Tag Archives: NERA

Weekly News Check-In 7/17/20

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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 7/3/20

banner 02

Welcome back.

There’s continued interest in the recent arrest of two environmental activists in Louisiana on felony terrorism charges for their non-violent action delivering a box of “nurdles” to a plastics industry lobbyist. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

We’re happy to report that the Holleran family has been compensated by the Williams Companies for hundreds of trees cut on their Pennsylvania farm to make way for a pipeline that was never built. The Constitution Pipeline was recently scrapped when New York refused to permit it. As a side note, we’re pretty sure Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker could use a similar argument to stop the Weymouth compressor.

Future cases like the Holleran family’s tree loss may have been averted by a recent DC Circuit Court ruling that found the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can no longer continue its use of “tolling orders” to indefinitely delay hearing landowner complaints, even while trees are cleared and pipelines are built across their properties.

This week, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a sweeping and serious new climate proposal, including measures for greening the economy in the post-pandemic recovery. The Trump administration and Senate Republicans declared the bill dead on arrival. You can express your opinion of that by voting on or before Tuesday, November 3, 2020…. Meanwhile, the need for transformative action is especially acute in coal country. A gradual contraction of that mining economy has recently morphed into freefall – with relief and a new economic model desperately needed.

Some of us have noticed recently that the latest generation of climate models occasionally predicts substantially more warming than prior models did. We found an interesting article exploring that anomaly, and revealing the devilish complexities around cloud effects. We also have a fascinating story of coal-driven climate change from 250 million years ago, plus encouraging news indicating that the Heartland Institute – a major force in climate denial – appears to be losing influence.

Electricity will not entirely replace fuels in the foreseeable future because some processes and modes of transport are just too energy intensive. Hydrogen is a strong alternative candidate, but it’s currently produced using fossil fuels. “Green” hydrogen is coming – our Clean Energy section offers a primer.

Energy efficiency upgrades, especially in commercial and industrial sectors, are among the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions. That is not necessarily true for existing low-income housing, but taken as a component of redressing social injustice, it’s a compelling program that deserves high priority. Another priority is greening the transportation sector. It’s at once the largest greenhouse gas emitter and Big Oil’s best customer. We’re seeing both progress and push-back.

We wrap up with a few articles about the fossil fuel industry. It’s a gutter tour through financial collapse, attempted influence against green legislation, and a tightening circle of litigation calling out years of fraud.

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

outrage after terror charges
Outrage after “Cancer Alley” activists face terrorism charges for anti-plastics stunt
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 29, 2020

For decades, those on the frontline of the environmental justice struggle have faced legal intimidation and harassment for speaking out against chronic pollution in “Cancer Alley,” an 85-mile stretch of oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana.

According to the Times-Picayune, “[Anne] Rolfes was booked with terrorizing, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. [Kate] McIntosh was booked with principal to terrorizing.” Each was released after posting a USD 5,000 bond.

So what had they done to deserve a felony terrorism charge and potentially face years in prison?

Over six months ago, in December, they left a highly symbolic sealed box containing plastic pellet waste on the doorstep of a local oil and gas lobbyist to highlight the issue of chronic pollution in the region, which is home to some of the most impoverished and vulnerable communities in the United States.

In that sense [the charges] are SLAPPs — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. We know legal intimidation is getting worse in the US.

Indeed, as Earther points out: “In the past four years, 21 states have introduced criminal penalties for demonstrating near oil and gas infrastructure with many of those laws mirroring text drafted by the industry-backed American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2019, the federal government proposed legislation that would prescribe up to two decades in prison for ‘inhibiting the operation’ of pipelines — or even just ‘conspiring’ to do so. But even by those standards, these charges seem utterly gratuitous.”
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no eminent domain for corporate gain
Family that lost hundreds of trees to failed pipeline project settles with company, gets land back
Constitution pipeline builder cut 558 trees to make way for line that never got built
By Susan Phillips, NPR – State Impact
July 3, 2020

A Northeastern Pennsylvania family who watched as work crews, accompanied by armed federal marshals, destroyed their budding maple tree farm to make way for the failed Constitution Pipeline has settled with the company Williams for an undisclosed amount. A federal court has also vacated the eminent domain taking of about five acres, reversing an order it made more than five years ago.

“We’re really glad that it’s ended,” said Catherine Holleran, co-owner of the 23-acre property that has been in the family for 50 years. “We’ve gotten our land returned to us. That was our main objective right from the first.”

The Constitution Pipeline project would have carried Marcellus Shale gas  from Pennsylvania to New York state. Though the project received federal approval and the necessary permits from Pennsylvania regulators, New York blocked the pipeline by not issuing permits. Williams dropped the project in February.
» Read article     

» More about other pipelines             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

tolling orders in the dock
DC Circuit: FERC can’t indefinitely delay action on gas pipeline challenges
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
Updated July 1, 2020

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-1 on Tuesday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lacks authority to postpone rehearing decisions on natural gas projects through the issuance of tolling orders. The practice has delayed parties that oppose FERC rulings from challenging those decisions in court.

FERC Commissioner Richard Glick called the decision a “resounding victory” for landowners impacted by FERC’s pipeline orders. “It is important that these parties can go to court before a company can take their land & build a pipeline affecting their communities,” he said in a tweet.

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.
 » Read article         

fifty k to twenty
NERA counters broad opposition to FERC net metering petition, reveals utility-linked member
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

Lawyers representing the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) on Tuesday filed their response to the almost 50,000 comments opposing the group’s petition to federal regulators to effectively upend net metering policies nationwide.

NERA has generated significant attention in the power sector with its April petition asking FERC to declare “exclusive” jurisdiction over behind-the-meter energy generation.

Bipartisan groups of state legislators, regulators, attorneys general, governors and other officials filed almost 100 comments in opposition. Advocacy groups, legal experts and academics filed over 500 comments, while almost 50,000 individuals also commented on the filing, all in opposition to the proposal.

Meanwhile, just 21 groups filed in support, 15 of which echoed comments written out by the Heartland Institute.

Net metering compensates customers who have rooftop solar or some other form of behind-the-meter resource for the energy it provides to the grid. Opponents of the practice say it can overcompensate distributed resource customers, leaving remaining customers to absorb the additional costs. The focus of the petition, however, is not on the merits of net metering, but whether FERC should have jurisdiction over those sales.
» Read article         
» Read the NERA filing with FERC          

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Democrat climate plan
Democrats to unveil bold new climate plan to phase out emissions by 2050
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
June 29, 2020

House Democrats will unveil an aggressive climate crisis “action plan” on Tuesday to nearly eliminate US emissions by 2050, according to summary documents reviewed by the Guardian.

The net-zero emissions goal is what United Nations leaders and the scientific community say the world must achieve to avoid the worst of rising temperatures, and it’s what the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, says he would pursue if he were to win the White House in November.

The more than 538-page report will include hundreds of policy recommendations focused on 12 key pillars, according to a separate outline.

Modeling on a subset of those recommendations by the firm Energy Innovation showed they would cut net US greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2010 levels in 2030, and 88% below 2010 levels in 2050, according to the report outline. The remaining 12% of emissions cuts would have to come from hard-to-decarbonize sectors, including heavy-duty truck transportation, industry and agriculture.

The proposal outline recommends a clean energy standard for net-zero electricity by 2040 and net-zero new buildings by 2030. It calls for only zero-emitting new vehicles to be sold by 2035, and it advocates for doubling funding for public transit.
» Read article         

slippery slope for coal country
A Call for Massive Reinvestment Aims to Reverse Coal Country’s Rapid Decline
The plan targets devastated communities from Virginia to Arizona. “There is a debt to be paid,” said one proponent.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
June 30, 2020

The global coronavirus that’s put tens of millions of Americans out of work and plunged the nation into a recession is speeding an ongoing transition away from coal.

With devastation in communities left behind, 80 local, regional and national organizations on Monday rolled out a National Economic Transition Platform to support struggling coal mining cities and towns, some facing severe poverty, in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and elsewhere.

Although it comes just four months before the presidential election in November, the platform doesn’t mention the Green New Deal, the proposed massive shift in federal spending to create jobs and hasten a transition to clean energy that’s divided Republicans and Democrats.

But Heidi Binko, executive director of the Just Transition Fund, which drafted by the plan with a wide range of partners, including labor unions, community organizations, business groups and environmental and tribal nonprofits, said it could be used as a template for part of the Green New Deal or any other legislative initiatives aimed at helping coal communities.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

running hot
Are New Extreme Global Warming Projections Correct?
By Jeff Berardelli, Yale Climate Connections, in EcoWatch
July 2, 2020

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world’s top climate modeling groups have been “running hot” – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

“It is concerning, as it increases the risk of more severe climate change impacts,” explains Dr. Andrew Gettelman, a cloud microphysics scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado.

As a result, there’s been a real urgency to answer this important question in climate science: Are there processes in some new models that need correcting, or is this enhanced warming a real threat?
» Read article         

Siberian Traps
Ancient coal fires led to prehistoric extinctions
Did eruptions set ancient coal fires burning? Global heating happened 250 million years ago, just as it is happening now.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
June 29, 2020

Geologists have linked one of the planet’s most devastating events to the burning of fossil fuels, as ancient coal fires set in train a global extinction wave.

Emissions from the fires on a massive scale can be connected to catastrophic events that extinguished most of life on Earth – and this time, humans were not to blame.

It all happened more than 250 million years ago, at the close of the  Permian period. And this time the match that lit the flame was [a] massive but slow volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia, a burning that continued for two million years.
» Read article

heartland twilight
Hard Times in the Climate Denial Business for the Heartland Institute
Shorter Conference, Fake Sponsor, Low Attendance, and a Lot of Gray Haired Men
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2019

Last week, the Heartland Institute was again trumpeting climate science denial at its 13th “International Conference on Climate Change” at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. But by a number of measures, the Chicago-based free market think tank’s science denial doesn’t exactly seem to be a growing — or cohesive — movement at this point.

That’s even with more media coverage than five years ago, and with friends in high places. In early 2017, following the election of President Trump, attendees of the Heartland Institute conference were clearly excited to have a climate denier in the White House. Frontline reported that the mood at the conference was “jubilant.”

Even last year, the organization was projecting an air of optimism. Former Congressman Tim Huelskamp was still Heartland president and confidently declaring victory for the climate denial movement.

“It took a while, but we think we’ve won the battle — Al Gore was wrong,” Huelskamp said.

So, how are things going for Heartland these days?
» Read article         

fading winters
Fading Winters, Hotter Summers Make the Northeast America’s Fastest Warming Region
Connecticut’s average temperature has risen 2 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, double the average for the Lower 48 states.
By Abby Weiss, InsideClimate News
June 27, 2020

Connecticut is one of the fastest-warming states, in the fastest warming region, in the contiguous United States. An analysis last year by The Washington Post found that neighboring Rhode Island was the first state among the lower 48 whose average annual temperature had warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius since 1895. New Jersey was second, the Post found, followed by Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts.

The Post analysis also found that the New York City area, including Long Island and suburban counties in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, was among about half a dozen hot spots nationally where warming has already exceeded 2 degrees. The others are the greater Los Angeles area, the high desert in Oregon, the Western Rocky Mountains, an area from Montana to Minnesota along the Canadian border and the Northeast Shore of Lake Michigan.

