Tag Archives: microplastics

Weekly News Check-In 10/16/20

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Welcome back.

We took a break last week, but the news kept coming. Events are unfolding rapidly around the Weymouth compressor station, but fortunately WBUR’s Mariam Wasser published another of her excellent “explainer” articles. She pulls all the complicated pieces together and provides much-appreciated clarity.

Elsewhere on the pipeline beat, Eversource Energy has completed its purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. And while they’re still committed to pumping volatile, explosive gas under our streets and into our homes, their message is “this time it will be different.” In the interest of fair and balance reporting, we offer a sobering report about problems with anti-corrosion coatings on natural gas pipes.

We’re catching up on the big-picture impact of recent climate-related lawsuits with an excellent summary article from Dana Drugmand in DeSmog Blog. Closer to home, we found useful information on the health effects of indoor gas use – particularly gas ranges used in non-ventilated kitchens.

Those of us looking forward to a green, sustainable economy apparently have like-minded friends in Helsinki. We found an uplifting article from Finland’s capital, describing a whole population that’s embracing and working toward sustainability.

Our climate section opens with another warning about what will happen if we don’t get our act together quickly, and then follows with potentially hopeful news that China has made its first significant climate policy announcement, committing the country to net-zero by 2060. While that’s too slow, it’s an important beginning.

New York City took a big step toward clean energy when its utility agreed to work with environmental organizations and communities to replace six highly-polluting “peaking” power plants with low- or non-emitting alternatives. That means battery storage, charged during off-peak hours by some combination of conventional and renewable sources. Elsewhere in this section, we look at the complicated issues around hydropower, the down-side of solar in the smoke-choked west – and close with a study showing that reliance on nuclear power actually slows the deployment of renewable power sources.

We found an article describing a financing model for energy efficiency improvements that allows property owners to pay for improvements over time through utility savings. Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS) has been around for decades, but now seems primed for broad application.

Utility Dive’s Kavya Balaraman wrote an extensive 4-part series covering all aspects of energy storage, and we give that whole section to her this week. Taken together, it’s an excellent tour of past, present, and future developments.

The electric vehicle community could see improvements in charging station accessibility and reliability soon, based on a new agreement between EV Connect, vehicle manufacturers, and other partners.

A lot of press lately has focused on cleaning up the fossil fuel industry mess that will inevitably be left behind as we move beyond carbon. It’s a good thing to talk about now, since the industry appears to be actively maneuvering to stick taxpayers with the huge bill. We include cautionary reports from Venezuela and Ecuador, where oil booms went bust without sufficient environmental regulations or remediation.

The South Korean government is defending its renewable energy subsidies for biomass in court. A potentially game-changing suit was brought by the country’s solar industry along with a Canadian citizen who’s trying to stop the clearcutting of British Columbia’s ancient forests to supply wood pellets. The suit charges that biomass burning has “worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector.”

We close with an article describing a recent study that concludes there is currently 15.5 million tons of microplastics on the ocean floor.

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— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor explained
The Controversial Natural Gas Compressor In Weymouth, Explained
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 13, 2020

For the last five years, a coalition of South Shore towns, politicians and local activists have tried to block the construction of a natural gas compressor station in North Weymouth. They’ve waged public awareness campaigns, challenged the project’s environmental permits in court, and even resorted to civil disobedience. Meanwhile, the company building the compressor station cleared every legal and regulatory hurdle in its way, and construction has moved forward.

The Weymouth compressor itself is a complicated project that involves multiple state and federal agencies and private companies — and that’s before you factor in all the litigation and local controversy the facility has generated.

WBUR published an explainer about the compressor station in June 2019, but given how much has happened since then, we felt it was time for an update. So once again, whether you’ve been reading about the issue for years and have questions, or are just hearing about the project for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article               

 

evacuation planWeymouth compressor station evacuation plan in the works
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

A new compressor station in the Fore River Basin has a federal operation permit, but an evacuation plan for residents during a potential emergency at the site remains unknown, according to compressor foes.

“It is simply unacceptable that this compressor station has received its final operating permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but we still have no safety and evacuation plan available to the vulnerable residents,” said Alice Arena, leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station during a Town Council Meeting, Oct. 5.

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund said an evacuation plan is “being finalized.”

“We anticipate it will be done before that station is fully operational,” he said.

The compressor station was scheduled to begin service, Oct. 1, but natural gas leaks on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30 have delayed the facility from being put into use.
» Read article               

 

FRRACS want clarity
Weymouth compressor foes want clarity on gas leaks
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

The Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station want Town Council to determine whether Enbridge Inc. properly notified the police and fire departments when natural gas leaks occurred at the compressor station, Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

“We are asking the council…to request, review, and report on the police and fire 911 records for Friday, Sept. 11 and Wednesday, Sept. 30,” said FRRACS leader Alice Arena during an Oct. 5 council meeting.

According to Enbridge spokesman Maxwell Bergeron, the leaks forced an emergency shutdown of the compressor, and they are under investigation by the company.

Arena said FRRACS wants the council to obtain an investigative report about the gas leaks from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“We ask the Council to make this report available to the public,” she said.
» Read article               

 

FBI may investigateLynch: FBI To Investigate Possibility of Cyberattack At Weymouth Compressor
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
October 02, 2020

The FBI has been asked to investigate whether a “cyber intrusion” triggered this week’s emergency shutdown at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

The cause of the emergency shutdown on Sept. 30 — the second that month — is still unknown, though it seems to have originated in the plant’s electrical system, said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch.

“Because this is an international pipeline, and because of the national security implication, the FBI has been asked to take a look at any possible cyber intrusion that might have triggered the release,” Lynch said.

The FBI declined to comment on whether it was conducting an investigation involving the station.

The plant has been shut down since Sept. 30, and will remain so until an independent safety analysis is done and officials with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sign off on a re-start plan.

Lynch also submitted a request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday, asking the agency to revoke the station’s certificate of public convenience and necessity, which would effectively pull the plug on the project. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey made the same request earlier in the week.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

 

PIPELINES

William Akley
‘Safe and reliable’: Eversource says Agawam, Longmeadow pipeline projects necessary after acquiring Columbia Gas
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
October 13, 2020

Proposed natural gas pipeline work in Longmeadow and Agawam could help Eversource — now the owner of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts — end leaks from aging cast-iron pipes in Springfield and address other reliability and safety issues.

But the projects — which are opposed by environmentalists and some living in those towns — need a more thorough review now that Eversource is owner of the system, said Bill Akley, the company’s president of gas operations.

Akley spoke at a Tuesday afternoon news conference at what is now an Eversource Gas maintenance depot, formerly a Columbia Gas facility, in Springfield.

Eversource was celebrating the completion of its purchase of the former Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for $1.1 billion. State regulators approved the purchase last week. The federal government had already given an OK.

Also there, uninvited, were members of the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign, a group opposing pipelines.

Susan Grossberg, a campaign member from Agawam, questioned how the pipeline projects fit with Eversource’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.
» Read article               

 

degraded coatings
Too Much Sun Degrades Coatings That Keep Pipes From Corroding, Risking Leaks, Spills and Explosions
Pipeline installation delays leave pipes stored longer than recommended aboveground, where UV light can deteriorate the coatings that prevent corrosion.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
October 11, 2020

For natural gas pipeline developers hunting for a good deal on a 100-mile section of steel pipe, a recent advertisement claimed to have just what they are looking for.

Following the cancelation of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York, a private equity firm recently offered a “massive inventory” of never-used, “top-quality” coated steel pipe.

What the company didn’t mention is that the pipe may have sat, exposed to the elements, for more than a year, a period of time that exceeds the pipe coating manufacturers’ recommendation for aboveground storage, which could make the pipe prone to failure.

Long term, aboveground pipe storage has become commonplace as pipeline developers routinely begin construction activity on pipeline projects before obtaining all necessary permits and as legal challenges add lengthy delays.

Whether canceled or stalled, overdue oil and gas pipelines across the country may face a little-known problem that raises new safety concerns and could add additional costs and delays.

Fusion bonded epoxy, the often turquoise-green protective coating covering sections of steel pipe in storage yards from North Dakota to North Carolina, may have degraded to the point that it is no longer effective. The coatings degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun while the pipes they cover sit above ground for years.

The compromised coatings leave the underlying pipes more prone to corrosion and failures that could result in leaks, catastrophic spills or explosions. Degraded coatings were implicated in an oil spill from a failed pipeline near Santa Barbara, California in 2015. Toxic compounds may also be released as the coating breaks down, raising concerns that the pipes could pose a health threat to those who live near the vast storage yards holding them.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

climate suit update
Fossil Fuel Companies Keep Getting Sued Over Climate Impacts. Here’s Where the Cases Stand
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 7, 2020

September saw a flurry of new lawsuits filed by cities and states against major fossil fuel companies over the climate crisis and the resulting impacts that are already being felt. After Hoboken, New Jersey sued Big Oil and its largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, on September 2, back-to-back lawsuits came the following week from Charleston, South Carolina and the state of Delaware. Connecticut then followed with a lawsuit singularly targeting ExxonMobil, which remains one of the largest oil companies in the world and appears determined to double down on its core fossil fuel business despite knowing decades ago about the climate consequences of using its products. 

These climate lawsuits seek to hold companies like Exxon accountable for spending decades misleading the public on climate risks. Those dangers, projected long ago, have literally hit home in recent months with scorching heat, “record breaking” storms battering the Gulf Coast, and unprecedented and devastating wildfires burning millions of acres in the western U.S.

“Long before Trump entered office, oil and gas CEOs predicted this would be the result of their unfettered industry,” Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said in a late August press release responding to the landfall of Hurricane Laura. “Climate denial is not a victimless crime, and it’s time for the fossil fuel industry to be held accountable.”

The current wave of climate accountability lawsuits started three years ago with a handful of coastal California communities, and has since burgeoned to include nearly two dozen communities across the country so far that are taking the fossil fuel industry to court. Six attorneys general are currently suing Exxon for alleged climate deception, litigation that has started to garner comparisons to the state lawsuits targeting Big Tobacco firms for lying about the health risks of smoking.

The climate cases have not yet made it to trial, with the exception of a securities fraud lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General against Exxon. A judge dismissed that case following a trial held last October, finding that Exxon did not deceive its investors over climate risks to its business. Since then, attorneys general have filed several new cases alleging that major oil companies such as Exxon misled consumers in violation of state consumer protection laws.

“These companies were not simply reckless in the pursuit of profits,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who sued BP, Chevron, Exxon, and Shell in June, explained during a recent online briefing. “Their deceptive advertisements and misleading claims violated the D.C. Consumer Protection law.”

One legal expert who is following these climate cases told DeSmog that these consumer protection cases may have an easier path towards trial in state courts. “These are straight-up state consumer rights laws,” Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School (and this writer’s former law professor) said. “So those [cases] are going to go straight to trial I think.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions       

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF INDOOR GAS USE

kill your gas stove
Kill Your Gas Stove
It’s bad for you, and the environment. If you can afford to avoid it, you probably should.
By Sabrina Imbler, The Atlantic
October 15, 2020

Most Americans these days use electric stoves, but approximately a third cook primarily with natural gas, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Many of these cooks swear by the blue flame, which can supercharge a cast-iron pan in a way that would put an electric coil to shame. Cooking over a fire may seem natural enough, but these stoves should be a hotter topic: Given advances in induction technology, concerns about the climate, health anxieties, or some combination of the three, should anyone be using one?

If you can afford to avoid it, probably not.

On the air-quality front, at least, the evidence against gas stoves is damning. Although cooking food on any stove produces particulate pollutants, burning gas produces nitrogen dioxide, or NO2,, and sometimes also carbon monoxide, according to Brett Singer, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies indoor air quality. Brief exposures to air with high concentrations of NO2 can lead to coughing and wheezing for people with asthma or other respiratory issues, and prolonged exposure to the gas can contribute to the development of those conditions, according to the EPA.
» Read article             

» More about health effects of indoor gas use        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

sustainable Helsinki
Helsinki Makes Sustainability a Guiding Principle for Development
By Dorn Townsend, New York Times
October 14, 2020

HELSINKI, Finland — When his tour as the American ambassador to Finland ended in 2015, Bruce Oreck decided to linger. Part of the draw was a business opportunity. In a neighborhood just north of the city center, Mr. Oreck paid about 11 million euros for a vast, abandoned, century-old train factory.

He has been transforming the site into a market and community center that he intends to be a model of green building and consumerism. But Mr. Oreck, who was a New Orleans tax lawyer and professional bodybuilder before he became an Obama political appointee, said he had stayed because he was enchanted by something besides the potential for real estate success.

“You don’t hear about it unless you spend time here, but something is happening in Helsinki that isn’t happening almost anywhere else,” Mr. Oreck said. “Helsinki is a city full of people waiting for the revolution. They really want to make the world a better place, and they’re trying to lead by example. Which is a paradox, because Finns are decidedly not showy people.”

The qualities Mr. Oreck is referring to are sometimes summed up by the term sustainability. In the world’s second-most northern capital, sustainability has moved from concept to guiding principle. It’s rare for a day to pass without hearing a form of the word deployed multiple times as an environmentally friendly noun, adjective or adverb.

But Helsinki has a parallel goal: The city has endorsed measures it hopes will earn it recognition as the world’s most functional city.

