Tag Archives: oil spill

Weekly News Check-In 3/5/21

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Welcome back.

This week’s most timely story involves a ham-handed power grab by the building and natural gas industries – forcing a rule change at the International Code Council to deprive thousands of municipal officials of voting rights in future updates to the energy efficiency building code. This mass disenfranchisement appears to be special-interest blowback following the successful 2019 voting round, when record-breaking voter participation resulted in the first significant improvement of base building codes in a decade. The development is particularly unfortunate given recent reports showing that global emissions are still rising while country-level commitments for greenhouse gas reductions are running far below levels necessary to address the climate emergency. Building emissions are a significant part of the problem – especially from the combustion of natural gas for heating, domestic hot water, and cooking.

It’s been 30 years since the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when a burst pipeline spewed 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto Minnesota’s frozen Prairie River. This pipeline is now Enbridge’s Line 3, and the project to replace and reroute it through sensitive wetland habitat is fiercely opposed by local indigenous people, who demand enforcement of Tribal treaties they feel should protect them from this environmental threat.

Another active protest campaign includes opposition to the Formosa Plastics project, a major expansion of the petrochemical industry in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, known as Cancer Alley. Industry abuse of this mostly Black environmental justice community has drawn a sharply critical report from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

We’ve posted a number of reports touting plans and pilot ventures aimed at transitioning coal country into a greener economic model. So far, the efforts have primarily been at the individual, local, and state levels, and disparities are exposing the need for a more coordinated federal program.

As usual, the news gets better when we look at developments in zero-emission technologies. Agricultural land hosting large solar arrays can remain productive by using flocks of sheep to control vegetation, and it’s catching on. Energy storage is looking beyond lithium, especially in the long-duration markets. Thermal storage and non-toxic iron flow batteries are two promising technologies ready to offer grid-scale services. And clean transportation is all about rapidly expanding easily accessible EV charging stations, plus an announcement that Volvo cars and SUVs will be 100% electric by 2030 – five years ahead of rival carmakers’ most aggressive goals.

The news always gets more sobering when we turn our attention back to the fossil fuel industry. A new pilot study shows disturbing health impacts for people living near fracking operations, even while the natural gas industry mounts an all-out effort to block increasingly popular efforts to ban gas hookups in new buildings. Industry leaders seem unable to visualize a business plan that doesn’t involve drilling, piping, and burning planet-cooking toxins. Consequently, they react to any zero-emissions transition plan as an existential threat. Hence today’s lead stories on the assault on energy efficient building codes….

We’ll close by checking in on Massachusetts’ biomass problem, including an opinion article from one of Reading Municipal Light Department’s five elected commissioners explaining how demand for Palmer Renewable Energy’s biomass-generated electricity is far less than it appears.

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— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

thirty years later
30 years later, echoes of largest inland oil spill remain in Line 3 fight
By Dan Kraker and Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio
March 3, 2021

Thirty years ago Wednesday, on March 3, 1991, the Line 3 oil pipeline ruptured in Grand Rapids, Minn., spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River.

It’s still the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Because the river was covered with ice, crews were able to keep the oil from reaching the Mississippi, 2 miles away.

“There would be people on the ice, squeegeeing oil on top of the ice, which was weird, everything was weird, it was like some kind of gross landscape,” Scott Hall, a reporter for Grand Rapids public radio station KAXE, told MPR News in 2018 for an episode of its Rivers of Oil podcast, which dove deep into the impacts of the spill.

“And so they had hoses going down, and just sucking as much oil as they could out into these tanker trucks.”

The Lakehead Pipeline Co. owned Line 3, which was built in the 1960s to carry oil from Canada, at the time of the spill. And the company that succeeded Lakehead, Enbridge Energy, is now replacing that same Line 3 with a new pipeline along a different route across the state.

Construction on the new line began in earnest in December. But Native American tribes and environmental groups continue to fight the $4 billion project, on the ground and in court.
» Read article          
» Oil and Water: The Line 3 Debate – full coverage    

Seamus O'ReganLine 5 ‘very different’ from Keystone XL and Canada will fight hard for it: O’Regan
‘The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,’ said natural resources minister
By James McCarten, CBC
March 4, 2021

The federal government won’t let Michigan shut down the Line 5 pipeline, Canada’s natural resources minister said Thursday as he dismissed opposition comparisons to the thwarted Keystone XL project.

Seamus O’Regan sounded almost combative as he vowed to defend the 1,000-kilometre line, which bridges an environmentally sensitive part of the Great Lakes to link Wisconsin with refineries in Sarnia, Ont.

“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident in that fight,” O’Regan told a special House of Commons committee on the relationship between Canada and the United States.

The Enbridge Inc. pipeline carries an estimated 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily, and is vital to the energy and employment needs of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, as well as northern U.S. states, he added. 

“We are fighting on a diplomatic front, and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” he said. “The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.”

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5 to be shut down by May, accusing Calgary-based Enbridge of violating the terms of the deal that allows the line to traverse the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. 

The straits, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, boast powerful, rapidly changing currents that experts have said make the area the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Pipeline opponents in the U.S. — many of the same voices who helped make TC Energy’s proposed Keystone XL expansion an environmental rallying point over the last decade — have vowed to see it shut down. 

Enbridge, which has plans to fortify the underwater segment of the line by routing it through a tunnel under the lake bed, is fighting Whitmer’s order in court.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines         

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Sunshine Casino
UN Human Rights Experts Condemn Expanding Petrochemical Industry in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley as ‘Environmental Racism’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
March 3, 2021

Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement on March 2 raising concerns about the further industrialization of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” This largely Black-populated stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is lined with more than a hundred refineries and petrochemical plants. The experts said additional petrochemical development in this region, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows has some of the country’s highest cancer risks from air pollution, constitutes “environmental racism” that “must end.”

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the experts said.

The statement calls for U.S. officials to reconsider allowing FG LA LLC, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, to build its proposed “Sunshine Project” in St. James Parish, in the middle of the region. That development, one of several new petrochemical projects slated for the region, would be a massive complex. Its 14 units would produce two types of plastic and the petrochemical ethylene glycol, which is used to make polyester fabrics and antifreeze.

It is a development that Sharon Lavigne, founder of the faith-based grassroots organization RISE St. James, has been trying to stop ever since learning in 2018 that the company planned to build its complex less than two miles from her home.

If built, “Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical complex alone will more than double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents,” the human rights experts wrote. Their statement also took government regulators to task for their role. “Federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in ‘Cancer Alley,’” they said, calling for the U.S. Government “to deliver environmental justice in communities all across America, starting with St. James Parish,” by stopping the Formosa Plastics project.
» Read article          
» Read the UN statement        

» More about protests and actions         

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

without a map
As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 3, 2021

Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.