Climate scientists don’t fully understand why Connecticut and the other Northeast states have warmed so dramatically, but they offer an array of explanations, from warm winters that produce less snow and ice (and thus reflect less heat back into space) to warming ocean temperatures and  changes in both the jet stream and the Gulf Stream.
» Read article           

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

green hydrogen explained
So, What Exactly Is Green Hydrogen?
For a colorless gas, hydrogen gets described in very colorful terms. A new GTM series helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
June 29, 2020

According to the nomenclature used by market research firm Wood Mackenzie, most of the gas that is already widely used as an industrial chemical is either brown, if it’s made through the gasification of coal or lignite; or gray, if it is made through steam methane reformation, which typically uses natural gas as the feedstock. Neither of these processes is exactly carbon-friendly.

A purportedly cleaner option is known as blue hydrogen, where the gas is produced by steam methane reformation but the emissions are curtailed using carbon capture and storage. This process could roughly halve the amount of carbon produced, but it’s still far from emissions-free.

Green hydrogen, in contrast, could almost eliminate emissions by using renewable energy — increasingly abundant and often generated at less-than-ideal times — to power the electrolysis of water.

A more recent addition to the hydrogen-production palette is turquoise. This is produced by breaking methane down into hydrogen and solid carbon using a process called pyrolysis. Turquoise hydrogen might seem relatively low in terms of emissions because the carbon can either be buried or used for industrial processes such as steelmaking or battery manufacturing, so it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere.

However, recent research shows turquoise hydrogen is actually likely to be no more carbon-free than the blue variety, owing to emissions from the natural-gas supplies and process heat required.
» Read article         

looking ahead
‘Simple’ or a ‘band-aid’? ISO-NE leans toward Eversource/National Grid $49M solution for Mystic plant replacement
New England’s grid operator chose the lowest-cost proposal, but one developer says that doesn’t make it the most effective or efficient.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
July 2, 2020

ISO New England in June identified National Grid and Eversource’s “Ready Path Solution” as the most cost-effective way to address transmission reliability issues following the planned retirement of the Mystic Generating Station in 2024.

The $49 million project is inexpensive and relatively simple compared to 35 other proposals, which carried price tags up to $745 million.

The ISO is expected to issue a final decision July 17 and is accepting comments through today. At least one competing developer is unhappy with the grid operator’s initial determination: Officials at Anbaric Development Partners say the Ready Path approach is a “band-aid” that will not address the region’s longer-term energy needs.

According to Anbaric, its project would eliminate the need for $620 million in near-term system upgrades the ISO will need to address to incorporate offshore wind being procured by the region.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

low income EE
Utility efficiency programs offer model to merge climate, racial justice solutions
Many states require utilities to help low-income customers conserve energy despite higher costs and barriers.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
Photo By Dennis Schroeder / NREL
July 2, 2020

As urgency grows to simultaneously address climate change and racial justice through proposals like the Green New Deal, low-income energy efficiency programs provide a potential example of how to merge the priorities.

The time is right to bolster such programs since the pandemic’s economic effects mean more households will likely need assistance with energy bills, advocates say.

Studies — including a recent one by Lawrence Berkeley Livermore National Laboratory — show that dollar for dollar, the biggest efficiency gains can be made by investing in commercial and industrial energy conservation, while efficiency programs targeting low-income customers are among the least cost-effective.

However, many consumer groups, utilities, researchers and other stakeholders agree: The benefits provided by helping low-income customers are wide-ranging, and especially important to advance racial equity and protect vulnerable people in times like these.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

not for the US market
Europe’s Demand for Electric Cars May Get a Jolt From COVID-19 Response

Stimulus packages, falling costs and rising environmental awareness may rev Europe’s EV market quicker than expected, analysts say.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
July 3, 2020

Far from depressing the market, the response to the COVID-19 outbreak looks set to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles across Europe.

The combined market share of EVs and plug-in hybrids jumped 6.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, faster than the 2.5 percent growth seen in the same quarter last year, according to sales figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA).

And that was before big pandemic-recovery stimulus plans began targeting the EV market. In contrast, total sales of new passenger plunged 41.5 percent between mid-March and the end of May, according to the ACEA.

But in the U.K., where monthly data is available from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, battery electric vehicles are performing well. In May, new petrol and diesel registrations were down around 90 percent compared to the same time last year. BEVs were up 21.5 percent. A tax break for corporate buyers that started in April won’t have hurt.

“In the very short term, we have seen that EV uptake rates have been immune to the drop-off in new car sales,” John Murray, head of EV research at the consultancy Delta-EE, said in an interview.
Blog editor’s note: Sadly, the VW ID-3 featured in the photo will not be available in the U.S., because Americans no longer buy enough small cars to justify the marketing and U.S.-specific design expenses.
» Read article          

house green transport bill
Oil Industry and Allies Look to Pump Brakes on Democrats’ Plans to Move Transportation Off Petroleum
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 2, 2020

This week Congressional Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives put forward policies, including passing a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill on July 1, aimed at cleaning up the number one source of carbon pollution in America — the transportation sector. The oil and gas industry and its supporters quickly weighed in, framing “the critical role” of the industry in addressing climate pollution and in some cases outright attacking these plans’ efforts to move away from petroleum-powered transport.

It is the first time a body in Congress has set a deadline for selling 100 percent zero-emission vehicles, which include electric or fuel cell cars. Over a dozen countries have already set timetables for phasing out conventional petroleum-powered vehicles.

The chances that the infrastructure package and many other policies outlined in the Democrats’ climate plan will become law under the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump are very slim to none. According to The Hill, Trump slammed the infrastructure package as “full of wasteful ‘Green New Deal’ initiatives” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called it “nonsense.” Both Trump and McConnell receive sizable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Oil industry trade associations and front groups funded by the oil and gas industry are already coming out against the Democrats’ climate plan and infrastructure package.
» Read article          

barnstorm buzz
The largest electric plane ever to fly
As electric planes pass another milestone, Future Planet asks how long will it be before they are ready for everyday aviation? And just how far can they go?
By Chris Baraniuk, BBC / Future Planet
June 17, 2020

At a large airfield surrounded by farmland in central Washington State, an electric aeroplane recently made history. It is the biggest commercial plane ever to take off and fly powered by electricity alone. For 30 minutes on 28 May, it soared above Grant County International Airport as crowds of onlookers clapped and cheered.

The biggest electric plane ever, huh? Well, it was a modified Cessna Caravan 208B – which can take a maximum of nine passengers. And the test aircraft only had a seat installed for the pilot.

It’s a far cry from the 200-300-seater jet that takes you on weekend city breaks or work trips, never mind the huge double-decker planes that cross continents. But the “eCaravan” test flight was a success. The two companies behind it, AeroTEC and magniX, which supplied the electric motor, are chuffed with the results. Roei Ganzarski, chief executive of magniX, pointed out in a statement that the price of flying the Cessna clocked in at a mere $6 (£4.80). Had they used conventional engine fuel, the 30-minute flight would have cost $300-400 (£240-320).
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

over-hyped gas
“Gas is over-supplied, over-hyped, and out of time”
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 2, 2020

For years, Big Oil denied there was a problem with climate change and carried on drilling, deliberately creating doubt over the science. They could have acted decades ago, but they did not.

As our climate crisis intensified, the industry shifted its public relations strategy and started touting natural gas as a so-called “clean” bridge fuel, a stepping stone if you like, from dirty oil to renewables. There were major flaws in that argument, that gas is neither green nor clean, as OCI and others have repeatedly pointed out.

The other blatantly obvious flaw that climate activists pointed out was that the climate emergency was so urgent that we did not have time to carry on the fossil fuel age in any shape or form, whether oil or gas, and we should be investing in renewables now.

Two weeks ago, there was what I termed an “historic moment” when BP slashed up to USD 17.5 billion off the value of its assets after lowering its longer term price assumptions in the wake of COVID-19. In the words of the Financial Times, BP “expects” the pandemic “to hasten the shift away from fossil fuels.” BP’s assets were essentially stranded.

Whereas BP’s write-offs were largely in dirty heavy oil and offshore, what will be sending shocks waves through the industry is that Shell’s write-downs are in gas.
» Read article          

shell too
BP and Shell Write-Off Billions in Assets, Citing Covid-19 and Climate Change
The moves were seen as a possible turning point as plummeting demand makes big oil companies admit they’re not worth what they used to be.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
July 2, 2020

Two of the world’s largest energy companies have sent their strongest signals yet that the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate a global transition away from oil, and that billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel assets could go to waste.

This week, Royal Dutch Shell said it would slash the value of its oil and gas assets by up to $22  billion amid a crash in oil prices. The announcement came two weeks after a similar declaration by BP, saying it would reduce the value of its assets by up to $17.5 billion. Both companies said the accounting moves were a response not only to the coronavirus-driven recession, but also to global efforts to tackle climate change.

Some analysts say the global oil and gas industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation and is finally being forced to reckon with a future of dwindling demand for its products.
» Read article          

Senator Barrett
Fossil Fuel Lobby Is Targeting the State Senate’s Climate Bill
Mike Barrett represents the towns of Bedford, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Concord, Lincoln, Waltham, Weston, large parts of Lexington and Sudbury
By State Senator Mike Barrett, Patch
June 29, 2020

On Thursday, June 25, an organization named the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy criticized Massachusetts State Senate climate legislation now pending before the House of Representatives. In response, State Senators Mike Barrett and Jason Lewis issued the following statement.

In January of this year, the Massachusetts State Senate passed An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy, now pending before the House of Representatives. The Senate’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is radical not in its ideology but in its seriousness; we’re determined to get emissions down across the Massachusetts economy, transportation and buildings included.

We should add that the senators who wrote the legislation sat down with a good many commercial interests, listened to what they had to say, and made changes. At the time of the bill’s final passage — with the votes of both Democrats and Republicans, and with only two dissents in the 40-member Senate — its seriousness of purpose seemed to impress the business community without unsettling it.

But that was then. With the onset of COVID-19, conservative elements are eager to exploit an opening. Two years ago, an investigative report in the Huffington Post blasted the then-new Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy as a “front for gas interests,” identifying, as major funders of the group, Eversource, National Grid, and Enbridge, the pipeline conglomerate behind the natural gas compressor station project in Weymouth.

Last week the Coalition surfaced anew, patching together a limp critique of Next-Gen that seems less about the bill and more about the Coalition’s longer-range objective, which is to keep fossil fuels at the heart of Massachusetts energy policy.
» Read article           

Joe Camel meets Don Fuego
Oil and gas coloring books teach kids safety, fossil fuel dependence
By Kate Yoder, Grist
June 29, 2020

It’s finally summer: The time of year when your kids run through the sprinklers, munch on watermelon, and whip out their crayons to scribble in coloring book pages of fracking wells and gas pipes. Wait, what?

Last week, Puget Sound Energy, the Seattle-area utility, shared an odd activity on Twitter: “Color your way through Natural Gas Town and learn how natural gas provides energy to your neighborhood!” The tweet, later deleted, linked to an online coloring page showing a detailed map of how natural gas lines run underneath your yard and into your home. The image is from Energy Safe Kids, a national program that teaches children safety tips — like how to sniff out a gas leak and avoid pummeling natural gas meters with water balloons.