In Helsinki this aspiration will be judged against a measurable and widely shared benefit: New master-planned communities must integrate features allowing inhabitants to enjoy an extra hour of free time each day.
» Read article                             

 

diversity and inclusion initiative
Solar firms unite to launch diversity and inclusion initiative
By Jules Scully, PV Tech
October 13, 2020

A group of trade organisations and solar companies have launched a new initiative that aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the industry.

The ‘Renewables Forward’ partnership will see stakeholders share corporate practices and policies as well as invest in under-resourced and minority communities in the US. The goal is to identify tangible ways to collaborate and drive a larger industrywide partnership between CEOs and solar organisations.

Founding members include Capital Dynamics, Cypress Creek Renewables, EDF Renewables, Generate Capital, Mosaic, Nautilus Solar Energy, New Columbia Solar, Nextracker, Sol Systems and Volt Energy, as well as the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation.

“From a mission perspective, the lack of diversity in solar means that whole segments of the American population are simply not participating in climate solutions and are being left out of the economic opportunities that these jobs create,” said Dan Shugar, CEO of Nextracker. “Words are good, but we are overdue in our industry to do better in terms of minority and gender representation.”

Renewables Forward’s initial efforts include coordinating an educational and fundraising programme to support US civil rights organisations the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Urban League.

Gilbert Campbell, CEO of solar project developer Volt Energy, said: “Our diversity issue is not simply a hiring problem, but an issue of education, access, political voice, environmental impact, community protection and sustainability.

“We cannot commit to building a better, more sustainable future without committing both to address the inequities of the past and to build a solution that elevates opportunity for all Americans.”
» Read article                            

 

casting doubt
Fishing industry group casts doubt on offshore wind’s job creation promises
Wind advocates counter that a recent report obscures the potential for long-term employment as the industry continues to grow.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
October 12, 2020

While offshore wind developers are promising tens of thousands of U.S. jobs from wind farm development along the East Coast over the next decade, the commercial fishing industry is sowing doubt about the projections. 

An economic analysis commissioned by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a fishing industry coalition, concludes that “a surprisingly low” number of new positions will be permanent, and that the bulk of jobs will be created overseas. 

“The claim that the huge investments on offshore wind would provide significant job and economic benefits in the U.S. has been grossly inflated,” wrote the report’s author, Janet Liang, an economist with Georgetown Economic Services, a consulting firm. 

Wind industry representatives are not convinced by the findings, however. So long as Eastern Seaboard states can provide sufficient training to help businesses and workers capitalize on wind industry opportunities, the economic benefit is bound to be substantial, said Liz Burdock, chief executive and president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. 

“The number that I point to, which is based on annual aggregate data, is what’s happened in Europe, where offshore wind sustains 40,000 jobs,” Burdock said. “I feel fairly confident that we’re going to hit or exceed that number with what we have in the pipeline now.” 

The Georgetown report comes as federal regulators near a long-awaited decision on Vineyard Wind, which is poised to become the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm. Fishing industry interests are imploring regulators to fully consider the impacts on fisheries. While state economic development officials tout offshore wind as an economic boon, some in the fishing industry feel the projections don’t take into account the potential damage to their sector.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

human cost of disasters
‘Uninhabitable Hell:’ UN Report Warns of Planet’s Future for Millions Without Climate Action
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 13, 2020

A new report from the United Nations found that political leaders and industry leaders are failing to do the necessary work to stop the world from becoming an “uninhabitable hell” for millions of people as the climate crisis continues and natural disasters become more frequent, as Al-Jazeera reported.

The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 was released Monday to mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which falls on Oct. 13, according to a statement from the office behind the report.

The bulk of the disasters were climate-related, as there were sharp increases in the number of floods, storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires in the last two decades, according to CNN.

The report found that the world is on a worrying trend line as natural disasters become more frequent and more expensive. In the last 20 years, there were more than 7,300 natural disasters worldwide, accounting for nearly $3 trillion in damages. That’s almost double the prior two decades when there were just over 4,200 natural disasters that totaled $1.6 trillion in economic losses, according to the statement.

“It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction,” said UNDRR chief Mami Mizutori and Debarati Guha-Sapir of Belgium’s Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in a joint foreword to the report, as CNN reported.

“It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.”
» Read article                   
» Read the report             

 

China sets a marker
China Has Surprised the World With Climate Action Announcement
By Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, John Mathews, Sung-Young Kim, The Conversation, in EcoWatch
October 8, 2020

China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming “carbon neutral” barely rated a mention in China’s national policies.

China currently accounts for about 28% of global carbon emissions – double the U.S. contribution and three times the European Union’s. Meeting the pledge will demand a deep transition of not just China’s energy system, but its entire economy.

Importantly, China’s use of coal, oil and gas must be slashed, and its industrial production stripped of emissions. This will affect demand for Australia’s exports in coming decades.

It remains to be seen whether China’s climate promise is genuine, or simply a ploy to win international favor. But it puts pressure on many other nations – not least Australia – to follow.
» Read article               

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

goodbye NY peakers
New York says goodbye to 6 dirty power plants and hello to working with communities
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
October 15, 2020

New York’s latest move toward its aggressive decarbonization goals makes good on the promise of a more equitable transition. On Tuesday, the New York Power Authority (NYPA), a publicly owned power utility, announced an agreement to work with environmental justice groups on a plan to transition six natural gas–fired power plants in New York City to cleaner technologies.

These are not just any power plants. The six facilities in question are “peaker plants,” designed to fire up only during times of peak demand, like hot summer days when New Yorkers are cranking up their air conditioners — and air quality is already compromised.

Peaker plants typically operate less than 10 percent of the time, but they have an outsized effect on communities and the environment. Of the city’s 16 peaker plants, most of them are at least 50 years old, and some run on especially dirty fuels like oil or kerosene. These old plants are disproportionately located in communities of color in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens that are simultaneously burdened with other health risks like heat vulnerability. In addition to emitting carbon dioxide that is heating up the planet, they release harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and tiny, easily inhalable particles that contribute to respiratory issues.

Residents in these communities also feel the burden year-round on their energy bills. A recent report estimated that New Yorkers pay $450 million per year to run the city’s peaker plants no more than a few hundreds hours. The report was authored by the newly formed PEAK Coalition, an alliance of five leading environmental justice groups working to replace fossil fuel peaker plants with renewable energy and battery storage.

Now NYPA has agreed to bring PEAK into the fold as it studies ways to transition its six plants to cleaner technologies. In a memorandum of understanding, the two parties agreed to “evaluate the potential to replace existing peaker units” and “augment or otherwise install renewable and battery storage systems” on these sites and in surrounding communities.
» Read article              
» Read the PEAK Coalition report on peaker plants       
» Read the memorandum of understanding          
» Read the press release              

 

Hoover DamEnvironmentalists and Dam Operators, at War for Years, Start Making Peace
Facing a climate crisis, environmental groups and industry agree to work together to bolster hydropower while reducing harm from dams.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
October 13, 2020

The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an unusual agreement Tuesday to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams, in a sign that the threat of climate change is spurring both sides to rethink their decades-long battle over a large but contentious source of renewable power.

The United States generated about 7 percent of its electricity last year from hydropower, mainly from large dams built decades ago, such as the Hoover Dam, which uses flowing water from the Colorado River to power turbines. But while these facilities don’t emit planet-warming carbon dioxide, the dams themselves have often proved ecologically devastating, choking off America’s once-wild rivers and killing fish populations.

So, over the past 50 years, conservation groups have rallied to block any large new dams from being built, while proposals to upgrade older hydropower facilities or construct new water-powered energy-storage projects have often been bogged down in lengthy regulatory disputes over environmental safeguards.

The new agreement signals a desire to de-escalate this long-running war.

In a joint statement, industry groups and environmentalists said they would collaborate on a set of specific policy measures that could help generate more renewable electricity from dams already in place, while retrofitting many of the nation’s 90,000 existing dams to be safer and less ecologically damaging.
» Read article              
» Read the joint statement            

 

CANADA-ECONOMY-ENERGY-FOREST-WATER

Aerial view of Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec, October 3, 2018. – On a frigid night, the roar of heavy machinery chipping away at rock echoes through Canada’s boreal forest: in the far north of Quebec province, four massive hydroelectric dams that will produce power for US markets are nearing completion. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Clement SABOURIN (Photo by LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images)

New York and New England Need More Clean Energy. Is Hydropower From Canada the Best Way to Get it?
Two massive projects, requiring hundreds of miles of transmissions lines, have left Indigenous communities in Canada, and some U.S. activists, up in arms.
By Ilana Cohen, InsideClimate News
Photo: Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec. Credit: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images
October 4, 2020

 

With only months until developers start making both projects on-the-ground realities, they have seized public attention within, and beyond, their regions.

Officials and transmission line proponents say importing Canadian hydropower offers an immediate and feasible way to help decarbonize electricity portfolios in New York and New England, supporting their broader efforts to combat climate change. 

But some environmental activists say hydropower has a significant carbon footprint of its own. They fear the projects will make states look “greener” at the expense of the local environment, Indigenous communities, and ultimately, the climate. 

“We’re talking about the most environmentally and economically just pathway” to decarbonization, said Annel Hernandez, associate director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. “Canadian hydro is not going to provide that.” 

To that end, environmental groups opposing Canadian hydropower say New York and New England should seize the moment to expedite local development of wind and solar power.
» Read article               

 

filtered sunlightCalifornia’s solar energy gains go up in wildfire smoke
Pollution from wildfires blocked sunlight and coated solar panels
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 1, 2020

Smoke from California’s unprecedented wildfires was so bad that it cut a significant chunk of solar power production in the state. Solar power generation dropped off by nearly a third in early September as wildfires darkened the skies with smoke, according to the US Energy Information Administration. 

Those fires create thick smoke, laden with particles that block sunlight both when they’re in the air and when they settle onto solar panels. In the first two weeks of September, soot and smoke caused solar-powered electricity generation to fall 30 percent compared to the July average, according to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which oversees nearly all utility-scale solar energy in California. It was a 13.4 percent decrease from the same period last year, even though solar capacity in the state has grown about 5 percent since September 2019.
» Read article              

 

no nukes here
Nuclear power hinders fight against climate change
Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
October 6, 2020

Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.
» Read article              
» Obtain the study            

» More about clean energy                           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

EEaaS
Cities push ahead on Energy Efficiency as a Service as private sector plays catch up
Forms of EEaaS have existed for decades as alternative funding mechanisms in cities. Now, as technologies accelerate and COVID-19 continues, the private sector wants in.
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 5, 2020

The proliferation of new technologies has transformed areas of mobility and software into comprehensive service offerings to bolster operations. Now, public sector entities are leading the charge on a tech-driven service offering that’s been bubbling under the surface for decades: Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS).

Under EEaaS, businesses and governments can underwrite the up-front costs of energy efficiency upgrades, then pay for them with the savings they get from those upgrades over the course of a long-term financial contract. Those upgrades are typically in the areas of lighting, air conditioning (HVAC) and energy management.

As an alternative funding mechanism, forms of EEaaS have existed for decades. But in contrast to typical innovation trends, the public sector is pushing ahead on EEaaS as private companies try to catch up.
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

ENERGY STORAGE

lithium and moreTo batteries and beyond: Lithium-ion dominates utility storage; could competing chemistries change that?
The industry is growing increasingly comfortable with lithium-ion, but its limitations open up a space for other technologies to compete in the storage mix.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 15, 2020

Lots of utilities are coming out with carbon goals, and renewables are going to play a big part in that, said Zachary Kuznar, managing director of energy storage, microgrid and CHP development at Duke Energy.

“As you put more and more solar and wind on the grid, the batteries are going to be, in my opinion, kind of an essential resource to help smooth out that intermittency,” Kuznar said. 

“But also, as we get more into some of these more long-duration technologies, like flow batteries and others, I think it’s going to be a critical piece to potentially offset the need to build some kind of future peaking plants.”
» Read article              

 

long-duration energy storage
To batteries and beyond: Compressed air, liquid air and the holy grail of long-duration storage
Proponents of the technologies are looking to carve out a niche for themselves in the market. In both cases, a key draw is duration.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

In 1991, generation and transmission cooperative PowerSouth — then known as the Alabama Electric Cooperative — started operating a 110 MW compressed air energy storage (CAES) plant in McIntosh, Alabama.

The project was the first of its kind in the U.S., and had a 26-hour duration. It essentially served as a peaker plant, to smooth demand between the low weekday loads and high weekend peaks that came from having a predominantly residential load, according to Bobby Bailie, business development director for energy storage at Siemens Energy. Bailie used to work for Dresser-Rand, the company that built the equipment at the McIntosh plant, which was acquired by Siemens in 2015.

Nearly three decades later, the McIntosh plant is still the only operational utility-scale CAES plant in the U.S. But more recently, utilities and developers have taken a renewed interest in the technology for a completely different reason: the ability to store large amounts of renewable energy for long periods of time.
» Read article              

 

pumped hydro storageTo batteries and beyond: In a high-renewables world, pumped hydro storage could be ‘the heavy artillery’
Experts say pumped hydro is notoriously difficult to site. But as more renewables come online, the industry is eyeing new locations and fresh technologies.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 13, 2020

 

“You just can’t keep bringing on more and more solar and wind, and just have it then stop when the sun goes down,” [Jim Day, CEO of Daybreak Power] said. “With pumped storage, they were all built some decades ago and they haven’t been built since then, because there was no demand for it…. But there is now, and there will be more and more and more in the coming years.”

