Tag Archives: Paris climate accord

Weekly News Check-In 4/16/21

Welcome back.

Two related sets of gears seem to be turning in opposite directions. The Weymouth compressor station’s most recent unplanned massive release of natural gas (3rd in 8 months!) has increased the possibility that its operating permit will be revoked on safety and environmental justice grounds. At the same time, Pieridae Energy is approaching an end-of-June final investment decision on the controversial Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. The project appears to depend on fracked natural gas piped from Pennsylvania via the now-imperiled Weymouth compressor.

We’re taking another look at Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to shut down inefficient and polluting peaking power plants, and also include a story on a new Australian study that finds battery storage to be 30% cheaper than gas peakers – and better suited to the task.

More states are adopting industry-promoted legislation criminalizing nonviolent direct actions, especially those taken against pipelines. This sets up a situation where energy companies can take land, clear trees, dig trenches, and cause significant environmental damage even before completing the permitting process – but aggrieved land owners, indigenous Tribe members, and environmentalists can’t stand in their way without risking serious jail time. That’s wrong – and this week’s climate articles drive home the point that we have very little time left to shake off our dependence on fossil fuels.

We’re remembering John Topping, a Republican climate activist and former Environmental Protection Agency official who grew frustrated with the Reagan administration’s failure to take climate change seriously. An early advocate for climate action, he left the EPA to found the Climate Institute, which he directed until his death on March 9th, at age 77. He had a legitimate claim on being in the battle early with his organization’s simple URL: “climate.org”.

The promise of affordable, grid-scale, long-term battery storage is a little closer to reality now that two projects using flow batteries with zinc-air chemistry have advanced to the demonstration phase in New York and Colorado. Zinc is abundant, non-toxic, and non-flammable; air is pretty much everywhere. That last point is also driving development of carbon capture and sequestration systems based on direct air capture. This technology, still in its infancy, may eventually be useful in drawing down some of the excess atmospheric CO2 – but its success very much depends on how quickly we stop adding to the supply.

A look at clean transportation reveals both good and bad news this week. On the up side, battery prices are dropping quickly and that should drive total conversion to all-electric new car sales by 2035 based on purchase price advantage alone. But converting the heavy truck fleet is another story, because the charging infrastructure to support big rigs is considerably more expensive than auto and light truck EV chargers.

The fossil fuel industry is absorbing a federal court order reversing the Trump administration’s attempt to open the Arctic Ocean and much of the eastern seaboard to drilling. It’s also waiting to see if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new emphasis on climate and environmental justice means an end to new pipelines.

We close with a fascinating and insightful article from Grist, exploring how it happened that the Delaware River Basin’s recent fracking ban was implemented by the same group of officials who green-lighted a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ. If built, that facility will depend on the extremely risky business of shipping LNG by rail from fracking fields in Pennsylvania, through vulnerable communities throughout the Delaware River Basin.

  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


Will a Recent Emergency Methane Release Be the Third Strike for Weymouth’s New Natural Gas Compressor?

Nearby residents, environmentalists and energy executives are all asking whether this time, FERC actually pulls the facility’s permit in this closely watched environmental justice case.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 16, 2021

For the third time in less than a year, the operators of a new natural gas compressor shoe-horned into an environmental justice community near Boston have vented an emergency release of natural gas into surrounding neighborhoods.

The unplanned venting came as federal regulators, including a Trump appointee, had already moved to consider a possible re-assessment of the facility’s permit out of safety concerns related to the first two unplanned releases.

The sudden release of large volumes of natural gas poses a potential explosion hazard. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is also a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over the near-term. The venting of natural gas also contributes to ground level ozone, which causes more than 100,000 premature deaths globally each year, and releases volatile organic compounds like benzene and toluene, some of which have been found to be carcinogenic.

If the permit for the compressor—the linchpin of a pipeline network that ships hydraulically fractured gas from Pennsylvania to Canada—is revoked, it could have wide-ranging implications for the natural gas industry regionally and nationwide.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little known yet powerful federal entity that oversees new natural gas infrastructure in the U.S., has only rarely rescinded a permit once it has been issued.

The key question everyone from community and environmental advocates in small town Massachusetts to fossil fuel executives in Calgary and Houston are now asking is whether this might be an instance when the  commission actually takes a permit away.
» Blog editor’s note: Bechtel Corp plans to deliver a fixed-price proposal to build the Goldboro LNG plant by the end of May, and developer Pieridae Energy said on Thursday 4/15 it continues to work toward making a final investment decision (FID) by June 30 (Reuters). Fracked gas, shipped north through the Weymouth compressor station, plays a significant role in Pieridae’s plans.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


Local Environmentalists Demand Cleaner Berkshires Power Plants
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
April 11, 2021

Local environmentalists are taking a stand against air pollution from power plants that are hardly used.

A Berkshire Environmental Action Team campaign “Put Peakers in the Past” is demanding that the three peaking power plants located in Berkshire County revert to only renewable and clean alternatives. “Peaking” plants are used to meet periods of high energy demand.

The decades-old plants at Pittsfield Generating Co. on Merrill Road, the Eversource substation on Doreen Street and the EP Energy plant on Woodland Road in Lee run off fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and kerosene. Pittsfield Generating is a co-generating plant that also provides steam energy.

Rosemary Wessel, program director for BEAT’s “No Fracked Gas in Mass” campaign, said this sparks concern from environmentalists because the fuels emit excess nitrogen oxides and contribute to the region’ s greenhouse gas emissions.

Pittsfield Generating Co. reportedly accounts for over 15 percent of Pittsfield’s stationary emissions despite only running for a few days out of the year.

“We started last year when we were looking into emissions for the city of Pittsfield and found out that the Pittsfield Generating only runs about 5 percent of the time but it makes 15 percent of the stationary emissions for Pittsfield every year,” Wessel said.

“So even though these plants don’t run often, they only run when there’s a peak demand on the grid when the regular power plants are starting to max out, they tend to be older plants and they’re very inefficient and put out a tremendous amount of pollution for the number of megawatts they generate.”

Most peaker plants in the state run 5 percent of the time or less, she added, but the Doreen Street and Lee plants run less than 1 percent of the time, which makes the total emissions numbers alarming to the group.

“Very little run time, still substantial pollution, ” Wessel said.

The campaign’s first actions are obtaining signatures on their virtual petition and talking to plant owners and see if they already have plans to switch over to clean energy solutions. Wessel said that they haven’t heard back from the plant owners yet and are hoping to get legislators involved to facilitate that communication.

She cited the state’s climate change legislation to reduce gas emissions that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last month. This bill codifies into law the Baker-Polito administration’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and furthers the state’s efforts to combat climate change and protect vulnerable communities.

“The state, of course, just signed the next-generation climate bill, which means we’ re going to be going for net zero very quickly, so these plants are facing, sort of a change or die kind of situation,” Wessel explained. “And we’re interested in finding out if they’re planning to retire, or if they have plans to change to clean energy, or how they’re going to deal with the fact that they’ re not going to be able to burn fossil fuels for very much longer. ”

Alternatives to peakers include demand response or  “peak-shaving” in which customers avoid energy use during peak demand, grid storage that uses solar plus storage to produce and store clean energy to use by the grid, and Mass Save’s  “Connected Solutions” program that allows electric customers to use battery storage alternatives to replace power plants.
» Read article              
» Read about the Put Peakers in the Past campaign
» Sign the Petition to Shut Down Berkshire County’s Peaking Power Plants


Battery storage 30% cheaper than new gas peaker plants, Australian study finds
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

Battery storage can be a significantly cheaper and more effective technology than natural gas in providing peaking capacity, according to a new study released by the Clean Energy Council, the industry group which represents Australia’s clean energy sector.

Grids around the world rely on open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) technology at times when demand for electricity is at its highest. OCGTs often only run for a few hours at a time and a few times per year but are among the most polluting assets in the grid operator’s toolkit for balancing energy supply with demand.