The Energy Safe Kids site includes an interactive coloring page for the friendly gas flame named “Don Fuego,” a video game called “Gas Dash” in which your character hurdles gas meters and fire extinguishers while riding a bike, and a word search that challenges you to find “butane,” “pilot light,” and “cogeneration.”
» Read article

arrival of the reckoning
Fracking pioneer Chesapeake files for bankruptcy protection
By CATHY BUSSEWITZ and TALI ARBEL, Associated Press
June 28, 2020, Associated Press

Chesapeake Energy, a shale drilling pioneer that helped to turn the United States into a global energy powerhouse, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Oklahoma City-based company said Sunday that it was a necessary decision given its debt. Its debt load is currently nearing $9 billion. It has entered a plan with lenders to cut $7 billion of its debt and said it will continue to operate as usual during the bankruptcy process.

The oil and gas company was a leader in the fracking boom, using unconventional techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground, a method that has come under scrutiny because of its environmental impact.

Other wildcatters followed in Chesapeake’s path, racking up huge debts to find oil and gas in fields spanning New Mexico, Texas, the Dakotas and Pennsylvania. A reckoning is now coming due with those massive debts needing to be serviced by Chesapeake and those that followed its path.
» Read article           

we sued - DC
Both Minnesota and D.C. sue Big Oil for “campaign of deception” over climate change
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
June 25, 2020

Big Oil’s decades-old campaign to deny, deceive, and delay action on climate change has been thrust into the spotlight again after both Attorney Generals for Minnesota and the District of Columbia (D.C.) launched legal action against the industry within twenty-four hours of each other.

First yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed the suit against Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and three Koch Industries for pushing climate denial for decades.

The 84 page document did not mince its words, arguing, “that the economic devastation and public-health impacts from climate change” in Minnesota “were caused, in large part, by a campaign of deception that Defendants orchestrated and executed with disturbing success.”

Dating back decades, instead of warning Minnesota about the risks of climate change, the “Defendants realized massive profits through largely unabated and expanded extraction, production, promotion, marketing, and sale of their fossil-fuel products.”

The suit cited scientific evidence dating back to the fifties and sixties. “By 1965, Defendants and their predecessors-in-interest were aware that the scientific community had found that fossil-fuel products, if used profligately, would cause global warming by the end of the century, and that such global warming would have wide-ranging and costly consequences,” the suit said.

Instead of acting responsibly, the companies repeated the playbook of the tobacco industry and funded “fraudulent scientific research” in order to create uncertainty.

And instead of acting in the public interest, and investing in alternatives to fossil fuels, the Defendants just carried on drilling for oil and gas, making extreme profits.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 6/5/20

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

Our friends in Weymouth are celebrating a court victory in their fight against the compressor station. The First Circuit Court vacated MA-DEP’s controversial air quality permit pending further study. Since construction was predicated on having that permit, local mayors petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to halt activities. In related good news, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled last week to maintain a lower court’s block on federal fast-track permits, which continues to hold up further construction on Keystone XL and other pipelines.

But the Trump/Wheeler Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is counter-punching. A rule change on Monday to the Clean Water Act limits the rights of states and native American tribes to block pipelines.

The articles we selected for this week’s Greening The Economy section continue that good news / bad news dynamic. While the arc of history seems to be bending toward sustainability and social/environmental justice, progress is opposed by well-funded and entrenched supporters of the status quo. Kudos to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, for petitioning the Department of Public Utilities this week to begin planning an orderly transition away from natural gas.

The climate urgently needs more of that kind of leadership. Atmospheric CO2 levels hit another record high in May. It’s been 23 million years since Earth last hosted a concentration of 415ppm. Meanwhile, satellite images show rampant deforestation in the Amazon, and some of last summer’s unusual arctic wildfires are reigniting after a winter spent smoldering in the peat under snow cover.

On a brighter note, energy efficiency is looking like a good investment in Europe. Renovating existing homes and businesses for improved energy efficiency will be a huge market, and investors are taking notice. We found signs of progress in clean energy and energy storage, too.

We close with news from the fossil fuel industry. BP seems to want to rebrand itself as a green company while keeping much of its planet-killing business model intact. The oil majors are rethinking their big bet on petrochemicals. And the whole house of cards could come down to the tune of $25 trillion in lost equity on the cratering value of reserves.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

permit vacated till do-over
Weymouth Gas Compressor Station Opponents Gain Big Court Victory
The First Circuit Court vacates the air-quality permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 4, 2020

The First Circuit Court ruled Wednesday that “because we find that the (Department of Environmental Protection) did not follow its own established procedures for assessing whether an electric motor was the Best Available Control Technology, we vacate the air permit and remand the agency to redo that analysis.”

While the decision does not halt the Fore River project, obtaining the air-quality permit was a significant hurdle for Algonquin Gas Transmission in the approval process of the station, and a main source of attack from those who want to see the project modified or shut down.

Algonquin Gas Transmission had argued in front of the DEP that the electric motor was not viable because it was not cost effective and put too much strain on the surrounding electrical grid.
» Read article     

Braintree Mayor Charles C. Kokoros Shares Update on Weymouth Compressor Station Project Following Court Ruling
By Matthew Reid Client News, City/Town News
June 3, 2020

Since the Court has now vacated DEP’s air permit approval and is requiring further administrative review, the air permit is no longer in effect, and the FERC condition requiring DEP’s approval for the compressor station has not been met.

Therefore, Braintree intends to join with the other municipalities in demanding that FERC order the immediate cessation of construction work on the station.

“The Town has continued to raise concerns regarding the public health and safety impacts the construction of the compressor station will have on our residents and remain committed to stopping construction,” Mayor Kokoros said.”
» Read article     

tossed for now
Mayor Hedlund: Court ruling won’t stop compressor project
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
June 3, 202
0

WEYMOUTH — While it could delay the project from coming online and cost the gas company money, Mayor Robert Hedlund said a federal appeals court decision to throw out an air permit issued by state regulators will not stop ongoing construction of a natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on Wednesday overturned the air permit for the natural gas compressor station Enbridge is currently building in North Weymouth, ordering the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a new analysis of what would be the best available control technology to limit air pollution.

Judge William Kayatta in his decision said the state did not follow its own procedures when it approved a gas turbine, rather than an electric motor, to cut emissions at the station. The state will need to hold proceedings regarding the control-technology for the project.
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

still no fast-track
Fast-Track Permits Stay Blocked for Keystone XL, Other Pipes
By Ellen M. Gilmer, Bloomberg Law
May 28, 2020

The Ninth Circuit delivered a major blow to the energy industry Thursday, refusing to freeze a lower court’s decision to block a streamlined permit for Keystone XL and other pipelines.

The Trump administration and energy industry players lost their bid to sideline the ruling, which bars the Army Corps of Engineers from using a fast-track water permitting approach for new oil and gas lines.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the government and energy companies “have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits and probability of irreparable harm to warrant a stay pending appeal.”

Barring any Ninth Circuit reconsideration or a successful petition to the Supreme Court, the decision means the streamlined permitting process will remain off-limits for new pipelines while the parties file briefs and argue the broader appeal to the Ninth Circuit—a process that takes months.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

401 reg rollbackClean Water Act Rollback: Trump’s EPA Limits States’ and Tribes’ Rights to Block Pipelines
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
June 2, 2020

The Trump administration has finalized a rule making it harder for states and tribal communities to block pipelines and other infrastructure projects that threaten waterways.

The change concerns Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which essentially gives states and tribes veto power over projects that would hurt their water quality, The Hill explained. The changes, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Monday, give states and tribes a one-year deadline for reviewing projects and narrow the scope of what they can consider to only water issues, The New York Times reported. They may no longer block projects because they would contribute to the climate crisis.
» Read article     
» Read the NY Times article        

new look same villain
E.P.A. Limits States’ Power to Oppose Pipelines and Other Energy Projects
The agency tweaked the rules on how to apply the Clean Water Act, which New York and other states have used to fight fossil-fuel ventures.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
June 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced that it had limited states’ ability to block the construction of energy infrastructure projects, part of the Trump administration’s goal of promoting gas pipelines, coal terminals and other fossil fuel development.

The completed rule curtails sections of the U.S. Clean Water Act that New York has used to block an interstate gas pipeline, and Washington employed to oppose a coal export terminal. The move is expected to set up a legal clash with Democratic governors who have sought to block fossil fuel projects.

Specifically, it limits to one year the amount of time states and tribes can take to review a project and restricts states to taking water quality only into consideration when judging permits. The Trump administration has accused some states of blocking projects for reasons that go beyond clean water considerations, such as climate change impacts.
» Read article     

EPA’s new rule limits states’ ability to regulate pipelines under the Clean Water Act
By Susan Phillips, NPR
June 1, 2020   

A new EPA rule reverses 50 years of practice under the Clean Water Act by diminishing a state’s ability to reject large energy infrastructure projects like interstate pipelines.

It requires states to make decisions within a year on water quality permits related to those projects. Yet states have limited resources to conduct the necessary reviews of such large and complicated projects in that time, and are dependent upon companies providing timely information. As seen with Sunoco’s Mariner East project, permit applications repeatedly fell short of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s requirements to review whether the project would preserve water quality.

A wave of new pipeline projects designed to transport shale gas, as well as shale oil and tar sands oil across state lines, has generated massive environmental opposition. One of the few avenues of influence states have over those projects are water pollution permits under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. Although the CWA is a federal environmental rule, states and some tribes have enforcement authority.

The new rule stems from an executive order issued by President Trump in April 2019 entitled “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth.”  When he issued that order, Trump called the federal guidance “outdated” and said it was “causing confusion and uncertainty” and hindering development of energy infrastructure.

But lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the move are sure to follow. Environmental lawyers say it undermines the power of the states to enforce the Clean Water Act that was outlined by Congress when the law was passed in 1972.

“The Trump Administration is trying to re-write the Clean Water Act,” said Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “This is an absolutely unveiled effort to rob the states of their legal authority protected under the Clean Water Act when it comes to pipelines.”
» Read article     

» More about the EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

NEPA bypass EO‘Another Blow to the Black Community’: Trump Waives Environmental Law That Gives Public a Voice in Infrastructure Projects
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
June 5, 2020

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday mandating federal agencies bypass key environmental reviews of energy and infrastructure projects.

Trump said the rule was designed to stimulate the economy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but critics say the move will disproportionately impact communities of color amidst ongoing national protests following the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans. The order instructs agencies to work around the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which gives communities a chance to weigh in on projects that would impact them, as NPR explained. Fossil fuel projects and highways tend to have a greater effect on Black and Brown communities, as HuffPost pointed out.

“Today President Trump is dealing another blow to the Black community, during a worldwide pandemic and nearly a week into nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and structural racism,” House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement reported by HuffPost. “Gutting NEPA takes away one of the few tools communities of color have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions impacting them.”
Blog editor’s note: We try to provide examples in this section of movements and policies that benefit future generations and provide hope for those frustrated and alarmed by the status quo. This and the following article is the opposite: a reminder that we are engaged right now in a struggle for that brighter future and the outcome is not yet determined. Your actions matter.
» Read article     
» Read the Executive Order        

one trick pony
Besieged by Protesters Demanding Racial Justice, Trump Signs Order Waiving Environmental Safeguards
Critics said the move to speed pipeline construction would harm minority communities. But one legal expert said the order would be “a sitting duck” in court.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
June 5, 2020

With the nation convulsed by multiple crises, President Donald Trump returned to a favorite stand-by of his presidency—asserting his authority to sweep aside environmental restraints and speed up construction of oil and gas pipelines.