In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.

Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.

One rectangle down on the U.S. map, in Colorado, 2019 was the year a new state law passed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent by 2050. In parallel, Colorado established an Office of Just Transition to help the workers and communities affected by now-inevitable coal mine and power plant closures. To comply with that timeline, the state’s two largest electric utilities recently submitted plans, not unlike Pacificorp’s, to retire several coal plants early and replace them with renewables and batteries.

While Colorado regulators have not yet approved the plans, they’ll likely be concerned with whether the utilities will phase out coal fast enough. Meanwhile, the Office of Just Transition has released a plan to help coal communities adapt to the looming changes in their economies and has already begun outreach efforts.

These two examples represent a larger trend in the West: While policies and proposals in some states (like Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry, others (like Wyoming and, to a lesser extent, Montana) are protecting it for dear life. A new study by researchers at Montana State University examines this chasm and connects it to the absence of cohesive national energy transition policy.
» Read article          
» Read the Montana State University study       

» More about greening the economy       

 

CLIMATE

back on trend
New IEA Data Shows World on Path to Resume ‘Carbon-Intensive Business-as-Usual’
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, in DeSmog UK
March 2, 2021

Following warnings that the coronavirus-triggered drop in planet-warming emissions would be short-lived without structural changes, the International Energy Agency released data Tuesday showing that global CO2 emissions from the energy sector were 2 percent higher in December 2020 compared to the same month the previous year.

The Paris-based agency said the figures reflect a lack of concrete action by global governments to follow through on pledges to meet net zero emissions by 2050 and predicted 2021 emissions would continue the upward trend barring sufficiently bold action.

“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide. If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

Birol further warned that the figures “show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual.”

“This year is pivotal for international climate action,” he added, “but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”

While emissions in the U.S. dropped 10 percent in 2020 overall, the downward trend began moving back up after a low point in spring. The nation capped off 2020 with December emissions being nearly the same as those in December 2019.

In India, an increase in emissions began in September with the loosening of Covid-19-related restrictions. China’s emissions began climbing upward in April, and its emissions for the year overall increased by 0.8 percent.

The global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic resulted in a historic drop in global emissions, which climate activists said should be no substitute for real climate action and scientists said would ultimately do little to rein in global temperature increase.

Stressing that there’s “no time to lose” to address atmospheric concentrations of CO2, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in November: “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records.”

“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” said Taalas. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
» Read article          

global inaction
Global Action Is ‘Very Far’ From What’s Needed to Avert Climate Chaos
New climate pledges submitted to the United Nations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent, the world body announced.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
February 26, 2021

The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.

The global political response has been underwhelming so far.

New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.

The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”

The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously.

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called the report “a red alert.”

The tally was all the more damning because fewer than half of all countries submitted fresh targets to the United Nations. The Paris climate accord, designed to limit an increase in global temperatures, had urged them to do so by the end of 2020.
» Read article          

weakening ocean currents
Climate Change is Weakening the Ocean Currents That Shape Weather on Both Sides of the Atlantic
The change in the main ocean heat pump could bring more heat waves to Europe, increase sea level rise in North America and force fish to move farther north.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021

Since the end of the last ice age, a swirling system of ocean-spanning currents has churned consistently in the Atlantic, distributing heat energy along the ocean surface from the tropics toward the poles, with heavy, cold water slowly flowing back toward the equator along the bottom of the sea.

Collectively known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the currents played a key role in shaping the climate of eastern North America and Western Europe, and thus the development of civilizations there. But in the 20th century, the circulation has weakened more than at any other time during at least the last 1,000 years, new research shows.

Together with other studies showing that global warming is driving the weakening, the new findings suggest that the circulation will lose even more strength in the decades ahead. That could cause heat and cold extremes in Europe and rapid sea level rise along the East Coast of the United States. As it weakens, pools of warm water form. That can lead to ocean heat waves, with increasing evidence that overheating oceans are linked with droughts and heat waves on nearby land areas.

The overturning circulation loops like a 10,000-mile conveyor belt through the North and South  Atlantic, connecting polar regions. It brings cold water up from the deep, sends warmer water across the surface and then drops it back down thousands of miles away as it cools.
» Read article          

» More about climate            

 

CLEAN ENERGY

sheep and shade
Connecticut solar developers enlist sheep to cut grass and ease tensions

Several projects before the state’s siting board propose integrating sheep grazing with photovoltaic installations.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Antalexion / Creative Commons
March 3, 2021

It wasn’t your usual Connecticut Siting Council hearing. 

The petition before the regulators last week concerned a proposed 4.99-megawatt solar project on a tobacco farm in East Windsor. But many of the councilors’ questions for developer Greenskies Clean Energy had little to do with the technicalities of solar. 

Robert Hannon wanted to know how manure would be handled. John Morissette asked about the level of animal noise. And Chair Robert Silvestri wondered if the site would be safe from coyotes and other predators. 

The answers were vague, as this is the first time Greenskies has proposed using sheep to control vegetation on a solar site. 

The siting council is likely to become more savvy about the particulars in coming months as another Connecticut solar developer, Verogy, has proposed using sheep at three projects pending in East Windsor, Southington and Bristol. 

The proposals reflect the growing interest throughout the region in what’s called agrivoltaics — the practice of combining agricultural uses and renewable energy production on the same parcel of land.

The idea is that “we essentially utilize the sheep for vegetation maintenance, and it allows the property to continue in an agricultural use,” said Gina Wolfman, a senior project developer for Greenskies. 

And instead of revenues being paid out to landscaping services, “they are directed to the farming community,” said Bryan Fitzgerald, a co-founder of and director of development at Verogy.

That can help ease tensions around the use of prime farmland for large-scale solar arrays.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

now previewing
Code council approves plan to limit city, state input despite pushback

The International Code Council’s decision to limit direct influence by state and local government officials left some critics speculating about the potential to create an alternative to the organization’s widely used model codes.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
March 5, 2021

The nonprofit responsible for developing model building energy codes used by cities and states nationwide finalized a controversial plan Thursday to strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members — a move clean energy advocates fear will slow progress in achieving more efficient buildings and reducing emissions that fuel climate change. 

The decision, which critics say was made to appease the interests of industry groups representing homebuilders and natural gas utilities, came during a Wednesday meeting of the International Code Council’s board of directors. Unlike with its previous meeting in January, the board did not stream Wednesday’s meeting for the public to view. 

The change to the code-setting process was set in motion last fall when groups including the National Association of Home Builders and Leading Builders of America cried foul over the latest code development cycle, during which state and local government officials voted in record numbers, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade. 