While OCGTs were state-of-the-art decades ago, offering the ability to start generating power within 15 minutes of starting up, lithium-ion battery energy storage can respond to grid signals in fractions of a second and can be charged with renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

The authors of CEC’s new paper, ‘Battery storage: the new, clean peaker,’ found that a 250MW, four-hour (1,000MWh) battery system in New South Wales would be a cheaper option for meeting peak demand than a 250MW new-build OCGT from both levelised cost of energy (LCOE) and levelised cost of capacity (LCOC) perspectives.

The National Electricity Market (NEM), which covers six Australian states including New South Wales, generally sees peaker plants called into use for about three or four hours each night from 6pm as solar production tails off and evening demand goes up.

Batteries can cover this period, CEC said, and even before factoring in the falling cost of charging the batteries with solar and wind energy resources that continue to get cheaper as well as the falling costs and rising efficiencies of the batteries themselves, neither the economic rationale or necessity to build new gas plants exists anymore in Australia.
» Read article              
» Download report, Battery Storage: The New, Clean Peaker

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS


Driven by Industry, More States Are Passing Tough Laws Aimed at Pipeline Protesters
Bills to increase penalties for “impeding” the operations of a pipeline or power plant—in many cases elevating the offense to a felony—are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 12, 2021

When Nancy Beaulieu’s Ojibwe ancestors signed a series of treaties with the federal government in the 19th century, one of the goals was to protect the land, she said. So she sees it as not just her right but her duty to protest the building of a major oil pipeline underway in northern Minnesota.

As an organizer for the state chapter of 350.org, Beaulieu has helped lead a campaign against the replacement and expansion of Line 3, which carries oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Advocates say more than 200 protesters have been arrested as part of the campaign, and Beaulieu said she intends to be arrested herself as construction continues this spring.

But a bill currently pending in the state legislature threatens her right to do so, by increasing the penalties for trespassing on pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

“These are our own lands in some areas, ceded lands. We never gave up the right to hunt, fish and travel. So just because we don’t hold title doesn’t mean we cannot protect. That’s what treaties are all about, is that responsibility,” she said. The Minnesota bill would impose a felony offense carrying up to five years in prison for anyone who enters a pipeline construction site with “intent to disrupt” operations.

“They’re violating our treaties again,” she said. “They’re denying us our voice.”

The legislation is just one of a growing number of such bills, backed by the oil and gas industry, that are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others over the last four years, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. While the details vary state by state, the legislation in many cases imposes felony charges for trespassing and “impeding” the operation of pipelines, power plants and other “critical infrastructure.”

The bills emerged in 2017 after a pair of stinging losses for the pipeline industry. Activists had used civil disobedience and mass arrests to draw attention to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, and the Obama administration eventually blocked both. States’ critical infrastructure legislation raised the stakes for protesters by increasing penalties for acts like blocking access to a construction site, in many cases converting the offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.

Some of the laws include clauses allowing prosecutors to seek 10 times the original fines for any groups found to be “conspirators.” Those bills have prompted concerns on the part of civil liberties advocates and leaders of groups like the Sierra Club, who fear they could be roped into trials and face steep fines for having joined with broader coalitions that include an element of civil disobedience.
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE


Decade of inaction means it’s too late to cap global warming at 1.5 °C
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
April 15, 2021

Leading Australian climate scientists are calling for Australia to dramatically upgrade its climate policies in the light of new research that shows a decade of inaction means it may be too late to try and limit  average global warming to just 1.5°C.

A review of recent climate science findings published by the Climate Council reveals a growing scientific consensus that the world is already on track to warm by more than 1.5°C, and that only an ‘overshoot and drawdown’ trajectory, requiring the extensive use of carbon capture and storage, will allow temperatures to be stabilised at that level.

It may still be possible to limit average global warming to just 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but a rapid ramp-up of decarbonisation efforts will be required by all countries to meet the target. In Australia, that would translate into reaching 100 per cent renewables, or close to it, by 2030, and a 75 per cent economy-wide emissions reduction target by the same date.

In 2015 in Paris, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2°C, and ideally just 1.5°C. But Climate scientist and Climate Council member professor Will Steffen says it is becoming clear that global warming of at least 1.5 degrees is already inevitable.

“Talking to a lot of my colleagues, particularly in Europe, it’s just become clear to all of us behind the scenes that we’re not going to cap temperature rise at 1.5 [degrees],” Steffen said.

“Talking with my colleagues, I think the best we can do is well below [2 degrees], which is exactly what our report says. It’s not one piece of information. It is a synthesis of a wide range of observations.”
» Read article            


Methane Emissions Spiked in 2020. Scientists Fear Feedback Loops
NOAA announced the biggest annual increase in methane ever recorded.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2021

Preliminary data shows that methane emissions jumped in 2020 by the largest amount since systematic record-keeping began decades ago. And despite a dip in polluting activities due to the pandemic, concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to its highest level in 3.6 million years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that global methane concentrations shot up by 14.67 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020, the largest annual increase ever recorded, and a sharp increase from the 9.74 ppb rise in 2019. The data is an ominous sign that the world is badly off track in terms of reaching its climate goals.

“Human activity is driving climate change,” Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the Global Monitoring Lab, a division within NOAA, said in a statement. The Global Monitoring Laboratory makes highly accurate measurements of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide from four baseline observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa, and the South Pole.

“If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero — and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere,” Sweeney said.

The data that NOAA released this month is preliminary and attributing the precise source of increased methane pollution is difficult. The data suggests that a large portion of the methane comes from fossil fuels, such as drilling, flaring, and other sources of methane leaks. But in a worrying sign, researchers think that some of the increase came from “biogenic” sources, such as methane leaking from wetlands or melting permafrost.

“That would, in a sense, be much worse as that sort of feedback — under which warming begets more warming — both is something we can’t easily control and would make our limits on greenhouse gas emissions to meet a given target even stricter,” Drew Shindell, professor of Earth science at Duke University and a former scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told DeSmog, commenting on the new study. “So in that sense it would’ve been preferable in many ways if these were from fossil fuels, but the jury is still out on that.”
» Read article              


Scientists Warn 4°C World Would Unleash ‘Unimaginable Amounts of Water’ as Ice Shelves Collapse
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
April 11, 2021

A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.

An ice shelf, as NASA explains, “is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline.” They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” explained Ella Gilbert, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

“We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly,” added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. “Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections.”

Gilbert and co-author Christoph Kittel of Belgium’s University of Liège conclude that limiting global temperature rise to 2°C rather than 4°C would cut the area at risk in half.

“At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica’s ice shelf area would be at risk,” Gilbert noted in The Conversation.

While the 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep temperature rise “well below” 2°C, with a more ambitious 1.5°C target, current emissions reduction plans are dramatically out of line with both goals, according to a United Nations analysis.

Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study “highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise.”
» Read article              
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY STORAGE


Progress in US initiatives to demonstrate and investigate long-duration energy storage tech

By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

A zinc-air energy storage system (ZESS) offering 10 hours of storage is being trialled in a New York Power Authority (NYPA) project, while a US Department of Defense-funded investigation into flow batteries has moved into a physical validation and evaluation phase in Colorado.

Zinc8 Energy Solutions won a contract with public power organisation NYPA in January 2020 to demonstrate its patented zinc-air battery technology through the utility’s competitive Innovation Challenge programme, which was hosted in partnership with the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University.

NYPA will contribute to the costs of installing the technology solution in a project which aims to demonstrate the use cases for long-duration storage and how it can help integrate larger shares of renewable energy onto the state’s electric grid network.

“Best known for its industrial use in galvanising steel, zinc is abundant and inexpensive, and without any geopolitical complications as we have a significant North American supply. Zinc utilises the only battery chemistry that uses earth-abundant, recyclable materials with chemistry that is robust and safe.

