Tag Archives: oil sands

Weekly News Check-In 1/29/21

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Welcome back.

Last week, we posted a report that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), was considering reviewing the Weymouth compressor station’s permit. That’s still in the cards, but meanwhile the controversial facility has been given permission to begin operating. Their prior two attempts at startup both ended in emergency shut-downs and gas releases.

A federal appeals court ruling against Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation has the usual suspects reacting from two separate realities. Indigenous and environmental groups are delighted, while Canada – especially the political leadership and oil barons in Alberta – feel both blind-sided and unfairly treated. Once again, ordinary folks fighting for the planet’s future find themselves staring across contested ground at their frustrated and bewildered counterparts in industry and government, and saying, “we told you this would happen – what did you expect?”

Efforts to green the economy are moving into the policy phase. We expect to see a lot of reporting on this, and offer two good examples this week: The need for economic relief and redevelopment in coal country, and the potential to expand opportunities for rooftop solar into less affluent neighborhoods.

Climate was front and center this week, with President Biden signing more executive orders and demonstrating a sense of urgency to action. A couple of new reports underscored the high stakes, with dire warnings about accelerating loss of global ice, and evidence that the world’s great tropical forests are in danger of losing their ability to absorb atmospheric carbon – flipping from net carbon sinks to sources.

Biden’s executive orders played well for clean energy – especially support for offshore wind and investments in electricity transmission infrastructure necessary for a green grid. We always like to highlight news of emerging green technologies, and found that a 27-year-old electrical engineering student at Mapua University in the Philippines has won the first-ever James Dyson Award global sustainability prize. His unique solar panel is derived from waste crops, and generates electricity by the chemical processes of rotting fruits and vegetables.

Energy efficient affordable housing is both desirable and possible. According to a growing number of studies, allowing municipalities to adopt strict energy efficient building codes wouldn’t keep new housing from being built. This is a great time to call Governor Baker’s office and tell him you’d like to have the option of a net-zero stretch code in your city or town. This issue is at the forefront as Massachusetts’ legislative news continues to focus on the legislature’s attempts to pass its landmark climate roadmap bill. Recall that a strong, progressive, bill was passed at the end of December, but “pocket” vetoed by Governor Baker. Now, the legislature has re-passed the same bill by a veto-proof margin in its new session. We help you track all of the related issues, including the building lobby’s powerful influence and resistance to improved building codes.

Electric vehicles are on the cusp of an important “tipping point”, when they become cheaper to purchase than comparable internal combustion engine cars. Plunging battery prices are the reason, and this predicts rapidly accelerating EV sales. Over 90% of EV drivers, when polled, say they would not want to return to driving gas-powered cars.

The Biden administration served notice to the fossil fuel industry by pausing further leases for drilling on federal lands. While this won’t have a near-term effect on emissions, it’s an important signal and acknowledges the need to leave coal, oil, and gas in the ground. For its part, the industry responded by inflating expected job losses from the new policy – standard operating procedure from the denial and deception playbook.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

another startupWeymouth Compressor Operator Says It’s Starting Up Facility This Weekend
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 22, 2021

After two unplanned emergency shutdowns in September delayed the startup of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth and triggered a federal safety investigation, the company behind the project, Enbridge, says it’s “identified and addressed” any problems and is ready to go into service this weekend.

“The compressor station will methodically be placed in service beginning on January 23, in accordance with applicable regulations and with oversight from PHMSA [the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration],” Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said in a statement. “We expect to have the ability to start flowing gas through the compressor station for our customers in the coming days.”

Bergeron declined to share PHMSA’s reports on the September emergency  shutdowns, saying only: “The root cause analysis reports for the September 11 and September 30 events at the Weymouth Compressor Station presented recommendations to strengthen Enbridge’s procedures for safely commissioning new facilities. We have already begun implementing the recommendations.”

A PHMSA spokesperson did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls, but WBUR obtained a letter to Enbridge from PHMSA Eastern Regional Director Robert Burrough stating that the agency “has reviewed the root cause failure analysis” and “approves the temporary operation of the compressor units in the Station.”

The news comes days after some new members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees interstate pipelines, signaled that they were concerned about the project and might be willing to reconsider its permit.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

DAPL ruled illegal crossingAppeals Court Agrees that Dakota Access Pipeline River Crossing Is Illegal
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 27, 2021

A federal appeals court has struck another blow against the contested Dakota Access Pipeline.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court of Appeals from the D.C. Circuit agreed Tuesday with a lower court ruling that the pipeline’s crossing at the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is illegal and requires an in-depth environmental review, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

“We are pleased that the D.C. Circuit affirmed the necessity of a full environmental review, and we look forward to showing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers why this pipeline is too dangerous to operate,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in an Earthjustice press release.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has long opposed the pipeline’s crossing under Lake Oahe, a drinking water source for the tribe that is located just off of their reservation, the Grand Forks Herald explained. It became the subject of massive Indigenous-led protests in 2016 and 2017, leading the Obama administration to withhold a key permit for the project.

However, the Trump administration approved the pipeline without a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the Missouri River crossing, a coalition of Sioux tribes explained in a letter to President Joe Biden. The Army Corps of Engineers began an EIS of the crossing in September based on the lower court ruling, the Grand Forks Herald reported. This is expected to take up to 13 months, but the tribes and their allies are calling on the Biden administration to shut the pipeline down entirely.

Biden has promised to focus on the climate crisis in office, and canceled the Keystone XL pipeline on day one of his administration, leading Indigenous and environmental activists to call for a shutdown of all contested fossil fuel pipelines.

“Especially after the Keystone XL decision, the pressure is increasing for the Biden administration to take action here,” Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, pipeline proponents considered Tuesday’s court decision a win because the court did not order the pipeline to shut down while the EIS is completed. A lower court had originally ordered the pipeline to shut down in July, but that has been reversed.
» Read article         

KXL protest drummer
Keystone XL decision delights tribes, dismays Canada
‘President Biden’s action is the result of the relentless work and dedication from tribes and grassroots organizers’
Indian Country Today
January 22, 2021

Tribal leaders and advocates across Indian Country are lauding President Joe Biden’s executive order rescinding the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit to cross from Canada into the United States.

“I would like to say thank you to the President of the United States for acknowledging the danger this project poses to our land and our people,” Chairman Harold Frazier wrote in a statement released by Remi Bald Eagle, head of intergovernmental affairs for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

“It is rare that a promise to our people is kept by the United States; I appreciate your honesty.”

Leaders in Canada, however, were disappointed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the past has repeatedly indicated that the Canadian government fully supported the pipeline project, which originates in Alberta. The 1,210-mile pipeline was scheduled to begin transporting Alberta oil sands to Nebraska beginning in 2023.

On Friday, Biden met via telephone with Trudeau in the new president’s first official call to a foreign leader.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Trudeau expressed his dismay with Biden’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Biden acknowledged the hardship the decision would create in Canada, CBC News reported, citing a senior government official. But the president defended the move, saying he was upholding a campaign promise and restoring a decision made by the Obama administration.