In response to the record voting turnout, industry groups alleged voting irregularities and “improper use of voting guides” that had been distributed by efficiency advocates. (The Code Council conducted a review of the voting process and found no evidence of irregularities.) Industry representatives also said the process needed to change because energy codes were getting more complex, requiring a higher level of expertise among voting members. 

“This is a classic case of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” said Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement following the ICC’s announcement. “It’s extremely troubling that the ICC Board unnecessarily voted to strip the power from local government officials on the very codes they oversee, after they voted overwhelmingly to make our homes and other buildings more energy efficient and avoid harmful pollution from burning fossil fuels inside them.”
» Read article          

code voter supprssion
Cities voted for green building codes. Now developers want to end voting.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Grist
March 1, 2021

Kim Havey had a problem. Minneapolis was generating more and more of its electricity from renewables, dropping climate-warming pollution from power to record lows. But emissions from natural gas, which is used to heat buildings and stovetops, were climbing ― overtaking power plants as the city’s top source of carbon pollution in 2017.

Nearly three-quarters of Minneapolis’ emissions came from buildings, and the city was undergoing a construction boom to accommodate a population growing faster than at any point since the 1950s. So Havey, the city’s sustainability director, helped craft new rules mandating more efficient standards for all those new buildings.

But there was a hurdle. Buildings over 50,000 square feet ― medical offices, corporate headquarters, apartment buildings ― fell under state jurisdiction. And Minnesota, like most states, used the International Code Council’s model national energy code as its standard. The ICC ― which, as one newspaper once put it, like the World Series, primarily concerns the U.S. ― is a nonprofit consortium of construction industry groups, architects and local government officials that creates the standard building codes used in towns and cities in all 50 states.

Then Havey learned that as a government official responsible for buildings and energy codes in his city, he could register to vote on the ICC’s next round of energy codes in November 2019. He wasn’t alone in this endeavor. The slow progress in reducing emissions from buildings and a decade of virtually unchanged ICC codes were frustrating officials across the U.S., and hundreds applied that year to vote in a process that takes place every three years.

By the time votes were tallied, this army of Leslie Knopes had won an overwhelming victory. The ballots went 3 to 1 in favor of mandates to ratchet up energy efficiency and require new homes and buildings to include wiring to hook up electric vehicle chargers and electric appliances.

But the triumph was short-lived. The building industry groups that have long wielded dominance over policy at the ICC soon began challenging not only the approved measures, which they called costly and unrealistic, but the members’ right to vote at all.

The National Association of Home Builders, whose influence over the ICC has drawn scrutiny from Congress, demanded the organization reconsider the eligibility of dozens of city departments that cast ballots in 2019. Havey and his entire department were among them.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency        

 

ENERGY STORAGE

heat batteries
Aalborg CSP Can Retrofit Coal Plants into Thermal Energy Storage
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 28, 2021

Researchers at DLR, and NREL, and the Bill Gates-funded start-up Malta have been investigating converting coal plants into grid-scale thermal energy storage for curtailed intermittent renewable energy, as low-cost heat “batteries.”

Conversion would repurpose most of a coal plant’s assets. Instead of burning coal for the heat, tanks of molten salts would be heated electrically by surplus PV and wind on the grid to “charge” the storage, which could then be “discharged” back to the grid on demand using the former coal plant’s existing power generation and transmission assets.

Now Denmark’s Aalborg CSP A/S has taken a first step to commercialization. Their Integrated Energy System (IES) department, led by Executive Vice President Peter Badstue Jensen now offers their retrofitting of coal plants into thermal energy storage commercially.

The firm’s wide experience in the design and development of complex solar thermal energy and storage systems includes technologies supplying district heating and solar thermal plants operating globally. These include the world’s first seawater desalination solar greenhouse in Australia and seasonal thermal energy storage in Tibet that covers 90% of Langkazi’s annual heating requirement.
» Read article          

ESS all-iron configurable
‘All-iron’ flow battery maker ESS Inc launches ‘configurable’ megawatt-scale product
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
February 15, 2021

ESS Inc, the US-headquartered manufacturer of a flow battery using iron and saltwater electrolytes, has launched a new range of energy storage systems starting at 3MW power capacity and promising 6-16 hours discharge duration.

The company announced the launch of the ESS Inc Energy Center last week, a containerised utility-scale energy storage product aimed at serving front-of-the-meter use cases as well as larger commercial and industrial (C&I) site applications. Based on ESS Inc’s second generation of flow battery modules, the solution is designed to support large-scale renewable energy projects, serve transmission and distribution (T&D) applications and supply peaking energy capacity to replace peaker gas plants.

While other companies in the flow battery space have mostly focused on vanadium or zinc-bromine electrolyte, ESS Inc has been bullish on the potential for its ‘all-iron’ flow battery. It has a claimed 25-year expected lifetime without performance degradation and the company claims it is safe: in a 2018 interview CEO Craig Evans told Energy-Storage.news that a report from a fire marshall on the battery chemistry “was [just] three sentences long on how the fire marshal should handle our battery in case of an event”. Meanwhile the battery’s contents are non-toxic and are not made using rare-earth materials or hazardous chemicals, the company claimed. 

In that 2018 interview Evans had conceded that lithium-ion batteries had the big head start on manufacturing scale and cost reduction on newer battery technologies like his company’s, but that technical advantages such as the ESS Inc flow battery’s operating temperature of 50°C — meaning it doesn’t need HVAC solutions to be deployed in hot environments — and ever-cheaper renewable energy could offer market opportunities.
» Read article          

» More about energy storage            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

streetlight powerKansas City plans curbside charging for electric vehicles on streetlights
The federally funded pilot project could become a model for other cities looking to close gaps in charging infrastructure.
By Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
Photo By Vitaly Vlasov / Creative Commons
March 4, 2021

Kansas City plans to piggyback electric vehicle charging on existing streetlights as a way to improve access in areas currently lacking charging options.

The federally funded pilot project is being led by the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, whose partners include the city and utility Evergy. They hope to install chargers on 30 to 60 streetlights before the end of the year.

Kansas City is a leader when it comes to charging stations — a recent Rocky Mountain Institute analysis ranked it as the region’s top city for electric vehicle infrastructure. But that infrastructure isn’t spread evenly across the city. 

“There are places in the city that don’t have the same access to EV charging as other places,” said Miriam Bouallegue, the energy center’s sustainable transportation project manager. “We’re just trying to fill in some holes.”

As envisioned, the light poles would be equipped with one charger each. Customers would pay for each kilowatt-hour of power, although a rate will have to be established by state utility regulators.

Much of the work so far has involved trying to identify the best locations to install the charging stations. Generally, planners want to locate them near “points of interest” such as stores, apartment buildings, schools and churches. They collaborated with the Missouri University of Science and Technology to map those sites and found about 300 lights that met the criteria.
» Read article          

EV charge station push6 Utilities to Build EV-Charging Network Across 16 States
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
March 4, 2021

Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.

Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, and electrifying the sector is a major opportunity to reduce those emissions through increased efficiency and renewable-generated electricity. Utilities stand to benefit from massively-increased electricity demand driven by widespread EV adoption, but range anxiety — the fear of running out of battery power without being able to reach a convenient charging station — is a barrier to many customers who might purchase (or consider purchasing) an EV.

The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition — made up of American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — is seeking to ameliorate those concerns by creating a network of charging stations from Texas to Indiana to Virginia to Florida. The announcement follows a similar initiative by major midwest utilities last year.
» Read article          

all-electric Volvo
Volvo says it will stop selling gasoline-powered cars by 2030.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 2, 2021

Volvo Cars said it would convert its entire lineup to battery power by 2030, phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles faster than other automakers like General Motors.

Volvo, based in Sweden and owned by Geely Holding of China, has been ahead of larger rivals in converting to electric power. In 2019, all the models it sold were either hybrids or ran solely on batteries.

By 2030, Volvo will “phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Hybrids have better fuel economy than conventional vehicles, but they may not be much better for the climate or for urban air quality if drivers do not use the electric capabilities.

G.M.’s promise to sell only emission-free vehicles, which it made in January, does not take effect until 2035.

Volvo acknowledged that it was responding in part to pressure from governments, many of which have announced bans on internal combustion engines in coming years.

The company said its decision was based “on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

protect our earth
Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities’ mental, physical, and social health.
By EHN Staff, Environmental Health News
March 1, 2021

It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.

And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact—primarily on the state’s poor and rural families—people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by EHN set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.

In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.

Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).

This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.

We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.

The chemicals we found in the air and water—and inside of people’s bodies—are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.

But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They’re about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son’s illness but can’t afford to move; a family that did move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills, and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry, and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.
» Read article          

banning the gas ban
A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved
The fossil fuel industry is using the same playbook to fight city climate plans around the country
By Emily Holden for Floodlight, Amal Ahmed for the Texas Observer and Brendan Gibbons for San Antonio Report, in The Guardian
March 1, 2021

When the city of Austin drafted a plan to shift away from fossil fuels, the local gas company was fast on the scene to try to scale back the ambition of the effort.

Like many cities across the US, the rapidly expanding and gentrifying Texas city is looking to shrink its climate footprint. So its initial plan was to virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water and stoves.

The proposal, an existential threat to the gas industry, quickly caught the attention of Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials.

In its suggested edits, the company struck references to “electrification”, and replaced them with “decarbonization”– a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles”, which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air – both of which might help it to keep burning gas.

Those proposed revisions were shared with Floodlight, the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report, by the Climate Investigations Center, which obtained them through public records of communications between city officials and the company.

The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas. The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-secured changes.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels         

 

BIOMASS

gift to biomass
Baker’s $175m regulatory gift to biomass
Few municipal light plants actually wanted project
By David Talbot, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 20, 2021

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION and much of the Legislature is trying hard to give the developer of a controversial proposed wood-fired “biomass” power plant in Springfield everything it wants—especially a regulatory change that could give the plant $175 million in additional cash from Massachusetts electric ratepayers over 20 years.

To those wondering why Beacon Hill is doing so much—despite opposition on emissions and environmental justice grounds from the Springfield City Council, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, both of our US senators, and five state senators who filed an anti-biomass bill Friday – the answer often comes back that this is what the Commonwealth’s 41 municipal light plants want.

As the story goes, these local electric utilities, anticipating new standards, sought biomass electricity as part of a broader way to meet those standards.

But the actual decisions made by these century-old entities suggest otherwise. When the power contracts for the unbuilt Springfield facility were offered to municipal light plants in late 2019 and early 2020, only eight signed up—and for a total of only 75 percent of the plant’s output—based on information contained in contracts signed in February of 2020.

Low as these numbers are, they overstate the interest. By far the biggest tranche, 25 percent, was taken by the Reading Municipal Light Department, where I am one of five elected commissioners. But the Reading deal was signed at the management level; when our board later learned of this, we voted to examine all options with respect to the contract’s disposition.

In other words, we started looking for exits.

Our board-voted signal meant just seven municipal light plants truly wanted just half of the plant’s output, according to those contracts signed in February 2020.  And though those other local boards were no doubt better informed than ours, it’s not clear how much they knew about the controversy.

If Beacon Hill’s efforts are not answering demands from local municipal electric utilities, the question begging more investigation is why our elected leaders want to shovel so much money to just one developer (no other such plants are currently proposed in Massachusetts) to build a facility wanted by so few.

The developer, Palmer Renewable Energy, first got permits for the plant more than a decade ago. The company prevailed over certain legal challenges – but still needed more than electricity sales at market rates to make a business case to build the $150 million plant. Gov. Charlie Baker and Patrick Woodcock, Baker’s commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, stepped in to help.

Woodcock, formerly the top energy official under Gov. Paul LePage in Maine, set about gutting the rules for wood-fired biomass plants in the Bay State. The existing ones, in something called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, were stringent. Under them, electricity from the Palmer plant – which would burn 1,200 tons of wood chips per day, hauled in by tractor-trailers potentially from five states—could not be called “renewable.” Only far more efficient versions could do so.

The proposed Baker/Woodcock rewrite puts this giant wood-burning plant on the same “renewable” footing as a fleet of offshore wind turbines or an array of solar panels. And this meant the developer could also sell something called “Class 1 renewable energy certificates,” which is a form of subsidy.
» Read article           

MA-AGO letterhead
Comments on Draft Regulations Amending Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I and II Regulations, 225 C.M.R. §§ 14.00 et seq.and15.00 et seq.( H.5169)

MA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Maura Healey
December 23, 2020

The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease—greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.
» Read letter                        

» More about biomass               

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Weekly News Check-In 1/10/20

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

We have some good news breaking for the many people opposing Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. An appeals court in Virginia vacated permits for a similar compressor planned for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, on grounds that the health and environmental effects on those living nearby were not considered. This closely parallels arguments against the Weymouth compressor.

Protesters continue to delay coal trains heading for New Hampshire’s Merrimack Station, and we have a report on Amazon’s threats against employee climate activists.

The Trump administration’s assault on climate continues with several reports on new regulations intended to speed permitting of fossil fuel infrastructure like gas pipelines by eliminating many requirements for environmental impact studies. This is straight from the school of “don’t look for something you don’t want to see”.

We found reporting on how support for clean energy in environmental justice communities has been co-opted by the fossil fuel industry through donations to local NAACP chapters. Subversion is also happening through a Trump administration initiative to improve heavy truck emissions standards, which appears to be a back-door move to slow real progress.