But the executive order that he signed Thursday night—the third of his presidency aimed at expediting pipelines—is destined to spur more of the type of litigation that has rendered his previous directives ineffective so far.

The White House invoked the same legal authority the president has to expedite hurricane and flood response actions to declare an “economic emergency,” that requires the waiving of environmental reviews and other regulations.
» Read article     

AG Healey planning ahead
Healey calls for orderly transition away from natural gas
Petition raises host of questions that need to be answered
By Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine
June 4, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY petitioned the Department of Public Utilities on Thursday to investigate how the state’s natural gas utilities should transition to a future where the fuel they are selling no longer fits in with the state’s carbon emission goals.

Massachusetts has set a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Healey argues the state, natural gas utilities, and their customers need to start planning. The petition said California and New York have already launched similar investigations.

“As electrification and decarbonization of heating increases, the Commonwealth’s natural gas demand and usage from thermal heating requirements will decline substantially and could be near zero by 2050,” the petition says. “As the Commonwealth reduces its fossil fuel consumption, the Department should establish a consistent regulatory framework that protects customers and maintains reliability and safety during the transition.”

Healey recommended the investigation be conducted in two phases – one phase focusing on utility forecasts about their role in a decarbonized economy and the second on the policies needed to reach the state’s emission mandates. Her petition raises a host of questions that need to be answered, including whether renewable natural gas (gas made from cow manure) has potential.

The attorney general’s petition comes at a time when environmental advocates are pressing for a reduction in natural gas usage even as industry officials say the fuel is cheap, plentiful, and gaining market share.
» Read article     
» Read the AG’s press release        
» Read the petition   

racism and climate
As Protests Rage Over George Floyd’s Death, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice
Friends of the Earth tweeted #BlackLivesMatter, and the head of the NRDC promised “to be fully and visibly committed to the fight against systemic racism.”
By ILANA COHEN, EVELYN NIEVES, JUDY FAHYS, MARIANNE LAVELLE, JAMES BRUGGERS, InsideClimate News
June 3, 2020

When New York Communities for Change helped lead a demonstration of 500 on Monday in Brooklyn to protest George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, the grassroots group’s activism spoke to a long-standing link between police violence against African Americans and environmental justice.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, said she considers showing up to fight police brutality and racial violence integral to her climate change activism.

Bronx Climate Justice North, another grassroots group, says on its website: “Without a focus on correcting injustice, work on climate change addresses only symptoms, and not root causes.”
» Read article     

push and pull
Covid-19 has given us the chance to build a low-carbon future
Lockdown won’t save the world from warming, but the pandemic is an opportunity to pursue a green economic recovery
By Christiana Figueres, The Guardian
June 1, 2020

The recovery packages designed and implemented by governments to rescue the ailing global economy could rise as high as $20tn over the next 18 months. The scale of this stimulus will shape the contours of the global economy over the next decade, if not longer. This is precisely the decade when climate scientists have warned global emissions will need to be cut by half in order to reach a sustainable trajectory. In the midst of the crisis wreaked by the pandemic is an opportunity: to ensure rescue packages don’t merely recover the high carbon economy of yesterday, but help us build a healthier economy that is low on carbon, high in resilience and centred on human wellbeing.

The case for rebuilding our economies in line with environmental targets has broad public support. A recent poll from Ipsos Mori shows that 71% of the global population understands that climate change is as at least as serious a crisis as Covid-19, and 65% think the former should be prioritised in the economic recovery. This is not only in industrialised countries that can more easily afford to green their economies; 81% of the citizens in India and 80% of people from Mexico were also strongly in favour of a green and healthy economic recovery.

A growing number of corporate leaders are also calling for government stimulus packages to have green strings attached. In the UK, the call from a group of major business leaders for the government to embrace a green recovery was answered by the prime minister’s statement that the UK’s commitment to delivering net zero emissions “remains undiminished”. In Europe, 180 business leaders, policymakers and researchers explicitly urged the EU to build the recovery package around the Green Deal. Meanwhile the Spanish government recently released a draft law banning all new coal, oil and gas projects, establishing the direction of the Covid-19 recovery effort. In Canada, more than 320 signatories representing more than 2,100 companies have signed on to support a resilient recovery.

But it’s not all good news. For every corporate actor that has shown a commitment to greening the economy, there are many that haven’t adhered to these values. Some have used the crisis as an opportunity to roll back environmental commitments or push through controversial projects and laws. Plastic companies in the US have lobbied to reverse single-use plastic laws, while three states have criminalised environmental protest. In Europe, car manufacturers are pushing to loosen emissions standards; globally, airlines are lobbying to stop using 2020 as a baseline emissions year, and China has announced it will loosen environmental legislation to boost the post-coronavirus recovery.

This is the moment to raise voices everywhere and remind leaders of their chief responsibility: protecting their citizens and putting human wellbeing at the centre of the decision-making process.
» Read article     

CA conundrum
How Should California Wind Down Its Fossil Fuel Industry?
California has long had it both ways: pursuing green ambitions while remaining a major oil-producing state. Pressure to change is building.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
June 01, 2020

California’s energy past is on a collision course with its future.

Think of major oil-producing U.S. states, and Texas, Alaska, or North Dakota probably come to mind. Although its position relative to other states has been falling for 20 years, California remains the seventh largest oil-producing state, with 162 million barrels of crude coming up in 2018, translating to tax revenue and jobs.

At the same time, California leads the nation in solar rooftops and electric vehicles on the road by a wide margin, and ranks fifth in installed wind capacity. Clean energy is the state’s future. By law, California must have 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, and an executive order signed by former Governor Jerry Brown calls for economywide carbon neutrality by the same year.

So how can the state reconcile its divergent energy path? How should green-minded lawmakers wind down California’s oil and gas sector in a way that aligns with the state’s long-term climate targets while providing a just transition for the industry’s workforce?

Any efforts to reduce fossil fuel supply must run parallel to aggressive demand-reduction measures such as California’s push to have 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, said Ethan Elkind, director of Berkeley Law’s climate program. After all, if oil demand in California remains strong, crude from outside the state will simply fill the void.
» Read article     

just transition chartCountries need to phase out fossil fuels. Here’s how to do it fairly.
Staying within climate limits requires restricting fossil fuel extraction as well as demand. But where and how should it be restricted? Our new paper proposes five principles for equitably managing a phase-out of extraction.
By Greg Muttitt and Sivan Kartha, Oil Change International, blog post
June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the global energy economy. Wealthy countries have scrambled to support their own fossil fuel industries: Another tar sands pipeline bought with public money in Canada. Bailout funds earmarked for oil and coal companies in the United States. New oil tax reliefs in Norway.

Meanwhile, poor countries are reeling. Nigeria, facing cuts of 25% to government spending, will now fall deeper into debt to pay for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Iraq’s salaries and social benefits – which depend on oil revenues for 90% of their funding –  will inevitably be slashed this year. And Ecuador, hobbled by budget cuts, has struggled even to bury the dead.

This contrast of Northern governments propping up oil companies, while Southern societies face devastating disruption, shows the perversities of an energy transition that is unmanaged, unjust, and unsustainable.

So what would a sustainable and just energy transition look like? Our new study – published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Policy – aims to answer that.
» Read article     
» Read the study        

no jobs on a dead planet
Economic Giants Are Restarting. Here’s What It Means for Climate Change.
Want to know whether the world can avert catastrophe? Watch the recovery plans coming out now in Europe, China and the United States.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
May 29, 2020

As countries begin rolling out plans to restart their economies after the brutal shock inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, the three biggest producers of planet-warming gases — the European Union, the United States and China — are writing scripts that push humanity in very different directions.

Europe this week laid out a vision of a green future, with a proposed recovery package worth more than $800 billion that would transition away from fossil fuels and put people to work making old buildings energy-efficient.

In the United States, the White House is steadily slashing environmental protections and Republicans are using the Green New Deal as a political cudgel against their opponents.

China has given a green light to build new coal plants but it also declined to set specific economic growth targets for this year, a move that came as a relief to environmentalists because it reduces the pressure to turn up the country’s industrial machine quickly.
» Read article     

» More about greening the economy       

CLIMATE

23 million year recordAtmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Are at Their Highest in 23 Million Years
By Madison Dapcevich, EcoWatch
June 4, 2020

Human activity has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide to higher levels today than they have been at any other point in the last 23-million-years, potentially posing unprecedented disruptions in ecosystems across the planet, new research suggests.

Understanding atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is “vital for understanding Earth’s climate system” because it “imparts a controlling effect on global temperatures,” said scientists in a study published in Geology.

Previous measurements have turned to ice cores to determine CO2 levels present in the atmosphere throughout Earth’s history, but have only pieced together the last 800,000 years. To expand upon this record, researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette used fossilized remains of ancient plant tissue to produce a record of atmospheric CO2 dating back 31 million years of “uninterrupted Earth history.”
» Read article     
» Read research paper

deforestation Alto Paraiso 2001
deforestation Alto Paraiso 2019
‘Going in the Wrong Direction’: More Tropical Forest Loss in 2019
Brazil was responsible for more than a third of the total global loss in 2019.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
June 2, 2020

Destruction of tropical forests worldwide increased last year, led again by Brazil, which was responsible for more than a third of the total, and where deforestation of the Amazon through clear-cutting appears to be on the rise under the pro-development policies of the country’s president.

The worldwide total loss of old-growth, or primary, tropical forest — 9.3 million acres, an area nearly the size of Switzerland — was about 3 percent higher than 2018 and the third largest since 2002. Only 2016 and 2017 were worse, when heat and drought led to record fires and deforestation, especially in Brazil.
» Read article     

zombie firesZombie Fires Could Be Awakening in the Arctic
By Mark Kaufman, EcoWatch
June 1, 2020

Some fires won’t die. They survive underground during the winter and then reemerge the following spring, as documented in places like Alaska. They’re called “overwintering,” “holdover,” or “zombie” fires, and they may have now awoken in the Arctic Circle — a fast-warming region that experienced unprecedented fires in 2019. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is now watching these fires, via satellite.

Zombie fires smolder underground for months, notably in dense peatlands (wetlands composed of ancient, decomposed plants), and then flare-up when it grows warmer and drier. “Zombie” is fitting.

“It really does describe what these fires do,” said Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics. “They recover and they’re difficult to kill.”

In April, two snowmachine-riding fire technicians found a zombie fire still smoldering near Willow, Alaska. The fire started in August 2019.

This smoldering can quickly escalate to new blazes. “Zombie fires start burning as soon as the snow melts,” said Jessica McCarty, an Arctic fire researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Miami University.
» Read article     

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

old and leaky
Renovation firms’ stock rises on EU ‘green recovery’ boost
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
May 29, 2020

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A pledge from European policy-makers to pour funds into energy-saving refurbishments of old, draughty buildings has boosted the outlook for the green construction sector as it seeks to shake off the impact of the coronavirus, fund managers said.

Buildings absorb 40% of energy consumed in Europe – much of it produced by fossil fuels – threatening the European Commission’s push to cut net European Union emissions to zero by 2050.

The European executive’s stimulus package unveiled on Wednesday to battle the pandemic’s economic fall-out, resolved to fix this.

Investors said the prospect of EU support made firms specialising in renovations more attractive.