The idea of retaliatory sanctions against the United States didn’t come up during the discussion, the CBC reported. In a letter to Trudeau, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had called on the prime minister to seek “proportional economic consequences” from the U.S. for the decision.

Earlier Friday, Trudeau said in comments to the press that Biden’s administration represents the beginning of a new era of friendship. Trudeau and former President Donald Trump had a notoriously poor relationship in which Trump described Trudeau as weak and dishonest while placing tariffs on Canadian products.

“The fact that we have so much alignment, not just me and President Biden, but Canadians and President Biden, on values, creating jobs and prosperity for everyone, investing in the fight against climate change as a way of growing the economy, these are things we can dig into significantly,” Trudeau said. “It’s not always going to be a perfect alignment with the United States; that is the case with any president.”

According to the CBC, both Trudeau and Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman have said it’s time to respect Biden’s decision and move on.
» Read article

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Cumberland KY coal
Coal Communities Across the Nation Want Biden to Fund an Economic Transition to Clean Power
The president promised to create a task force on how best to help the communities. Advocates want that and new jobs, broadband internet and funding for health and education.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
January 26, 2021

Coal-state economic development groups, labor leaders and environmentalists are asking President Joe Biden’s administration to fund a “just transition” from coal to renewable energy, given his focus on climate change, environmental justice and racial and economic equity.

Thirteen groups from areas as diverse as West Virginia and Kentucky in Appalachia to the Navajo Nation in Arizona, along with their national partners, want the immediate creation of a White House Office of Economic Transition, focused on rebuilding the economies of coal communities.

They also asked the administration last week in a letter to create a task force on communities dependent for jobs on coal and power plants.

“What we are saying is we recognize the inevitable shifts in the energy economy landscape as a result of the measures we must take to address climate change,” said Peter Hille, president of the Mountain Association, a nonprofit that serves counties in the coalfield of eastern Kentucky and is working for a new economy there. “The justice we are calling for is represented by the new investments needed to help these coal-impacted communities.”

Biden entered the White House last week with the most ambitious climate agenda of any president, having put forth a $2 trillion plan that seeks to tie  curbing heat-trapping greenhouse gases with economic growth in renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

On his first day, the president moved to rejoin the Paris climate accord and directed his administration to review and begin rolling back more than 100 rules on the environment put in place by the Trump administration, many of which benefited the fossil fuel industry. Biden’s plan includes the goal of a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.”

During the campaign, Biden also promised his administration would “invest in coal and power plant communities and other communities impacted by the climate transformation.” His campaign website said he would create a task force on how best to transition such communities.

What the coal state groups are doing is reminding Biden of his promises. They say that adding a voice in the White House for coal communities alongside those advocating for climate action will help to keep the communities a priority—especially as the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the decline of the coal industry.
» Read article         

access to cheaper solar
Cheaper Solar Power Means Low-income Families Can Also Benefit — With the Right Kind of Help
By Galen Barbose Eric O’Shaughnessy, and Ryan Wiser of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in DeSmog Blog
January 21, 2021

Until recently, rooftop solar panels were a clean energy technology that only wealthy Americans could afford. But prices have dropped, thanks mostly to falling costs for hardware, as well as price declines for installation and other “soft” costs.

Today hundreds of thousands of middle-class households across the U.S. are turning to solar power. But households with incomes below the median for their areas remain less likely to go solar. These low- and moderate-income households face several roadblocks to solar adoption, including cash constraints, low rates of home ownership and language barriers.

Our team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined how various policies and business models could affect the likelihood of people at all income levels adopting solar. In a recently published study, we analyzed five common solar policies and business models to see whether they attracted lower-income households.

We found that three scenarios did: offering financial incentives to low- and moderate-income households; leasing solar panels to homeowners; and lending money to buy panels, with the loan repaid on property tax bills. All of these approaches resulted in people at a wider range of income levels trying solar energy.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

climate policy spree
Everything you need to know about Biden’s climate policy spree
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
January 27, 2021

Themes make everything more fun, according to that friend who was always making you put on a costume for their parties pre-pandemic. Our newly elected president, Joe Biden, seems to agree. Possibly thinking some fun is just what the country needs right now, Biden dedicated each day of his first full week in office to a different theme, starting with “buying American” on Monday and racial equity on Tuesday. And Wednesday, it was climate day.

“We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis,” Biden said in a speech at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. “We can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”

Through three sweeping executive orders, Biden brought to fruition all kinds of promises he made on the campaign trail to address climate change. He directed federal agencies to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and to stimulate clean energy development. He hit the pause button on issuing new oil and gas drilling leases on federally owned lands and waters and requested a review of existing leases. (To be clear, that’s not a ban on fracking generally, which Biden can’t do unilaterally.) He hit the play button on developing a plan for the U.S. to fulfill its emissions-reduction obligation under the Paris Agreement. He hit fast-forward on getting solar, wind, and power transmission projects sited, permitted, and built.

“When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs,” Biden said in his address before signing the orders.

To that end, he ordered all federal agencies to get behind the wheels of American-made electric vehicles and to procure carbon-free electricity. He kicked off research into how to pay farmers to sequester more carbon in their soils. He revived a conservation jobs program from the New Deal era under a new name — the Civilian Climate Corps — to plant trees, protect biodiversity, and restore public lands. Along those lines, he also pledged to conserve at least 30 percent of national lands and oceans by 2030, a nod to the biodiversity initiative known as 30×30 that more than 50 other countries have signed on to.

Transitioning to clean energy presents an existential threat to communities that rely on jobs and revenue from fossil fuels, and the order nodded to the idea of a “just transition.” Biden formed a new interagency group to coordinate investments in these communities and tasked it with advancing projects to clean up environmental messes, like abandoned coal mines and oil and gas wells.

The other side of a “just transition” is addressing the disproportionate health and economic burdens Black, brown, and Native American communities suffer from living near polluting infrastructure and in areas vulnerable to climate impacts, products of systemic racism. To that end, Biden took steps to put environmental justice on the agenda of every agency, including the Department of Justice. At the center of this strategy, he created an initiative called “Justice40,” which requires 40 percent of the benefits of climate-related spending to serve “disadvantaged communities.” (Which spending, which communities, and how these “benefits” will be measured have yet to be determined.)
» Read article         

sink to source
Amazon is on the brink of turning into a carbon source, study warns
By Mongabay.com
January 25, 2021

Tropical forests are guardians against runaway climate change, but their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is wearing down. The Amazon, which accounts for more than half of the world’s rainforest cover, is on the verge of turning into a carbon source.

Overall, forests remain a carbon sink, stashing away 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change. But in the last 20 years alone, forests in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, have turned into net emitters of carbon, thanks to the spread of plantations, raging fires, and loss of peatlands.

Human activities are producing record-breaking emissions — atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a 4-million-year high last year — and they are hacking into the planet’s sturdiest defenses.

