Tag Archives: National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Partuculate Matter

Weekly News Check-In 5/8/20

WNCI-6

Welcome back.

A recent federal appeals court ruling against the water-crossing permit issued to Keystone XL by the Army Corps of Engineers may signal an end to easy pipeline permits in general. Big Oil is watching closely.

Our new section on greening the economy is a great place for thought-provoking articles, and this week is exceptional.  We include writing that discusses a potential green bias in future project financing, the issues surrounding “just transition” – compensation for displaced fossil fuel sector workers – and a must-read essay by science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson who suggests that the Covid-19 crisis and global response may open our collective imagination enough to tackle climate change.

Our climate section offers fresh examples of why we should hope Robinson is right. Unless we change our emissions trajectory soon, about one-third of humanity will find itself facing intolerable heat within 50 years. Unfortunately the Trump administration has pressed a sustained and effective attack on the very federal institutions that should be leading the climate fight.

That said, we have to give tentative credit to the Treasury Department for suggesting in a recent three-sentence letter that it will extend the federal renewable energy credit deadline for some projects delayed by the Covid-19 crisis. Stay tuned… this could be particularly beneficial to the wind industry.

We have some good/bad news on energy storage. Southern California Edison has commissioned a record amount of new capacity in an attempt to get ahead of planned natural gas power plant shut-downs. At the same time, Tesla has announced it will have trouble keeping up with demand.

The Environmental Protection Agency is a prime example of an agency that has been transformed under Trump to do industry’s bidding. Its latest attack on the use of science in the public interest involves an attempt to use a 19th century rule that legal scholars may not even apply to this agency. A court challenge is likely.

Regardless of all the help it gets from the federal government and its captured regulatory agencies, the fossil fuel industry as a whole is in deep trouble. We offer three insightful articles for a clear look at the situation from the oil patch to the securities trading floor.

Until recently considered a boon to shale gas producers, the dream of exporting liquefied natural gas to higher-priced foreign markets has sailed onto the rocks. Huge projects are being cancelled as investors and politicians recognize this new reality.

We close with an issue related to burning woody biomass for energy. A new United Nations report raises concern that global forest production can’t sustainably keep pace with all the various wood products a growing human population demands.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

big oil yellow light
Big Oil Fears Keystone XL Ruling Means End of Easy Pipeline Permits
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
May 3, 2020

On April 15, Judge Brian Morris nullified water-crossing permits in Montana that were granted for the Keystone XL, a major setback for the long-embattled tar sands oil pipeline. The ruling came just days after Keystone XL owner TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, obtained billions of dollars in subsidies from the Alberta government as global oil prices plummeted.

The oil and gas industry has taken notice. Seemingly just a ruling on Keystone XL — the subject of opposition by the climate movement for the past decade — the ruling could have far broader implications for the future of building water-crossing pipelines and utility lines.

In his decision, Judge Morris cited a potential violation of the Endangered Species Act when he ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a deeper analysis of potential impacts to protected species. Morris required the Corps to demonstrate whether or not it could construct the pipeline without harming endangered species, such as the Pallid Sturgeon or the American burying beetle. Instead, the Army Corps “failed to consider relevant expert analysis and failed to articulate a rational connection between the facts it found and the choice it made,” Morris ruled, when the Corps gave Keystone XL the initial green light.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

financiers say rebuild green
Rich nations must make pandemic recovery plans green: global investors
By Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett, Reuters
May 4, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – The world’s richest nations must ensure their COVID-19 recovery plans are sustainable and help meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, according to leading global investor groups that together manage trillions of dollars in assets.

While some members of the world’s 20 biggest economies such as Britain, France and Germany have made statements about doing just that, some of the biggest emitters such as China and the United States have yet to do so.

The intervention comes as more governments start to plan for the lifting of lockdown restrictions that have cratered the revenues of companies from airlines to retailers and radically changed the economics of the energy sector.