As depressing as all that is, we take some encouragement in knowing that the fossil fuel industry is going to spend much of the coming year defending itself in court. Still, they’ll be headlong into extracting, emitting, and denying until a combination of law and economics forces them to stop. Climate writer and activist Bill McKibben suggested recently in New Yorker that pulling business out of JP Morgan Chase and other top banks financing the fossil fuel industry might be a good way to hasten that reckoning.

Wrapping up, we now know that there were nearly 33,000 gas leaks reported in Massachusetts in 2018, including over 7,500 classified as most serious. The primary cause is aging, deteriorating distribution pipes.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no fracking wey
Compressor station opponents buoyed by Virginia ruling
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, in Patriot Ledger
January 7, 2020

Opponents of a natural gas project under construction in Weymouth were optimistic Tuesday that a court ruling vacating a permit for a similar facility in Virginia could serve as a helpful precedent.

In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board did not sufficiently consider the consequences a proposed natural gas compressor station would have on the predominantly African-American community near its site. The court tossed out a state permit issued in 2018 to developer Dominion Energy for its Atlantic Coast Pipeline and remanded the matter back to the board.

South Shore residents who have been fighting plans for a compressor station in the Fore River basin were encouraged by the news, citing parallels they see between the Virginia case and a federal appeal unfolding in Massachusetts.
» Read article

BREAKING: Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Vacates Permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline Compressor Station in Union Hill
By lowkell, Blue Virginia
January 7, 2020

“Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked, and the Board’s failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the Compressor Station resulted in a flawed analysis”

“We conclude that the Board thrice erred in performing its statutory duty under sections 10.1–1307(E)(1) and (E)(3): (1) it failed to make any findings regarding the character of the local population at Union Hill, in the face of conflicting evidence; (2) it failed to individually consider the potential degree of injury to the local population independent of NAAQS and state emission standards; and (3) DEQ’s final permit analysis, ostensibly adopted by the Board, relied on evidence in the record that was incomplete or discounted by subsequent evidence.”
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

coal train barricade
Coal Train Protesters Target One of New England’s Last Big Coal Power Plants
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
January 4, 2020

Climate activists halted a coal train bound for one of New England’s last large coal-fired power plants by building a barricade on the tracks and sitting on it for about eight hours this week. The delay was temporary, but it was the fifth time activists had stopped a coal train in the region in less than a month.

The protest is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate coal-fired power production in New England. It also draws attention to what activists say is a costly and unnecessary subsidy for coal-burning power plants that consumers ultimately pay.
» Read article

protest coal plantActivists block coal-carrying train for hours
Goal is to shut down New Hampshire coal-fired plant
By Sarah Betancourt, Commonwealth Magazine
January 3, 2020

CLIMATE ACTIVISTS USED AN UNUSUAL METHOD Thursday night to stop a delivery to the largest coal-fired plant in New England — erecting scaffolding directly on the tracks.

A group of about 30 protesters refused to leave train tracks in the woods of Harvard, Massachusetts, in an effort that delayed delivery of coal to Merrimack Station in Bow, NH for over eight hours. Their goal, they say, is to get parent company Granite Shore Power to set a date for the plant’s shutdown, with regional grid operator ISO-New England facilitating that move.
» Read article            

Amazon climate clampdown
Amazon Threatens to Fire Climate Activists, Group Says
By Matt Day, Bloomberg News
January 2, 2020


A group of Amazon.com Inc. employees who pushed the company to combat climate change say Amazon has threatened to fire some of them if they continue to speak out about their employer’s internal affairs.

Two were threatened with termination, a spokesperson for Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said, and a total of four were told in meetings that they were in violation of the company’s policies on workers speaking to the press and on social media.
» Read article   

» More about protests      

CLIMATE

pipelines unbound
Trump Moves to Exempt Big Projects From  Environmental Review

By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 9, 2020

WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday will introduce the first major changes to the nation’s benchmark environmental protection law in more than three decades, moving to ease approval of pipelines and other major energy and infrastructure projects without detailed environmental review.

Many of the changes to the law — the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark measure that touches nearly every significant construction project in the country — have been long sought by the oil and gas industry, whose members applauded the move and called it long overdue.

Environmental groups said the revisions would threaten species and lead to more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The proposed regulations also will relieve federal agencies of having to take climate change into account in environmental reviews.
» Read article

Trump Officials To Overhaul National Environmental Policy Act
By Jeff Brady, NPR
January 9, 2020

Under expected new rules, federal agencies won’t have to consider climate impacts of major infrastructure projects. The move aims to speed the OK for things such as oil and gas pipelines and highways.
» Listen to report  

cumulative effects
Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 3, 2020

The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects.

According to one government official who has seen the proposed regulation but was not authorized to speak about it publicly, the administration will also narrow the range of projects that require environmental review. That could make it likely that more projects will sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do things like discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution.

The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. In recent years courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project.
» Read article

end of the line
‘High likelihood of human civilization coming to end’ by 2050, report finds
By Harry Cockburn, The Independent
June 4, 2019

[A recent study] argues that the detrimental impacts of climate breakdown, such as increasing scarcity of food and water, will act as a catalyst on extant socio-political instabilities to accelerate disorder and conflict over the next three decades.

To usefully prepare for such an impact, the report calls for an overhaul in countries’ risk management “which is fundamentally different from conventional practice”.“It would focus on the high-end, unprecedented possibilities, instead of assessing middle-of-the-road probabilities on the basis of historic experience.”
» Read article
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

NAACP and energy
N.A.A.C.P. Tells Local Chapters: Don’t Let Energy Industry Manipulate You
The civil rights group is trying to stop state and local branches from accepting money from utilities that promote fossil fuels and then lobbying on their behalf.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
January 5, 2020

When utilities around the country have wanted to build fossil-fuel plants, defeat energy-efficiency proposals or slow the growth of rooftop solar power, they have often turned for support to a surprisingly reliable ally: a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Most Americans know the N.A.A.C.P. as a storied civil rights organization that has fought for equal access to public facilities, fairness in housing and equality in education. But on energy policy, many of its chapters have for years advanced the interests of energy companies that are big donors to their programs. Often this advocacy has come at the expense of the black neighborhoods, which are more likely to have polluting power plants and are less able to adapt to climate change.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

truck pollution regs
E.P.A. Aims to Reduce Truck Pollution, and Avert Tougher State Controls
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
January 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday took its first step toward tighter pollution controls on trucks, an anomalous move for a government known for weakening environmental policies but one that would pre-empt tougher state rules.

Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, began the legal and regulatory process for curbing highway truck emissions of nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to asthma and lung disease.

While the move could give President Trump a nominal environmental achievement for the 2020 campaign, public health experts say the truck regulations are not as out of line with administration policy as they would appear. The emerging rule will quite likely limit nitrogen dioxide pollution more than current standards, they say, but still fall far short of what is necessary to significantly prevent respiratory illness and even premature deaths.