Spread across 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) in nine countries in South America, the Amazon is still sucking out carbon from the air — but only just.

Most of the Amazon lies in Brazil, and between 2001 and 2019 the Brazilian Amazon acted as a net emitter of carbon, the study found.

Since Jair Bolsonaro became president at the start of 2019, Brazil has seen increased deforestation through clearing land for cattle pastures and through fires. The 2019 fire season raised concerns across the world about the health of the forests in Brazil, but deforestation has been steadily eating away into its green cover for years.

Of the three great swaths of tropical rainforest left on Earth, only those of the Congo Basin still stand strong.

Tropical forests grow quickly and absorb the most carbon of any type of forest. During photosynthesis, they use carbon dioxide to produce energy and biomass. Because trees lock away carbon dioxide, when forests are destroyed, not only is this vital function lost, but the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

rapid defrost
World’s Ice Is Melting 65 Percent Faster Than in 1990s
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 25, 2021

A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet’s ice.

The answer? Quite a lot. The rate of worldwide ice loss has increased by more than 60 percent in the past three decades, a study published in The Cryosphere on Monday found.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Dr. Thomas Slater, study lead author and research fellow at Leeds’ Center for Polar Observation and Modeling, said in a University of Leeds press release. “Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

Previous studies have used satellite data to assess ice loss from individual sources, such as polar ice caps, The Guardian explained. However, this is the first one to consider all sources of ice loss. The study found that the world lost around 31 trillion U.S. tons between 1994 and 2017. During that time, the rate of ice loss also increased 65 percent, from 0.9 trillion U.S. tons a year to 1.4 trillion U.S. tons a year. Ice loss from ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland largely contributed to that number, the press release stated.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Biden exec orders on clean energyBiden order aims to double offshore wind, boost transmission, end fossil fuel subsidies
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 28, 2021

Wednesday’s executive orders are the latest sign the Biden administration will place a high priority on clean energy and the environment in the next four years.

Among other things, the climate crisis order promises to significantly build out offshore wind, an industry that has struggled to obtain permitting on the Atlantic coast, in part due to lack of funding for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which sits under the Department of Interior. Biden’s executive order directs the Secretary of the Interior to review the siting and permitting processes in order to identify ways the U.S. can double its offshore wind output in the next decade, something very feasible, according to the renewables industry.

Further, the order directs the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget to ensure federal infrastructure investments are sustainable and reduce emissions, including through accelerating transmission and clean energy. Transmission upgrades are widely considered essential to ensuring higher levels of renewable energy are able to connect to the grid, and upgrading the planning process will likely be a priority for FERC in the coming year.

“The Department of Interior has many tools it can deploy to double offshore wind generation by 2030, and the President’s clarion call for greater transmission investment is an essential component of providing reliable and affordable renewable energy to every American,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, in a statement.

The order also calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, asking the Office of Management and Budget to eliminate subsidies for oil, gas and coal from the budget request for fiscal year 2022, and every year after.
» Read article         

AuREUS
Filipino wins sustainability award for solar panel made from waste crop
Called the AuREUS system, the new material derived from rotting fruits and vegetables absorbs UV light from the sun and converts it to electricity
By Kyle Chua, rappler.com
November 20, 2020

Carvey Ehren Maigue, a 27-year-old, electrical engineering student from Mapua University, bagged the first-ever global sustainability prize at the James Dyson Award for his invention on Thursday, November 19.

Called the AuREUS system, the new material, derived from rotting fruits and vegetables, absorbs UV light from the sun and converts it to electricity. The system can be used for windows and walls of buildings, tapping it to become sources of renewable energy.

Maigue said that he got inspiration from the auroras and polar lights for the science behind his invention.

Out of 1,800 entries worldwide, Maigue’s AuREUS system was handpicked by inventor James Dyson himself to win the award.

“AuREUS is impressive in the way it makes sustainable use of waste crops, but I’m particularly impressed by Carvey’s resolve and determination,” Dyson said.

“As a farmer, I have always been concerned about covering fertile, food-producing, agricultural land in photovoltaic cells. Carvey’s invention demonstrates a convincing way to create clean energy on existing structures, like windows, within cities,” he added.
» Read article         
» Watch interview and demonstration

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

better homes
A net-zero code doesn’t need to derail affordable housing push, advocates say
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker cited the potential impact on affordable housing as a reason for his veto of a major climate bill.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
January 27, 2021

Allowing Massachusetts cities to adopt stringent energy performance standards on new construction is unlikely to slow housing creation, according to architects, energy efficiency advocates, and lawmakers pushing back on a recent climate bill veto.

“As long as there’s demand, homes are going to be built,” said Stacey Hobart, communications director for the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit focused on improving energy performance in buildings.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed an ambitious climate bill, citing among his reasons a provision that called for the creation of a “net-zero stretch code,” a building code towns and cities could choose to adopt that would require new buildings to produce as much energy as they consume.

Massachusetts has set an ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050. Buildings, which are responsible for about 27% of the state’s emissions, are a major target for action.

Announcing his veto, Baker said he’d heard from many in the construction field that such a measure could “stop in its tracks any housing development” and that “those words get my attention.” In a letter explaining his decision, he specifically argued that a net-zero code would work against his goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing and “raise costs for Massachusetts families.”

In Massachusetts, the state sets the building codes for all municipalities. In 2009, however, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to implement an optional stretch code, which requires higher levels of energy efficiency than the base code. Today, 286 municipalities — more than 80% of the towns and cities in the state — have adopted this more stringent set of requirements.

Because Massachusetts has been an early adopter of stretch codes and a leader in advancing energy efficiency requirements, there is little direct precedent to look to in assessing the potential impact of a net-zero stretch code.

However, neither the numbers nor history bear out the governor’s concern, said many with knowledge of the industry.
» Read article         

house roof - England
Government plans to turn England homes green ‘in chaos’ with debt and job losses
Exclusive: firms out of pocket and losing faith in scheme administered by US-based corporation
By Sandra Laville, The Guardian
January 26, 2021

England’s much-hyped £2bn green homes grant is in chaos, renewable energy installers say, with some owed tens of thousands of pounds and struggling to stay in business.

Members of the public have been left waiting nearly four months, in some cases, to take advantage of the scheme to fit low carbon heating systems. Some installers say customers are pulling out after losing faith in the green grants.

Boris Johnson touted the grants as one of the key programmes in his ten 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. It aims to help 600,000 households switch their energy to low carbon and help the UK meet its commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Ministers awarded the contract to run the programme to ICF, a large American consulting corporation based in Virginia. Details of the value of the government contract have not yet been published.

But renewable energy businesses say the administration of the grants is chaotic, inefficient, confused and is creating long delays for the public and installers. Emails from the administrators are being sent during US office hours; in the evening and late at night, making communication impossible, businesses say.

Companies involved in installing heat pumps and solar thermal heating say they are laying off workers and struggling to stay afloat. Some are refusing to do more work until they are paid the tens of thousands of pounds owed for work dating back to last autumn.