It signals “a significant change in terms of the potential growth rates of those companies,” Charlie Thomas, head of strategy and sustainability at London-based Jupiter Asset Management, told Reuters.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency      

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

building electrification series
So, What Exactly Is Building Electrification?
Only one of the most important pieces of the decarbonization puzzle. A new GTM series helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
June 5, 2020

Buildings were first electrified nearly 150 years ago. So, why is it that “building electrification” is now among the energy industry’s most popular buzzwords?

Most buildings run on multiple fuels. They use electricity to power lights, refrigerators and electronic devices. And they consume fossil fuels such as natural gas or propane to power furnaces, boilers, and water heaters.

That persistent reliance on fossil fuels makes buildings one of the largest sources of planet-warming pollution. In the United States, buildings account for roughly 40 percent of the country’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half of homes rely on natural gas as their primary heating fuel.

“Building electrification,” “beneficial electrification,” or “building decarbonization” all describe shifting to use electricity rather than fossil fuels for heating and cooking. The goal of such a transition: all-electric buildings powered by solar, wind, and other sources of zero-carbon electricity.
» Read article     

NERA taking flakUtilities stay silent on proposal to federalize net metering as states call it a ‘threat’ to solar policy
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
June 4, 2020

Opposition is growing against a proposal that would effectively allow any customer-sited generation to be subject to federal regulation, and it’s unclear who outside the petitioner will support the proposal.

States have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the NERA petition, joined by Democratic federal lawmakers, clean energy advocates and others. Power trade associations, including Edison Electric Institute, Electric Power Supply Association and American Public Power Association have stayed largely quite thus far on how they’ll weigh in.

“APPA is still developing its response to the petition and receiving input from members,” John McCaffrey, senior regulatory counsel for APPA said Wednesday during the webinar, though public power utilities across the country do have net metering programs that would be “jeopardized” by the NERA filing.

“At a very high level, when it comes to distributed energy resources, generally APPA has consistently supported policies that allow decisions to be made at the local level,” he said, adding that “granting the petition would be essentially the opposite of that position.”

EPSA said it’s also still developing its response to the petition and EEI did not respond to a request for comment.
» Read article    

Floaty McFloatface
A New Weapon Against Climate Change May Float
The wind power industry sees an opportunity in allowing windmills to be pushed into deeper water.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
June 4, 2020

Generating electricity from wind began on land, but developers, led by Orsted of Denmark, started venturing into the sea in the early 1990s as they sought wide-open spaces and to escape the objections of neighbors to having a twirling monster next door.

Three decades later, offshore is now the fastest-growing segment of the wind business, but marine wind farms have been limited to water shallow enough to allow turbines to sit on piles or other supports on the sea bottom. About 200 feet in depth is the outer limit for such devices, people in the industry say.

If platforms could be put almost anywhere at sea, “we can go to areas where we have never before harnessed the wind,” said José Pinheiro, the project director of WindFloat Atlantic.

How large a weapon in the battle against climate change could this industry become? Analysts at the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group, estimated that if floating technology were widely adopted, the industry would have the technical potential to eventually supply the equivalent of 11 times the world’s demand for electric power. Electricity generation is both a source of emissions and a potential means of reducing them. Many analysts say that powering everything from cars to factories with clean electricity will need to play a big role in achieving climate goals.
» Read article     

NGrid slow jamNational Grid Releases Latest Results on Massachusetts Distributed Solar ‘Cluster’ Study
Most, but not all, of the studied solar projects can move forward without added cost.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 29, 2020

National Grid on Friday released results of the second phase of an extended solar interconnection study that has entangled nearly 1 gigawatt of projects in Massachusetts over the last year, and stymied development for some.

Over 300 megawatts of projects may move forward without additional costs, the utility said, while another 90 megawatts of distributed solar projects will require developers to shoulder some transmission-level investments in order to connect projects to the grid.

Those extra costs range from less than $1 million for a group of five projects up to a maximum of $75 million for another set of 12 projects that total 45.8 megawatts. National Grid estimated the latter group would need to wait five to seven years to interconnect while those updates happen.

The significant costs and extended timeline will almost certainly push developers to drop projects in that 45.8-megawatt group, said Austin Perea, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. Already, attrition has shrunk the second phase of the study from 565 megawatts last August to its current total of 391 megawatts.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

bring yer own
Green Mountain Power expands BYOD and Tesla battery programs as it targets fossil peakers
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
May 26, 2020

Vermont regulators approved on Wednesday a Green Mountain Power program that offers rates for customer-sited battery storage, including a bring your own device (BYOD) option.

Starting June 5, customers can enroll in GMP’s Tesla Powerwall program or subscribe to rates with their own storage system for the next 15 years, based on GMP’s previous pilots. The utility claims to be the first in the country to use customer-sited stored energy to lower peak energy use across its system, lowering costs for all customers.

GMP has 13 to 14 MW of distributed, small-scale residential batteries on its grid, and about 100 MW of peaking facilities, [Josh Castonguay, chief officer of innovation at GMP] said. The utility partnered with Tesla nearly five years ago, to unlock the potential of small-scale storage to address energy demand peaks, but discussions with local installers led to the creation of a BYOD pilot and program as well.

The BYOD tariff could add up to 5 MW of stored energy annually. On the Tesla Powerwall partnership, the utility would add up to 1,000 Powerwall batteries per year, totaling 5 MW and just over 13 MWh.
» Read article     

battery storage on landfills
Landfills emerge as promising battery storage sites to back up renewable energy
Like solar panels, batteries may present a new revenue stream for closed landfills. Projects are complete, or underway, in multiple states.
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
May 26, 2020

Solar panel installations have been one of the fastest-growing types of energy infrastructure in recent years and landfills have become fitting sites due to the sheer amount of land required. Now, for many of the same reasons, energy project developers are looking to landfills for a technology growing even faster than solar: battery storage.

States like California, New York and Massachusetts have embraced aggressive goals for reducing carbon emissions, requiring a quick transition to renewable energy as the primary source of electricity over the next several decades. That shift will require storage, such as large lithium-ion batteries, to compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar. Batteries can charge up from solar panels when the sun is shining, and then dispatch that energy at other times — at night or on cloudy days — when the panels are not producing energy.
» Read article     

» More about energy storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

what authentic means
Is BP Really Changing? Or Is Its New Climate Message Just “Beyond Petroleum” All Over Again?
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
June 6, 2020

Bernard Looney has had a pretty wild first six months as the new CEO of BP. Just two months after taking the helm of the world’s fifth largest oil major, an international price war spilled over into a global pandemic, sending the price per barrel of oil into negative numbers for the first time ever.

Before all that, Looney had been gearing up to take on the issue everyone presumed would dominate his first few years: climate change. Or to put a finer point on it: balancing the need to act on climate change, or at least appear to be acting on climate change, with continuing to pay shareholders the dividends they expect. BP is on the hook for about $8 billion in dividends a year. The pandemic makes it that much harder to balance the two, but Looney is still talking as though leading the world’s transition to cleaner energy is his primary goal. Let’s take a closer look.

Looney’s repositioning of BP started with a February announcement that BP would achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. He also said that he planned to end the firm’s controversial “Keep Advancing” and “Possibilities Everywhere” ad campaigns, and swore off putting a fake green sheen on the company’s image forever more. These ads had been the focus of a suit filed in December 2019 against BP by the environmental law non-profit Client Earth, accusing the company of misleading consumers about not only its efforts to reduce emissions, but also the climate benefits of natural gas, and the need for it alongside renewables.
» Read article     

petrochem pausePandemic exposes cracks in oil majors’ bet on plastic
By Joe Brock, Reuters
June 4, 2020

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The energy industry’s bet that a petrochemicals boom would support decades of oil and gas sales growth is on shaky ground as an already saturated plastic market is hit by a coronavirus demand shock.

While soaring demand for personal protective equipment and takeaway food containers has boosted sales of some plastics, it is likely to be only a temporary spike, say analysts.

In the longer term, a virus-led hit to economic growth in Asian, African and Latin American markets threatens demand at a time when the industry is already facing bans on single-use plastic that are spreading across the world.

Plastic resin prices, which have been declining over the past two years, have plunged further since the coronavirus hit, an added challenge for investments of hundreds of billions of dollars in petrochemical capacity over the past decade.

“The petrochemicals world has been hit by a double whammy,” said Utpal Sheth, Executive Director, Chemical and Plastics Insights at data firm IHS Markit.

“Capital investment has been slashed by all companies. This will delay the projects under construction and new projects.”
» Read article     

crashable
Coronavirus crisis could cause $25tn fossil fuel industry collapse
Value of reserves could fall by two-thirds as Covid-19 hastens peak in demand, study shows
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
June 3, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak could trigger a $25tn (£20tn) collapse in the fossil fuel industry by accelerating a terminal decline for the world’s most polluting companies.

A study has found that the value of the world’s fossil fuel reserves could fall by two-thirds, sooner than the industry expects, because the Covid-19 crisis has hastened the peak for oil, gas and coal demand.

The looming fossil fuel collapse could pose “a significant threat to global financial stability” by wiping out the market value of fossil fuel companies, according to financial thinktank Carbon Tracker.

The report predicts a 2% decline in demand for fossil fuels every year could cause the future profits of oil, gas and coal companies to collapse from an estimated $39tn to just $14tn.

It warns that a blow to fossil fuel companies could send shockwaves through the global economy because their market value makes up a quarter of the world’s equity markets and they owe trillions of dollars to the world’s banks.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 5/29/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

This week’s post is all about opposing forces.

Presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit if elected – signaling an about-face from the Trump administration’s blanket support for fossil fuel infrastructure build out. We explored further to look broadly at the road to a greener economy – finding obstacles already positioned by financial, corporate, and political interests deeply invested in the high-carbon status quo.

An interesting article describes how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) embraced the discredited research findings of contrarian scientist James Enstrom to justify its recent refusal to tighten clean air regulations of fine particulate pollution – ignoring the strong recommendations of credible environmental scientists. Also on the subject of federal regulatory agencies disregarding public interest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is being challenged by Congress and environmental groups on net metering and gas infrastructure issues.

The idea that the climate crisis can be resolved by simply planting a trillion trees has gained traction recently, especially among groups who see it as a free pass from having to decarbonize the economy. We offer an article that looks under the surface of that appealing message to reveal a much more complicated reality. Spoiler alert: we need to decarbonize the economy and do lots of work on forests.

Along those lines, our clean energy and clean transportation sections offer some looks ahead, and we take a peek backward to review the recent history of high performance batteries.

Last week, we carried an article about solar and wind projects on Federal lands, blindsided by a sudden demand for retroactive rent payments. In a pairing that puts fossil fuel industry influence into perspective, a report shows that public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide royalty relief for oil and gas companies during the coronavirus pandemic. Life is bland without irony, so we provide links to both stories.

We close with a report on emerging plastics alternatives from sustainable sources like seaweed and mushrooms.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

XL pull the plug
Biden White House would yank Keystone XL permit
The Monday statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how he would handle the project.
By Ben Lefebvre, Politico
May 18, 2020

Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project, his campaign told POLITICO on Monday.

The statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how the presumptive Democratic nominee would handle the project that has been stalled for over a decade if he wins the White House in November.

Biden’s opposition also raises the stakes for the TC Energy’s efforts to start construction on the cross-border portion of the pipeline this year that would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the U.S.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines            

GREENING THE ECONOMY

G20 fossil finance
New Report Details How G20 Nations Spend $77 Billion a Year to Finance Fossil Fuels
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
May 28, 2020

Even after the world’s largest economies adopted the landmark Paris agreement to tackle the climate crisis in late 2015, governments continued to pour $77 billion a year in public finance into propping up the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Wednesday.