Pumped storage hydropower accounted for around 95% of commercial energy storage capacity in the U.S. as of 2018, with around 21.6 GW of installed capacity around the country. Facilities traditionally include two reservoirs, at different elevations; they draw power by pumping water to the upper reservoir, and generate it by passing that water through a turbine. But experts say it’s notoriously difficult to find suitable locations for the pumped hydro plants, which are large, rely on specific geographies like mountains, and have prolonged permitting and development timelines that can stretch to a decade. 

“Pumped storage is very difficult to site. It has a lot of environmental issues with it,” said Glenn McGrath, leader of the electricity statistics, uranium statistics and product innovation team at the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In 2017, the National Hydropower Association issued a white paper looking at the challenges and opportunities tied to developing new pumped storage, and noted that past projects have generally required constructing a minimum of one dam on main stem rivers, which could affect the local ecology. According to the report, developing “closed-loop” projects — built in areas not connected to river systems — could reduce those concerns.
» Read article             
» Read the NHA white paper       

 

 

hydrogen storageTo batteries and beyond: With seasonal storage potential, hydrogen offers ‘a different ballgame entirely’
The ability to provide weeks — or even months — of storage could give power-to-gas technologies an edge as renewables grow on the grid, some experts think.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 12, 2020

Jack Brouwer started thinking about the potential of using hydrogen to store massive amounts of energy around 12 years ago.

The idea was this: take inexpensive or excess renewable energy, run it through an electrolyzer to create hydrogen, store that hydrogen for as long as needed, and then use fuel cells to convert it back into electricity. Brouwer, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Irvine, took the idea to the U.S. Department of Energy, and tried to convince the agency that the technology was essential to achieving carbon policy goals and supporting a renewables-heavy grid.

But the agency didn’t move forward with the idea so Brouwer and a group of his students began researching the issue. In 2013, they published a paper that looked at the potential of using large-scale compressed gas to store energy and smooth out intermittent wind resources. That paper caught the attention of some people at Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) — the nation’s largest gas utility — who reached out, saying they too had been thinking about the potential of hydrogen and wanted to talk, Brouwer said in an interview.

The discussion led to a demonstration project that was set up at UC Irvine’s campus in 2016, Brouwer said, that made renewable hydrogen from solar power using an electrolyzer — “and then taking that renewable hydrogen, injecting it into our natural gas grid and then delivering it, through our natural gas grid, to a natural gas combined cycle plant to make partially decarbonized electricity from it.”

It ran for four years. By the end, Brouwer’s vision for the technology had crystallized: transforming the natural gas delivery system into a renewable hydrogen delivery system, and using it as a cost-effective way to introduce massive amounts of storage.

“If you need to store terawatt hours of energy — which is what the grid will need if it’s 100% renewable — it’s going to be way cheaper to store it in the form of hydrogen,” Brouwer said.
» Read article             
» Read the 2013 paper        

» More about energy storage               

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charge partnership
Electric vehicle firms partner to ramp up charging station access, reliability
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

Electric vehicle (EV) charging management company EV Connect announced its Partner Program on Wednesday to expand access to EV charging stations and improve their maintenance. BTCPower, EVBox and EVoCharge were named the initial program partners.

Through the new EV Connect Manufacturer Portal, the partners can provide manufacturers with insight into charging stations’ performance, meaning maintenance can be managed more quickly and proactively, in a bid to ensure that charging station availability is not affected by downtime. The companies will be able to keep track of stations’ performance data, EV Connect CEO Jordan Ramer said, meaning they can “proactively fix stations before they break.”

For EV users, Ramer said the partnership can help expand charging station access by improving reliability at those stations and reducing downtime for maintenance issues. Meanwhile, cities and site owners looking to manage EV charging infrastructure will benefit from reduced maintenance and operating costs as issues can be more easily tracked and fixed, Ramer said.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation                   

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

planned abandonmentWith Bankruptcies Mounting, Faltering Oil and Gas Firms Are Leaving a Multi-billion Dollar Cleanup Bill to the Public
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 15, 2020

Amid a record wave of bankruptcies, the U.S. oil and gas industry is on the verge of defaulting on billions of dollars in environmental cleanup obligations.

Even the largest companies in the industry appear to have few plans to properly clean up and plug oil and gas wells after the wells stop producing — despite being legally required to do so. While the bankruptcy process could be an opportunity to hold accountable either these firms, or the firms acquiring the assets via bankruptcy, it instead has offered more opportunities for companies to walk away from cleanup responsibilities — while often rewarding the same executives who bankrupted them. 

The results may be publicly funded cleanups of the millions of oil and gas wells that these companies have left behind. In a new report, Carbon Tracker, an independent climate-focused financial think tank, has estimated the costs to plug the 2.6 million documented onshore wells in the U.S. at $280 billion. This estimate does not include the costs to address an estimated 1.2 million undocumented wells.

Greg Rogers, a former Big Oil advisor, and co-author of a previous Carbon Tracker report on the likely costs of properly shutting down shale wells, suggested to DeSmog that oil and gas companies have factored walking away from their cleanup responsibilities into their business planning.
» Read article        
» Read background article from 10/4              
» Read the Carbon Tracker report       

 

airborne radioactivity
Airborne radioactivity increases downwind of fracking, study finds
Particles released by drilling could damage the health of nearby residents, say scientists
By Damian Carrington, the Guardian
October 13, 2020

The radioactivity of airborne particles increases significantly downwind of fracking sites in the US, a study has found.

The Harvard scientists said this could damage the health of people living in nearby communities and that further research was needed to understand how to stop the release of the radioactive elements from under the ground.

The radioactivity rose by 40% compared with the background level in the most affected sites. The increase will be higher for people living closer than 20km to the fracking sites, which was the closest distance that could be assessed with the available data.

The scientists used data collected from 157 radiation-monitoring stations across the US between 2001 and 2017. The stations were built during the cold war when nuclear war was a threat. They compared data with the position and production records of 120,000 fracking wells.

“Our results suggest that an increase in particle radioactivity due to the extensive [fracking development] may cause adverse health outcomes in nearby communities,” the team concluded.
» Read article        

 

end of an eraVenezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era
Venezuela’s oil reserves, the world’s largest, transformed the country and the global energy market. Now its oil sector is grinding to a halt. Will it ever recover?
By Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, New York Times
Photographs by Adriana Loureiro Fernandez
October 7, 2020

CABIMAS, Venezuela — For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela.

Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned or left to flare toxic gases that cast an orange glow over depressed oil towns.

Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen.

Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles.

Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and American sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment, and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse.

In Cabimas, a town on the shores of Lake Maracaibo that was once a center of production for the region’s prolific oil fields, crude seeping from abandoned underwater wells and pipelines coats the crabs that former oil workers haul from the lake with blackened hands.

When it rains, oil that has oozed into the sewage system comes up through manholes and drains, coursing with rainwater through the streets, smearing houses and filling the town with its gaseous stench.

Cabimas’s desolation marks a swift downfall for a town that just a decade ago was one of the richest in Venezuela.
» Read article              

 

sangre del diablo
Blood of the Devil

A brief history of oil colonialism in Ecuador, and what happened in the decades leading up to a landmark lawsuit against Texaco in the 1990s.
By Karen Savage and Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
October 2, 2020

Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians have been locked in legal battle with the oil major Chevron for decades. In recent years media attention has been focused on the lawyers in this case, but to understand what’s at stake we need to go back and look at what actually happened in Ecuador as the original defendant in this case, Texaco, began to explore for oil there.

Texaco began its search for Ecuadorian oil in March 1964, when the junta, the military government that had seized power the previous year, granted the firm a concession agreement. The initial agreement gave TexPet, Texaco’s Latin American subsidiary, the right to explore for oil in the Oriente region (in the eastern side of the country, covered primarily by rainforest).

Three years later, in the northern region of the concession that was home to the Indigenous A’i, or Cofán people, Texaco found what it was looking for deep under the rainforest: a vast, untapped reservoir of crude. Texaco and the government expanded their concession agreement, making a subsidiary named TexPet the “consortium operator” in charge of exploration and development of new oil fields.

TexPet’s operations in the A’i ancestral lands eventually expanded to include 15 fields, 18 production facilities, and 316 wells, as well as hundreds of miles of pipelines connecting them.

Texaco’s discovery made bold national headlines and mesmerized government officials, who anticipated that the black gold would line Ecuador’s coffers…and possibly their own pockets.

But the inhabitants of the region knew better, because by the late 1960s, Texaco and its frenzied search for oil, or sangre del diablo, “blood of the devil,” as locals came to call it, had already taken a devastating toll on Indigenous tribes including the Cofán, Secoya, Siona, Huarani, Sansahuari, Kichwa, Rumipamba, and Tetete.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels                

 

BIOMASS

Korea biomass suit
Korean solar industry makes unprecedented legal challenge to “green” credentials of biomass energy

Canadian citizen joins suit against Korean government alleging irreparable harm to forests and climate from use of British Columbia wood pellets
By Adam Eagle and Joojin Kim, Partnership for Policy Integrity
September 27, 2020

Solar developers in South Korea are filing a potentially game-changing lawsuit against their national government today (midday Korea Standard Time, 28 September), citing unconstitutional renewable energy subsidies to wood burning that have worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector. The case represents the first national-level lawsuit challenging the status of wood-burning as renewable energy.

Joining as a plaintiff in the case is a Canadian citizen who represents ancient forests of British Columbia that are being harvested to make wood pellets burned in South Korea, the UK, and Europe.  The suit represents the first time a non-Korean plaintiff has challenged the Korean government for failing in their climate duties and breaching human rights. Other plaintiffs in the case include residents of Korea who live near plants burning biomass and who are affected by the resulting air pollution.

Korea already has some of the most polluted air in the world. Last year, South Korea passed emergency powers to combat the ‘social disaster’ of air pollution leading to the temporary closure of a quarter of its coal-fired power plants.  Joojin Kim, managing director of Seoul-based Solutions For Our Climate, the organization coordinating the case, said: “Data from the plant operators themselves show that biomass plants can emit even more air pollution per megawatt-hour than coal plants, yet the Korean government is increasingly dependent on bioenergy to meet our renewable energy goals, stunting the growth of vital zero-emissions technologies like solar power.”

In addition to conventional air pollutants, burning biomass for electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than burning coal, and multiple scientific studies have found that slow forest regrowth cannot come close to compensating for the excess greenhouse gases in time to meet emissions reduction targets. Bioenergy generation received nearly 40% of total renewable energy subsidies issued between 2014 and 2018 in Korea, the highest among renewable energy sources according to research by Solutions for Our Climate.
» Read article               

» More about biomass             

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

ocean floor plasticsNew Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 6, 2020

Microplastics can be found everywhere from Antarctica to the Pyrenees. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, but very little has been known about how much ends up on the ocean floor — until now.

A new study has found that the ocean floor contains nearly 15.5 tons of microplastics, CNN reported.

Researchers from Australia’s government science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), examined microplastics on the ocean floor near the Great Australian Bight, a large expanse that comprises the bulk of the country’s southwest coastline.

The researchers used a robotic submarine to gather and analyze samples taken from six locations up to 236 miles off the coast, and up to almost 10,000 feet deep, reported CNN.

The results, which were published Monday in Frontiers in Marine Science, revealed about 35 times more plastic at the bottom of the ocean than floating at the surface. In 51 samples taken between March and April 2017, researchers found an average of 1.26 microplastic pieces per gram of sediment, a concentration that’s up to 25 times greater than any previous deep-sea study, CNN reported.
» Read article              
» Read the research article          

» More about plastics in the environment  

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Weekly News Check-In 7/17/20

banner 04

Welcome back.

Last week’s news was all about pipeline projects scuttled by fierce popular resistance, smart litigation, and economic reality. This week, proponents of big gas/oil and business-as-usual struck back by further slashing environmental regulations in the hope of greasing the skids for future projects. And with the Dakota Access Pipeline held up indefinitely, a lot more volatile crude may soon be moving by rail on trains and track near you – having never effectively addressed all those “bomb train” safety issues.

Some of the biggest banks financing fossil fuel projects are prime targets of the divestment movement. Many are also backing Rocky Mountain Institute’s new Center for Climate-Aligned Finance. The Center’s mission is to guide banks operating in carbon-heavy sectors, with the goal of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050. Conflict of interest? Environmental organizations will be watching closely.

The Biden campaign released an ambitious plan that aims to green the economy while rescuing it from the Covid-19 collapse. And while the climate reels from unchecked methane emissions – posting another record – scientists are launching a new satellite system supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning to pinpoint and track global carbon emissions in real time. This will allow direct measurement for the first time – and presents an opportunity for effective management and stronger international agreements.

Some good news in clean energy involves the rescue of rooftop solar net metering from an attempt by the shadowy New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) to move policy decisions from State to Federal jurisdiction. And now that natural gas is no longer seriously considered a clean bridge fuel, we’re facing the tricky question of how best to trim back its role in generating power and heating buildings. Massachusetts, New York, and California are leading the way.