“It is a desperate situation from everyone’s point of view, not just the installers,” said Bryan Glendinning, chief executive officer of Engenera, based in Newcastle. “This scheme was supposed to create jobs, but it is not doing that. We were ready to go last autumn, we had set up a call centre for 40 staff, I have now got two in there.”

Glendinning says he has 300 potential customers, some of whom have been waiting since September for vouchers from the scheme to get their renewable heating systems installed.

He told the Guardian that only 61 householders had been given the vouchers to go ahead. He has installed six systems but has not been paid for any by the government, and so far is out of pocket £250,000 from the scheme.

One installer, Eddie Gammage of EDG installations, said: “Chaos is an understatement for what is going on. We haven’t received any payments at all yet for seven jobs we have completed. I have had to lay people off.”
Blog editor’s note: This kind of nightmare could happen here too. This article is a warning that home energy programs that are poorly designed and executed could easily cause more harm than good.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV tipping point
Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption
Sales increase 43% globally in 2020 as plunging battery costs mean the cars will soon be the cheapest vehicles to buy
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 22, 2021

Electric vehicles are close to the “tipping point” of rapid mass adoption thanks to the plummeting cost of batteries, experts say.

Global sales rose 43% in 2020, but even faster growth is anticipated when continuing falls in battery prices bring the price of electric cars dipping below that of equivalent petrol and diesel models, even without subsidies. The latest analyses forecast that to happen some time between 2023 and 2025.

The tipping point has already been passed in Norway, where tax breaks mean electric cars are cheaper. The market share of battery-powered cars soared to 54% in 2020 in the Nordic country, compared with less than 5% in most European nations.

Transport is a major source of carbon emissions and electric cars are vital in efforts to fight the climate crisis. But, while they are already cheaper to run, their higher purchase price is a barrier to mass uptake. The other key factor is “range anxiety”, but this week the first factory production began of batteries capable of giving a 200-mile charge in five minutes.

Government grants and tax breaks have cut the cost of electric cars in some countries, but the point when they become cheaper without subsidies is key, said James Frith, the head of energy storage at BloombergNEF: “That’s definitely an inflection point. [Then] we really see the adoption of electric vehicles taking off and real market penetration.” In 2020, 4.2% of new cars were electric.
» Read article         
» Read about new, fast-charge batteries

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

XR at MA state house
Massachusetts lawmakers quickly approve climate change bill for second time
By STEVE LeBLANC, AP, in Boston.com
January 28, 2021

Massachusetts lawmakers quickly approved a sweeping climate change bill Thursday for a second time, shipping it back to Gov. Charlie Baker just weeks after he vetoed the measure.

The Democrat-controlled House and Senate had approved the bill earlier this month in the waning hours of the last legislative session.

Baker opted to veto the bill, but time had run out on the ability of lawmakers to address the veto, so Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano — both Democrats — decided to bring the bill back before lawmakers just weeks into the new legislative session and approve it again.

“Time is of the essence and we could not let a delay hamper our efforts to protect future generations,” Spilka said in a press release following the vote. “The necessary tools included in this legislation will soon lead to lower emissions, a thriving green economy, and cleaner air and water for all.”

The Senate engrossed the bill on a voice vote before noon on Thursday, shipping it to the House, where it was engrossed on 144-14 vote. Both chambers then enacted the bill, sending it to Baker’s desk.

Rep. Thomas Golden, one of the sponsors of the bill, hailed the decision to quickly approve the proposal a second time, saying it was too urgent to delay.
» Read article         

gov-leg divide explained
Inside the divide between Legislature, Baker on climate plan
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
January 27, 2021

While Gov. Charlie Baker portrayed Massachusetts as “a national leader” on climate during his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday, Baker and the Legislature remain at odds over how the state should reach its emissions-reduction goals.

Baker vetoed a climate bill this month, but lawmakers appear unconvinced by the rebuke. The House and Senate plan to vote Thursday on the unchanged bill, which maps a plan for Massachusetts to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Baker declared his support for that goal last January. But, in a letter detailing his veto, he claimed that the Legislature’s more aggressive interim reduction goals were too costly and that a new opt-in building code could hurt housing production.

Not swayed, lawmakers and climate advocates blasted the veto for delaying climate action they see as urgent. Some have argued that fossil fuel-aligned lobbyists played an outsize role in derailing the legislation.

While the Legislature says its approach brings the ambition necessary to address the severity of climate change, Baker’s camp cites data and research as the basis of its own strategy.

Baker, in his veto letter, said that reaching the Legislature’s 50 percent interim reduction goal would cost $6 billion more than his administration’s 45 percent goal — a claim that some lawmakers and advocates have disputed.

Either target would be the most ambitious in the nation, said Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides, noting that California and New York set interim reductions goals of 40 percent by 2030.

“You don’t necessarily want to make the changes too fast, because the costs for Massachusetts residents would be much higher,” Theoharides said, claiming that the Legislature’s goal was not based in data analysis. “We believe that ambition should be backed up with data and recognizing the costs that residents across the state will have to bear.”

Lawmakers and climate advocates, though, aren’t budging.

“The bottom line is that we need to get off of fossil fuels and reduce our carbon emissions as quickly as possible,” said Ben Hellerstein, executive director of Environment Massachusetts. “What the science tells us is, the more we can do and the sooner we can do it, the better.”

“We can’t keep doing the same-old, same-old,” said state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “Lofty goals give us something to shoot for.”
» Read article         

State House domePass the climate change bill again
And governor, this time go ahead and sign it
By Eugenia Gibbons, David Gasson and Will Havemeyer, CommonWealth Magazine / Opinion
January 27, 2021

IN VETOING An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, Gov. Charlie Baker contradicted his stated commitment to climate leadership, undermined the state’s clean energy sector, and dealt a blow to environmental justice communities in the Commonwealth.

The explanation provided in a five-page letter falsely pits economic growth against climate, health, and equity in a state that has historically demonstrated an ability to support a clean energy transformation to the benefit of its residents and economy rather than to the detriment of either.

The Legislature, in refiling the bill and promising to send it back to the governor’s desk, is giving our Commonwealth another chance to take bold and necessary action to address the greatest challenge of our lifetime. It is critical that we take it.

Increasingly, extreme weather caused by climate change ravages our natural and built environments causing billions in damaged infrastructure, inaccessible or inoperable facilities, and homes left uninhabitable by flooding and eroding coastlines. In 2020, Massachusetts experienced its worst drought in four years following prolonged stretches of dry weather that induced water restrictions and increased fire risks. And warming waters are creating uninhabitable conditions for the natural resources on which our state’s multi-million-dollar seafood industry depends.

Our health is on the line, too. Vector-borne disease is on the rise and extreme heat, occurring with greater frequency, remains the number one weather-related killer in the country. Burning of fossil fuels causes climate change, but long-term exposure to higher-than-average levels of particulate matter causes some of the most severe health impacts — asthma, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases. These impacts are at their worst in low-income communities and communities of color that have been disproportionately burdened by the generational effects of discriminatory policies.