Despite their public commitments to the Paris agreement, “G20 countries continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry even as it makes bad business decisions that hurt people and the planet,” FOE U.S. senior international policy analyst Kate DeAngelis said in a statement.

“Our planet is hurtling towards climate catastrophe and these countries are pouring gasoline on the fire to the tune of billions,” she said. “We must hold G20 governments accountable for their promises to move countries toward clean energy. They have an opportunity to reflect and change their financing so that it supports clean energy solutions that will not exacerbate bad health outcomes and put workers at greater risk.”
» Read article      
» Read the report

bad bet on fossils
Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Bad Bet
The Fed should not be directing money to further entrench the carbon economy.
By Sarah Bloom Raskin, New York Times – Opinion
May 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable the United States is to sudden, catastrophic shocks. Climate change poses the next big threat. Ignoring it, particularly to the benefit of fossil fuel interests, is a risk we can’t afford.

The Fed is singularly poised to seed strategic investments in future economic stability. Oil, gas and coal companies are set or are seeking to receive billions in federal aid — including at least $3.9 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program and at least $1.9 billion in tax credits tucked into the CARES Act passed by Congress. Their allies in Congress and the administration have lobbied for changes to several of the Fed’s lending programs, including relaxing the Main Street Lending Program. Among those eligible for government assistance are many fossil fuel companies that were in deep financial trouble long before the pandemic began.

These concessions to the fossil fuel industry are a risky investment in the past. The Fed is ignoring clear warning signs about the economic repercussions of the impending climate crisis by taking action that will lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when even in the short term, fossil fuels are a terrible investment.
» Read article       

Spain to join group of first movers off oil and gas
By Romain Ioualalen, Oil Change International
May 26, 2020

On May 19, 2020, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved a Draft Bill on Climate Change and Energy Transition which sets out the country’s overarching climate policies. If the law is adopted, Spain will join a growing group of countries and financial institutions putting an end to oil and gas production.

Faced with the twin challenges of an unprecedented economic and social crisis and an ever-worsening climate emergency, governments have a duty to build a resilient economic model that protects their citizens’ future. There is no room in that future for a volatile industry whose products are directly responsible for the climate crisis and that is faced with a bleak future as demand for oil reaches its peak.

While the proposed emissions reductions trajectory is not in line with the cuts required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Spain’s proposed measures are nonetheless a welcome example of how countries can plan a fossil-free recovery. Under the proposed law, Spain would tackle both the demand for (by promoting electric vehicles, establishing alternative fuel targets for the air transport) and supply of fossil fuels thus highlighting the need to combine both approaches to address fossil fuel lock-in.
» Read article       

far out
Labor Helps Obama Energy Secretary Push and Profit from ‘Net Zero’ Fossil Fuels
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
May 24, 2020

Progressive activists have called for a Green New Deal, a linking of the U.S. climate and labor movements to create an equitable and decarbonized economy and move away from fossil fuels to address the climate crisis. But major labor unions and President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary have far different plans.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) — a nonprofit founded and run by former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — launched the Labor Energy Partnership. Unlike those calling for a Green New Deal, though, this alliance supports increased fracking for oil and gas, as well as other controversial technologies that critics say prop up fossil fuels. It’s also an agenda matching a number of the former Energy Secretary’s personal financial investments.
Blog editor’s note: There will be headwinds on the way to a greener economy. Not all will originate from the usual suspects – here’s something to keep an eye on.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

J Enstrom
How a Contrarian Scientist Helped Trump’s EPA Defy Mainstream Science
James Enstrom’s work on particle pollution’s health effects contradicts the findings of dozens of studies, but that hasn’t stopped the agency from relying on it.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

When, last month, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the agency’s decision that it would not raise the standards for air pollution because the science of PM 2.5 was too uncertain to justify doing so, he was relying in part on Enstrom’s work. Enstrom’s research was among the studies cited by Wheeler’s hand-picked committee of science advisers to raise doubts about the PM 2.5 consensus.

More broadly, Enstrom’s work has helped provide the underpinning for the Trump administration’s wide-ranging assault on environmental protection policy, from its retreat on climate change to its current effort to restrict the type of science used by the EPA by disqualifying studies that critics say are some of the most important in human health science.
» Read article       

» More about EPA        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

net metering and FERC
24 Congressional Democrats urge FERC to reject net metering overhaul
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
May 28, 2020

A group of Democratic senators and representatives on Tuesday wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, urging the regulatory body to shut down a net metering proposal that experts say would effectively overturn the policy nationally.

The proposal at hand would subject any behind-the-meter, or customer-sited, energy generation to FERC jurisdiction, arguing that power production constitutes a wholesale sale. In the letter, Congress Members questioned FERC’s authority to make such a rule and also asked the commission to ask the petitioner, New England Ratepayers Association (NERA), to disclose its members.

“If FERC granted NERA’s petition, it would overturn long-held precedent and give the federal government decision-making power that has long belonged to the states, including the authority to set rates, terms, and conditions for programs,” the letter reads. “These decisions are best left to state regulators.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter

drilled podcast
The U.S. Government Has Been Rubber-Stamping New Oil and Gas Projects—This Lawsuit Hopes to Change That
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News podcast
May 8, 2020

A lawsuit filed against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over a small project in Massachusetts could have big implications. It aims to force FERC to comply with an order the courts gave it back in 2017, and that it’s been ignoring ever since: to evaluate the overall emissions and climate change impact of any new energy project. The case has particular relevance right now as FERC has been rapidly approving every project that crosses its desk. Adam Carlesco, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, joins to walk us through the case.
» Listen to podcast       

» More about FERC      

CLIMATE

trillion tree diversion
Can Planting a Trillion Trees Stop Climate Change? Scientists Say it’s a Lot More Complicated
Compared with cutting fossil fuels, tree planting would play only a small role in combating the climate crisis.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 27, 2020

It seems simple. Plant enough trees to soak up all the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels and people can forget about global warming and get on with their lives.

Climate scientists and many Democrats on the House committee greeted… proposed tree planting legislation skeptically, saying that the only real climate solution is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero as soon as possible.

Forests can only be part of a long-term plan to curb global warming after that happens, Yale evolutionary biologist and ecologist Carla Staver testified at the Trillion Trees Act hearing.

“Our primary focus must be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels,” she said, adding that any plausible attempt to limit global warming within our lifespan must also include forest protection and reforestation. “However, it is also crystal clear that tree planting alone will not fix our ongoing climate emergency,” she said.

In February, a coalition of 95 environmental groups sent a letter to Congress opposing the Trillion Trees Act as the “worst kind of greenwashing and a complete distraction from urgently needed reductions in fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter        

seafloor ripples
Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise
A study of seafloor ripples suggests that ice shelves can retreat six miles per year, a quantum increase over today’s rates.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

Climate researchers racing to calculate how fast and how high the sea level will rise found new clues on the seafloor around Antarctica. A study released today suggests that some of the continent’s floating ice shelves can, during eras of rapid warming, melt back by six miles per year, far faster than any ice retreat observed by satellites.

As global warming speeds up the Antarctic meltdown, the findings “set a new upper limit for what the worst-case might be,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The estimate of ice shelf retreat is based on a pattern of ridges discovered on the seafloor near the Larsen Ice Shelf. The spacing and size of the ridges suggest they were created as the floating ice shelves rose and fell with the tides while rapidly shrinking back from the ocean. In findings published today in Science, the researchers estimate that to corrugate the seafloor in this way, the ice would have retreated by more than 150 feet per day for at least 90 days.
» Read article       

9th circuit
Climate Liability Cases Score a Win with 9th Circuit Decision to Keep Them in State Court
By Karen Savage, Drilled News
May 26, 2020

Six California municipalities scored crucial wins on Tuesday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent their climate liability suits against several fossil fuel companies back to state court, rejecting the companies’ arguments that the cases belong in federal court.

The 9th Circuit is the second appellate court to rule that climate-related lawsuits brought by municipalities across the country belong in state court. The 4th Circuit ruled earlier this year that a case filed by Baltimore against more than two dozen fossil fuel producers and distributors belongs in state court. The 10th Circuit is currently considering whether a suit filed by three Colorado communities belongs in state or federal court, and the 1st Circuit is reviewing the issue in a case filed by Rhode Island.

“I think a lot of plaintiffs were watching very carefully to see what happened in the 9th Circuit to see how this question of jurisdiction was resolved,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
» Read article

» More about climate     

CLEAN ENERGY

PTC guidelines
US Treasury Gives Renewables More Time to Meet Tax Credit Deadlines
The wind and solar sectors both got something to like in new tax-credit guidelines issued by the Treasury Department.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 28, 2020

The U.S. Treasury Department released much-anticipated guidance Wednesday that offers onshore wind and solar projects more time to meet tax credit deadlines.

Wind was the big winner: onshore projects that started construction in 2016 and 2017 will now have five rather than four years to finish projects, while still receiving production tax credit (PTC) benefits. But solar developers got some help too, with the IRS allowing for investment tax credit-qualified equipment bought in 2019 to be delivered into October and providing added assurance that developers will receive benefits as long as they have “reasonable” expectation that equipment will be delivered in the required timeframe.

The guidance, requested by members of Congress and encouraged by the clean energy industry, should offer developers comfort as they recover from extended coronavirus-related shutdowns.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

morning traffic
States Sue to Block Trump From Weakening Fuel Economy Rules
At stake in the lawsuit is the single biggest effort by the United States to fight the climate crisis.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 27, 2020

Led by California, nearly two dozen states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, arguing that the move is based on erroneous science, and endangers public health.

The lawsuit escalates a standoff between President Trump, who has moved to undo a long list of environmental regulations since taking office, and a coalition of Democratic states, which have gone to court to stop him.
» Read article      
» Read the petition     

CAL
California Leads Multi-State Lawsuit Against Trump Admins’ Clean Car Rollback
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
May 27, 2020

A coalition of 23 states plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Obama-era clean car standards. Those standards mandated stronger reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from new light-duty cars and trucks — reductions equivalent to corporate average fuel economy improvements of 5 percent annually.

But on March 31 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule requiring only minimal fuel economy increases of 1.5% annually, which the agencies’ own analyses showed would result in more pollution and premature deaths.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

ENERGY STORAGE

better and cheaper
The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas
The economics of cheaper batteries—and why they’re good news for the planet.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARSTechnica
May 22, 2020

In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That’s a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.

That’s the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.
» Read article       

» More about energy storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

public lands fossil giveaway
Ailing Oil Companies Get a Pass on Royalties
Federal public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide pandemic relief, according to documents obtained by High Country News.
By Nick Bowlin, High Country News, in Drilled News
May 27, 2020

The day after oil futures went negative, Nicholas Douglas, a top-ranking national BLM official, emailed the agency’s Western state directors. This email thread, obtained by High Country News, shows the agency encouraging public-land drilling, despite the continued glut in the global market.

The new policies instruct state offices to let companies apply for lease suspensions and avoid royalty payments, which are the legally mandated taxes on the revenue from resources drilled or mined on public lands. Several BLM state offices confirmed to High Country News that they are carrying out these policies.