Energy storage and clean transportation are increasingly synergistic. Expect to see robust growth in both sectors, with topped-up EVs providing storage services to the grid, and retired EV batteries finding their way into stationary storage installations – especially now that a new generation of lithium-ion batteries is expected to last much longer than a typical vehicle’s life on the road.

The fossil fuel industry is promoting “renewable” natural gas, derived from non-fossil methane sources. We offer an analysis of this niche fuel, and how it’s being used as cover for the continued use of fossil methane. Also a must-read article from the Times, discussing the huge and growing problem of methane leaks from abandoned oil and gas wells, at a time when fracking companies are failing and leaving cleanup costs to taxpayers.

The wood pellet industry is booming, thanks to policies in both Europe and the U.S. that treat woody biomass as a carbon neutral fuel. A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency may make the problem worse, and that’s bad news for the climate and forests.

We reported last week that plastics industry lobbyists had pounced on the opportunity presented by uncertainty around modes of disease transmission in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis – convincing states to roll back municipal plastic bag bans in the interest of public safety. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has now reinstated those bans, since we now understand that Covid-19 transmission from surfaces is a low risk. We close with a report on plastics in the environment – everywhere.

— The NFGiM Team

OTHER PIPELINES

orange is the new stupid
President Trump just made it harder to stop new pipelines
Trump moved to speed up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 15, 2020

President Trump today gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, a move that many environmental advocates worry will make it harder for people to have a say in how major infrastructure projects would affect them. The new rules speed up permitting for large infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways by truncating the environmental review process.

Environmental reviews are designed to figure out if a project will significantly change the environment around the project in some way. The process can take years and involves scientific studies, intense analysis, and time for the public to comment on the proposals. The new rules, first proposed in January, limit the timeline for environmental reviews to two years — even though the process frequently takes twice as long. The changes would also allow projects that aren’t primarily federally funded to bypass the environmental reviews entirely. The revised rules also permit federal agencies to ignore climate change when making their assessments.

NEPA helped Native American tribes and pipeline opponents secure recent victories. A federal judge decided in March that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA in granting a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and earlier this month ordered the pipeline to shut down pending an environmental review. Pipeline opponents successfully asserted in 2018 that developers of the Keystone XL pipeline violated NEPA.

While today’s changes won’t affect pipeline decisions that have already been made, environmental advocates and attorneys argue that it will become harder for people to contest a major new infrastructure project in the future.
» Read article          

Return of the Bomb Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 12, 2020

On July 6th Reuters published an article on the potential for a resurgence of moving crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota across the country by rail, due to a judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline over permit issues.

July 6th also was the 7th anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec when a train full of Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded — resulting in 47 fatalities and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic.

And while the timing was just coincidence, it is a stark reminder of the dangers of moving Bakken crude (and Canadian crude) oil by rail and the risks that a resurgence of this industry poses to the 25 million people living along the tracks these oil trains traverse.

After the Lac-Mégantic disaster, regulators in Canada and the U.S. worked to put in place new safety regulations to prevent another such disaster from happening. However, as we have documented here on DeSmog and in my book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk, the oil and rail industries have effectively blocked or forced the repeal of any meaningful safety regulations.

Regulations for modern electronically controlled pneumatic brakes were repealed by the Trump administration. State regulations to require the volatile Bakken oil to be stabilized to remove the natural gas liquids in the crude oil that make it so dangerous were overruled by the Trump administration.

There still are no regulations about rail track wear and replacement even though track failure is a leading cause of train derailments and is suspected of causing the two most recent oil train derailments that resulted in large spills and fires. There still are no regulations on the length of the trains, even though longer trains derail more often and train operators — the men and women driving the trains — say that longer trains are harder to operate.

And the new tank cars that were supposed to be safer have failed in every major oil and ethanol train derailment they have been involved in to date.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines              

DIVESTMENT

RMI bedfellows
JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs back launch of climate finance center
By Dan Ennis, Utility Dive
July 15, 2020

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy nonprofit, launched the Center for Climate-Aligned Finance on Thursday with financial backing from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs.

With the goal of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, the center aims to collaborate with banks to design guidance for working with carbon-heavy sectors such as steel or utilities, and to help banks determine which climate benchmarks and data to follow.

Banks are increasingly seeing the value — not just in optics but in revenue — of environmentally responsible investment.

Paul Bodnar, chair of the center and managing director of the institute, said the Poseidon Principles, which encourage financing of more environmentally friendly shipping vehicles, influenced the center’s creation.

“One sector provides the lifeblood that powers all the others, and that is finance,” he told American Banker.

Climate activists indicated the center is an initiative to watch.

“It could drive real steps toward banks aligning with 1.5°C,” Jason Opeña Disterhoft, senior climate and energy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement emailed to Banking Dive, referring to a goal of limiting global temperature increase. “But it could also be used as an excuse for banks to keep supporting the world’s worst climate polluters.

“The four founding partner banks include three of the top four fossil banks in the world, and together are responsible for more than $700 billion in fossil financing since Paris,” he added. “The four of them bank a clear majority of the companies doing the most to expand oil, gas and coal.”
» Read article           https://www.utilitydive.com/news/jpmorgan-bank-of-america-wells-fargo-goldman-sachs-back-launch-of-climat/581599/

» More about divestment      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

build back better
Biden’s $2 Trillion Climate Plan Promotes Union Jobs, Electric Cars and Carbon-Free Power
The former vice president linked a new green economy with America’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, saying the nation needs to “Build Back Better.”
By Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers, Ilana Cohen, Judy Fahys, and Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
July 15, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion clean economy jobs program Tuesday that marked a significant expansion in his plan for tackling climate change, with jobs-creation and environmental justice as its pillars.

With a blue “Build Back Better” placard on his lectern, the former vice president sought to signal that the coronavirus crisis will not displace the imperative to act on climate. Instead, he framed the immediate and long-term crises as linked, requiring the same sort of government intervention: a massive program to ramp up electric vehicles, carbon-free power and energy efficiency throughout the economy.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

TRACE by COP-26
The entire world’s carbon emissions will finally be trackable in real time
The new Climate TRACE Coalition is assembling the data and running the AI.
By David Roberts, Vox
July 16, 2020

There’s an old truism in the business world: what gets measured gets managed. One of the challenges in managing the greenhouse gas emissions warming the atmosphere is that they aren’t measured very well.

“Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” says Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Without this information “you cannot devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions,” she says, and “you cannot track them to see if you are making progress against your goals.”

The lack of good data also complicates international climate negotiations. “It’s frustrating that nearly three decades after countries committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to publish national GHG emissions inventories, we still don’t have recent, comprehensive, and consistent inventories for all countries,” says Taryn Fransen of the World Resources Institute.

The ultimate solution to this problem — the killer app, as it were — would be real-time tracking of all global greenhouse gases, verified by objective third parties, and available for free to the public.

When countries began meeting under the UNFCCC in the mid-1990s, that vision was speculative science fiction. It was basically regarded as science fiction when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. But science moves quickly — in particular, artificial intelligence, the ability to rapidly integrate multiple data sources, has advanced rapidly in recent years.

Now, a new alliance of climate research groups called the Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition has launched an effort to make the vision a reality, and they’re aiming to have it ready for COP26, the climate meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 (postponed from November 2020). If they pull it off, it could completely change the tenor and direction of international climate talks.
» Read article          

no peak for methane
Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High
Scientists expect emissions, driven by fossil fuels and agriculture, to continue rising rapidly.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 14, 2020

Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday.

And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects.

The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals, underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning.

“There’s a hint that we might be able to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions very soon. But we don’t appear to be even close to peak methane,” said Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford University who heads the Global Carbon Project, which conducted the research. “It isn’t going down in agriculture, it isn’t going down with fossil fuel use.”
» Read article          

number cooker
G.A.O.: Trump Boosts Deregulation by Undervaluing Cost of Climate Change
The Government Accountability Office has found that the Trump administration is undervaluing the cost of climate change to boost its deregulatory efforts.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 14, 2020

A federal report released on Tuesday found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates. Reducing that metric, known as the “social cost of carbon,” has helped the administration massage cost-benefit analyses, particularly for rules that allow power plants and automobiles to emit more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
» Read article          
» Obtain GAO report          

Maureen Raymo
She’s an Authority on Earth’s Past. Now, Her Focus Is the Planet’s Future.
The climate scientist Maureen Raymo is leading the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia. She has big plans for science, and diversity, too.
By John Schwartz, New York Times
July 10, 2020

Columbia University is taking new steps to make climate change, which has been studied there for decades, an even more prominent part of the school’s mission. And Maureen Raymo is a big part of that.

On July 1, Dr. Raymo, one of the world’s leading oceanographers and climate scientists, became interim director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Founded in 1949 and perched on hills overlooking the Hudson River 18 miles north of Manhattan, the observatory has been one of the world’s leading centers of scientific exploration into earth sciences and climate change. It was a Lamont researcher, Wallace Broecker, who brought the term “global warming” to public attention in a landmark 1975 paper.

And while there are more women represented at Lamont today than when Dr. Raymo was a graduate student there in the 1980s, she comes to her leadership position at a time when addressing other issues of diversity and equity in the field, and within the institution, is overdue.

Having experienced discrimination in her own career, she said an important way to address it is to “get into a position where you can change things.” She has dedicated fans among Lamont students, who value not just her scientific prowess but also her attention to social justice issues.
» Read article          

rescue debate
A Rescue Plan for the Planet? Watch Our Debate Here.
A virtual event with eight speakers and one question: Has Covid-19 created a blueprint for combating climate change?
By The New York Times
July 10, 2020

The devastation of Covid-19 has forced swift and startling change around the globe. To combat the coronavirus, governments poured money into rescue programs, companies adapted their goals and production, central banks permitted exceptional stimulus packages and many societies mobilized to shield the most vulnerable.

The New York Times hosted a debate on July 9, 2020, to explore the hard-earned lessons of Covid-19 and how to apply them to climate change. Have these dramatic actions against the coronavirus given us a blueprint for mobilization against climate change? Is this an opportunity for a new path forward that puts accelerated climate solutions at its center?
» Watch debate          

» More about climate               

CLEAN ENERGY

NERA path still open
FERC shuts down petition to upend net metering, McNamee signals issue could return
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 17, 2020

The New England Ratepayers Association’s (NERA) petition was opposed by a wide swath of industry leaders, environmentalists, bipartisan government officials, legal experts and others. In total, almost 50,000 groups and individuals issued comments in opposition, while just 21 supported it.

“NERA’s petition to attack rooftop solar investments and gut energy savings during a health and financial crisis was ill-conceived,” Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, said in a statement. Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors drove over 20,000 comments in opposition to the petition by the filing deadline.

FERC dismissed the NERA petition on the grounds that the group was unable to point to a particular harm.

Instead, NERA “asked the commission to make certain jurisdictional determinations regarding energy sales from rooftop solar facilities, and other distributed generation located on the customer side of the retail meter,” said Chatterjee. “Declaratory orders to terminate a controversy, or remove uncertainty, are discretionary. We exercise that discretion today and find that the issues presented in the petition do not warrant a generic statement from the commission at this time.”

But NERA saw the commission’s order and the two commissioner’s concurrence statements as a sign the issue could be raised again.

“While we are disappointed by FERC’s decision to dismiss our [p]etition on procedural grounds this issue is far from resolved,” Marc Brown, president of NERA, said in a statement. “FERC demonstrably leaves the door open for NERA to address the concerns raised by the Commissioners in its order.”
» Read article          

scripting the endgameThe Natural Gas Divide
States are confronting the future of gas in buildings — and facing a set of high-stakes questions.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
July 15, 2020

In early June, the attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, filed a petition with state utility regulators advising them to investigate the future of natural gas in the Commonwealth. Healey described the urgent need to figure out how the gas industry, which helps heat millions of homes throughout freezing Northeastern winters, fits into the state’s plan to zero-out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — especially considering the fuels burned for indoor heating and hot water are responsible for about a third of the state’s carbon footprint.

Eliminating emissions from this sector means venturing into uncharted waters. While many states are rapidly developing wind and solar farms to cut carbon from their electric grids, few are tackling the thornier challenge of reducing the gas burned in buildings. Officials in California and New York, which both have binding economy-wide net-zero emissions laws, have recently come to the same conclusion as Healey: Meeting state climate goals is going to require changes to the way gas utilities are regulated. Earlier this year, both states opened up precisely the kind of investigation that Healey is requesting in Massachusetts.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, has long been called a “bridge” to a cleaner energy future because burning it has a much lower carbon footprint than burning coal or oil. But research has called that narrative into question by showing that methane leaking across the natural gas supply chain raises its climate impact significantly. Recent developments have called the economics of natural gas into question, too: In early July, the developers of the high-profile Atlantic Coast Pipeline decided to abandon the project after an onslaught of lawsuits made the pipeline too expensive to build.