In the face of such present and indisputable consequences, it is time to confront and let go of the false narratives that have stood in the way of ambitious climate and clean energy policy to date. A climate-smart Commonwealth is a healthy Commonwealth, one whose businesses, residents, and communities thrive, economically and otherwise. We must call out decisions to block much-needed policy change for what they really are — a choice to accede to those who have used their influence to stall progress on this issue for years, and a choice to continue ignoring the mountains of evidence showing that a smart climate plan will in fact bolster our economy and protect our most vulnerable communities that are already shouldering many of the impacts of the climate crisis.
» Read article         

» More legislative news

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills pump jacks
Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels
Even with the order, most companies can continue their current level of drilling for years. Advocates hope the pause is just a first step toward a complete phase-out.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Judy Fahys, InsideClimate News
January 27, 2021

It’s hard to overstate the symbolic importance of the executive order President Biden signed Wednesday that paused new leasing of oil and gas development on federal lands, among other actions on climate change. The United States is the world’s top oil and gas producer, and the directive, which orders a wholesale review of the federal leasing and permitting program, signals a reckoning with how that production will need to fall.

Advocates hope the halt to leasing will be the first step toward developing a comprehensive path to phase out fossil fuel production in a way that also supports workers, communities and states that depend on the resources for their livelihoods.

But the order—which pauses leasing until the review is completed—will do little in itself to reduce the nation’s oil and gas production, and will not affect the number of wells being drilled for years.

Oil and gas companies are sitting on a huge cache of undeveloped federal leases: Nearly 14 million out of more than 26 million acres leased to oil companies onshore are not in use, and more than 9 million out of a total 12 million offshore acres leased are not producing, according to the Interior Department. Biden’s order will allow companies to continue to receive permits to drill on land they have already leased.

The research firm Rystad Energy estimates that in New Mexico’s Delaware Basin, one of the most active drilling areas in the country, most companies can continue their current level of drilling for more than a decade, even without acquiring new federal leases.

Wells on federal lands also account for only about 20 percent of the nation’s oil production, and even less of its gas output. The pause in new leasing will have no impact on the state and private lands that account for the rest.

Still, fossil fuel production on federal lands is responsible for nearly a quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to one government study, and those lands are the only place where the federal government can take a direct role in managing production.

“It’s a great place to start to lay out how you transition 20 percent of what we use out of the system,” said Josh Axelrod, a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Axelrod said the Trump administration’s rush to lease federal lands had created a system where energy companies could stockpile leases and permits at extremely low costs and with few environmental safeguards, and so pausing the system to review it was hardly a dramatic move.
» Read article         

made-up numbersOil Industry Inflates Job Impact From Biden’s New Pause on Drilling on Federal Lands
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 27, 2021

On Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order directing his Department of Interior to hit pause on entering new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands, the latest in a string of climate-related directives aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Joe Biden proposed a ban on new leases on public lands, a pledge the Trump campaign falsely claimed would “end fracking.” After Biden’s victory, a coalition of nearly 600 organizations from western states wrote a letter in December to the president-elect, urging him to follow through on his promise. The executive order begins that process.

About 25 percent of U.S. fossil fuel production came from federal lands over the past decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, federal lands account for roughly 24 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, stemming from the production of oil, gas, and coal, along with the methane released during the extraction process, and the combustion of those fuels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A big slice of that comes from coal, an industry that has been in decline for years. But drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. has increased dramatically in recent years, thanks in large part to fracking. While the oil industry quickly applauded the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, it was incensed that he would halt new drilling leases on federal lands.

Big Oil’s Biden-era PR strategy:

1) Act like you’re part of the solution by supporting “frameworks” like Paris and long term targets like 2050

2) Fight meaningful action — like rejecting KXL and ending drilling on public lands — by repeating lies about jobs and the economy

— Jamie Henn (@jamieclimate) January 25, 2021

When it comes to fracking on public lands, New Mexico’s portion of the Permian basin is ground zero. Much of the drilling in other shale regions, including Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and North Dakota, occurs on state or private land, and, as a result, won’t be impacted by the new policy. But New Mexico is home to a large drilling footprint on federal land, and roughly a quarter of the state’s tax revenue comes from oil and gas.

Various industry groups immediately sprang into action this week with the news that the Biden administration was gearing up to halt new leases. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute and the American Petroleum Institute, along with state chambers of commerce in New Mexico and Louisiana, hosted impromptu press calls for journalists on both Tuesday and Wednesday decrying the new policy.

The New Mexico Oil & Gas Association said that restricting drilling “risks the loss of more than 60,000 jobs and $800 million” in tax revenue for the state. The American Petroleum Institute (API) went further, saying a ban on new leases risks “hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in government revenue.”

Restricting this oil and gas activity on New Mexico’s federal lands risks the loss of more than 60,000 jobs and $800 million in support for our public schools, first responders, and healthcare services. #NMPol #NMLeg

— New Mexico Oil & Gas (@NMOilAndGas) January 25, 2021

The oil and gas industry only directly employs a little over 160,000 people, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

API is claiming that more people would lose their jobs than the industry actually employs. Even accounting for ripple effects on related industries, it is a staggering claim.

But it’s “standard bullshit fear mongering,” Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, told DeSmog in an email. “Industry still has a surplus of just under 500,000 acres of federal public lands leases they have not yet developed, 31,000+ existing federal public lands oil & gas wells, and a stockpile of ~5,000 approved-but-unused federal public lands drilling permits.”
» Read article         

gas is over for EU
Reality ‘Starting to Sink In,’ Says McKibben, After European Investment Bank Chief Admits ‘Gas Is Over’
“There’s nothing clean about gas—it’s not a ‘transition fuel’ or a ‘bridge fuel,’ it’s a dirty fossil fuel just like coal and oil,” said Greenpeace EU. “It’s time to stop bankrolling the #ClimateEmergency and stop public money back gas projects.”
By Jon Queally, Common Dreams
January 21, 2021

Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, “To put it mildly, gas is over”—an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.

Dr. Werner Hoyer, president of the EIB—the investment bank publicly owned by the European Union’s member states—made the comments while presenting a review of the institution’s 2020 operations at a press conference in Luxembourg.

Calling a future break with fracked gas “a serious departure from the past,” Hoer added that “without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets” to which the EU states—and therefore the bank—have committed.

McKibben and others responded to the comments as the most recent promising signal that the financial world is catching up with the climate science that demands a rapid and profound shift away from fossil fuels.

While many European climate groups and financial watchdogs have criticized the EU member states and the EIB itself for not moving forward fast enough with proposed reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Hoyer said Wednesday that the shift away from fossil fuels is paramount and that even the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the continent must not act as a roadblock.

“We have achieved unprecedented impact on climate, preparing the ground for much more,” Hoyer said in his remarks. “But the risk of a recovery that neglects climate and the environment remains.”