“Unlike lithium-ion technology, which requires new stacks in order to scale, zinc batteries are able to decouple the linkage between energy and power. This means that scaling the zinc battery technology can be accomplished by simply increasing the size of the energy storage tank and quantity of the recharged zinc particles,” [Ron MacDonald, CEO of Zinc8] wrote.

“Zinc-air batteries use oxygen from the atmosphere to extract power from zinc, making zinc-air battery production costs the lowest of all rechargeable batteries. Zinc-air batteries are non-flammable and non-toxic with a longer lifetime as compared to other batteries.”
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION


How direct air capture works (and why it’s important)
Climeworks operates multiple direct air capture plants around the world and is currently building the world’s largest climate-positive direct air capture plant in Iceland.
By Grist
April 15, 2021

In January 2021, eight shipping container-sized boxes were assembled in Hellisheiði, Iceland, next to the third-largest geothermal power station in the world. Twelve giant fans mounted on the outside of each box will start spinning later this year.

The facility, called Orca, is intended to suck approximately 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide directly from the air each year. Developed by the Swiss engineering firm Climeworks, Orca is the largest example of direct air capture to date — a technology intended to suck carbon dioxide out of thin air.

“To me, this is kind of the last hope,” Christoph Beuttler, the carbon dioxide removal manager of Climeworks tells Grist. “This, together with reducing emissions and planting as many trees as we can, enable[s] us to just make the Paris Agreement.”

You can think about the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere like a bucket. Today, that bucket is almost full: We have about nine percent of the volume left to fill if we want to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050. To keep that bucket from overflowing, we’ll certainly have to cut back on global emissions (which, with the exception of 2020’s pandemic shutdown, are projected to keep rising).

But all of the pathways that keep us at or below 1.5 degrees C, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also include development of direct air capture technologies like the giant fans set to start spinning in Iceland. Direct air capture can’t keep us below that threshold on its own, but it can help poke a hole in our proverbial carbon bucket to drain out some of our past emissions.

To make a big enough hole, though, this tech will have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Such projects represent “an engineering project probably larger than has ever been created by humanity in the past,” says Jeffrey Reimer, a materials chemist at The University of California Berkeley who is not affiliated with Climeworks. He says there’s still a long way to go, but a few key pieces have fallen into place and set the project in motion.
» Read article            

» More about CCS

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


Advances mean all new US vehicles can be electric by 2035, study finds
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 15, 2021

Rapid advances in the technology and cost of batteries should allow all new cars and trucks sold in the US to be powered by electricity by 2035, saving drivers trillions of dollars and delivering a major boost to the effort to slow the climate crisis, new research has found.

Electric vehicles currently make up only about 2% of all cars sold in the US, with many American drivers put off until now by models that were often significantly more expensive than gasoline or diesel cars, as well as concerns over the availability of plug-in recharge points.

This situation is likely to drastically change this decade, according to the new University of California, Berkeley study, with the upfront cost of electric cars set to reach parity with petrol vehicles in around five years’ time. As electric cars are more efficient and require less costly maintenance, the rapid electrification of transport would save about $2.7tn in driver costs by 2050.

Researchers said the plummeting cost of batteries, the main factor in the higher cost of electric vehicles, and improvements in their efficiency mean that it will be technically feasible for the US to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars within 15 years. This would shrink planet-heating emissions from transport, currently the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US.

“In order to meet any sort of carbon goals, the transport sector needs to be electrified,” said Amol Phadke, a senior scientist at University of California, Berkeley and report co-author.

Phadke added: “The upfront price of electric vehicles is coming down rapidly, which is very exciting. Because of battery technology improvements, most models now have a range of 250 miles, higher than the daily driving distance of most people, and now come with pretty astonishing fast-charging capabilities.”
» Read article            
» Read the U.C. Berkeley study


EV charging setup would cost Schneider, NFI more than 10 times annual fuel savings: study
By S.L. Fuller, Utility Dive
April 6, 2021

Schneider could save $554,813 in annual fuel costs by electrifying its 42-truck fleet based out of Stockton, California, according to a study prepared by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates funded by the Environmental Defense Fund. And NFI could save $748,311 annually by electrifying its fleet of 50 trucks that operate out of Chino, California, according to the report released Wednesday.

But the report also found that those savings are not enough to mitigate upfront infrastructure costs required to support the electric fleets. Schneider would pay $8.9 million, while NFI would need to shell out $10.4 million. Those costs include charging hardware and construction.

EDF called charging infrastructure “the greatest challenge of electrifying heavy-duty trucks,” and recommended governments and utilities pursue policies to help bring down the upfront costs for fleets.

Whether a fleet or OEM has invested in battery-electric vehicles, fuel-cell-electric vehicles or both, infrastructure is one of the biggest question marks.

Standing up a national hydrogen network presents steep funding and other challenges.

Electric charging capabilities are becoming more commonplace around the country as electric passenger cars grow in popularity. But stations that can accommodate heavy-duty trucks require more power.

NFI is testing 10 electric Daimler trucks out of Chino, and building chargers was the longest part of the project, NFI Senior Vice President of Fleet Services Bill Bliem said in February.

One lesson NFI learned during that process was how different it was to deal with a utility company’s rates, rather than paying for a standard fuel source.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY


John Topping, 77, Dies; Early Advocate for Climate Action
A former official of the Environmental Protection Agency, he was a Republican activist on global warming when it was an issue with bipartisan support
By John Schwartz, New York TImes
April 10, 2021

John Topping, whose work to warn the world of the risks of climate change stretched back to the 1980s, and who helped spur the international effort to limit warming, died on March 9 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 77.

The cause was gastrointestinal bleeding, his daughter Elizabeth Barrett Topping said.

A Rockefeller Republican, Mr. Topping took on the emerging climate crisis when fighting planetary warming was still a bipartisan issue.

“John was an early actor,” said Rafe Pomerance, senior fellow at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts, who recalled Mr. Topping’s ability to connect people who might not otherwise have had much in common. “He brought a lot of interesting people to the table and got involved.” As a Republican of solid credentials, Mr. Pomerance said, Mr. Topping “reached out into places I had no access to.”

In a phone interview, Joe Cannon, who served as an Environmental Protection Agency official with Mr. Topping, called him “very patient” and said he had a “gigantic understanding of things — bureaucracy in general, and environmental policy in particular.”

James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who introduced Mr. Topping to climate issues in 1982, recalled a special quality Mr. Topping had as an advocate: “John was a jolly fellow, always upbeat and happy, even though he was working on what he knew was a serious problem.”

Dr. Hansen, who would become a prominent clarion of climate risk, said he first met Mr. Topping when the Ronald Reagan administration tried to cut his funding for research into carbon dioxide and climate change. Mr. Topping and Mr. Cannon got the research funded, but the gains were only temporary, Dr. Hansen recalled. Mr. Topping was disturbed to discover that, by his count, only seven people at the E.P.A. out of some 13,000 staff members were assigned to work on climate change and ozone depletion.

“Topping was frustrated with the administration, which wouldn’t take climate change seriously,” Dr. Hansen said, “so he finally decided to form his own organization.”

The organization that became known as the Climate Institute is widely considered the first nongovernmental entity dedicated to addressing climate change. Mr. Topping served as its president until his death.
» Read article              
» Visit the Climate Institute

» More about the EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


Federal Court Ends Trump Effort to Open 128 Million Acres of Atlantic, Arctic Oceans to Drilling
“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
April 14, 2021

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump’s attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.

In April of 2017, Trump signed an executive order aiming to undo an Obama-era ban on fossil fuel exploration in that territory, but a federal judge in Alaska ruled the move unlawful in 2019.

Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor’s 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration’s appeal.

“Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities,” the court said in its order.

Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump’s order, said in a statement that “we welcome today’s decision and its confirmation of President Obama’s legacy of ocean and climate protection.”