California, Massachusetts, and New York haven’t decided whether — or to what extent — natural gas can remain in their energy mixes. But the point of these investigations is much larger than those questions. There’s no established roadmap for managing the transition to zero-emissions buildings, and there are serious consequences to getting it wrong — huge cost burdens on residents, mass layoffs and bankruptcies at utilities, and of course, climate disaster.
» Read article          

pushing 2836
Massachusetts lawmakers face pressure to pass 100% renewable bill this session
Gov. Charlie Baker supports a goal of net-zero by 2050, but a growing list of stakeholders say that’s not good enough.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Timothy Vollmer, Flickr / Creative Commons
July 15, 2020

As the end of Massachusetts’ state legislative session draws near, activists, municipal officials, businesses, and civic organizations are urging lawmakers to take action on a bill that would require a 100% renewable electricity transition by 2045 — and making plans for next steps if the measure is not passed this year.

“We want to make sure that this year does not go by without strong and decisive action on clean energy at the Statehouse,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in January committed to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Many, however, argue that this target will be impossible to hit without stronger measures to accelerate the switch to renewable energy. If current standards are not changed, the transition to clean energy would not be complete until the turn of the next century.

To address this disparity, state Rep. Marjorie Decker and state Rep. Sean Garballey sponsored a bill (H.2836) that calls for all the state’s electricity to be renewably sourced by 2035, and all energy used for transportation and heating to be renewable by 2045.
» Read article          
» Read Bill H.2836

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage second life
California Awards $10.8M to Reuse EV Batteries in Solar & Microgrid Projects
By Elisa Wood, Microgrid Knowledge
July 15, 2020

The California Energy Commission (CEC) awarded $10.8 million to four projects that will explore repurposing used batteries from electric vehicles (EV), partly to support microgrids.

The awards approved in meetings in June and July stemmed from a solicitation for research and development projects showing how used batteries could cost-effectively integrate solar at small-to-medium commercial buildings.

With a goal of having 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, the commission is looking for ways to give degraded car batteries a second life. Typically, EV batteries are retired when they lose 70 percent to 80 percent of their capacity. However, they can be used for other applications like energy storage.
» Read article          

841 upheld
‘Enormous Step’ for Energy Storage as Court Upholds FERC Order 841, Opening Wholesale Markets
Federal regulators — not utilities and states — get to decide how batteries engage in transmission-scale power markets, the appeals court rules.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
July 10, 2020

In a victory for the energy storage industry, a federal appeals court has upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841, clearing the way for transmission grid operators across the country to open their markets to energy storage, including aggregated batteries connected at the distribution grid or behind customers’ meters.

Friday’s court opinion (PDF) declared that FERC has jurisdiction over how energy storage interacts with the interstate transmission markets it regulates, even if those systems are interconnected to the grid under regulations set by the states.

The court also rejected arguments by utility groups and state utility regulators seeking to opt out of allowing energy storage resources (ESRs) to participate under Order 841, which allows for units as small as 100 kilowatts to access wholesale markets.

Instead, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with FERC’s contention that “[k]eeping the gates open to all types of ESRs — regardless of their interconnection points in the electric energy systems — ensures that technological advances in energy storage are fully realized in the marketplace, and efficient energy storage leads to greater competition, thereby reducing wholesale rates.”
» Read article          
» Read the Circuit Court opinion

» More about energy storage             

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

dig this
Next Up for Electrification: Heavy-Duty Trucks and Construction Machinery
Electrified transport is not just about cars anymore, as California’s landmark Advanced Clean Trucks regulation shows.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
July 13, 2020

Electric models of work trucks, commercial vehicles, and construction machinery are hitting the market in greater numbers than ever before, and policymakers are growing increasingly optimistic about the sector. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s powerful air quality regulator, voted last month to require that every new truck sold in the state by 2045 be zero-emission, with truck makers forced to begin the transition in 2024.

Part of the challenge in electrifying transportation is simply getting enough good models on the market to attract customers and foster competition. In that realm, things are advancing: By 2023, there will be 19 all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell versions of heavy-duty trucks in production in North America, up from five Class 8 models available today, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

In Europe, meanwhile, there are early signs of progress on electrifying off-road construction equipment, with electric versions of excavators, loads and dumpers now available from a range of manufacturers including Hitachi, Komatsu and Volvo. Oslo launched the world’s first zero-emission construction site last year, and Norway’s capital city has mandated that by 2025 all public construction sites will operate only zero-emission construction machinery.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation             

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

greenwashing RNG
Report: Push for Renewable Natural Gas Is More Gas Industry ‘Greenwashing’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2020

“Renewable natural gas,” or RNG, is an alternative gas fuel that comes from landfills, manure, or synthetic processes. That’s opposed to the fossil gas that drillers traditionally pump out of underground reserves in oil and gas fields.

With “renewable” in the name, it may sound like a promising alternative to the fossil-based “natural” gas commonly used for heating and cooking in buildings. According to a new report from Earthjustice and Sierra Club, however, these fuels pitched as “renewable ” and environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil gas amount to a PR campaign meant to distract from efforts to convert the building sector to all electric power.

The report, published July 14, argues that RNG is an example of fossil fuel industry greenwashing and is not a viable solution for simply replacing fossil gas in buildings. According to the report, RNG is touted by gas utilities for the purpose of countering building electrification policies that restrict the use of gas in buildings for uses like heating, hot water, and cooking. Converting buildings to all-electric usage is recognized as a key climate strategy to shift away from fossil fuels, because electricity can be generated from a variety of sources that do not produce globe-warming emissions.
» Read article          
» Read the report

MDC methane leak
Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears
Oil and gas companies are hurtling toward bankruptcy, raising fears that wells will be left leaking planet-warming pollutants, with cleanup cost left to taxpayers.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2020

Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up.

Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.

The industry’s decline may be just beginning. Almost 250 oil and gas companies could file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next year, more than the previous five years combined, according to Rystad Energy, an analytics company. Rystad analysts now expect oil demand will begin falling permanently by decade’s end as renewable energy costs decline, energy efficiency improves, and efforts to fight climate change diminish an industry that has spent the past decade drilling thousands of wells, transforming the United States into the biggest oil producer in the world.

The environmental consequences of the industry’s collapse would be severe.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels                   

BIOMASS

pellet boom
The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.
Trump’s EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring burning biomass to be carbon neutral, as industry looks to expand its domestic markets.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
July 13, 2020

In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them.

On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia.

While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it’s still boom time.

The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of the U.S. Congress, is expected to propose securing that loophole with a new rule that details how burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, at least in the United States.

The industry wants to see regulations that will keep their businesses growing, including expanding U.S. energy markets that now barely exist. But some scientists and environmental groups argue that new EPA rules that are favorable to the industry would put the climate at further risk, along with forest ecosystems across biologically rich landscapes.
» Read article        

» More about biomass              

PLASTIC BAG BANS

reusable bags OK again in MA
Environmental groups hail Baker’s lift on reusable bags, and plastic bag ban suspension
By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
July 11, 2020

Shoppers once again can bring their own reusable bags to grocery stores and pharmacies and no longer will have the option to use single-use plastic bags in places with municipal bans on them.

Environmental groups are thrilled. They have been wary of what they say is an opportunistic plastics industry that, early on, used the coronavirus pandemic to stoke fear about the safety of reusable bags in an attempt to kill plastic bag bans.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday rescinded his March 10 emergency order that temporarily lifted the ban on plastic bags supplied in stores to protect the public and essential workers from infection with the coronavirus, back when there was less certainty about the risk of catching the virus from touching surfaces.
» Read article       

» More about plastic bans             

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

serious situation
‘Our life is plasticized’: New research shows microplastics in our food, water, air
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
July 15, 2020

In 1997, Charles Moore was sailing a catamaran from Hawaii to California when he and his crew got stuck in windless waters in the North Pacific Ocean. As they motored along, searching for a breeze to fill their sails, Moore noticed that the ocean was speckled with “odd bits and flakes,” as he describes it in his book, Plastic Ocean. It was plastic: drinking bottles, fishing nets, and countless pieces of broken-down objects.

“It wasn’t an eureka moment … I didn’t come across a mountain of trash,” Moore told Mongabay. “But there was this feeling of unease that this material had got [as] far from human civilization as it possibly could.”

Moore, credited as the person who discovered what’s now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, returned to the same spot two years later on a citizen science mission. When he and his crew collected water samples, they found that, along with larger “macroplastics,” the seawater was swirling with tiny plastic particles: microplastics, which are defined as anything smaller than 5 millimeters but bigger than 1 micron, which is 1/1000th of a millimeter. Microplastics can form when larger pieces of plastics break down into small particles, or when tiny, microscopic fibers detach from polyester clothing or synthetic fishing gear. Other microplastics are deliberately manufactured, such as the tiny plastic beads in exfoliating cleaners.

“That’s when we really had the eureka moment,” Moore said. “When we pulled in that first trawl, which was outside of what we thought was going to be the center [of the gyre], and found it was full of plastic. Then we realized, ‘Wow, this is a serious situation.’”

Plastic waste isn’t just leaking into the ocean; it’s also polluting freshwater systems and even raining or snowing down from the sky after getting absorbed into the atmosphere, according to another study led by Steve and Deonie Allen. With microplastics being so ubiquitous, it should come as no surprise that they are also present in the food and water we drink.
» Read article       

» More about plastics in the environment      

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Weekly News Check-In 6/12/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

PROTEST AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

» More about the EPA

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

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

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

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

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

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS / ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

» More about plastics, health, and the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 5/1/20

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

Construction on the Keystone XL and other major gas pipelines is currently on hold due to legal problems with a blanket nationwide permit administered by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Persistence by students spearheading the divestment movement has carried the day, with the University of Oxford announcing the greening of its portfolio. A couple of other prominent universities announced their own fossil fuel divestment shortly afterward.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), is being grilled by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. regarding its use of tolling orders, which effectively delay landowner legal action against pipelines, even while construction is allowed to proceed on their seized land.

An awful lot of climate-related reporting this week concerns Michael Moore’s documentary “Planet of the Humans”, released on Earth Day and viewed on YouTube over four million times by now. The overwhelming response from the environmental community is one of disappointment. We offer several articles that critique the film on its merits.

The economic and human devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has opened up a lively conversation in the media about greening the economy – imagining how we might leverage this singular moment to fundamentally change the contract between us and Earth. We’ve started collecting those stories in a new section.

Clean energy and clean transportation, while hampered by the Trump administration, are still moving ahead. We found articles that explain community solar and community choice aggregation of electricity supply. Also, the challenge of owning an electric car if you live in a city and don’t have a garage to charge it in.

Our fossil fuel industry section has another report on its crumbling finances. Also, there’s new satellite evidence of what ground-based investigations had already shown: the Permian Basin is emitting massive plumes of methane.

We keep an eye on developments in the biomass-to-energy industry. This week we found encouraging news from Virginia and North Carolina – two states that recently closed the door on further biomass development and debunked the idea that it’s a “clean” form of renewable energy. Meanwhile, an investigation in Vancouver, B.C. revealed that woody biomass suppliers are converting whole trees to pellets – not merely using the waste bits as promised.

We close with some good reporting on microplastics in the oceans and on the search for chemical methods of plastics recycling.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

NWP found illegal
After Keystone Ruling, Corps of Engineers Suspends Key U.S. Project Permit
By Mary B. Powers, Engineering News-Record
April 26, 2020

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has now temporarily halted permit approvals under its blanket process to allow energy, power and possibly other project construction that crosses streams and wetlands, after a federal judge on April 15 called the nationwide permitting method illegal and overturned the permit issued for the Keystone XL pipeline now under way in Montana.

The delay, of unspecified duration, was confirmed by the Corps to the Associated Press, it reported on April 23. The agency said notifications approving permits for at least 360 projects under the so-called Nationwide Permit-12 program are affected as it reviews new legal issues.
» Read article     

Keystone XL Pipeline Ruling Could Hamper U.S. Energy Project Permits
Federal judge vacates Army Corps Nationwide Permit 12
By Pam Radtke Russell, Engineering News-Record
April 17, 2020

A federal court ruling on April 15 halting construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline over U.S. water bodies could have far-reaching implications for all utility-related projects that need to quickly obtain a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ blanket permit—known as Nationwide Permit 12—to take construction across water.

“It has nationwide impacts. NWP 12 cannot be used going forward in expedited approval,” says Larry Liebesman, a senior adviser at Washington, D.C.-based water resources consulting firm Dawson & Associates.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines      

DIVESTMENT

Oxford divests
Oxford University bans investment in fossil fuels after student campaigns
Decision comes after high-profile protests that saw campaigners occupy St John’s College
By Samuel Lovett, Independent
April 22, 2020

The University of Oxford has agreed to divest from fossil fuels and commit to a net-zero investment strategy following extensive student-led campaigns and protests.

In a motion passed by Oxford’s governing body, the Congregation, which is made up of 5,500 academic and administrative members, the university is now required to cut all ties with fossil fuel firms and end future investment in these companies.

The resolution also dictates that managers of the university’s endowment, which amounts to £3bn, must acquire evidence of “net-zero business plans” from companies within Oxford’s portfolio of investments.
Note from Bill McKibben’s The Climate Crisis newsletter for New Yorker magazine: “Oxford’s action was followed, within twenty-four hours, by similar steps from American University, in Washington, D.C., and by the University of Guelph, in Ontario. In all three cases, several generations of students had pushed for the action, been rejected, and come back again.”
» Read article     

» More about divestment       

FERC

tolling orders in the dock
DC Circuit grills FERC on use of tolling orders on Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, other natural gas projects
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
April 28, 2020

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held an en banc hearing on Monday to examine federal energy regulators’ use of tolling orders, particularly regarding the approval of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline.