“The fight against climate change cannot wait until the pandemic is over,” he added. “The [Covid-19] crisis is not a reason to stop tackling the climate and environmental challenges facing humanity.”
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuel

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Weekly News Check-In 2/28/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

OTHER PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about other pipelines    

COLUMBIA GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about Columbia Gas and Merrimack Valley disaster

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation  

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS / FRACKING CONNECTION

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

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

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

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

» More about the plastics-fracking connection

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Weekly News Check-In 2/14/20

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

BU professor Nathan Phillips made news this week by ending his hunger strike and successfully calling attention to climate and environmental justice issues associated with the Weymouth compressor station project. A little farther north, citizens of Exeter, NH will have a chance to express opposition to the Granite Bridge pipeline simply by voting at Town Meeting on March 10th. The petition, appearing on the ballot as Article 25, states in part, “the scope of the project vastly exceeds the current and future energy needs of New Hampshire. The likely changes in energy production could result in ratepayers paying for technology that will be obsolete before it’s operational.”

Kinder Morgan / Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s Connecticut expansion project includes a stretch near Sandisfield, MA that was contested by the Narragansett Indian Tribe because it threatened ceremonial stone groupings. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted permission for construction before the case could be heard, and 73 sites were destroyed.

News about other pipelines includes a story from Oregon, where a proposed project has split a community between people who welcome the desperately-needed jobs and those who maintain those benefits are short-term and outweighed by environmental costs.

Climate news is all about the stunning weather event reported last week, when record high temperatures were recorded on Antarctica’s Trinity Peninsula.

One piece of our clean energy future is about to be demonstrated through a pilot project in Boston, in 140 housing units built on a 10-acre tract of land and heated/cooled by a micro-district geothermal system. This will entirely eliminate the need for natural gas in those homes. An unrelated article describes the problem of retired wind turbine blades piling up in landfills – a reminder that there’s no truly benign way to meet human energy demand.

Can carbon offsets qualify air travel as acceptably clean transportation? In an attempt to stay ahead of the flight-shaming movement, jetBlue is hoping you think so. Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department dropped its anti-trust probe against a group of automakers that said they’d comply with California’s progressive emissions targets.

We found some riveting stories on the fossil fuel industry. With financial analysts warning of a global industry collapse, European regulators scrutinizing overall emissions in the natural gas production and delivery chain, and new legislation proposing a U.S. ban on fracking… somehow the natural gas industry thinks its main problem is public relations. Be sure to also read The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia,  a three-year-old article from The Guardian that we include here because it’s relevant to other stories.

Finally, a look at Dart Container Corporation’s hardball play to save the ubiquitous foam coffee cup.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

strike over
‘I Feel Victorious’: BU Professor Ends Hunger Strike Over Weymouth Compressor
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
February 11, 2020

Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips will end the hunger strike he began two weeks ago over what he called “serious public health and safety violations” at the Weymouth natural gas compressor construction site.

“The demands that I had for my hunger strike — we have made some progress,” Phillips said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Boston. “Yet the reason for my action was to put the spotlight on [environmental justice] and on the officials that are accountable and responsible. I think, and I hope, we’ve reached a tipping point in public awareness.”
» Read article

crossing the line
Crossing the Line: A Scientist’s Road From Neutrality to Activism
Nathan Phillips, who just ended a 14-day hunger strike, said he was compelled to action by dissatisfaction with academia’s passivity and the fervor of his students.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
February 11, 2020

The hunger strike—which he ended at about 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon—carried physical risks. Lanky to begin with, the 53-year-old Korean American professor has lost 22 pounds since he stopped eating on Jan. 29, and has been subsisting on unsweetened tea, sea salt and vitamin supplements.

The protest also carried professional risks. He has been challenged by colleagues and his increasing activism—Phillips has been arrested for non-violent protests against fossil fuel projects three times since October—may lead other scientists, including some potential research collaborators, to question his methods and objectivity.

Phillips says they are risks he has to take.

“There’s really no other recourse that me or others fighting this battle have because the state and federal regulatory and executive agencies have failed the community,” he said. “They have washed their hands of this.”
» Read article

Phillips hunger strike
Dr. Nathan Phillips—Hunger Strike
By Carolyn Shadid Lewis, Vimeo
February 10, 2020

Dr. Nathan Phillips speaks with Carolyn Shadid Lewis about his personal journey with the Weymouth Compressor and his decision to go on hunger strike.
» View report

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

Granite Bridge citizen petition
Exeter voters to weigh in on proposed Granite Bridge pipeline
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
February 6, 2020

EXETER — A citizen’s petition on the March 10 Town Meeting ballot calls for residents to oppose the Granite Bridge pipeline project, currently under review by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Granite Bridge is the proposed $414 million, 27-mile, 16-inch natural gas pipeline from Exeter to Manchester to be constructed by Liberty Utilities within the Route 101 right of way, designated by law as a state Energy Infrastructure Corridor. The project, which includes constructing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tank in an abandoned quarry in Epping, is more than a year into the PUC review process.

The petition, appearing on the March ballot as Article 25, states in part, “the scope of the project vastly exceeds the current and future energy needs of New Hampshire. The likely changes in energy production could result in ratepayers paying for technology that will be obsolete before it’s operational.”
» Read article

» More about the Granite Bridge Pipeline

CT EXPANSION NEWS

Court rules against Narragansett Tribe in pipeline dispute
By Providence Journal
February 7, 2020

PROVIDENCE (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled against a Rhode Island tribe Friday in a dispute over a natural gas pipeline built in Massachusetts on land with ceremonial stone groupings.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a petition by the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s historic preservation office for lack of jurisdiction.

The tribe argued that in authorizing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. to build a pipeline across landscapes with sacred significance, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied it procedural protections of the National Historic Preservation Act. The tribe took issue with a nearly 4-mile-long pipeline segment near Sandisfield, Massachusetts.

The court found the tribe lacks standing to seek relief because the ceremonial landscapes had been destroyed by the time it filed its petition for review,.
» Read article

» More on the CT expansion project    

OTHER PIPELINES

Natural gas pipeline proposal fractures Oregon community
By Christopher Booker, Connie Kargbo, Sam Weber, PBS
February 9, 2020

A protracted battle in Oregon over a proposal to build a 229-mile natural gas pipeline and processing terminal in the southern part of the state is pitting those hungry for economic development against those wary of the project’s environmental risks. But as NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports, that fight is drawing closer to a conclusion.
» Listen to report or read transcript                  

» More about other pipelines    

CLIMATE

warmest January
Earth just had hottest January since records began, data shows
Average global temperature 2.5F above 20th-century average
Antarctic has begun February with several temperature spikes
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
February 13, 2020

Last month was the hottest January on record over the world’s land and ocean surfaces, with average temperatures exceeding anything in the 141 years of data held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The record temperatures in January follow an exceptionally warm 2019, which has been ranked as the second hottest year for the planet’s surface since reliable measurements started. The past five years and the past decade are the hottest in 150 years of record-keeping, an indication of the gathering pace of the climate crisis.
» Read article    

hot spot
Antarctica just hit 65 degrees, its warmest temperature ever recorded
By Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post
February 7, 2020

Just days after the Earth saw its warmest January on record, Antarctica has broken its warmest temperature ever recorded. A reading of 65 degrees was taken Thursday at Esperanza Base along Antarctica’s Trinity Peninsula, making it the ordinarily frigid continent’s highest measured temperature in history.