Instead, the administration appears to be complying with the wishes of the trucking industry, which has called for a new national nitrogen dioxide regulation to override states that could otherwise implement their own, tighter rules. On that front, the E.P.A. rule is likely to open a new battle in Mr. Trump’s long-running war with California over environmental regulations and states’ rights. California is already moving ahead with stringent state-level standards on nitrogen dioxide pollution from trucks that could be replicated by other states.
» Read article

Baker-Polito Administration Extends and Increases Funding for Successful Electric Vehicle Rebate Program
Press release
December 31, 2019


Starting on January 1, 2020, MOR-EV will be extended to support qualifying battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) up to a $50,000 final purchase price with a $2,500 rebate. Additionally, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVS) with an all-electric range of 25 miles or greater and with a final purchase price up to $50,000 are eligible for a $1,500 rebate. Rebates will not be made available to purchases made prior to January 1, 2020. The program was phased out from September 30, 2019 to December 31, 2019 due to the rapid growth in applications causing a lack of funding. However, the Baker-Polito Administration proposed a funding proposal in the budget presented last January, which was largely adopted in a recent supplemental budget.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

petro industry emissions
Report: Oil & Gas Industry Set To Release An Extra 220 Million Tons Of Greenhouse Gases By 2025
That’s about as much as 50 large coal plants, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.
By Katie Watkins, Houston Public Media
January 8, 2020

The oil and gas industry could release an additional 227 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. by the year 2025, as companies expand drilling and build new plants, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project.

“If you count greenhouse gases from drilling operations and from compressor stations and the big tank farms and then you add in the petrochemical plants, we’re looking at an increase of more than a third compared to what we’ve seen in recent years,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “To put that in scale, that’s equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions that you’d get from more than 50 large coal plants.”

“The petrochemical industry is actually the fastest-growing source of [greenhouse gas] pollution in the U.S. right now,” said Schaeffer. “And we’re projecting that greenhouse gas load is going to continue to grow as these plants build out and keep expanding.”
» Read article

pipelines in court
2020: A Year of Pipeline Court Fights, with One Lawsuit Headed to the Supreme Court
Several cases challenge natural gas pipeline routes, including across the Appalachian Trail, and question companies’ right to take land they don’t own.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
January 3, 2020

After years of mounting opposition to the increasing build-out of oil and gas infrastructure, 2020 is shaping up to be the year that pipeline opponents get their day in court.

One case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court takes a closer look at whether parts of the Appalachian Trail are off-limits to fossil fuel infrastructure and may determine the fate of two multi-billion-dollar pipelines. A defeat there, the industry argues, would severely limit its ability to get natural gas from the Marcellus shale to East Coast cities and export terminals. Another case weighs state sovereignty against pipeline interests and could have implications nationwide.

Meanwhile, a question of potentially greater significance looms: Can pipeline companies continue to justify taking private land as the public benefits of fossil fuel pipelines are increasingly questioned and the risks they pose to the environment and climate increase?
» Read article

Katrina-Rita spills
How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled
By Joan Meiners, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate
December 27, 2019


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, while stranded New Orleanians flagged down helicopters from rooftops and hospitals desperately triaged patients, crude oil silently gushed from damaged drilling rigs and storage tanks.

Given the human misery set into motion by Katrina, the harm these spills caused to the environment drew little attention. But it was substantial.

Nine days after the storm, oil could still be seen leaking from toppled storage tanks, broken pipelines and sunken boats between New Orleans and the Mississippi River’s mouth. And then Hurricane Rita hit. Oil let loose by Katrina was pushed farther inland by Rita three weeks later, and debris from the first storm caused damage to oil tankers rocked by the second.

Fourteen years later, not one assessment of the damage to natural resources after the two 2005 hurricanes has been completed. None of the 140 parties thought to be responsible for the spills has been fined or cited for environmental violations. And no restoration plans have been developed for the impacted ecosystems, fish, birds or water quality, a review by The Times-Picayune and The Advocate and ProPublica has found.

The extent of the damage to the environment may never be known.
» Read article

fire and fence
Call for climate disaster levy to be funded by Australia’s fossil fuel industry

A new plan to make companies producing fossil fuels foot the bill for the escalating costs of natural disasters in Australia has been welcomed by some New South Wales mayors who say people in their communities are paying the price of devastating bushfires.
By Peggy Giakoumelos, SBS News
December 18, 2019

A new plan to make companies producing fossil fuels foot the bill for the escalating costs of natural disasters in Australia has been welcomed by some New South Wales mayors who say people in their communities are paying the price of devastating bushfires.
» Listen to report

fossils on trial
Fossil Fuels on Trial: Where the Major Climate Change Lawsuits Stand Today

Some of the biggest oil and gas companies are embroiled in legal disputes with cities, states and children over the industry’s role in global warming.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
November 29, 2019

The wave of legal challenges that is washing over the oil and gas industry, demanding accountability for climate change, started as a ripple after revelations that ExxonMobil had long recognized the threat fossil fuels pose to the world.

Over the past few years: Two states launched fraud investigations into Exxon over climate change, and one has followed with a lawsuit that went to trial in October 2019. Nine cities and counties, from New York to San Francisco, have sued major fossil fuel companies, seeking compensation for climate change damages. And determined children have filed lawsuits against the federal government and various state governments, claiming the governments have an obligation to safeguard the environment.

The litigation, reinforced by science, has the potential to reshape the way the world thinks about energy production and the consequences of global warming. It advocates a shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy and draws attention to the vulnerability of coastal communities and infrastructure to extreme weather and sea level rise.
» Read article            

Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns
What if the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker
September 17, 2019

Some activists have begun to envision a campaign to pressure the banks. Chase’s retail business is a huge part of its enterprise, as is the case with Citi, Wells Fargo, and the others. “One of the major risk factors going forward for these guys is generational,” Disterhoft said. “You have a rising generation of consumers and potential employees that cares a lot about climate, and they’re going to be choosing who they do business with factoring that into account.” In 2017, when Twitter-based activists accused Uber of exploiting Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, rather than protesting it, it took just hours for downloads of the Lyft app to surge, for the first time, past those of the Uber app. Switching banks is harder, but, given the volume of credit-card solicitations that show up in the average mailbox every year, probably not much.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

GAS LEAKS

leaky old pipes
Thousands of gas leaks plagued Massachusetts in 2018, new DPU report says
By Lisa Kashinsky, Boston Herald
January 1, 2020


Gas companies reported 32,877 gas leaks across Massachusetts in 2018, according to a new report from the Department of Public Utilities, a consequence of an aging system that a leading advocate says remains inherently unsafe.