Tolling orders are an accessible tool for FERC to delay judgement on rehearing requests when more time is needed to consider arguments regarding the legality of the commission’s actions. FERC attorney Robert Kennedy said tolling orders are “generally entered almost as a matter of routine.”

Petitioners argued that pipeline projects have been completed while opponents were unable to litigate because a tolling order was in place.

“This case is exceptionally important because it brings to light a habitual practice by [FERC] that raises serious questions of fairness, due process and legality. And the commission’s defense in no way addressed how [a FERC order] can be final for some but not for others,” NRDC’s Giannetti told Utility Dive.
» Merriam-Webster: en banc – in full court : with full judiciary authority (An en banc hearing is a kind of appeal in which a much larger group of judges hears a case.)
» Read article     

pipeline markers
Chatterjee defends how FERC treats protesting landowners
By Mike Soraghan, E&E News
April 28, 2020

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee says his agency has been doing a “great job” in speeding up the process for complaints from landowners in the path of pipelines.

But the agency won’t provide numbers to back that up, and an E&E News analysis of recent protests found many still move slowly. And landowner advocates say Chatterjee’s attempt at accelerating cases doesn’t get at the real problem.

Long-standing FERC practice allows the agency to stall the protests of landowners while allowing pipeline companies to seize their land for construction. But that practice has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months.

A House committee is investigating FERC’s treatment of landowners. And a federal appellate judge last August called the legal limbo created by the agency “Kafkaesque.”
» Read article     

» More about FERC     

CLIMATE

planet of the ecofascists
Planet of the Ecofascists
Almost everything in Michael Moore’s supposed documentary Planet of the Humans is out of date, which undermines any potential the film had to bring important critiques of technological solutions to climate change to light.
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
April 29, 2020

As of this writing, Planet of the Humans has been viewed more than four million times. Now that I’ve watched it myself, let me say up front that there are kernels of truth here that would have made for an important and interesting documentary, if Moore and director Jeff Gibbs had brought more intellectual honesty to bear on the project.

Good documentary filmmaking hews closely to the ethics of journalism. Sure, you’re looking for a narrative thread that keeps audiences engaged. But you don’t cherry-pick the facts to include only those people and data that prove the pre-determined point you want to make — unless you’re Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs, apparently. To justify their main argument, which is that the only way to address climate change is via population control, they veer sharply away from documentary and into commentary, leaning on wildly outdated information, often inaccurate data points and a bizarre obsession with Big Green as the real problem blocking action on climate. Let’s explore these issues in detail:
» Read article     

not even a documentary
Michael Moore produced a film about climate change that’s a gift to Big Oil
Planet of the Humans deceives viewers about clean energy and climate activists.
By Leah C. Stokes, Vox
Apr 28, 2020

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. To celebrate the occasion, filmmaker Michael Moore dropped a new movie he produced, Planet of the Humans. In less than a week, it has racked up over 3 million views on YouTube.

But the film, directed by Jeff Gibbs, a long-time Moore collaborator, is not the climate message we’ve all been waiting for — it’s a nihilistic take, riddled with errors about clean energy and climate activism. With very little evidence, it claims that renewables are disastrous and that environmental groups are corrupt.

What’s more, it has nothing to say about fossil fuel corporations, who have pushed climate denial and blocked progress on climate policy for decades. Given the film’s loose relationship to facts, I’m not even sure it should be classified as a documentary.
» Read article     

new low for MM
Climate experts call for ‘dangerous’ Michael Moore film to be taken down
Planet of the Humans, which takes aim at the green movement, is ‘full of misinformation’ says one distributor
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 28, 2020

A new Michael Moore-produced documentary that takes aim at the supposed hypocrisy of the green movement is “dangerous, misleading and destructive” and should be removed from public viewing, according to an assortment of climate scientists and environmental campaigners.

The film, Planet of the Humans, was released on the eve of Earth Day last week by its producer, Michael Moore, the baseball cap-wearing documentarian known for Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine. Describing itself as a “full-frontal assault on our sacred cows”, the film argues that electric cars and solar energy are unreliable and rely upon fossil fuels to function. It also attacks figures including Al Gore for bolstering corporations that push flawed technologies over real solutions to the climate crisis.

A letter written by Josh Fox, who made the documentary Gasland, and signed by various scientists and activists, has urged the removal of “shockingly misleading and absurd” film for making false claims about renewable energy. Planet of the Humans “trades in debunked fossil fuel industry talking points” that question the affordability and reliability of solar and wind energy, the letter states, pointing out that these alternatives are now cheaper to run than fossil fuels such as coal.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist and signatory to Fox’s letter, said the film includes “various distortions, half-truths and lies” and that the filmmakers “have done a grave disservice to us and the planet by promoting climate change inactivist tropes and talking points.” The film’s makers did not respond to questions over whether it will be pulled down.
» Read article     
» Read Josh Fox’s letter

stressed-out trees
‘We Need to Hear These Poor Trees Scream’: Unchecked Global Warming Means Big Trouble for Forests
New studies show drought and heat waves will cause massive die-offs, killing most trees alive today.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
Apr 25, 2020

“It’s our choice of how much worse we want it to get. Every little bit of reduction of warming can have a positive effect. We can reduce the tree die-off. Are we going to make the choices to try and minimize that?”

Breshears has used tree mortality data to try and make near real-time projections for tree die-offs in the Southwest. This would help adapt forest management, including firefighting, to rapidly changing conditions in a region where an emerging megadrought has already weakened and killed hundreds of millions of trees, including Rocky Mountain lodgepole and piñon pines, as well as aspens.

Elsewhere, African cedars and acacias are dying, South America’s Amazon rainforest is struggling, and junipers are declining in the Middle East. In Spain and Greece, global warming is shriveling oaks, and even in moist, temperate northern Europe, unusual droughts have stressed vast stands of beech forests.

At the current pace of warming, much of the world will be inhospitable to forests as we know them within decades. The extinction of some tree species by direct or indirect action of drought and high temperatures is certain. And some recent research suggests that, in 40 years, none of the trees alive today will be able to survive the projected climate, Brodribb said.
» Read article     

» More about climate       

GREENING THE ECONOMY

co-ops dah
Want to Rebuild the Economy with Clean Energy? Germany Offers 20 Years of Lessons
Hundreds of wind and solar co-ops have taken on big utilities and shown they can reliably power the grid—and hugely reduce emissions.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
April 30, 2020

BERLIN—Twenty years ago, before climate change was as widely seen as the existential threat it is today, Germany embarked on an ambitious program to transform the way it produced electric power.

Over the next two decades, it became a model for countries around the world, showing how renewable energy could replace fossil fuels in a way that drew wide public buy-in by passing on the benefits—and much of the control—to local communities.

The steps Germany took on this journey, and the missteps it made along the way, provide critical lessons for other countries seeking to fight climate change.
» Read article     

Megalopolis coal smog
Emissions Declines Will Set Records This Year. But It’s Not Good News.
An “unprecedented” fall in fossil fuel use, driven by the Covid-19 crisis, is likely to lead to a nearly 8 percent drop, according to new research.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
April 30, 2020

WASHINGTON — Global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to plunge nearly 8 percent this year, the largest drop ever recorded, as worldwide lockdowns to fight the coronavirus have triggered an “unprecedented” decline in the use of fossil fuels, the International Energy Agency said in a new report on Thursday.

But experts cautioned that the drop should not be seen as good news for efforts to tackle climate change. When the pandemic subsides and nations take steps to restart their economies, emissions could easily soar again unless governments make concerted efforts to shift to cleaner energy as part of their recovery efforts.

“This historic decline in emissions is happening for all the wrong reasons,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director. “People are dying and countries are suffering enormous economic trauma right now. The only way to sustainably reduce emissions is not through painful lockdowns, but by putting the right energy and climate policies in place.”
» Read article     

Merkel wants green recovery
Germany’s Merkel wants green recovery from coronavirus crisis
By Michael Nienaber, Markus Wacket, Reuters
April 28, 2020

BERLIN (Reuters) – Governments should focus on climate protection when considering fiscal stimulus packages to support an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.

Her comments are the clearest sign yet that Merkel wants to combine the task of helping companies recover from the pandemic with the challenge of setting more incentives for reducing carbon emissions.

Speaking at a virtual climate summit known as the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, Merkel said she expected difficult discussions about how to design post-crisis stimulus measures and about which business sectors need more help than others.

“It will be all the more important that if we set up economic stimulus programmes, we must always keep a close eye on climate protection,” Merkel said, adding the focus should be laid on supporting modern technologies and renewable energies.
» Read article     

climate-positive plan
A Time to Save the Sick and Rescue the Planet
With closer cooperation among nations, the head of the United Nations argues, we could stop a pandemic faster and slow climate change.
By António Guterres, New York Times Opinion
Mr. Guterres is the secretary general of the United Nations. Before that, he was the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
April 28, 2020

Addressing climate change and Covid-19 simultaneously and at enough scale requires a response stronger than any seen before to safeguard lives and livelihoods. A recovery from the coronavirus crisis must not take us just back to where we were last summer. It is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies — a more resilient and prosperous world. Recently the International Renewable Energy Agency released data showing that transforming energy systems could boost global G.D.P. by $98 trillion by 2050, delivering 2.4 percent more G.D.P. growth than current plans. Boosting investments in renewable energy alone would add 42 million jobs globally, create health care savings eight times the cost of the investment, and prevent a future crisis.

I am proposing six climate-positive actions for governments to consider once they go about building back their economies, societies and communities.
» Read article     

Wellington cable car
New Zealand calls for thousands of new ‘green’ jobs in bold comeback plan
By Christian Cotroneo, Mother Nature Network
April 27, 2020

There’s plenty of speculation over the origins of the pandemic that has ground much of the world to a halt. But there’s little doubt about who caused it. As a panel of international scientists noted in a release issued this week, “There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic — us.”

The statement — authored by professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and zoologist Peter Daszak — goes on to point the finger squarely at our obsession with “economic growth at any cost.”

“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.”

Now, the real question is how do we make things right in the world, while avoiding the mistakes that brought us here in the first place? At least one major political party thinks it has the answer.
» Read article     
» Read the statement by Settele, et al.

» More about greening the economy  

CLEAN ENERGY

Dirty Energy Dan
Billions in Clean Energy Loans Go Unused as Coronavirus Ravages Economy
As Congress rushes out trillions of dollars to prop up businesses, the Energy Department is holding on to tens of billions in clean energy loans.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
April 30, 2020

WASHINGTON — As the government struggles to keep businesses afloat through the pandemic, the Trump administration is sitting on about $43 billion in low-interest loans for clean energy projects, and critics are accusing the Energy Department of partisan opposition to disbursing the funds.

The loans — which would aid renewable power, nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage technology — had some bipartisan support even before the coronavirus pushed 30 million people onto the unemployment rolls. But some supporters of the program said it was being held back by a president who has falsely claimed wind power causes cancer and consistently sought deep cuts to renewable energy spending, including the loan program.
» Read article     

community solar explained
So, What Exactly Is Community Solar?
Not everyone can have solar on their own roof. A new GTM series helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
April 30, 2020

Residential solar has grown by leaps and bounds in the U.S. over the past two decades, but let’s face it: Not everyone can have solar on their own roof.

As many as three-quarters of American households are unable to access rooftop solar — because they rent, or live in an apartment building, or a rooftop system is not affordable for them.

Enter community solar: a simple, even elegant concept. Neighbors who are unable to build their own solar systems can join together, build a larger and more cost-efficient solar array nearby, and use the energy it provides to power their homes. Like many simple concepts, however, the details can quickly become overwhelming.

In the first of a new series of explanatory articles, GTM will help you understand what community solar is and how it works.
» Read article

CCA trending
Community Choice Aggregation: A Local, Viable Option for Renewable Energy
By The Climate Reality Project, EcoWatch
April 25, 2020

Cities and counties across the country are choosing to create community choice aggregation (CCA) programs, sometimes known as community choice energy or municipal aggregation.

In this alternative system, municipalities can secure the electricity supply and determine the electricity portfolio on behalf of their customers, while still relying on existing infrastructure to deliver the electricity. By aggregating the demand for electricity, local communities can negotiate rates and increase their use of renewables. CCAs allow for communities to have more control over their electricity sources, lessening the control investor-owned utilities can exert on a community.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy     

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

charger desert
‘Charger Desert’ in Big Cities Keeps Electric Cars From Mainstream
For city dwellers who would love an E.V., the biggest hurdle might be keeping it juiced up without a garage or other convenient charging stations.
By Lawrence Ulrich, New York Times
April 16, 2020

There are people across America who would buy an electric car tomorrow — if only they had someplace to plug it in. Forget oft-cited “range anxiety,” many experts say: The real deal-killer, especially for city and apartment dwellers, is a dearth of chargers where they park their cars.