The Argentine research base is on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Randy Cerveny, who tracks extremes for the World Meteorological Organization, called Thursday’s reading a “likely record,” although the mark will still have to be officially reviewed and certified.

The balmy reading beats out the previous record of 63.5 degrees, which occurred March 24, 2015.
» Read article

» More about climate    

CLEAN ENERGY

district geothermal in Mattapan
Geothermal heating district could rise in Mattapan
City officials say they’re backing the project because it would further Boston’s ‘commitment to climate action’
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
February 11, 2020

The redevelopment of the old Boston State Hospital in Mattapan has added hundreds of modest-priced residences to the city during the past two decades.

But now the state has put the final 10-acre slice of this sprawling 175-acre campus up for grabs. And the Walsh administration has weighed in, singling out one of the bidders for its unusual component: a more environmentally friendly way to heat and cool our homes.

That bidder is Thomas F. Welch & Associates, whose proposal for the 140-unit Orchard Village project at first looks like other residential projects of its size — with one major exception: The entire assemblage of apartments and townhouses would be heated and cooled by geothermal energy, not natural gas. City officials say they’re backing the project because it would further Boston’s “commitment to climate action.” They see its potential to become a model for other micro-district heating systems, a success story that could be replicated elsewhere.
» Read article

Vineyard Wind delayed
Vineyard Wind Announces New Delay In Offshore Wind Project
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, on WBUR
February 11, 2020

Vineyard Wind no longer expects its 800-megawatt project to become operational by 2022, the company said Tuesday after federal officials announced a new — and longer-than-anticipated — timeline for their review of the project and offshore wind sector generally.

“We have received updated information from the Department of Interior that indicates the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Vineyard Wind I project will be published later than what was previously anticipated,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a statement.

“While we need to analyze what a longer permitting timeline will mean for beginning construction, commercial operation in 2022 is no longer expected. We look forward to the clarity that will come with a final EIS so that Vineyard Wind can deliver this project to Massachusetts and kick off the new US offshore energy industry.”
» Read article    

Saugerties solar
New solar array at old Saugerties landfill ready to start generating
By Christina Coulter, Hudson Valley One
February 7, 2020

Some 7,000 gleaming new solar panels uniformly line the site of the now-capped Town of Saugerties landfill and should be online in the next month, according to developers from East Light Solar.

The Town of Saugerties, the board of which approved the 2.8-megawatt project last March, will purchase 40 percent of the project’s total energy output, according to Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. Approximately 800,000 kilowatts of the town’s cut will power 80 percent of town facilities and the savings will ultimately extend to taxpayers, Costello said.

The remainder of the energy produced will be sold to an estimated 150 Saugerties homes and businesses. The impressive array was erected in just three months, with construction beginning in November.
» Read article

retired blades
Wind Turbine Blades Can’t Be Recycled, So They’re Piling Up in Landfills
Companies are searching for ways to deal with the tens of thousands of blades that have reached the end of their lives.
By Chris Martin, Bloomberg Green
February 5, 2020

A wind turbine’s blades can be longer than a Boeing 747 wing, so at the end of their lifespan they can’t just be hauled away. First, you need to saw through the lissome fiberglass using a diamond-encrusted industrial saw to create three pieces small enough to be strapped to a tractor-trailer.

The municipal landfill in Casper, Wyoming, is the final resting place of 870 blades whose days making renewable energy have come to end. The severed fragments look like bleached whale bones nestled against one another.

Tens of thousands of aging blades are coming down from steel towers around the world and most have nowhere to go but landfills. In the U.S. alone, about 8,000 will be removed in each of the next four years.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Jet Blue offsets
Could the Flight Shaming Movement Take Off in the U.S.? JetBlue Thinks So.
The airline is the first American carrier planning to purchase “offsets” for carbon emissions from all domestic flights, a move some activists denounce as a stunt.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
February 7, 2020

In January, JetBlue became the first major U.S. airline to announce plans to become carbon neutral as a way to assuage customer concerns over the impact of commercial flying on the climate. In a press release, the airline said it hopes by July to offset greenhouse gas emissions from all of its domestic flights by funding projects that help reduce emissions elsewhere.

The very notion of “green” flights strikes some climate activists as absurd. Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and “low-carbon travel” activist, said there’s no more potent way hour-for-hour to warm the planet than flying. He considers offset schemes suspect, and he believes offsets might do more harm than good because they make people believe they can fly without contributing to climate change. Kalmus notes that he speaks only on his own behalf, not NASA’s.

But Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council told InsideClimate News that the offset market has made major strides toward becoming more standardized, transparent and effective.
» Read article

CARB limits OK
Justice Department Drops Antitrust Probe Against Automakers That Sided With California on Emissions
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 7, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has dropped its antitrust inquiry into four automakers that had sided with California in its dispute with the Trump administration over reducing climate-warming vehicle pollution, deciding that the companies had violated no laws, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation, launched last September, had escalated a dispute over one of President Trump’s most significant rollbacks of global warming regulations. The Justice Department’s move was one of a slew of seemingly retributive actions by the White House against California, as the state worked with the four automakers — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — to defy Mr. Trump’s planned rollback of national fuel economy standards.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL

Arctic Lady
EU Plans to Measure True Climate Impacts of LNG Imports From US Fracked Gas
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
February 12, 2020

With growing evidence that the climate impacts of natural gas are comparable to coal, the European Commission is planning to study ways to reduce methane emissions across the life cycle of natural gas production and consumption, with potential implications for fracked gas producers in the U.S.

“Work has started on the methane emissions linked to the energy sector, including oil and gas production and transport, but also coal mines and we are planning on presenting the strategic plan still this year,” said an unnamed official working with European Union (EU) energy commissioner Kadri Simson, as reported by Euractiv.

The EU obtains natural gas from many sources, both in gas form via pipeline and as liquefied natural gas (LNG). One area of this EU study will be methane emissions over the life cycle of LNG imports from U.S. fracked natural gas.

Bloomberg recently analyzed the climate impact of U.S. LNG production facilities and reported that “an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.”

Nevertheless, the oil and gas industry is putting serious ad dollars into positioning natural gas as a climate solution. As renewables have become more cost-competitive, the industry has shifted its language away from selling natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewables and toward gas as a “foundation fuel.”
» Read article

oil sands divestment
Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
February 12, 2020

In April, voters elected a provincial leader who promised to punish companies that stopped financing the oil sands. Then, in December, Alberta opened what it called a war room to attack anyone perceived as criticizing the industry.