The groups said private capital would play a key role in the recovery, but investors needed long-term policies to be put in place that reflected the agreed move to a low-carbon economy.
» Read article     

one last puff
Looming Coal and Nuclear Plant Closures Put ‘Just Transition’ Concept to the Test
In Europe, the fate of displaced power plant workers is increasingly a matter of national concern. So far, things look very different in the U.S.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
May 4, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has not changed the grim reality facing workers at coal and nuclear power plants in the U.S. and Europe. How those workers will fare in the years ahead will vary greatly based on where they live and the prevailing political winds.

In Europe, the retirement of aging plants is increasingly seen as a matter of national concern. Germany this year agreed to a €40 billion ($45 billion) compensation package for workers affected by the country’s planned phaseout of coal generation by 2038. Last month the Spanish authorities agreed a just transition plan affecting 2,300 workers across 12 thermal power plants that are due to close this year.

In contrast, there is no federal support plan for such workers in the U.S., said Tim Judson, executive director at the Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which lobbies for an end to nuclear and fossil-fuel power.
» Read article     

rewriting out imaginations
The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations
What felt impossible has become thinkable. The spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change as a civilization.
By Kim Stanley Robinson, The New Yorker
May 1, 2020

The Anthropocene, the Great Acceleration, the age of climate change—whatever you want to call it, we’ve been out of synch with the biosphere, wasting our children’s hopes for a normal life, burning our ecological capital as if it were disposable income, wrecking our one and only home in ways that soon will be beyond our descendants’ ability to repair. And yet we’ve been acting as though it were 2000, or 1990—as though the neoliberal arrangements built back then still made sense. We’ve been paralyzed, living in the world without feeling it.

Now, all of a sudden, we’re acting fast as a civilization. We’re trying, despite many obstacles, to flatten the curve—to avoid mass death. Doing this, we know that we’re living in a moment of historic importance. We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters. For some of us, it partly compensates for the disruption of our lives.

Actually, we’ve already been living in a historic moment. For the past few decades, we’ve been called upon to act, and have been acting in a way that will be scrutinized by our descendants. Now we feel it. The shift has to do with the concentration and intensity of what’s happening.
» Read article     

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

diminished capacity
The Trump Administration Has “Corroded” Federal Environmental Science

A watchdog group’s new report documents the heavy toll that three and a half years of Trump-era attacks have had on environmental and public health research at government agencies.
By Emily Gertz, Drilled News
May 7, 2020

The Trump administration’s ongoing attacks on the budgets, staffing, and priorities of federal environmental agencies have “corroded our government’s ability to protect our nation’s ecology and public health,” according to a new report from Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a government science watchdog.

“If there’s one overriding principle involved, it’s a pretty strategic taking-apart of government capacity to act in the public good,” said [the report’s lead author, Christopher Sellers, an environmental historian at Stony Brook University in New York].

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative formed in late 2016 to archive and monitor federal climate and other environmental data, and to track changes to environmental, energy, and climate information on government websites.
» Read article     
» Read the report         

insufferable in fifty
One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study
Human cost of climate crisis will hit harder and sooner than previously believed, research reveals
By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
May 5, 2020

The human cost of the climate crisis will hit harder, wider and sooner than previously believed, according to a study that shows a billion people will either be displaced or forced to endure insufferable heat for every additional 1C rise in the global temperature.

In a worst-case scenario of accelerating emissions, areas currently home to a third of the world’s population will be as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years, the paper warns. Even in the most optimistic outlook, 1.2 billion people will fall outside the comfortable “climate niche” in which humans have thrived for at least 6,000 years.

The authors of the study said they were “floored” and “blown away” by the findings because they had not expected our species to be so vulnerable.
» Read article
» Read the study

leases vacated in Montana
Judge Vacates Oil and Gas Leases on 145,000 Acres in Montana
A federal judge, rapping the Trump administration for its weak environmental assessments, has vacated hundreds of oil and gas leases across a large swath of Montana.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
May 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday vacated 287 oil and gas leases on almost 150,000 acres of land in Montana, ruling that the Trump administration had improperly issued the leases to energy companies in 2017 and 2018.

The judge, Brian Morris of the United States District Court for the District of Montana, said the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately take into account the environmental impacts of the drilling. In particular, Judge Morris found that the officials had not accounted for the drilling’s impact on regional water supplies and the global impact that the increased drilling would have on climate change.