“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage,” Grafe continued. “One obvious place for immediate action is America’s Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws.”
» Read article


‘Seismic shift’ at FERC could kill natural gas pipelines
By Arianna Skibell, E&E News
April 13, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to assess a proposed natural gas pipeline’s contribution to climate change could have major implications for gas infrastructure, analysts say, including nearly unheard-of project rejections.

“Once one starts to look at the impact of the pipelines on the climate, it won’t be business as usual,” said Jennifer Danis, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “FERC took a really important first step in a long overdue process.”

For the first time ever, FERC last month weighed greenhouse gas emissions related to a Northern Natural Gas Co. pipeline replacement project running 87 miles from northeast Nebraska to Sioux Falls, S.D. The independent agency ultimately approved the project (Energywire, March 19).

The issue will be revisited this week at FERC’s meeting, where the agency is expected to consider Enbridge Pipeline’s request to intervene in the case. If FERC approves that, the company could file a lawsuit challenging the decision to account for pipeline greenhouse gas emissions.

The landmark order signals that the five-member commission under Democratic Chairman Richard Glick could begin assessing emissions for all projects in its purview, from interstate gas pipelines to liquefied natural gas terminals. Glick has long called for carrying out such reviews.

“FERC announced [through] a policy that it does not consider itself universally incapable of conducting a [greenhouse gas] significance assessment,” said Gillian Giannetti, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That would seem to strongly suggest FERC is going to try to do a significance assessment every time.”

Experts agree the move could lead to FERC denying certification for major natural gas projects, though not for all proposals.
» Read article              

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


The Delaware River Basin paradox: Why fracking is so hard to quit
The regulatory agency charged with protecting the Delaware River Basin both banned fracking and paved the way for an LNG export facility within a few months, demonstrating just how hard it is to sever ties with natural gas.
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
April 15, 2021

In late February, the Delaware River Basin Commission made a historic announcement: It banned hydraulic fracturing in the basin, a 13,539-square-mile area that supplies some 17 million people with drinking water.

“Prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Basin is vital to preserving our region’s recreational and natural resources and ecology,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who represents one of the four states in the Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC. “Our actions,” he added, “will protect public health and preserve our water resources for future generations.”

The decision to permanently protect the watershed from fracking was the culmination of years of dedicated activism and public input. Politicians, environmental groups, and citizens alike celebrated the decision by the commission — a powerful, interstate-federal regulatory agency made up of the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division.

But the same commission that made the historic decision to protect the basin from fracking also voted several months earlier to pave the way for a natural gas company to use the Delaware River to export its product abroad.

In December 2020, the DRBC voted to approve construction of a dock in the New Jersey city of Gibbstown, in Gloucester County. That dock, attached to an export terminal constructed on the site of a former Dupont munitions plant, will receive a fossil fuel called liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a plant in northern Pennsylvania and then ship it overseas.

When complete, the Delaware River Basin’s first-ever liquefied natural gas project will pose immediate risks to a wide swath of the Eastern seaboard — to people who live near the liquefaction plant in Pennsylvania and to communities clustered along the 200-mile route between the plant and the export dock in New Jersey — as well as to the Delaware River itself.

The two decisions weighed against each other point to an interesting paradox in the DRBC’s attitude toward natural gas, a significant contributor to global warming. While the commission doesn’t want exploration to pollute the basin, it’s still tacitly permitting the industry to use the river for a different side of the natural gas business — one that’s not without its own environmental and health threats. The rulings illuminate the complex, often contradictory relationship with natural gas that many policymakers find themselves in at the moment, as pressure builds for communities to transition away from fossil fuels toward a clean economy.
» Blog editor’s note: keep reading for a fascinating account of how the Gibbstown LNG project was sneaked in through the back door with little oversight or environmental review, and what might happen next….
» Read article              

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 1/22/21

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Welcome back.

“… When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
— Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”, in The Guardian

What a week! The Biden/Harris administration kicked off by returning science and sanity to the White House. The inauguration was a high-volume Kleenex event for many, and we already see seismic shifts in policy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is considering allowing opponents of the Weymouth compressor station to argue that the facility doesn’t serve a public need and presents a danger to nearby environmental justice communities. We include a link with this story – please send your own comments to FERC encouraging them to follow through. This is a big break – let’s work it!

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead. Now, opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline argue it should meet the same fate, for the same reasons. Strangely, Enbridge is attempting to swim against this anti-pipeline tide by refusing to comply with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent order to shut down its aging Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.

It’s beginning to look like Baltimore’s legal action against the fossil fuel industry will become a pivotal Supreme Court case. The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction, but then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further. At stake is whether this and similar suits can be heard in any state court.

This week, Democrat Richard Glick became Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair. He has a strong and consistent record of opposing FERC’s “rubber stamp” approach to pipeline project approval, is serious about environmental justice (see Weymouth, above), and is committed to the clean energy transition. Although the Commission will remain majority-Republican till June, he may already have enough support to begin to tackle the big issue of transmission reform.

This week’s biggest, most hopeful, and least-surprising climate story is the pending U.S. return to the Paris Climate Agreement. President Biden stated his administration’s intent in a letter signed within hours of his inauguration. Our return becomes official after thirty days.

Clean energy has a new player. A “tidal kite” is generating renewable electricity from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands. Tethered to the seabed, the kite’s primary innovation is its ability to “fly” a figure 8 pattern in the tidal current, thereby increasing relative velocity through the water and maximizing energy generation from the onboard turbine.

Necessary advances in building energy efficiency are being threatened by the powerful National Association of Home Builders. We found a great article that makes the case for better buildings, and explains how the building trade’s short-sighted obsession with initial construction cost is passing large downstream bills to home owners and renters – while also cooking the planet with excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric vehicles are currently burdened with long charge times – a problem that mostly concerns drivers taking long trips. New battery designs aim to change that, by making a charge-up take about the same time as a fill-up. The trick involves replacing electrode graphite with nanopaticles that allow a higher rate of electron flow. One example of this new lithium-ion battery was developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines. While it’s not quite ready for commercial scale deployment, it proves the concept and assures a quick-charge future. Other battery manufacturers are pursuing similar designs.

Recall that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of a landmark climate bill was predicated in large part on $6 billion that he insisted the legislature’s aggressive emissions reduction goals would cost the commonwealth. That allowed the governor to claim a point for fiscal responsibility… except that it sort of looks like he just made that number up! Hopefully the bill will be reintroduced quickly. The Governor and Legislature have expressed an eagerness to move forward. Let’s keep it real….

The fossil fuel industry is sorting out its future in light of the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation and the Biden/Harris climate agenda. We found an interesting article that explores how a number of pipeline projects in the U.S. and Canada could ultimately be affected, and how they’re related.

We’ve mentioned FERC several times, and we’ll close with a story on its decision to affirm that energy company Pembina can’t move forward with the highly-contested Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. After years of battle, this federal regulator has given the opposition hope by merely acting… sensibly.

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

glimmer of hopeAfter years of protests, a glimmer of hope for opponents to the Weymouth gas compressor
By David Abel, Boston Globe
January 19, 2021

After years of protests, residents opposing a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth received a glimmer of hope Tuesday that federal regulators might reconsider last fall’s decision to allow the plant to operate.

In a vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a majority of members ruled the panel had improperly denied a request for a hearing on its approval from neighbors and environmental advocates who have long opposed the compressor. The commissioners, one of whom was appointed since the facility won approval in the fall, cited safety and environmental concerns for their action.

The vote comes after the compressor had two emergency shutdowns in September — just days after regulators authorized it to start operating. It has yet to resume operations, and it’s unclear when it will be allowed to do so.

At an online hearing, Commissioner Richard Glick said the FERC must look more closely at the impact of the station on low-income residents who live nearby and “do more than give lip service to environmental justice.”

