned. In a matter of hours, the enzymes decompose the plastic into the material’s basic building blocks, called monomers, which can then be separated, purified, and used to make new plastic that’s identical to virgin material. Later this year, the company will begin construction on its first demonstration recycling plant.

“Our process can use any kind of PET waste to manufacture any kind of PET object,” says Martin Stephan, the company’s deputy CEO. It’s a process that could happen in an infinite loop: Unlike traditional recycling, which degrades materials each time you do it, this type of “biorecycling” can happen repeatedly without a loss in quality.
» Read article   

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