The decision is at least the third such legal loss that criticized the Trump administration for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of expanding fossil fuel production on the warming of the planet.
» Read article     

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

deadline relief for wind
US Treasury to Tweak Tax Credit Deadlines for Renewables Projects
A letter issued by the Treasury Department suggests relief may be on the way for an anxious renewables market, particularly wind developers.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 7, 2020

A concise three-sentence letter sent by the U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday suggests relief may be on the way for a renewables industry concerned about meeting quickly approaching tax credit deadlines.

The letter came in response to a late April appeal from a bipartisan group of senators who asked that the department extend deadlines for solar and wind developers looking to qualify projects for the federal Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit. In the letter, addressed to Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, a long-time champion of the U.S. wind industry, Treasury said that it “plans to modify the relevant rules in the near future.”

That statement, though short on detail, may give breathing room to developers scrambling to keep projects on track as COVID-19-fueled delays throw schedules into disarray.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

hockey stick growth
SCE procures 770 MW of battery storage to bolster California’s grid as gas plants approach retirement
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
May 5, 2020

Southern California Edison (SCE) is procuring a 770 MW/3,080 MWh package of battery resources to bolster grid reliability, the utility announced May 1, in what would be one of the largest storage procurements made in the United States to date.

The battery projects will “enhance electric grid reliability and help address potential energy shortfalls identified in California,” SCE said in a press release, adding that they would also help California’s broader clean energy transition as multiple coastal once-through-cooling (OTC) plants approach retirement dates in the next three years.

The scale of the projects is “hard to describe,” Daniel Finn-Foley, head of energy storage at Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables, told Utility Dive, since this single procurement is more than the entire energy storage market in the U.S. for all of 2019.
» Read article     

storage demand high
‘Tremendous demand for stationary storage’ outstrips Tesla’s 2020 supply capability, Musk says
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
May 1, 2020

Tesla cannot meet the “tremendous demand” in 2020 for its energy storage products, like the large-scale Megapack battery systems, co-founder and CEO Elon Musk said during the company’s Q1 earnings call on Wednesday.

The company lists several COVID-19 impacts in its SEC filing, such as suspensions of operations at its facilities in Shanghai and New York, and deployment delays caused by closed government offices and businesses.

The pandemic is spurring the company to take a closer look at its cost structure, Musk said on the call.

“And we came to a conclusion that… the right move was actually to continue to expand rapidly, continue to invest in the future and in new technologies, even though it is risky. And we’ve talked to some of our key investors, and they support that approach as well,” he said, adding that long-term prospects for Tesla are extremely good.
» Read article     

» More about energy storage

EPA

bad housekeeping
Agency leans on 1870s ‘housekeeping’ law to block science
By Jean Chemnick, E&E News
May 8, 2020

EPA is trying to use a 19th-century statute giving department heads the right to manage personnel and internal record keeping to contain the science it uses when drafting regulations, including those on greenhouse gases.

The March supplementary proposal for a rule EPA bills as improving transparency of the science and modeling that underpin important agency work points to an obscure “housekeeping statute” enacted in 1874. It has roots in laws enacted under President Washington when early federal agencies were founded.

The agency’s gambit highlights the lengths to which the Trump administration will go, critics say, to cement the president’s anti-regulatory agenda ahead of a possible second term, or to try to tie the hands of subsequent administrations.
» Read article     

state enforcement lags
As EPA Backs Off Enforcement, States and Cities Have Little Capacity to Fill Gap
State and local governments often have authority but lack the resources and political will to enforce pollution rules.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
May 5, 2020

Since the Trump administration announced the suspension of much environmental enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic, advocates are calling on state and local regulators, as well as watchdog groups, to step up their efforts to fill the gap.

But that won’t be easy, whether in a Democratic-controlled state like Illinois or a Republican one like Indiana, given the impacts of the pandemic and past staffing and budget cuts that have curbed the ability of states to carry out enforcement.