Call it the Great Disconnect. In townhomes, apartments and condos, in dense cities and still-snug suburbs, plenty of people, worried about climate change, would make for a potentially receptive audience for E.V.s. But without a garage, they often feel locked out of the game.
» Read article     

Transportation Electrification Partnership proposes $150B federal stimulus package
By Cailin Crowe, Utility Dive
April 27, 2020

The public-private Transportation Electrification Partnership (TEP), led by the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), wrote a $150 billion federal stimulus proposal to create jobs, reduce air pollution and build climate resilience in Los Angeles County and beyond, amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The proposal includes a call for a $10 billion investment in EV charging infrastructure for light duty vehicles. According to the proposal, 84,000 public and workplace chargers in LA County are needed by 2028 to support air pollution reduction and climate resilience. It suggests investing in initiatives like installing curbside charging infrastructure on streetlights for drivers who don’t have access to charging at home — an initiative the City of Los Angeles has already successfully put to use.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation    

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian methane flare
New Satellite Data Reveals Dangerous Methane Emissions in Permian Region
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 25, 2020

New research based on satellite data confirms that the oil and gas industry in the Permian region of Texas and New Mexico is leaking record amounts of methane. The new research published in the journal Science Advances found that methane emissions in the Permian Basin were equivalent to 3.7 percent of the total methane produced by the oil and gas industry there.

In December DeSmog reported on the work of Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University, who has been studying the methane emissions of the oil and gas industry. Howarth’s latest research estimated that 3.4 percent of all natural gas produced from shale in the U.S. is leaked throughout the production cycle, which appears to be confirmed by this new research.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and makes up approximately 90 percent of what is known as natural gas. It’s a major contributor to global warming.

The oil and gas industry has long tried to sell the idea of natural gas, which is, again, primarily methane, as a clean energy climate solution. However, with a leakage rate of 3.7 percent, natural gas is actually worse for the climate than coal.
» Read article     
» Read the research paper

As BP’s profits plunge, analysts say we are entering the “end-game” for oil
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
April 29, 2020

Sometimes hyperbole is overused, but more and more commentators are saying that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to fundamentally redefine the global oil industry, with many companies not surviving the pandemic at all.

Investors are going to lose billions of dollars, which could be much better and wiser spent on investing in a just clean transition. But will they listen before the lose?

The warning signs are growing.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels         

BIOMASS

whole trees to pellets
Trees harvested for biomass energy under scrutiny
Environmental groups say wood pellet makers now using live, whole trees
By Nelson Bennett, BIV
April 26, 2020

One of the more contentious sources of renewable energy is biomass – i.e. burning wood pellets instead of coal or natural gas to generate heat or electricity.

The controversy could grow in B.C, as wood pellet producers appear to be resorting to using more live whole trees to produce wood pellets for export, as opposed to just wood waste.

Two B.C. wood pellet producers – Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. (TSX:PL) and Pacific BioEnergy – are being singled out by Stand.earth in a new report that suggests that the companies are now using what appears to be live, whole trees.

“Wood pellets are obviously the worst and lowest use of our last primary forests in the interior,said Michelle Connolly, director of Conservation North, which has documented the use of whole trees at B.C. pellet plants.

“The B.C. government assured us that green trees would not be used in pellet plants, and clearly that’s not true.”
» Read article     
» Read report

Virginia and North Carolina Show Biomass the Exits
By Sami Yassa, Natural Resources Defense Council / Expert Blog
April 26, 2020


Over the past 6 months, two southeastern states, Virginia and North Carolina, have taken landmark actions to ensure that dirty, destructive forest biomass for electricity has no place in the clean energy future of the region. In March, the Virginia legislature passed its landmark Clean Economy Act, which was signed into law by Governor Northam. Prior to that, North Carolina issued its final Clean Energy Plan under Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 80. In both cases, bold state action rejected biomass for electricity as a clean energy source and articulated compelling rationales to limit and restrict any future growth of the industry.

These back-to-back actions by neighboring states have created a long-overdue policy rejection of forest biomass for electricity driven by a groundswell of objection from concerned citizens. The actions send a clear signal that leaders in the region have no appetite for the unfounded subsidies and warped policies in the EU and UK. These subsidies drive the ecological destruction of the region’s forests, threaten their most vulnerable communities with disproportionate impacts, and accelerate climate change.
» Read article     
» Read VA’s Clean Economy Act
» Read NC’s Clean Energy Plan

» More about biomass     

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

microplastics on sea floorScientists Discover Highest Concentration of Deep-Sea Microplastics to Date
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
May 1, 2020

Scientists have discovered the highest concentration of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor—1.9 million pieces in one square meter (approximately 11 square feet) of the Mediterranean.

But the finding, published in Science Thursday, suggests a much broader problem as deep-sea currents carry plastics to microplastic “hotspots” that may also be deep-sea ecosystems rich in biodiversity. For study coauthor professor Elda Miramontes of the University of Bremen, Germany, the results were a call to action.

Of the more than ten million tons of plastic that enter the world’s oceans every year, less than one percent of it stays on the surface. Researchers at the University of Bremen, IFREMER in France, the universities of Manchester and Durham and the National Oceanography Centre in the UK set out to discover what happens to the remaining 99 percent, a University of Manchester press release explained.

They determined that it doesn’t settle on the bottom evenly, but is instead pushed together with other sediments by deep-sea currents.
» Read article     

» More about plastics, health, and the environment      

PLASTICS RECYCLING

exploring chem recycling
Plastic pollution: why chemical recycling could provide a solution
By Alvin Orbaek White, The Conversation
April 21, 2020

The world is drowning in plastic. About 60% of the more than 8,700 million metric tonnes of plastic ever made is no longer in use, instead sat mostly in landfill or released to the environment. That equals over 400kg of plastic waste for every one of the 7.6 billion people on the planet.

One reason for this is that many plastics are not recyclable in our current system. And even those that are recyclable still go to landfill eventually.

Plastics cannot be recycled infinitely, at least not using traditional techniques. Most are only given one new lease of life before they end up in the earth, the ocean or an incinerator. But there is hope in a different form of recycling known as chemical recycling.
» Read article     

» More about plastics recycling    

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Weekly News Check-In 12/20/19

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

With construction activities underway at the Weymouth compressor station, direct observations of environmental safety violations are piling up. We have news from that and other protests, along with an endorsement of nonviolent direct citizen action from scientists in 20 countries.

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ordered the government to cut that nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by the end of 2020. By far the most sweeping court intervention to date on behalf of the climate. Coal plants will close. Also in that section – satellites are beginning to pinpoint and measure methane leaks from space. Great news for data collection, but the findings are alarming.

Looking at clean energy, the Massachusetts chapter of US Green Building Council released a report showing that net zero energy buildings are economical to build – busting a longstanding myth that they’re too expensive. Energy storage has a new player, with the first U.S.-located liquid air facility planned for northern Vermont. This technology could compete favorably against lithium-ion batteries for requirements exceeding four hours. Mixed news on clean transportation: President Trump just killed the hoped-for extension of the electric vehicle tax credit. The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) is moving along with Governor Baker’s support.

In the alternative universe where fossil fuels are king, big players want to create a U.S.-style shale boom in Argentina. That in spite of dire climate warnings and gloomy financial analysis suggesting quite the opposite. Also related: new research shows many more (and smaller) plastic pieces in the ocean than previously thought.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH

tracking trucks
Dirty concerns raised about Weymouth compressor station construction
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
December 18, 2019

Trucks are daily tracking mud from a compressor station construction site in the Fore River Basin, and the dirt could have contaminants such as arsenic, according to Alice Arena, leader of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.

Arena said a Remediation Abatement Measure by Enbridge Inc., requires construction trucks to be cleansed before they leave the work area.

“Local contractors from J.F. Price and trucking companies are delivering gravel to the site,” she said during a Dec. 16 Weymouth Town Council town meeting. “These trucks are leaving the site with mud on their tires, and they are tracking the mud onto the public access roads and Bridge Street.”

Arena said there are no required cleansing pads at the compressor site under the Remediation Abatement Measure or RAM for truck operators to cleanse their tires of the soil before exiting the premises.
» Read article

compressor site cleanup
Officials, residents concerned with compressor site cleanup
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
December 17, 2019

WEYMOUTH — Town officials and residents are concerned that crews working to excavate contaminated fill at the site of a planned natural-gas compressor station are not following safety protocols and allowing hazardous materials to spread.

Alice Arena of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, a group opposed to the project, went before town council on Monday night to raise concerns about the ongoing work to remove contamination and more than 10,000 tons of soil containing arsenic and potentially other hazards.

Algonquin, a subsidiary of Enbridge, the company building the compressor station, recently started cleanup of the contamination at the site as part of a “release abatement measure” plan.

Arena said trucks visiting the site are already tracking soil onto neighboring roads, since there is no “cleaning pad” to wash off the mud and dirt beforehand as required in the plan. She said workers have been on site with no protective gear or breathing apparatus.

Arena said Enbridge has not appointed a public liaison to call about issues at the site as required, among other ongoing issues.
» Read article       

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS

NH coal train no stop
N.H.-Bound Coal Train Kept Rolling, Despite Activists On The Tracks
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
December 17, 2019


About a dozen activists attempting to stop a coal resupply train near Worcester  were forced from the tracks when the train failed to stop Monday night.

No one was injured or arrested.

The activists — some of whom were affiliated with groups like the Climate Disobedience Center, 350 New Hampshire Action and 350 Mass Action — said in a press release that the action was part of their campaign to shut down the Merrimack Generating Station in Bow, N.H., one of the last remaining coal plants in New England.
» Read article

scientists endorse direct action
Scientists endorse mass civil disobedience to force climate action
By Matthew Green, Reuters
October 12, 2019

In a joint declaration, climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and others from at least 20 countries broke with the caution traditionally associated with academia to side with peaceful protesters courting arrest from Amsterdam to Melbourne.

Wearing white laboratory coats to symbolize their research credentials, a group of about 20 of the signatories gathered on Saturday to read out the text outside London’s century-old Science Museum in the city’s upmarket Kensington district.

“We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non-violent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law,” said Emily Grossman, a science broadcaster with a PhD in molecular biology. She read the declaration on behalf of the group.

“We therefore support those who are rising up peacefully against governments around the world that are failing to act proportionately to the scale of the crisis,” she said.
» Read article

» More about protests and direct action

CLIMATE

Dutch court decision
Netherlands’ Top Court Orders Government to Act on Climate Change
By John Schwartz, New York Times
December 20, 2019

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands on Friday ordered the government to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by the end of 2020. It was the first time a nation has been required by its courts to take action against climate change.

Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Law at Columbia University Law School, said in an email: “There have been 1,442 climate lawsuits around the world. This is the strongest decision ever. The Dutch Supreme Court upheld the first court order anywhere directing a country to slash its greenhouse gas emissions.”
» Read article

rehab and release
Changing Seas Bring ‘Turtle Stranding Season’ to Cape Cod
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times
December 19, 2019


Mr. Prescott, who retired this summer after 40 years as director of the wildlife sanctuary in Wellfleet, spotted his first cold-stunned sea turtle in the region in 1974. “It was dead,” he said.

The following year he found two.

Other people started to walk the beaches too, after Mr. Prescott wrote about the turtle in the local paper. “By 1978, ’79, it became pretty obvious that there were turtles here every year,” he said.

“The single variable that helped explain this trend was warmer late-fall temperatures,” said Dr. Griffin, who published a study that looked into what was causing the rise in cold-stunning.

Turtles are cold-blooded and depend on surrounding temperatures to regulate their internal body temperatures, which makes them extremely sensitive to ambient temperatures.
» Read article

austral heat records
‘Red Lights Flashing’: Australia Smashes Heat Record Just a Day After Previous Record Hit
“I think this is the single loudest alarm bell I’ve ever heard on global heating.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 19, 2019


Calls for immediate and ambitious action to tackle the climate emergency piled up Thursday in response to preliminary analysis from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology that Wednesday smashed the nation’s temperature record by a full 1°C just one day after the previous all-time record.

The first record was set Tuesday, when Australia’s national average maximum temperature reached 40.9°C (105.6°F), eliciting alarm from climate and fire safety experts. Wednesday, the average rose to 41.9°C (107.4°F), sparking a fresh wave of warnings and demands for bold efforts to battle the planetary crisis.

For the second day in a row, Australia has broken its hottest day in recorded history.
» Read article

Sonnblick Observatory
2°C: Beyond the limit – How we know global warming is real
By Chris Mooney , John Muyskens , Aaron Steckelberg , Harry Stevens and Monica Ulmanu, Washington Post
December 19, 2019

If early forecasting aimed to avert tragedy and economic loss, the troves of data it produced are used today to monitor a new sort of disaster, one that was scarcely foreseeable by 19th-century meteorologists but that now constitutes the single most significant fact about the planet’s environment.

It is that the world is more than 1 degree Celsius hotter than it was before industrialization began pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere. This warming has fueled new deadly fires, strengthened hurricanes and displaced people. And many areas have warmed far more than the average.

How can that be known? How can it be possible to take Earth’s temperature, not just for this week or this year, but for decades and centuries?

The answer begins with nearly 1,500 weather stations already operating by the time Sonnblick began recording. The telegraph allowed all those readings to be collected and analyzed to show weather patterns.
» Read article  

Candidate Trump
Donald Trump’s Record on Climate Change

Trump’s first term has been a relentless drive for unfettered fossil energy development. ICN’s 2020 candidate analysis looks at the president’s climate record.
By Stacy Feldman and Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
December 19, 2019

As president, [Trump] has rolled back regulations on energy suppliers at a rapid clip slowed only at times by the courts, while auctioning off millions of acres of new drilling leases on public land. Last year, domestic oil production hit a record high. The result of this, among other things, was the reversal of three consecutive years of declining U.S. carbon emissions.