“That needs to change,” he said.

In a post on Twitter, Glick added that the station “raises serious environmental justice questions, which we need to examine. The communities surrounding the project are regularly subjected to high levels of pollution & residents are concerned emissions from the station will make things worse.”

A new commissioner, Allison Clements, a Democratic appointee, said the commission should “carefully consider how to address health and safety concerns.” The commissioners serve five-year, staggered terms, and no more than three of the five commissioners may be from the same party as the president.

This ruling comes after residents spent six years fighting the $100 million compressor, which they have said presents health and safety risks to the polluted, densely populated Fore River Basin.

The 7,700-horsepower compressor was built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline giant, as part of its $600 million Atlantic Bridge project. The compressor, the subject of a Globe investigation last year, seeks to pump 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from Weymouth to Maine and Canada.

“This is significant because this is the first time in six years that they have actually considered our concerns about environmental justice, health, and safety,” said Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.
» Read article        
» Submit comments to FERC

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

worse than crude
After a decade of struggle, Keystone XL may be sold for scrap
By Alexandria Herr, Grist
January 20, 2021

After 12 embattled years of approval, cancellation, and re-approval, Keystone XL may be done for good. President Biden rescinded the permit for the pipeline via executive order on his first day in office, delivering a long-fought victory to anti-pipeline activists.

The current Keystone pipeline carries oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. The Alberta tar sands are known for being particularly bad for the climate — emissions from oil extracted there are about 14 percent worse, on average, than a typical barrel of oil. The proposed expansion of the northern leg, which would run from Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska, would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

It’s been a complicated decade since the Keystone XL project was first proposed in 2008 by the Canadian oil company TC Energy. President Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline in 2012, and it was in use by 2013. But in 2015, after an outpouring of grassroots activism, Obama rejected the northern leg. That decision was reversed by President Trump during his early days in office in 2017. The following year, construction was halted when Montana’s U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the State Department needed to give further consideration to the pipeline’s potential for environmental damage. Then, last June, Trump dissolved Morris’ injunction by issuing a presidential permit, bypassing the State Department entirely. Today, the northern leg of the pipeline is mostly constructed, with some gaps remaining in Nebraska, but it’s not yet ready to pump oil.

Indigenous activists and environmentalists have been fighting the pipeline for much of its history, due to the risks of oil spills, its contribution to climate change, and infringements of treaty rights. Last Thursday, a group of Indigenous women leaders wrote a letter asking Biden to reject a set of pipeline projects, including Keystone XL, Line 3 in Minnesota, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Biden has not yet taken a stance on either of these other projects.) In addition to environmental risks, the letter cited the connection between pipeline construction and sexual violence. Company-owned temporary housing for laborers — “man camps” — along pipeline routes have been documented as centers of sexual assault and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, and fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure is similarly linked to the tragic epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Daniel T’seleie, a K’asho Got’ine Dene activist, told CBC news that he thought Biden’s decision was “largely due to the actions of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people on the southern side of the border who have really been fighting against this pipeline … and have been making it very clear that this pipeline is not going to get built without their consent.”
» Read article         

DAPL too‘No more broken treaties’: indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access pipeline
Tribes and environmentalists hail decision to cancel Keystone XL pipeline but call on president to go further
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
January 21, 2021

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists are urging Joe Biden to shutdown some of America’s most controversial fossil fuel pipelines, after welcoming his executive order cancelling the Keystone XL (KXL) project.

Activists praised the president’s decision to stop construction of the transnational KXL oil pipeline on his first day in the White House, but they stressed that he must cancel similar polluting fossil fuel projects, including the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), to stand any chance of meeting his bold climate action goals.

The KXL order was issued on Wednesday as part of the first wave of Biden’s promised environmental justice and climate action policies, which include rejoining the Paris agreement and halting construction of the southern border wall.

Rescinding the Canadian-owned KXL pipeline permit, issued by Donald Trump, fulfills a campaign promise Biden made in May 2020 and comes after more than a decade of organizing and resistance by indigenous activists, landowners and environmental groups.

“The victory ending the KXL pipeline is an act of courage and restorative justice by the Biden administration. It gives tribes and Mother Earth a serious message of hope for future generations as we face the threat of climate change. It aligns Indigenous environmental knowledge with presidential priorities that benefit everyone,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, founder of Brave Heart Society and a member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota nation.

“This is a vindication of 10 years defending our waters and treaty rights from this tar sands carbon bomb. I applaud President Biden for recognizing how dangerous KXL is for our communities and climate and I look forward to similar executive action to stop DAPL and Line 3 based on those very same dangers,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dine nations and the Keep It In The Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
» Read article         

sunken hazard
Michigan Pipeline Fight Intensifies as Permit Deadline Nears
Enbridge is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s move to shut down the Line 5 underwater pipeline, which environmentalists and tribes fear could cause an environmental disaster.
By Andrew Blok, Drilled News
January 14, 2021

Under the strong and fickle currents of the Straits of Mackinac, which flow through a four-mile gap between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, twin pipelines have transported two million gallons of petroleum products daily for seven decades.

This year they may shut down for good.

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement allowing the twin pipelines, known as Line 5, to run under the straits, and gave its owner, Enbridge Inc., 180 days to shut them down.

“The continued use of the dual pipelines cannot be reconciled with the public’s rights in the Great Lakes and the State’s duty to protect them,” Whitmer said in a statement.

On Jan. 12, Enbridge announced in a 7-page letter to Whitmer that it would defy her shutdown order, claiming that the governor had overstepped her authority. The Calgary, Alberta-based company has also sued the state in federal district court, arguing that the U.S. government, not Michigan, has regulatory power over pipeline safety.

The moves are the latest twists in a controversial decade for Enbridge in Michigan.

Before 2010, most Michiganders didn’t know Line 5 existed, said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water, a Michigan-based environmental policy non-profit.

But that changed, she said, after the Kalamazoo River spill: a massive leak from Enbridge’s Line 6b that ranks among America’s largest ever inland oil spills. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than one million gallons of oil polluted nearly 40 miles of waterways, injuring wildlife and scarring farmlands. Cleanup and restoration of hundreds of acres of streams and wetlands took four years and cost over $1 billion.

Despite multiple alarms, Enbridge had restarted Line 6b several times in the 17 hours before identifying the leak. According to the terms of a 2017 settlement with the EPA, Enbridge has committed to spending more than $110 million on upgrades and programs to prevent future spills, paying $62 million in civil penalties for Clean Water Act violations, and reimbursing more than $5.4 million in cleanup costs on top of $57.8 million already paid.

In the wake of this disaster, the National Wildlife Federation in 2012 issued a report, titled “Sunken Hazard,” that described how a major leak from Line 5 could spread quickly in the strong currents of the Straits of Mackinac and harm popular outdoor destinations and regional fisheries, including fisheries guaranteed to Native Americans by treaty.
» Read article        

» Read the Enbridge statement

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Baltimore inner harbor
Could Baltimore’s Climate Change Suit Become a Supreme Court Test Case?
The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction. But then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
January 19, 2021

What began as a narrow jurisdictional question to be argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court in a climate change lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore could take on far greater implications if the high court agrees with major oil companies to expand its purview and consider whether federal, rather than state courts, are the appropriate venue for the city’s case and possibly a host of similar lawsuits.

The high court initially agreed to hear a request by the oil and gas industry to review a ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which the court affirmed a federal district judge’s decision to allow Baltimore’s lawsuit to be tried in state, rather than federal, court based on a single jurisdiction rule.

The city is seeking damages related to climate-induced extreme weather—stronger hurricanes, greater flooding and sea-level rise—linked to oil and gas consumption that warms the planet. Baltimore’s attorneys argue that state court is the appropriate venue for such monetary awards.

But after the Supreme Court agreed to take on that narrow question, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and other oil companies went further in court filings and are now pressing the court to consider the much larger and consequential question of whether state courts have jurisdiction over these lawsuits at all.