“It’s pretty much the same year after year,” said Audrey Schulman, co-executive director of HEET, a Cambridge-based energy efficiency nonprofit that maps gas leaks across the state. “That’s a demonstration that we’ve got an aging infrastructure that is unsafe.”

There were 7,578 Grade 1 leaks — the most serious kind, which represent “an existing or probable hazard to persons or property” and must be repaired “as immediately as possible” — identified across the state in 2018, according to the DPU report submitted to the state Legislature as 2019 came to a close. Of those, 41 leaks remained unrepaired by the end of 2018.

Gas companies also reported 6,588 Grade 2 leaks and 18,711 Grade 3 leaks of lesser severity. Of those, 2,346 Grade 2 leaks remained unrepaired by the end of 2018, along with 15,146 Grade 3 leaks. Overall, the number of gas leaks reported in 2018 is similar to those in the past few years.

Massachusetts has one of the oldest and most leak-prone natural gas infrastructures in large part because the explosive fossil fuel continues to flow through areas of non-cathodically protected steel, cast- and wrought-iron pipes that are prone to corrosion and in some places are more than a century old.
» Read article             

» More about gas leaks

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Weekly News Check-In 8/23/19

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week with news of an important town meeting vote in Longmeadow, in which citizens overwhelmingly rejected industrial-scale natural gas infrastructure in residential areas. Also tales of an Oklahoma family’s ongoing difficulties related to multiple sink holes along a pipeline crossing their land.

In climate news, we note the passing of fossil fuel billionaire David Koch. Few individuals have done so much to defend the ruinous status quo for personal gain. Regarding clean energy alternatives, we see reaction to the federal government’s recent requirement that Vineyard Wind provide a cumulative environmental impact assessment.

California has awarded seed money to some innovative energy companies – including some developing the next generation of battery storage. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry generated familiar news as it boosted coal, downplayed spills, and racked up massive losses for investors.

— The NFGiM Team

 

TGP 261 / ACTIONS & PROTESTS

Longmeadow Town Hall
Longmeadow voters say no to gas pipeline project in residential neighborhood
By Chris Goudreau, Valley Advocate
August 21, 2019

Town Meeting voters in Longmeadow overwhelmingly approved a change to to the town’s zoning bylaws Tuesday, which would prohibit a proposed Tennessee Gas Company meter station project in a residentially zoned neighborhood at the Longmeadow Country Club.

More than 125 residents lifted their green voting cards into the air during the Special Town Meeting vote with only a solitary resident voting against the zoning change.

The article was petitioned by resident and Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group founder Michele Marantz, who told the Valley Advocate prior to the meeting that the group has been working to stop the gas expansion in the predominantly residential community for the past year and a half.
» Read article

» More Columbia Gas TGP 261 upgrade articles

 

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Luther family fed up as people, vehicles and animals fall victim to holes along pipeline on property
By Lauren Daniels, KFOR Oklahoma News
August 12, 2019

LUTHER, Okla. – A Luther family said a calf has survived a fall into a hole on their property but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of a problem they’ve been facing.

A longtime News 4 employee alerted us to the safety hazard that she and her family have been watching develop for several years now. It involves a natural gas pipeline stretching for miles across eastern Oklahoma County.

They said holes have been popping up on the property and, over the years, people, vehicles and now a calf have fallen in.
» Read article

» More articles about what can go wrong

 

CLIMATE

David KochDavid Koch, Billionaire Who Fueled Right-Wing Movement, Dies at 79
A man-about-town philanthropist, he and his brother Charles ran a business colossus while furthering a libertarian agenda that reshaped American politics.
By Robert D. McFadden, New York Times
August 23, 2019

Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer and a critic of the Koch brothers, said in her book “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” (2016), that the libertarian policies they embraced benefited Koch chemical and fossil fuel businesses, which were among the nation’s worst polluters, and paid millions in fines and court judgments for hazardous-waste violations.

“Lowering taxes and rolling back regulations, slashing the welfare state and obliterating the limits on campaign spending might or might not have helped others,” Ms. Mayer wrote, “but they most certainly strengthened the hand of extreme donors with extreme wealth.” The Koch brothers rejected the allegations.

Koch money also funded initiatives to undercut climate science and to counter efforts to address climate change. As Ms. Mayer put it in her book, “The Kochs vehemently opposed the government taking any action on climate change that would hurt their fossil fuel profits.”
» Read article

 

Amazon fires
Amazon Fires Spark Growing International Criticism of Brazil
France calls the large number of fires in the Amazon an international crisis and an urgent issue for the G7 summit. “Our home is on fire. Literally.”
By ARTHUR BEESLEY & VICTOR MALLET, FINANCIAL TIMES, in InsideClimate News
August 23, 2019

Ireland’s prime minister said there was “no way” his country could support a big trade pact involving Brazil if the South American nation did not honor its environmental commitments, deepening an angry international reaction to fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest.

Leo Varadkar also accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of an “Orwellian” attempt to blame the fires on environmental non-governmental organizations, after Bolsonaro said he was suspicious that they could be involved.

Brazil is the most important member of the Mercosur trade bloc, which in June struck a long-awaited trade deal with the EU. The pact would offer much better access to EU markets for Brazilian farmers. But Varadkar suggested Dublin could withhold support because of concern over the management of the Amazon.
» Read article

 

Trump’s Rollback of Auto Pollution Rules Shows Signs of Disarray
By Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York TImes
August 20, 2019

The White House, blindsided by a pact between California and four automakers to oppose President Trump’s auto emissions rollbacks, has mounted an effort to prevent any more companies from joining California.

Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors were all summoned by a senior Trump adviser to a White House meeting last month where he pressed them to stand by the president’s own initiative, according to four people familiar with the talks.

But even as the White House was meeting with automakers, it was losing ground. Yet another company, Mercedes-Benz, is preparing to join the four automakers already in the California agreement — Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW — according to two people familiar with the German company’s plans.

The administration’s efforts to weaken the Obama-era pollution rules could be rendered irrelevant if too many automakers join California before the Trump plan can be put into effect. That could imperil one of Mr. Trump’s most far-reaching rollbacks of climate-change policies.
» Read article

 

Human-caused climate change
Yes, It’s Due to Human Activity: New Research ‘Should Finally Stop Climate Change Deniers’
By Tim Radford for Climate News Network, in Desmog Blog
August 19, 2019

European and US scientists have cleared up a point that has been nagging away at climate science for decades: not only is the planet warming faster than at any time in the last 2,000 years, but this unique climate change really does have neither a historic precedent nor a natural cause.

Other historic changes — the so-called Medieval Warm Period and then the “Little Ice Age” that marked the 17th to the 19th centuries — were not global. The only period in which the world’s climate has changed, everywhere and at the same time, is right now.