Trump has begun the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate treaty, the agreement signed by nearly all nations to reduce fossil fuel emissions. He replaced Obama’s Clean Power Plan, intended to sharply reduce emissions from U.S. power plants. He has taken the first step to weaken fuel economy standards for cars, the single most important effort for reining in the largest driver of U.S. emissions.

His administration has undone or delayed—or tried to—most regulatory and executive actions related to climate change, while proposing new ones to accelerate fossil fuel development. Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law counts 131 actions toward federal climate deregulation since Trump took office. In the absence of any comprehensive national climate law, those moves have led to an erosion of the federal government’s main regulatory levers for cutting global warming emissions.

Several of those actions, including rollbacks of significant rules on methane, cross-state air pollution regulations and energy efficiency, have been blocked or delayed by judges who have questioned the administration’s broad view of its legal authority. Some of those setbacks may be temporary, though, and the courts have yet to rule on the most consequential deregulatory actions. According to the administration’s agenda for 2020, the president will try to fast-track as many more as possible before the end of his first term.
» Read article

Ohio methane blowout
A Methane Leak, Seen From Space, Proves to Be Far Larger Than Thought
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
December 16, 2019

The first satellite designed to continuously monitor the planet for methane leaks made a startling discovery last year: A little known gas-well accident at an Ohio fracking site was in fact one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the United States.

The findings by a Dutch-American team of scientists, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, from oil and gas sites worldwide.

The scientists said the new findings reinforced the view that methane releases like these, which are difficult to predict, could be far more widespread than previously thought.
» Read article         
» Read report ($10 download fee)

COP25 RIP
U.N. Climate Talks End With Few Commitments and a ‘Lost’ Opportunity
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
December 15, 2019

In what was widely denounced as one of the worst outcomes in a quarter-century of climate negotiations, United Nations talks ended early Sunday morning with the United States and other big polluters blocking even a nonbinding measure that would have encouraged countries to adopt more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions next year.

Because the United States is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, it was the last chance, at least for some time, for American delegates to sit at the negotiating table at the annual talks — and perhaps a turning point in global climate negotiations, given the influence that Washington has long wielded, for better or worse, in the discussions.

The Trump administration used the meeting to push back on a range of proposals, including a mechanism to compensate developing countries for losses that were the result of more intense storms, droughts, rising seas and other effects of global warming.
» Read article

tiempo de actuar
COP25: Anger Over Lack of Action for Vulnerable States as Climate Talks Conclude
By Sophie Yeo, DeSmog Blog
December 13, 2019

Climate activists have found plenty to be angry about at this year’s UN climate talks, which are scheduled to conclude in Madrid tonight. From youth groups to indigenous people, civil society has been more riled than in previous years, as the disconnect grows between momentum on the streets and the slow progress of the negotiations.

“It’s like two parallel worlds,” says Sara Shaw, part of the Friends of the Earth International delegation at the meeting, known as COP25. “It’s so stark, the contrast between climate breakdown, the potential of massive expansion of fossil fuels, using markets to game the system, the access polluters have to these talks when civil society is really marginalised. I think it’s just coming together in a huge amount of frustration at the injustice of it all.”

Two issues have proved particularly contentious: the role of carbon markets, and lack of finance for countries that are already suffering the impacts of climate change – known in the negotiations as “loss and damage”.
» Read article

» More on climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

net zero economical
Zero energy buildings are not high cost
They make sense environmentally and economically
By Meredith Elbaum, CommonWealth Magazine
November 3, 2019

The latest  report from the Massachusetts chapter of US Green Building Council, Zero Energy Buildings in MA: Saving Money from the Start, combats the common, but incorrect, notion of high upfront costs for building green. As the report describes how many types of zero energy buildings can be built with little or no added upfront cost and some zero energy commercial buildings can see return on investment in as little as one year. With zero energy buildings being more affordable than typically thought and within reach for many municipalities across the state, cities and towns can play a critical role in furthering green building in our Commonwealth.
» Read article         
» Read USGBC-MA report                   

» More on clean energy alternatives

ENERGY STORAGE

liquid air energy storageFirst US long-duration liquid air storage project planned in Vermont
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
December 18, 2019

Lithium-ion batteries have dominated the advanced energy storage market in recent years, but there is a broad understanding in the space that other technologies will become more competitive as the need for longer-duration storage grows, Finn-Foley told Utility Dive.

“That’s the sort of market niche that a lot of long-duration players, including Highview, are pursuing,” he said.

Liquid air storage involves cleaning and compressing air with excess or off-peak electricity, liquefying it and storing it in cold insulated tanks. During peak periods on the grid, the air is warmed, causing it to expand and turn a turbine, “thus generating energy that can be used at peak times when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing,” Highview Power Storage said in a press release.
» Read article         
» Read press release

» More on energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

orange buffoon EV tax credit extensionTrump’s Christmas Gift to Big Oil: Killing Hopes of Electric Car Tax Credit Extension
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 18, 2019

The oil industry, a staunch opponent of electric vehicles (EVs), received an early Christmas present from the White House as President Trump reportedly intervened to quash an EV tax credit expansion from inclusion in a government spending package.

The tax credit is meant to help offset the upfront cost of electric vehicles and boost the EV market. Consumers who purchase an EV can currently claim a credit up to $7,500, and the credit phases out once auto manufacturers sell 200,000 qualifying vehicles. Tesla and General Motors have both hit the 200,000-vehicle cap and had lobbied for an extension. A bipartisan proposal called for allowing a $7,000 credit for an additional 400,000 vehicles sold.

That proposal, introduced earlier this year as the Driving America Forward Act, was rolled into a broader package of incentives for renewable energy that proponents hoped to pass as part of an end-of-year spending deal. But groups tied to the Koch network and backed by oil industry funding worked hard to kill the clean energy incentives. These groups sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week urging the Senate to oppose any bill that includes an EV tax credit extension.

Ultimately the EV provision was dropped from the spending package. According to Forbes, “In last-minute negotiations over a massive package of spending bills designed to avert a government shutdown, the EV provision was lost in the shuffle and that was the outcome Republicans and President Trump wanted.”
» Read article

TCI - Zakim
TCI could up gas prices 5 to 17 cents a gallon in 2022
Modeling shows costs and benefits of carbon pricing
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 17, 2019

OFFICIALS DEVELOPING A new regional approach to reducing tailpipe emissions on the East Coast are considering policies that would add between 5 cents and 17 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline, generating over $1 billion in the first year spread among all the participating states.

No price is set in stone yet, and it’s an open question how many of the roughly one dozen states will sign at the bottom once the agreement is finalized. On Tuesday afternoon, after the announcement, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced his state would not participate in the collective approach, tweeting that TCI is a “financial boondoggle” and “drivers will bear the brunt of the artificially higher gas prices.”

Championed by Gov. Charlie Baker, the transportation and climate initiative, dubbed TCI, aims to syphon money from gasoline and diesel wholesalers and pump it into other transportation priorities. The initiative is supposed to go into effect in two years, and Baker has said half of the Bay State’s proceeds would be steered into the Commonwealth Transportation Fund and the other half to unspecified local transportation priorities.

The “cap and invest” program for the transportation sector would be similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that has helped drive coal plants out of the electricity market while funding popular efficiency programs such as Mass Save.
 » Read article

Baker’s walk on the wild side
Leads the charge for TCI and higher gas prices
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
December 17, 2019

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S all-in embrace of the transportation climate initiative is another step away from his shrinking Republican base and a tacit admission that the state needs more transit funding.

The transportation climate initiative, or TCI, places a price on the carbon contained in gasoline and diesel fuels and requires wholesale distributors to pay allowances for the right to sell their product. The cost of the allowances will likely be passed on to drivers in the form of higher prices at the pump, and the revenue from the allowances will flow back to the participating states to be used for efforts to deal with climate change.
» Read article

New Hampshire pulls out of regional Transportation & Climate Initiative agreement that could bring $500 million a year to Massachusetts
By Tanner Stening, MassLive.com
December 17, 2019

Following the release of a memorandum of understanding Tuesday outlining a vision for the Transportation & Climate Initiative, one state has already pulled out of the effort.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu tweeted that his state will not be participating in the regional agreement to curb transportation emissions, saying he “will not force Granite Staters to pay more for their gas just to subsidize other state’s crumbling infrastructure.”

The regional policy could bring in some $7 billion in new funds across the region, and about $500 million a year in Massachusetts, according to estimates shared Tuesday. Those proceeds would then be invested in clean transportation solutions as each state sees fit.
» Read article

» More on clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

two-face tango
While Talking up Climate Action, Oil Majors Eye Argentina’s Shale Reserves
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
December 19, 2019

Even as international climate negotiators tried to make progress at the UN climate summit in Madrid in early December, fossil fuel production and consumption has continued to rise, and major oil companies have been seeking new horizons to exploit.

The industry is not slowing down, even in the face of the worsening climate crisis. Although many oil companies signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement, they have simultaneously poured $50 billion into projects since 2018 that are not aligned with climate targets. The industry also has plans to invest $1.4 trillion in new oil and gas projects around the world over the next five years, despite the fact that existing projects contain enough greenhouse gases to use up the remaining carbon budget.

In other words, the oil majors are actively betting on, and are heavily invested in, blowing past climate targets and burning as much carbon as possible, despite protestations from company executives that they are good-faith actors.
» Read article

forecast per well
Energy Analysts Deliver More Bad News for US Fracking Industry’s Business Model

By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
December 17, 2019

This month, the energy consulting firm Wood MacKenzie gave an online presentation that basically debunked the whole business model of the shale industry.

In this webinar, which explored the declining production rates of oil wells in the Permian region, research director Ben Shattuck noted how it was impossible to accurately forecast how much oil a shale play held based on estimates from existing wells.

“Over the years of us doing this, as analysts, we’ve learned that you really have to do it well by well,” Shattuck explained of analyzing well performance. “You cannot take anything for granted.”

For an industry that has raised hundreds of billions of dollars promising future performance based on the production of a few wells, this is not good news. And particularly for the Permian, the nation’s most productive shale play, located in Texas and New Mexico.
» Read article

Gas ban - MA codes
These Cities Want to Ban Natural Gas. But Would It Be Legal?
Cambridge, Massachusetts, got a surprise warning as it considered a natural gas ban to reduce its climate impact.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
December 12, 2019

Berkeley, California, passed the first such ban in the country this past summer, and other West Coast cities have since followed with similar restrictions.

But in Massachusetts, as Cambridge discovered on Wednesday, it might be harder—if not impossible—to do.

The reason: the city ordinances and town bylaws in Massachusetts may conflict with existing regulations that are governed by the state. During a Cambridge City Council committee meeting Wednesday, the city’s attorney advised that a proposed gas ban there might not stand up to legal scrutiny. The state attorney general’s office is also reviewing the legality of a ban approved last month by the Boston suburb of Brookline on natural gas heating in new buildings.
» Read article

Vaca Muerta shale
Argentina Wants a Fracking Boom. The US Offers a Cautionary Tale
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
December 12, 2019

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez takes office in the midst of an economic crisis. Like his predecessor, he has made fracking a centerpiece of the country’s economic revival.

Argentina has some of the largest natural gas and oil reserves in the world and “possibly the most prospective outside of North America,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If some other country is going to successfully replicate the U.S. shale revolution, most experts put Argentina pretty high on that list. While the U.S. shale industry is showing its age, Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale is in its early stages, with only 4 percent of the acreage developed thus far.

The country feels a sense of urgency. Declining conventional production from older oil and gas fields has meant that Argentina has become a net importer of fuels over the past decade. Meanwhile, Argentina’s economy has deteriorated badly due to a toxic cocktail of debt, austerity, inflation, and an unstable currency.

For these reasons — a growing energy deficit, a worsening economic situation, and large oil and gas reserves trapped underground — there is enormous political support for kick-starting an American-style fracking boom in Argentina.
» Read article

» More on fossil fuels

PLASTICS, HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT

 

mini-microplastics
Microplastics a million times more abundant in the ocean than previously thought, Scripps study suggests

Mini-microplastics uncovered in the stomachs of filter-feeding marine organisms
By Chase Martin, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
December 03, 2019

Nothing seems safe from plastic contamination. It is pulled from the nostrils of sea turtles, found in Antarctic waters and buried in the fossil record. But a new study by researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego suggests there could be a million times more pieces of plastic in the ocean than previously estimated.

Biological oceanographer Jennifer Brandon found some of the tiniest countable microplastics in surface seawater at much higher concentrations than previously measured. Her method unveiled that the traditional way of counting marine microplastics is likely missing the smallest particles, suggesting the number of measured microplastics in the ocean is off by five to seven orders of magnitude.

On average, Brandon estimates the ocean is contaminated by 8.3 million pieces of so-called mini-microplastics per cubic meter of water. Previous studies measuring larger pieces of plastic found only 10 pieces per cubic meter.

Her discoveries about mini-microplastics, completed while a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was published Nov. 27 in a special issue of Limnology and Oceanography Letters devoted to research on microplastics and microfibers.
» Read article      
» Read published study

» More on plastics in the environment

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