The stakes could be enormous if Baltimore becomes a test case for 23 other city, county and state governments that have filed similar climate change lawsuits seeking damages.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Chairman Richard Glick
Glick named FERC chair, promises ‘significant progress’ on energy transition
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 21, 2021

Commissioner Richard Glick was named chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President Joe Biden Thursday morning.

Glick was considered a front runner for the chairmanship as the longest serving Democrat on the commission. He will succeed Chairman James Danly, and the commission is expected to retain its Republican majority until Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s term is up June 30.

Glick has said publicly that on the electric side he would prioritize transmission reform, reassessing capacity markets, and continuing efforts to lower barriers to clean energy resources in regulated markets. On gas, he believes the commission should rethink how it assesses greenhouse gas emissions and more seriously review environmental justice impacts when approving gas infrastructure.

Glick opposed many of the actions FERC took under Chairmen Chatterjee and Danly, and his long list of dissents and public comments foreshadow a commission more bullish on its role in the power sector’s energy transition.

“I’m honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be [FERC] Chairman,” Glick said in a tweet. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!”

Though Glick will still be running a majority Republican commission, he and Chatterjee have begun to find common ground on some issues in recent months, and many power sector observers think transmission reform will be one critical area Glick may tackle relatively early.
» Read article         

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

climate kick-offBiden returns US to Paris climate accord hours after becoming president
Biden administration rolls out a flurry of executive orders aimed at tackling climate crisis
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
January 20, 2021

Joe Biden has moved to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement just hours after being sworn in as president, as his administration rolls out a cavalcade of executive orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis.

Biden’s executive action, signed in the White House on Wednesday, will see the US rejoin the international effort curb the dangerous heating of the planet, following a 30-day notice period. The world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases was withdrawn from the Paris deal under Donald Trump.

Biden is also set to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a bitterly contested project that would bring huge quantities of oil from Canada to the US to be refined, and halt oil and gas drilling at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two vast national monuments in Utah, and the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness. The Trump administration’s decision to shrink the protected areas of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will also be reviewed.

The flurry of first-day action on the climate crisis came after Biden, in his inauguration speech, said America needed to respond to a “climate in crisis”. The change in direction from the Trump era was profound and immediate – on the White House website, where all mentions of climate were scrubbed out in 2017, a new list of priorities now puts the climate crisis second only behind the Covid pandemic. Biden has previously warned that climate change poses the “greatest threat” to the country, which was battered by record climate-fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat last year.

The re-entry to the Paris agreement ends a period where the US became a near-pariah on the international stage with Trump’s refusal to address the unfolding disaster of rising global temperatures. Countries are struggling to meet commitments, made in Paris in 2015, to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, with 2020 setting another record for extreme heat.
» Read article         

ccs - if only
Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say
Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
January 14, 2021

One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal kite
First tidal energy delivered to Faroese electricity grid
By FaroeIslands.fo
January 11, 2021

For the first time ever, homes in the Faroe Islands are being run by electricity harvested from an underwater tidal kite. Renewable electricity is generated from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands, using Deep Green technology, a unique principle of enhancing the speed of the kite through the water. A rudder steers the kite in a figure of eight trajectory and as it “flies”, water flows through the turbine, producing electricity.

Minesto, a leading marine energy technology company from Sweden, has developed the system in collaboration with Faroese utility company, SEV.

Hákun Djurhuus, CEO of SEV, says: “We are very pleased that the project has reached the point where the Minesto DG100 delivers electricity to the Faroese grid. Although this is still on trial basis, we are confident that tidal energy will play a significant part in the Faroese sustainable electricity generation. Unlike other sustainable sources, tidal energy is predictable, which makes it more stable than, for example, wind power.”

Following successful trials of the DG100 system in Vestmannasund, SEV and Minesto have plans for a large-scale buildout of both microgrids (<250kW) and utility-scale (>1MW) Deep Green systems in the Faroe Islands. The long-term ambition is to make tidal energy a core energy source in the Faroe grid mix. This is part of the islands’ goal of having 100% green electricity production by 2030, including onshore transport and heating.
» Read article & watch video

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

building codes under pressure
What Will Happen to Your Next Home if Builders Get Their Way?
A lobby is trying to block building codes that would help fight climate change.
By Justin Gillis, New York Times | Opinion
January 21, 2021

Just about every new building that goes up in America is governed by construction codes. They protect people from numerous hazards, like moving into firetraps or having their roofs blown off in storms. Increasingly, those codes also protect people from high energy bills — and they protect the planet from the greenhouse gas emissions that go with them.

Yet the National Association of Home Builders, the main trade association and lobby for the home building industry, is now trying to monkey around with the rules meant to protect buyers and ensure that new homes meet the highest standards.

If the group succeeds, the nation could be saddled with millions of houses, stores and offices that waste too much energy and cost people too much money to heat and cool. Weakened construction standards could also leave houses and other buildings more vulnerable to the intensifying climate crisis, from floods to fires to storms. And they will make that crisis worse by pouring excessive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

State and local governments tend to adopt model codes drawn up every three years at the national level instead of devising their own. The group that puts out the most influential models is the International Code Council. The council is supposed to consider the public interest, broadly defined, in carrying out its work, even as the home building industry participates in drawing up the codes. The builders’ short-term interest is to weaken the codes, which cuts their costs. The interest of home buyers and of society at large is exactly the opposite: Strong building standards, even when they drive up the initial cost of a house, almost always result in lower costs over the long run. That was on vivid display in Miami in 1992.

Building codes must play a critical role as the nation confronts the climate crisis, and the need to cut its emissions drastically. The codes can require better insulation, tighter air sealing, advanced windows and more efficient delivery of hot water, heating and air-conditioning. They can also increase the resilience of buildings in an age of intensifying weather disasters, turning every new building into a climate asset.

That brings us to the new effort to weaken these codes.

Proposals to the council called for sharp cuts in energy use by new buildings in the 2021 code update. Under the council’s procedures, those proposals were put to a vote by state and local governments. Their representatives turned out in record numbers to approve the tighter measures.

The big turnout seems to have caught the builders’ association off guard. Through tortuous committee procedures, it managed to kill some important provisions, including a requirement that new homes come already wired for electric vehicle chargers.

Luckily, most of the other energy provisions survived. As a result, buildings constructed under this year’s model code will be on the order of 10 percent more efficient than under the previous code. This was a big step forward, given that the builders had managed to stall progress for most of the last decade. Compared to the 1980s, buildings going up under the new code will be roughly 50 percent more efficient, showing what kind of progress is possible.

The builders are now trying to upend the voting process that led to the more stringent rules. They are trying to rush through a rewrite of the rules to block future voting by state and local governments. The builders’ lobby wants the energy provisions of the model code put under the control of a small committee, which the builders would likely be able to dominate.

The International Code Council denies that is unduly influenced by the home builders. However, in 2019, The New York Times revealed a secret agreement between the council and the National Association of Home Builders. That agreement — whose existence the council acknowledged only under pressure — gives the builders inordinate power on a key committee that approves residential building codes.

Even now, only a synopsis of the deal is available; the council refuses to release the full text. The council’s board is to consider the proposed rewrite of the rules in a meeting on Thursday.

Given the International Code Council’s influence over the construction of nearly every new building in America, as well as those of some foreign countries, it needs to become a major target of scrutiny and of climate activism.

Change may be on the way. In a letter on Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded information from the council, including a copy of the secret agreement with the home builders.

That is good news. If the council persists in undermining the public interest, Congress or a coalition of states could potentially turn the job of drawing up building codes over to a new, more objective group. And lawmakers ought to adopt a national policy to govern this situation, mandating steady improvement in the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of new buildings.