And other shifts in the past, marked by advancing Alpine glaciers and sustained droughts in Africa, could be pinned down to a flurry of violent volcanic activity.

The present sustained, ubiquitous warming is unique in that it can be coupled directly with the Industrial Revolution, the clearing of the forests, population growth and profligate use of fossil fuels.
» Read article

 

Huge wildfires in the Arctic and far North send a planetary warning
By Nancy Fresco, PBS News Hour
August 18, 2019

The planet’s far North is burning. This summer, over 600 wildfires have consumed more than 2.4 million acres of forest across Alaska. Fires are also raging in northern Canada. In Siberia, choking smoke from 13 million acres – an area nearly the size of West Virginia – is blanketing towns and cities.

Fires in these places are normal. But, as studies here at the University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Center show, they are also abnormal.

Recent fires are too frequent, intense and severe. They are reducing older-growth forest in favor of young vegetation, and pouring more carbon into the atmosphere at a time when carbon dioxide concentrations are setting new records.
» Read article

» More climate articles

 

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Vineyard Wind project gains bipartisan support from federal lawmakers
By Mary Ann Bragg, Cape Cod Times, in SouthCoastToday.com
August 21, 2019

A bipartisan call for federal officials to move quickly on permits for the Vineyard Wind offshore wind project came Monday from the state’s congressional leaders along with colleagues from Louisiana.

“We believe it is possible for multiple industries to coexist in mixed use regions offshore,” the lawmakers said in their letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “We urge your departments to work together to find a solution that will address concerns raised by stakeholders, protects the environment, and allows the Vineyard Wind project to remain viable.”

The call from federal officials echoes the intent of a rally held Thursday at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, where conservationists joined with other Vineyard Wind supporters — such as union members, business people and faith groups — in a call for a break in the logjam.
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Government Delays First Big U.S. Offshore Wind Farm. Is a Double Standard at Play?
It ordered an expanded review for Vineyard Wind at the same time Trump is weakening environmental rules for fossil fuel projects that contribute to climate change.
By Phil McKenna & Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
August 19, 2019

As the Trump administration takes steps to expedite fossil fuel projects and reduce environmental regulations, it has veered in the opposite direction on offshore wind, delaying a highly anticipated project in Massachusetts.

Vineyard Wind was set to be the country’s largest offshore wind farm, with construction expected to start this year on a project that could power more than 400,000 homes. But this month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said it was expanding its review of the environmental impacts of the project to include a “more robust” analysis of the potential cumulative impact if other offshore wind farms are built.

The expanded review is potentially broad, with ramifications for Vineyard Wind and several other projects. And yet, the office has provided almost no details on the scope. The project developers said that they had not received any documents showing parameters of the review.
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ENERGY STORAGE

Cal Energy Commission awards $3.75M to early-stage clean energy projects; 9 battery projects
By Clean Car Congress
August 16, 2019

The California Energy Commission awarded $3.75 million to 25 early-stage, innovative projects as part of a portfolio of research investments intended to help achieve the state’s climate and clean energy goals. Among the projects are nine battery-related efforts.

Each awardee receives up to $150,000 in initial funding with up to $450,000 available in follow-on funding. In addition to funding, CalSEED provides access to technical expertise, mentoring, and business development training.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY NEWS

Coal Terminal
Western Coal Takes Another Hit as Appeals Court Rules Against Export Terminal

Western coal states want an export terminal on the Columbia River. Washington state has concerns about the company and its environmental and climate impact.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
August 23, 2019

A Washington state appeals court has ruled against a company that wants to build the largest coal export terminal in the country on the Columbia River. The decision could be a fatal blow for a controversial project that could have increased global greenhouse gas emissions.

Western states with coal mining operations have been pushing for an export terminal that would allow them to send their coal by rail to the coast and then ship it to China.

A coal terminal was proposed on the banks of the Columbia River in Longview, Washington, but the state opposed it on several grounds. State officials rejected a water quality permit under the Clean Water Act, pointing to a long list of environmental harms, including air pollution from the coal trains. They also rejected a plan to sublease state-owned land for the coal terminal, citing concerns about the company’s finances and reputation, including that it had misrepresented just how much coal it planned to ship.
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Did North Dakota Regulators Hide an Oil and Gas Industry Spill Larger Than Exxon Valdez?
By Justin Nobel, Desmog Blog
August 19, 2019

In July 2015 workers at the Garden Creek I Gas Processing Plant, in Watford City, North Dakota, noticed a leak in a pipeline and reported a spill to the North Dakota Department of Health that remains officially listed as 10 gallons, the size of two bottled water delivery jugs.

But a whistle-blower has revealed to DeSmog the incident is actually on par with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, which released roughly 11 million gallons of thick crude.

The Garden Creek spill “is in fact over 11 million gallons of condensate that leaked through a crack in a pipeline for over 3 years,” says the whistle-blower, who has expertise in environmental science but refused to be named or give other background information for fear of losing their job. They provided to DeSmog a document that details remediation efforts and verifies the spill’s monstrous size.

“Up to 5,500,000 gallons” of hydrocarbons have been removed from the site, the 2018 document states, “based upon an estimate of approximately 11 million gallons released.”
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How One Billionaire Could Keep Three Countries Hooked on Coal for Decades
By Somini Sengupta, Jacqueline Williams and Aruna Chandrasekhar
August 15, 2019

The vast, untapped coal reserve in northeastern Australia had for years been the object of desire for the Indian industrial giant Adani.

In June, when the Australian authorities granted the company approval to extract coal from the reserve, they weren’t just rewarding its lobbying and politicking, they were also opening the door for Adani to realize its grand plan for a coal supply chain that stretches across three countries.

Coal from the Australian operation, known as the Carmichael project, would be transported to India, where the company is building a new power plant for nearly $2 billion to produce electricity. That power would be sold next door in Bangladesh.

Adani’s victory in Australia helped to ensure that coal will remain woven into the economy and lives of those three countries, which together have a quarter of the planet’s population, for years, if not decades. This, despite warnings by scientists that reducing coal burning is key to staving off the most disastrous effects of climate change.
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World’s Largest Fund Manager Loses $90 Billion Betting on Fossil Fuels & Climate Chaos
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International – Blog Post
August 2, 2019

A new report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), has found that BlackRock “continues to ignore the serious financial risks of putting money into fossil fuel-dependent companies.”

The IEEFA calculated that, due to BlackRock’s continuing investments in fossil fuels, there has been a whopping US$90 billion in value destruction and opportunity cost of the fund managers investments. And according to the IEEFA, “this represents just the tip of the iceberg.”

One of the most staggering conclusions is BlackRock’s continued belligerent investment in Big Oil, despite the fledgling renewable revolution and growing climate crisis.
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