In a March 26 letter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that polluters won’t be fined for failure to meet federal standards during the pandemic. Some experts feel the administration is using the pandemic to continue a trend of backing off on enforcement.
» Read article     

fine particulates vs science
EPA Decides to Reject the Latest Science, Endanger Public Health and Ignore the Law by Keeping an Outdated Fine Particle Air Pollution Standard
By H. Christopher Frey, DeSmog Blog – Opinion
May 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown have temporarily produced clearer skies across the U.S. Meanwhile, however, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been busy finding reasons not to pursue long-lasting air quality gains.

On April 30, 2020, the agency published a proposed new rule that retains current National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter without any revisions. It took this action after a five-year review process, in which scientific evidence showed unequivocally that these standards are not adequate to protect public health.
» Read article     

» More about EPA      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oil chaos
Oil chaos: Why is it so hard to cut production?
By Mike Lee and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
May 6, 2020

Last week’s round of earnings reports shows that oil companies are finally starting to pull back on their production in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Big and small companies alike announced that they’re shutting down rigs and closing down wells. Exxon Mobil Corp. said it plans to mothball 75% of its rigs in the Permian Basin.

But the response came more than a month after oil prices started to fall, leaving many observers asking: Why didn’t the industry hit the brakes sooner?
» Read article     

feels different this time
‘This Feels Very Different’
For over a decade, the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico has been the epicenter of the American oil boom. Now, it’s the epicenter of its demise.
By Tamir Kalifa and Clifford Krauss, New York Times
May 1, 2020

The Permian Basin, which stretches across Texas and New Mexico and is almost as big as Britain, accounts for one out of every three barrels of oil produced in the United States.

The region has a storied history. It provided much of the oil for the American and Allied effort during World War II. In the 1970s, the basin created so many millionaires that many drank champagne out of cowboy boots and had trouble finding places to park their private planes.

That was followed by a crash, after which a popular bumper sticker appeared everywhere: “God Grant Me One More Oil Boom and I Promise Not to Screw It Up.”
» Read article     

From Supermajors to Superminors: the fall of Big Oil
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
May 1, 2020

It is increasingly looking like COVID-19 could be Big Oil’s Kodak moment. For over a century these firms have been titans of business, offering a steady financial return in good times and bad.

But most importantly, they have been immovable pillars of stone for investors in times of turmoil. Whatever the financial weather, the companies rewarded their investors.

Although we are in times of trouble now, the supermajor oil companies, which we often describe as Big Oil: BP, Chevron, Eni, Exxon, Shell, Total, and ConocoPhilips, are anything but a safe bet right now.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LNG

dead in the water
Irish LNG Plan That Would Allow US Fracked Gas Imports ‘Dead in the Water’
By John Gibbons, DeSmog Blog
May 4, 2020

It is increasingly unlikely that Ireland will develop new infrastructure to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced from fracked wells in the US, after the plans suffered a series of potentially fatal legal and political setbacks.

First, the European Court of Justice advocate general, Juliane Kokott, ruled that An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s planning appeals body, erred in not requesting an up-to-date environmental impact study for the proposed Shannon LNG terminal before extending planning permission for a planned project. The decision means the case would have to be referred back to Ireland’s High Court.

Meanwhile, the political climate regarding the project has turned distinctly hostile, with the two major centrist parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil this week signing a joint letter that appears to signal the death knell for the LNG project.
» Read article     

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

not enough wood
Is There Enough Wood in the World to Meet the Sustainability Demand?
By Deutsche Welle, EcoWatch
May 4, 2020

According to the latest figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global forest production hit record levels in 2018. Up 11% on the year before.

“We see an increasing demand for almost all of our products,” says Göran Örlander, strategist at Södra, Sweden’s largest association of forest owners. “The most obvious demand is for biofuels at the moment. Everybody wants to have biofuels to replace fossil fuels.”

The idea is that burning wood becomes close to carbon neutral if the forests from where it is taken are replenished at the same rate as they are felled for fuel.

But critics question whether this is the case in every country which claims to provide sustainable wood, and say some of what is supplying the current boom in biomass fuels comes from existing forests rather than sustainably managed plantations.

They also point to the carbon emitted from the soil of cleared forests, and to the emissions created in the felling and processing of wood products.
» Read article     

» More about biomass

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