With the climate crisis worsening by the year, America can no longer indulge the stalling tactics of the home builders.
» Read article         

BlocPower CEO Baird
Watt It Takes: BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird Wants to Electrify Buildings for Everyone
This week on Watt It Takes: Donnel Baird talks harnessing his anger over racial inequities and using it to build a clean-energy business model.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
January 14, 2021

BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird is on a mission to clean up old, inefficient buildings in America’s cities — and help people who are exposed to the worst pollution.

BlocPower was founded in 2012. It’s raised venture capital from Kapor Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. But that process was not easy for a company with a mostly non-white leadership team. As a Black founder, Donnel was turned down 200 times before any venture firms were willing to back his vision.

“It was really difficult for us raising capital. One of our investors, when I talked to him two or three years ago and said I was struggling to raise capital, he was like, ‘Yeah, man, just hire some white people and send them into the fundraising meetings, and it’ll clear things up,’” explains Donnel.

BlocPower is a Brooklyn, New York startup electrifying and weatherizing buildings in underserved communities — slashing pollution and saving money in the process. This includes housing units, churches and community centers.

And the mission for Donnel isn’t just about hitting milestones for investors. It’s about changing the fabric of underserved communities that are plagued by pollution and energy poverty. That’s because Donnel has lived it himself.

In this episode, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch talks with Donnel about how he channeled his frustration and anger around racial unfairness into a business model for the energy transition.
» Listen to podcast              

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

fast charge future
Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced
Exclusive: first factory production means recharging could soon be as fast as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 19, 2021

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step towards electric cars becoming as fast to charge as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of action to tackle the climate crisis but running out of charge during a journey is a worry for drivers. The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its “extreme fast-charging” battery in phones, drones and scooters and the 1,000 batteries it has now produced are to showcase its technology to carmakers and other companies. Daimler, BP, Samsung and TDK have all invested in StoreDot, which has raised $130m to date and was named a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer in 2020.

The batteries can be fully charged in five minutes but this would require much higher-powered chargers than used today. Using available charging infrastructure, StoreDot is aiming to deliver 100 miles of charge to a car battery in five minutes in 2025.

“The number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles is no longer cost, it is range anxiety,” said Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot. “You’re either afraid that you’re going to get stuck on the highway or you’re going to need to sit in a charging station for two hours. But if the experience of the driver is exactly like fuelling [a petrol car], this whole anxiety goes away.”

“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” he said. “But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates it is feasible and it’s commercially ready.”

Existing Li-ion batteries use graphite as one electrode, into which the lithium ions are pushed to store charge. But when these are rapidly charged, the ions get congested and can turn into metal and short circuit the battery.

The StoreDot battery replaces graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. These nanoparticles are currently based on germanium, which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing. But StoreDot’s plan is to use silicon, which is much cheaper, and it expects these prototypes later this year. Myersdorf said the cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.
» Read article         

Toyota greenish
Toyota to Pay a Record Fine for a Decade of Clean Air Act Violations
Toyota’s $180 million settlement with the federal government follows a series of emissions-related scandals in the auto industry.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
January 14, 2021

Toyota Motor is set to pay a $180 million fine for longstanding violations of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced on Thursday, the largest civil penalty ever levied for a breach of federal emissions-reporting requirements.

From about 2005 to 2015, the global automaker systematically failed to report defects that interfered with how its cars controlled tailpipe emissions, violating standards designed to protect public health and the environment from harmful air pollutants, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan.

Toyota managers and staff in Japan knew about the practice but failed to stop it, and the automaker quite likely sold millions of vehicles with the defects, the attorney’s office said.

“Toyota shut its eyes to the noncompliance,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement. Toyota has agreed not to contest the fine.

Eric Booth, a spokesman for the automaker, said that the company had alerted the authorities as soon as the lapses came to light, and that the delay in reporting “resulted in a negligible emissions impact, if any.”

“Nonetheless, we recognize that some of our reporting protocols fell short of our own high standards, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter,” Mr. Booth added.

Toyota is the world’s second-largest automaker behind Volkswagen, and once built a reputation for clean technology on the back of its best-selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrid passengers cars. But the auto giant’s decision in 2019 to support the Trump administration’s rollback of tailpipe emissions standards — coupled with its relatively slow introduction of fully-electric vehicles — has made it a target of criticism from environmental groups.

Toyota’s more recent lineup of models has been heavy on gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicles, which come with far bigger price tags and have brought far higher profit margins. According to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency, Toyota vehicles delivered some of the worst fuel efficiency in the industry, leading to an overall worsening of mileage and pollution from passenger cars and trucks in the United States for the first time in five years.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

fuzzy math
Questions on Baker’s $6b climate change cost estimate
Barrett, CLF’s Campbell say governor’s veto letter not convincing
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
January 19, 2021

THE SENATE’S POINT person on climate change legislation said he doesn’t know where Gov. Charlie Baker came up with his estimate that the Legislature’s target for emissions reductions in 2030 would cost state residents an extra $6 billion.

“Boy, would I like to know,” said Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington. “I have never – and I am familiar with all of the written documents the administration has released on this topic – I had never seen that $6 billion figure until [Thursday]. I wonder if the governor had ever seen the $6 billion figure until [Thursday].”

In his letter vetoing the Legislature’s climate change bill, Baker said the difference between a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels versus a 50 percent reduction was $6 billion in extra costs incurred by Massachusetts residents. “Unfortunately, this higher cost does not materially increase the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its long-term climate goals,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the Baker administration wasn’t able to produce the analysis yielding the $6 billion figure on Friday but promised more information this week.

Barrett, appearing on The Codcast with Bradley Campbell, the president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said he has asked repeatedly for information on the $6 billion figure and never received it.

“I can’t wait to see the economic study that buttresses that claim because it will be unlike any economic study I’ve ever read,” he said. “These figures to some extent are arbitrary. Neither figure [45 percent or 50 percent] is supported by modeling. Both are judgment calls.”
» Read article        
» Listen to Barrett and Campbell on the CodCast 

» More legislative news

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NoKXL
Keystone XL Pipeline Canceled. Here’s What It Means for the Future Fight Against Fossil Fuels
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 20, 2021

[While] the defeat of Keystone XL is historically momentous, it raises questions about other routes for Canadian tar sands. After sitting on the drawing board for years, Canada’s oil industry has already turned to alternative pipelines, such as Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement through Minnesota and, even more importantly, the Trans Mountain Expansion from Alberta to British Columbia.

“With Line 3 and TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion], Alberta has sufficient capacity to get its oil to market,” Werner Antweiler, a business professor at the University of British Columbia, told DeSmog.

In fact, scrapping Keystone XL arguably makes these other projects more urgent. “For the federal government of Canada, which has a vested interest in the commercial success of TMX, the cancelation of the KXL project may ultimately be good news because it ensures that there is sufficient demand for TMX capacity,” Antweiler said. “This means it is more likely now that TMX will become commercially viable and can be sold back to private investors profitably after construction is complete.”

This at a time when Keystone XL proved to be an expensive gamble. In 2019, Alberta invested $1.1 billion in Keystone XL in order to add momentum to the controversial project, funding its first year of construction. Now the province may end up selling the vast quantities of pipe for scrap, while also hoping to obtain damages from the United States.

Others are less convinced that the cancelation of one project is a boon to another. Even the Trans Mountain Expansion faces uncertainties in a world of energy transition. “Looking back a century ago, as one-by-one carriage manufacturers shut down as car manufacturers expanded production, prospects for the remaining carriage manufacturers didn’t improve,” Tom Green, a Climate Solutions Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, told DeSmog.

“Canada can take its cue from Biden: recognize the costly Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t needed or viable, it doesn’t fit with our climate commitments, and instead of throwing ever more money into a pit, government should invest those funds in the energy system of the future,” he said.
» Read article         

Total quits API
Total Quits Fossil Fuel Lobby Group the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate Change
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 15, 2021

French oil giant Total announced on Friday that it would not renew its membership to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a stunning blow to the oil industry’s most powerful business lobby. Total pointed to its differences with API over climate policy as its main motivation.