These new directives are not outliers. Despite the pandemic, the BLM appears to be encouraging public-lands drilling, rather than pressing operators to shut in wells and not produce oil. In the past few months, the BLM held lease sales in Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. A September auction could make more than 100,000 acres of public land available for drilling just outside Canyonlands and Arches national parks in Utah. No such aid has been offered to renewable energy industries, which have also suffered in the downturn. Instead, the Interior Department hit solar and wind projects on federal land with large retroactive rent bills in mid-May, Reuters reported.
Blog editor’s note: we recently carried that Reuters story about retroactive rents for green energy installations on public lands. Refresh your memory here.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTIC ALTERNATIVES

 

tired of plastic
Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You
Companies are developing alternatives to single-use plastic, and with options including seaweed and mushroom tissue, consumer interest isn’t disappearing, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
By Tatiana Schlossberg, New York Times
May 27, 2020

The pandemic came at a time when momentum was building for a shift away from plastic, with many consumers demanding alternatives or halting use of products (plastic straws) altogether. Although about 72 percent of Americans say they actively try to limit their plastic use, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, the amount of plastic waste per person has remained constant: about 4 ounces per person every day, for a total of about 15.6 million tons in 2017.

But to those who are working on alternatives to single-use plastic, the consumer momentum is not disappearing. In fact, founders of several plastic-alternative companies said that they had seen even more interest from consumers in their products, and a renewed commitment from some of the larger companies they work with to press on.
» Read article      

» More about plastics alternatives

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Weekly News Check-In 4/24/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

We lead with wonderful and informative conversation between Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Alice Arena, Director of FRRACS, about efforts to stop construction of the Weymouth compressor station. Watch the Youtube video, and then please sign the Sierra Club petition asking the Baker administration to take action.

Earth day week happened mostly online. Bill McKibben wrote a remembrance of the original event, and described how to cut the money pipeline to industries that stand between people and a sustainable future.

Our climate section considers how best to move on from the current crisis. We include a seven-part overview of climate change itself, a profile of Earth Day’s visionary first organizer Denis Hayes, and articles about methane emissions and Antarctic ice melt.

The message from our clean energy section is one of abundant opportunity for post-pandemic economic recovery, coupled with warnings that “green” energy isn’t benign. We need to proceed carefully in its development while simultaneously reducing overall energy consumption through significantly increased efficiency in all sectors.

Some of that increased efficiency can be gained in transportation simply by providing infrastructure that allows for less travel. To this end, we offer a story on the need for universal broadband internet access across western Massachusetts. Among other things, this would allow many more people to work or study from home.

The fossil fuel industry is a mess. We found some great articles about what happens when you mix fracked-up finances, low-to-negative oil prices, and government bailout money. Recall that the industry’s troubles predate the coronavirus pandemic. It is time to consider how to wind this industry down.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) collected a couple more lawsuits challenging its preferential treatment of fossil fuel projects. This includes a potentially important action from Food & Water Watch in partnership with our own Berkshire Environmental Action Team. If successful, it will finally force FERC to consider the upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions associated with gas and oil pipeline projects.

Keeping with the theme of organizations behaving badly, we close with an article describing how Eversource is refusing to discuss its current rate hike plan with the Office of the Consumer Advocate in New Hampshire.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Earth Day conversation with Senator Ed Markey and FRRACS president Alice Arena
Youtube
April 22, 2020

The Weymouth compressor station is a public health hazard. Join me and Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station President Alice Arena for an EarthDay conversation about how we can stop the compressor station and hold Enbridge accountable.
» Sign Sierra Club’s petition, calling for Baker to bar construction on the compressor station
» Watch recorded video

Weymouth COVID plan
Markey, Warren seek Weymouth compressor station’s coronavirus plan
By Joe DiFazio, The Patriot Ledger
April 19, 2020

WEYMOUTH — The state’s two U.S. senators are asking Enbridge, the company currently building a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, what steps it is taking to mitigate potential risks to workers and the community as construction continues through the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to the company on Friday, Democrats Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, are asking the company for “information about the measures that Enbridge is taking to protect workers and prevent the transmission of the coronavirus at the Weymouth construction site.”

“Given the highly contagious nature of this disease, public health experts have recommended social distancing measures that keep physical interactions to a minimum — a near-impossibility on a construction site,” the letter said. “Although compressor stations have been deemed essential services, thus allowing construction to continue, it is still important to take all possible steps to protect the workers and surrounding community members.”

The senators said they wanted a copy of a pandemic plan from Enbridge and all on-site contractors by April 25, detailing steps taken to protect workers and the surrounding communities, and how Enbridge would monitor and ensure compliance for the measures.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

DIVESTMENT

Earth Day stop the money pipeline
This Earth Day, Stop the Money Pipeline
By Bill McKibben, DeSmog Blog
April 21, 2020

It’s no wonder that people mobilized: 20 million Americans took to the streets for the first Earth Day in 1970 — 10 percent of America’s population at the time, perhaps the single greatest day of political protest in the country’s history. And it worked. Worked politically because Congress quickly passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and scientifically because those laws had the desired effect. In essence, they stuck enough filters on smokestacks, car exhausts, and factory effluent pipes that, before long, the air and water were unmistakably cleaner. The nascent Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a series of photos that showed just how filthy things were. Even for those of us who were alive then, it’s hard to imagine that we tolerated this.

And so we are. Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of environmental and climate justice groups running from the small and specialized to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, formed last fall to try to tackle the biggest money on earth. Banks like Chase — the planet’s largest by market capitalization — which has funneled a quarter-trillion dollars to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement of 2015. Insurers like Liberty Mutual, still insuring tar sands projects even as pipeline builders endanger Native communities by trying to build the Keystone XL during a pandemic.
» Read article     

» More about divestment       

CLIMATE

normal was a crisis
Earth Day Message to Leaders: After Coronavirus, Rebuild Wisely
Activists and scientists called on world leaders to shift the global economy onto a healthier, more sustainable track.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
April 22, 2020

Activists and scientists worldwide, mostly prevented from demonstrating publicly because of the coronavirus pandemic, marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with online events on Wednesday, and their message was largely one of warning: When this health crisis passes, world leaders must rebuild the global economy on a healthier, more sustainable track.

That was highlighted by an influential scientific body, the World Meteorological Organization, which forecast that the pandemic would drive down global greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent this year, the biggest yearly decline in planet-warming carbon dioxide since the Second World War. But the group said that would be nowhere near the reductions needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

The agency went on to caution that, while the short-term reductions are largely a result of the sharp decline in transportation and industrial energy production, emissions are likely to rise in the coming years unless world leaders take swift action to address climate change.
» Read article     

Permian twice estimated
Super-Polluting Methane Emissions Twice Federal Estimates in Permian Basin, Study Finds
The methane is a byproduct of fracking for oil, often burned off at well heads or emitted into the atmosphere instead of being captured for use as fuel.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
April 22, 2020

Methane emissions from the Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world, are more than two times higher than federal estimates, a new study suggests.

Using hydraulic fracturing, energy companies have increased oil production to unprecedented levels in the Permian basin in recent years.

Methane, or natural gas, has historically been viewed as an unwanted byproduct to be flared, a practice in which methane is burned instead of emitted into the atmosphere, or vented by oil producers in the region. While new natural gas pipelines are being built to bring the gas to market, pipeline capacity and the low price of natural gas has created little incentive to reduce methane emissions.

Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University and a co-author of the study, said methane emissions in the Permian are “the largest source ever observed in an oil and gas field.”
» Read article     
» Read report

climate crash course
A crash course on climate change, 50 years after the first Earth Day
The science is clear: The world is warming dangerously, humans are the cause of it, and a failure to act today will deeply affect the future of the Earth.
By Henry Fountain, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Hiroko Tabuchi, Brad Plumer, Lisa Friedman, Christopher Flavelle, and Somini Sengupta, New York Times
April 20, 2020

This is a seven-day New York Times crash course on climate change, in which reporters from the Times’s Climate desk address the big questions:
1.How bad is climate change now?
2.How do scientists know what they know?
3.Who is influencing key decisions?
4.How do we stop fossil fuel emissions?
5.Do environmental rules matter?
6.Can insurance protect us?
7.Is what I do important?
» Read article     

Denis Hayes
The ‘Profoundly Radical’ Message of Earth Day’s First Organizer
By John Schwartz, New York Times
April 20, 2020

In recent days, Mr. Hayes has drawn a connection between the coronavirus and climate change, and the failure of the federal government to effectively deal with either one. In an essay in the Seattle Times, he wrote that “Covid-19 robbed us of Earth Day this year. So let’s make Election Day Earth Day.” He urged his readers to get involved in politics and set aside national division. “This November 3,” he wrote, “vote for the Earth.”
» Read article
» Read Seattle Times essay

doomsday glacier
The Doomsday Glacier
In the farthest reaches of Antarctica, a nightmare scenario of crumbling ice – and rapidly rising seas – could spell disaster for a warming planet.
By Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone
May 9, 2017

With 10 to 13 feet of sea-level rise, most of South Florida is an underwater theme park, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s winter White House in West Palm Beach. In downtown Boston, about the only thing that’s not underwater are those nice old houses up on Beacon Hill. In the Bay Area, everything below Highway 101 is gone, including the Googleplex; the Oakland and San Francisco airports are submerged, as is much of downtown below Montgomery Street and the Marina District. Even places that don’t seem like they would be in trouble, such as Sacramento, smack in the middle of California, will be partially flooded by the Pacific Ocean swelling up into the Sacramento River. Galveston, Texas; Norfolk, Virginia; and New Orleans will be lost. In Washington, D.C., the shoreline will be just a few hundred yards from the White House.

And that’s just the picture in the U.S. The rest of the world will be in as much trouble: Large parts of Shanghai, Bangkok, Jakarta, Lagos and London will be submerged. Egypt’s Nile River Delta and much of southern Bangladesh will be underwater. The Marshall Islands and the Maldives will be coral reefs.
» Blog editor’s note: This article is three years old, but is worth another look. We have not changed our emissions trajectory, nor has the Trump administration altered its pro-fossil fuel position.
» Read article     

» More about climate       

CLEAN ENERGY

oldstyle rooftop wind
Rooftop Wind Power Might Take Off by Using Key Principle of Flight
By Scientific American, in EcoWatch
April 22, 2020

Past efforts to scale down the towering turbines that generate wind power to something that might sit on a home have been plagued by too many technical problems to make such devices practical. Now, however, a new design could circumvent those issues by harnessing the same principle that creates lift for airplane wings.

Houchens and his colleagues think they have engineered a solution that overcomes these obstacles by borrowing from a fundamental principle of air flight. The curved shape of an airplane wing—called an airfoil—alters the air pressure on either side of it and ultimately produces lift. Houchens’ colleague Carsten Westergaard, president of Westergaard Solutions and a mechanical engineer at Texas Tech University, says he hitched two airfoils together so that “the flow from one airfoil will amplify the other airfoil, and they become more powerful.” Oriented like two airplane wings standing upright on their side, the pair of airfoils directly face the wind. As the wind moves through, low pressure builds up between the foils and sucks air in through slits in their partly hollow bodies. That movement of air turns a small turbine housed in a tube and generates electricity.
» Read article     

green NRG eco-boost
Green energy could drive Covid-19 recovery with $100tn boost
Speeding up investment could deliver huge gains to global GDP by 2050 while tackling climate emergency, says report
Jillian Ambrose, the Guardian
April 20, 2020

Renewable energy could power an economic recovery from Covid-19 by spurring global GDP gains of almost $100tn (£80tn) between now and 2050, according to a report.