“We have been targeted by a foreign-funded campaign of special interests,” Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, said after winning office last year. “When multinational companies like HSBC boycott Alberta, we’ll boycott them.” HSBC, the largest bank in Europe, has said it will stop financing new oil sands developments.

Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday.

The brawl over billions of dollars in lending and investment, while centered on Alberta’s oil sands, shows the potential power of the financial industry to speed the shift to cleaner energy sources, even as the world’s government fail in their pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It also shows how quickly financial-industry pressure can instill a degree of political panic.

But financial institutions worldwide are coming under growing pressure from shareholders to pull money from high-emitting industries. At the same time they are waking up to the fact that they have underestimated the climate-change risk in their portfolios.
» Read article

gas PR
Report Attacks Industry Campaign to Fix Natural Gas’s Climate PR Problem
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
February 9, 2020

A new report from advocacy group Food and Water Watch argues that fracking and continued reliance on natural gas is detrimental to addressing climate change. The report, which calls out the fossil fuel industry’s misleading narratives around natural gas, comes at a time when progressive members of Congress like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are introducing a bill to ban fracking and when the industry is ramping up its public relations push around gas.

According to Food and Water Watch’s (FWW) report, greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the power sector over the past decade are not as great as the gas industry claims. FWW researchers found that combined emissions from coal and gas power plants declined 10.4 percent over the last decade. If emissions continue to decline at this roughly 10 percent pace, the report says, they will not reach zero until 2100.

The report examines data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an academic emissions inventory, and a recent Cornell University study. FWW developed a model that evaluates life-cycle emissions of power production, including methane emissions from coal and natural gas production, processing, transportation, and end use. The organization’s analysis is also based on a comprehensive synthesis of methane leak research.
» Read article    
» Read report    

oil glut
Saudi-Russian Alliance Is Strained as Coronavirus Saps Demand for Oil
OPEC is still trying to forge an agreement on new output cuts to sop up an oil glut.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
February 7, 2020

An alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia has helped prop up oil prices for the last three years. But the two big oil producers were not in perfect harmony this week, as they have tried to recalibrate production targets to cope with reduced demand from China, whose economy has been crippled by the coronavirus epidemic.
» Read article

grand staircase escalante
Trump Opens National Monument Land to Energy Exploration
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday finalized plans to allow mining and energy drilling on nearly a million acres of land in southern Utah that had once been protected as part of a major national monument.

The Interior Department’s release of a formal land-use blueprint for the approximately 861,974 acres of land will allow oil, gas and coal companies to complete the legal process for leasing mines and wells on land that had once been part of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, established by President Bill Clinton.

To date, no oil, gas or coal companies have taken any of the legal first steps required to mine or drill on the land, although they could have done so at any time in the months following Mr. Trump’s proclamation that he was removing protection from the land, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department said.

“There has been almost no interest in mining and drilling on the lands excluded from Grand Staircase,” said Kimberly Finch, the spokeswoman.

Environmentalists decried the latest step in the Trump administration’s efforts to open public lands to energy exploration.
» Read article

tight oil
Government Agency Warns Global Oil Industry Is on the Brink of a Meltdown

We are not running out of oil, but it’s becoming uneconomical to exploit it—another reason we need to move to renewables as quickly as possible.
By Nafeez Ahmed, Vice
February 4, 2020

A government research report produced by Finland warns that the increasingly unsustainable economics of the oil industry could derail the global financial system within the next few years.

The new report is published by the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK), which operates under the government’s Ministry of Economic Affairs. GTK is currently the European Commission’s lead coordinator of the EU’s ProMine project, its flagship mineral resources database and modeling system.

The report says we are not running out of oil—vast reserves exist—but says that it is becoming uneconomical to exploit it. The plateauing of crude oil production was “a decisive turning point for the industrial ecosystem,” with demand shortfall being made up from liquid fuels which are far more expensive and difficult to extract—namely, unconventional oil sources like crude oil from deep offshore sources, oil sands, and especially shale oil (also known as “tight oil,” extracted by fracking).

These sources require far more elaborate and expensive methods of extraction, refining and processing than conventional crude mined onshore, which has driven up costs of production and operations.

Yet the shift to more expensive sources of oil to sustain the global economy, the report finds, is not only already undermining economic growth, but likely to become unsustainable on its own terms. In short, we have entered a new era of expensive energy that is likely to trigger a long-term economic contraction.
» Read article
» Read report

fracking ban bill
Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez bill would outlaw fracking by 2025
By Rachel Frazin, The Hill
February 3, 2020

A bill introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) helped craft would ban fracking nationwide by 2025, according to its newly unveiled text.

The legislation would immediately prevent federal agencies from issuing federal permits for expanded fracking, new fracking, new pipelines, new natural gas or oil export terminals and other gas and oil infrastructure.

A House version of the legislation is being spearheaded by Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

By Feb. 1, 2021, permits would be revoked for wells where fracking takes place and that are within 2,500 feet of a home, school or other “inhabited structure.” The wells would be required to stop operations.

Fracking for oil and natural gas would become illegal “on all onshore and offshore land in the United States” by Jan. 1, 2025.
» Read article

the sponsors
The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia
Corporate capture of academic research by the fossil fuel industry is an elephant in the room and a threat to tackling climate change.
By Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran, The Guardian
March 13, 2017

The very experts we assume to be objective, and the very centers of research we assume to be independent, are connected with the very industry the public believes they are objectively studying. Moreover, these connections are often kept hidden.

To say that these experts and research centers have conflicts of interest is an understatement: many of them exist as they do only because of the fossil fuel industry. They are industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.

After years conducting energy-related research at Harvard and MIT, we have come to discover firsthand that this pattern is systemic. Funding from Shell, Chevron, BP, and other oil and gas companies dominates Harvard’s energy and climate policy research, and Harvard research directors consult for the industry. These are the experts tasked with formulating policies for countering climate change, policies that threaten the profits – indeed the existence – of the fossil fuel industry.

Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors – have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge.
» Blog editor’s note: this article was referenced in “Crossing the Line”, the InsideClimate News article we carried about BU Professor Nathan Phillips, who has been actively opposing the Weymouth compressor station.
» Read article

» More about the fossil fuel industry     

PLASTICS, HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT

 

foam cups strike back
Your Foam Coffee Cup Is Fighting for Its Life
The Dart Container Corporation, which makes foam products, is a manufacturing behemoth and produced a fortune for the family behind it. Environmentalists say its products are polluting the globe.
By Michael Corkery, New York Times
February 10, 2020

Shortly after Maryland voted to ban foam, Dart shut down its two warehouses in the state, displacing 90 workers and sending a signal to other locales considering similar laws. San Diego recently decided to suspend enforcement of its polystyrene ban in the face of a lawsuit by Dart and a restaurant trade group, which argued the city should have conducted a detailed environmental impact study before enacting the law. The city is now performing that analysis.

“We don’t believe there are good, objective reasons to single out certain materials,” Dart’s chief executive officer, Jim Lammers, said in a recent interview at the company’s headquarters.
» Read article

» More about plastics and the environment  

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