The International Renewable Energy Agency found that accelerating investment in renewable energy could generate huge economic benefits while helping to tackle the global climate emergency.

The agency’s director general, Francesco La Camera, said the global crisis ignited by the coronavirus outbreak exposed “the deep vulnerabilities of the current system” and urged governments to invest in renewable energy to kickstart economic growth and help meet climate targets.
» Read article     
» Read IRENA report: Global Renewables Outlook: Energy Transformation 2050

threat to net metering
Solar Net Metering Under Threat as Shadowy Group Demands Intervention in State Policies
A fast-tracked FERC petition during a pandemic could “end net metering as we know it,” one legal expert warns.
Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
April 20, 2020

Solar net metering, the backbone of the U.S. rooftop solar market for the past two decades, may be facing its most important legal challenge in years — and it’s coming at a time when the industry is already reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A nonprofit group that’s spent years fighting clean-energy legislation in New England is pressing federal regulators to approve a legal argument that could lay the groundwork for challenges to the solar net metering policies now in place in 41 states.

Last week, the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking it to declare “exclusive federal jurisdiction over wholesale energy sales from generation sources located on the customer side of the retail meter.” In other words, NERA is asking FERC to assert control over all state net-metering programs, which pay customers for the energy they don’t consume on-site but instead feed back to the power grid.

The day after NERA’s filing, FERC set a May 14 deadline for parties that might oppose or support it to file comments that could influence its decision.
» Read article     

magical NRG thinking
The Limits of Clean Energy
If the world isn’t careful, renewable energy could become as destructive as fossil fuels.
By Jason Hickel, Pocket
April 18, 2020

The phrase “clean energy” normally conjures up happy, innocent images of warm sunshine and fresh wind. But while sunshine and wind is obviously clean, the infrastructure we need to capture it is not. Far from it. The transition to renewables is going to require a dramatic increase in the extraction of metals and rare-earth minerals, with real ecological and social costs.

We need a rapid transition to renewables, yes—but scientists warn that we can’t keep growing energy use at existing rates. No energy is innocent. The only truly clean energy is less energy.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t pursue a rapid transition to renewable energy. We absolutely must and urgently. But if we’re after a greener, more sustainable economy, we need to disabuse ourselves of the fantasy that we can carry on growing energy demand at existing rates.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

internet for a green planet
Internet Seen as Helping Save Planet, but Many in Mass Still Miss Out
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires
April 22, 2020

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — When the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires last week hosted a virtual town hall with Berkshire County’s legislative delegation, the area’s elected officials got a little face time with their constituents to talk about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All but one. State Rep. Paul Mark, of  Peru, was an audio-only participant in the hourlong webinar. That is because Mark is among the many Massachusetts residents who are underserved by internet access.

It is a problem that local officials have been talking about for years. The deficiencies have never been more stark than during the “stay at home” guidelines instituted in Boston last month in response to the pandemic.

And on Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day, one local climate change activist was thinking about the digital divide as an environmental issue.

“I knew it was a social issue and an important one but it was not one I was going to spend a lot of time on because I didn’t think it was a climate issue. And I take all of that back.

Where climate change comes in: All those Americans working from home are skipping their daily commutes, keeping cars in the garage and pollutants out of the air.
» Blog editor’s note: The greenest travel is to remain in place. Without broadband internet access, many people are forced to travel or commute to perform tasks that could be accomplished online.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

no ff bailout
As Oil Prices Fall Below $0 Per Barrel, Climate Advocates Urge Against Fossil Fuel Industry Bailout
“The oil price collapse creates a historic opening: a public buyout of the fossil fuel sector to enact a managed decline of extraction and ensure a just transition for workers and communities.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
April 20, 2020

The plummeting of oil markets on Monday, the last day oil producers can trade barrels for next month, solidified a trend which has been evident since the coronavirus pandemic brought economies around the world to a halt last month.

Critics urged U.S. policymakers not to approach the collapsing markets as a problem that can be solved by propping up the oil industry. As David Roberts wrote at Vox Monday, the sector has been in decline for years and any taxpayer funds which go to propping it up further would be “wasted.”

“First, fracking was a financial wreck long before COVID-19 hit. U.S. fracking operations have been losing money for a decade, to the tune of around $280 billion. Overproduction has produced a supply glut, low prices, and an accumulating surplus in storage.

Both oil and gas prices were persistently low leading into 2019. Due to oversupply and mild winters in the U.S. and Europe, there is a glut of both natural gas and oil, such that the entire world’s spare oil storage is in danger of being filled.”
» Read article     

negative future
What the Negative Price of Oil Is Telling Us
We’re in a deflationary moment that surpasses anything seen in most people’s lifetimes.
By Neil Irwin, New York Times
April 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a series of mind-bending distortions across world financial markets, but Monday featured the most bizarre one yet: The benchmark price for crude oil in the United States fell to negative $37.63.

That means that if you happened to be in a position to take delivery of 1,000 barrels of oil in Cushing, Okla., in the month of May — the quantity quoted in the relevant futures contract — you could have been paid a cool $37,630 to do so. (That is about five tanker trucks’ worth, so any joke about storing the oil in your basement will have to remain just that.)

In the oil market, even assuming the negative prices for the May futures contract can be viewed as a bizarre aberration, there is a deeper lesson. A steep rise in American energy production over the last decade has outpaced the world’s need for energy, especially if many of the changes resulting from the pandemic, like less air travel, persist for months or years.
» Read article

done with fossils
Coronavirus stimulus money will be wasted on fossil fuels
Oil and gas companies were already facing structural problems before Covid-19 and are in long-term decline.
By David Roberts, Vox.com
April 20, 2020

In this post, I want to take a look at why it is equally shortsighted for President Trump and congressional Republicans to remain so devoted to the fossil fuel industry.

The dominant narrative is still that fossil fuels are a pillar of the US economy, with giant companies like Exxon Mobil producing revenue and jobs that the US can’t afford to do without. Even among those eager to address climate change by moving past fossil fuels to clean energy — a class that includes a majority of Americans — there is a lingering mythology that US fossil fuels are, to use the familiar phrase, too big to fail.

But the position of fossil fuels in the US economy is less secure than it might appear. In fact, the fossil fuel industry is facing substantial structural challenges that will be exacerbated by, but will not end with, the Covid-19 crisis. For years, the industry has been shedding value, taking on debt, losing favor among financial institutions and investors, and turning more and more to lobbying governments to survive.

It is, in short, a turkey. CNBC financial analyst Jim Cramer put it best, back in late January, before Covid-19 had even become a crisis in the US: “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done. They’re just done.”
» Read article     

disconnected from reality
Demand For Oil Has Plummeted, But Industry Keeps Building New Infrastructure Anyway
Oil and gas companies are constructing pipelines and wells amid the pandemic, risking workers’ lives and depleting personal protective gear.
By Alexander C. Kaufman and Chris D’Angelo, Huffington Post
April 20, 2020

In February, CNBC anchor Jim Cramer took aim at the heart of the debate over fossil fuels with a bold declaration on his investment advice show: “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done. … We are in the death knell phase.”

That was before the coronavirus pandemic and a price war sent oil prices into a tailspin.

In one sense, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time for the oil industry. It was already deep in debt and facing its best-organized opposition in more than a decade as President Donald Trump’s brand of petro-state nationalism spurred an international movement for a Green New Deal. Then the coronavirus struck. Since the start of 2020, leading oil and gas companies have lost on average 45% of their value, according to a report published Thursday by the nonpartisan Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), which concludes that U.S. and overseas producers are “exploiting” the COVID-19 crisis to demand bailouts, regulatory relief and more in hopes of recovering from financial troubles that predate the pandemic.
» Read article     
» Read CIEL report

buy them out
Public Ownership of Fossil Fuels a Potential Solution to Multiple Crises, Says New Report
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 17, 2020

With each passing week, the U.S. oil and gas industry and its allies in Washington have used the COVID-19 pandemic and the unfolding economic crisis to gut important environmental protections and lobby for handouts.

Each newfangled idea is more brazen than the previous. On April 16, for instance, the Trump administration finalized rules to allow more toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Drilled News has a running tally of all the different ways the industry is trying to capitalize off of the coronavirus crisis, a list that has totaled about 60 different environmental rollback measures as of mid-April.

But one of the more outlandish ideas the administration has conjured up is to pay fracking companies to do nothing. Bloomberg reported that the Department of Energy was considering a plan to pay drillers to cut back on drilling, a sort of debauched version of “keep it in the ground.”

“That is actually an interesting step forward” in the sense that the government sets up a framework to keep oil and gas from being extracted in the first place, Johanna Bozuwa, co-manager of the Climate and Energy Program at the Democracy Collaborative, told DeSmog in an interview. She authored a new report called “The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry,” which was published jointly with Oil Change International.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels       

FERC

FERC HQ
Groups launch new legal attack on FERC climate policy
By Niina H. Farah, E&E News
April 22, 2020

Environmental groups yesterday asked a federal appeals court to take a fresh look at energy regulators’ duty to expand their consideration of climate change impacts from the projects they authorize.

Food & Water Watch and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over its approval of a Massachusetts infrastructure upgrade that involves construction of 2 miles of new pipeline and a compressor station.

The challengers suggested a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in their favor could force FERC to broaden its climate analysis to include upstream and downstream climate effects for energy projects beyond the 261 Upgrade Project near Springfield, Mass.
» Blog editor’s note: Emphasis added above. This suite could have enormous implications for the country’s ability to reduce carbon emissions in line with international climate goals.
» Read BEAT’s announcement         
» Read article     
» Read petition

FREC Yes
Broad array of groups sue FERC over PJM MOPR decision as Chatterjee rejects cost, renewable concerns
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
April 22, 2020

A flurry of lawsuits hit the courts on Monday as industry and environmental groups reacted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Thursday decision to uphold a controversial December ruling.

Several groups had filed a request for rehearing with FERC following the commission’s Dec. 16 order that would effectively raise the floor price for all new resources receiving a state subsidy in the PJM Interconnection wholesale power market.

Illinois regulators, the American Public Power Association (APPA), American Municipal Power and several environmental groups were among the parties who filed against FERC for its decision. Concerns largely surround long-term costs to customers and what is seen as unfair discrimination against new clean energy.
» Read article     

» More about FERC    

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Eversource Slams the Virtual Door
By D. Maurice Kreis, NH Consumer Advocate, InDepthNH.org
April 17, 2020

We – the Office of the Consumer Advocate (OCA), representing residential utility customers, and the PUC Staff, which provides analytical and policy support to the three PUC commissioners – approached Eversource to talk about settling the big rate case that Eversource filed last summer.  The state’s largest electric utility asked for a nearly $70 million rate increase – a whopping 20 percent price hike for the monopoly provider of electric distribution service to 70 percent of the state.

The dark heart of any utility rate case is always the company’s request for an allowed return on equity (ROE) – basically, the profit guaranteed to the utility’s shareholders after the company covers its operating costs and pays back lenders with interest.  Eversource thinks its shareholders deserve an ROE of 10.4 percent.

Profits of ten point four percent!  At the start of a global economic depression, triggered by a planetary pandemic, that has left thousands of Eversource customers in New Hampshire wondering how they’ll cover the mortgage payments and buy groceries!
» Read article     

» More about electric utilities      

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