“We are committed to ensuring, in a transparent manner, that the industry associations of which we are a member adopt positions and messages that are aligned with those of the Group in the fight against climate change,” Patrick Pouyanné, Total’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Total cited API’s support for the rolling back of U.S. methane emissions on oil and gas operations, as well as the lobby group’s opposition to subsidies for electric vehicles and its opposition to carbon pricing.

Last year, the French oil company, along with BP and Royal Dutch Shell, cut ties with another oil industry lobby group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refiners. BP also withdrew from the Western States Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance, two other powerful lobby groups in the western United States.

However, Total is the first oil major to quit API. The decision highlights the growing divergence between European oil majors, who have announced decisions to begin transitioning towards cleaner energy, and their American counterparts, who appear determined to continue to increase oil and gas production. The withdrawal also reflects the growing pressure for the oil industry to slash greenhouse gas emissions from investors, policymakers, activists and the public amid a worsening climate crisis.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jordan Cove rallyFeds: Jordan Cove LNG terminal can’t move forward without state water permit
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
January 19, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Plans for a major West Coast liquified natural gas pipeline and export terminal hit a snag Tuesday with federal regulators after a years-long legal battle that has united tribes, environmentalists and a coalition of residents on Oregon’s rural southern coast against the proposal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that energy company Pembina could not move forward with the proposal without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. The U.S. regulatory agency gave its tentative approval to the pipeline last March as long as it secured the necessary state permits, but the Canadian pipeline company has been unable to do so.

It had appealed to the commission over the state’s clean water permit, arguing that Oregon had waived its authority to issue a clean water certification for the project and therefore its denial of the permit was irrelevant.

But the commission found instead that Pembina had never requested the certification and that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality “could not have waived its authority to issue certification for a request it never received.”

The ruling was hailed as a major victory by opponents of Jordan Cove, which would be the first such LNG overseas export terminal in the lower 48 states. The proposed 230-mile (370-kilometer) feeder pipeline would begin in Malin, in southwest Oregon, and end at the city of Coos Bay on the rural Oregon coast.

Jordan Cove did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment and it was unclear what next steps the project would take.

Opposition to the pipeline has brought together southern Oregon tribes, environmentalists, anglers and coastal residents since 2006.

“Thousands of southern Oregonians have raised their voices to stop this project for years and will continue to until the threat of Jordan Cove LNG is gone for good,” said Hannah Sohl, executive director of Rogue Climate.
» Read article         

» More about liquefied natural gas

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Weekly News Check-In 1/31/20

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

This week we’re sharing a blog post from Maine, arguing that the Weymouth compressor station is of regional concern. Additional news about resistance to fossil fuels includes continuing citizen protests to delay coal trains bound for New Hampshire’s Merrimack Station.

We found climate news on the fading usefulness of natural gas as a bridge fuel – arguing against the need for new infrastructure. At the same time, cutting-edge climate models promise more accurate predictions of global warming, and preliminary results agree strongly with the worst-case scenarios of earlier models. All this while the true extent of methane leaked from extraction and distribution systems is coming into sharper focus.

Integration of clean energy into the electric grid is moving rapidly, but maybe not with the best possible resource mix. An interesting article calls for better strategic planning.

The shipping industry was looking at liquified natural gas (LNG) as a cleaner alternative fuel to improve its emissions. A new report casts doubt on that, with a reminder that it’s a complicated problem.

While the fossil fuel industry swats down near-constant attempts to ban fracking because it threatens climate and public health, the just-passed USMCA trade agreement contains plenty of protections and rewards for gas and oil. The rapidly growing fracking-dependent plastics industry is also walking the line between government support through lax regulations and a growing public backlash based on similar concerns.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

No Compressor Station
The Weymouth Compressor Should Be Of Regional Concern
By Adam Rice, West End News – Blog
January 24, 2020

If we as Mainers become more vocal about the capacity payments taken from our utility bills that prop up the fossil fuel industry and advocate true divestment, we could easily fund clean sources of heat and power over time. With the Weymouth compressor, support from neighboring states will be a powerful thing that helps the whole region move towards measurable progress.
» Read article       

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no coal no gas
Prof. arrested for blocking coal train in climate protest
Prof. Sabine von Mering was arrested for participating in a train blockade in protest of the use of fossil fuels. The charges were dropped.
By Jen Crystal, The Justice
January 28, 2020

Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL, ENVS), a longtime climate activist, was arrested on Dec. 8 for blocking a freight train carrying coal to Merrimack Station, the largest remaining coal power plant in New England, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

This train blockade is part of the “No Coal, No Gas” campaign, which is organizing actions to limit and eliminate fossil fuel infrastructure in New England. Judge Margaret Guzman dismissed the charges against von Mering and others at the protest on Dec. 9, according to the Lowell Sun.

The largest protest of this campaign took place on Sept. 20 at Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire, where 67 people were arrested for trespassing. Von Mering told the Justice in a Jan. 22 interview that she joined the “No Coal, No Gas” campaign following this protest at the request of the Climate Disobedience Center.
» Read article

» More about protests and actions    

CLIMATE

bridge too far
Is Natural Gas Really Helping the U.S. Cut Emissions?
Methane leaks throughout the supply chain make the “cleaner” fuel more damaging to the climate than government data suggests.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
January 30, 2020

Can natural gas be part of a climate change solution?

That’s what the American Petroleum Institute argues in a new campaign it has launched ahead of this year’s elections, pushing back against some Democratic candidates who support bans on new development of oil and gas. The campaign echoes a refrain that supporters from both political parties have pushed for years: that gas is a cleaner fuel than coal and can serve as a bridge to a low-carbon future.

The industry points to data showing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are at their lowest level in decades, as coal power generation has been replaced by gas, which produces about half the carbon dioxide emissions when burned, and by renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

But experts agree that those official figures understate emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas released in leaks throughout the oil and gas development supply chain. And while there’s uncertainty about how much methane is leaking, several studies show that the benefits of the switch from coal to gas over the last decade are smaller than government data suggests, perhaps substantially smaller.
» Read article

Thwaites Glacier
Temperatures at a Florida-Size Glacier in Antarctica Alarm Scientists
By Shola Lawal, New York Times
January 29, 2020

Scientists in Antarctica have recorded, for the first time, unusually warm water beneath a glacier the size of Florida that is already melting and contributing to a rise in sea levels.

The researchers, working on the Thwaites Glacier, recorded water temperatures at the base of the ice of more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the normal freezing point. Critically, the measurements were taken at the glacier’s grounding line, the area where it transitions from resting wholly on bedrock to spreading out on the sea as ice shelves.

It is unclear how fast the glacier is deteriorating: Studies have forecast its total collapse in a century and also in a few decades. The presence of warm water in the grounding line may support estimates at the faster range.
» Read article

judges duck and cover
Judges Point Dismissed Youth Climate Plaintiffs to Political System Corrupted by Fossil Fuel Cash
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
January 24, 2020

Fossil fuel influence and money has largely captured political branches of the U.S. government, and yet the Ninth Circuit majority still concludes “that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large.”

In a scathing dissent, District Judge Josephine Staton rebuked this conclusion, warning that deferring to the political branches when they are perpetuating a grave harm would be detrimental to constitutional democracy.

“The majority laments that it cannot step into the shoes of the political branches, but appears ready to yield even if those branches walk the Nation over a cliff,” Staton writes. “This promotes separation of powers to the detriment of our countervailing constitutional mandate to intervene where the political branches run afoul of our foundational principles.”

Several legal experts concurred with Staton’s take that the majority opinion shirks the judiciary’s core function in our system of government.
» Read article      
» Read the decision and dissent    

omnicide
How Does a Nation Adapt to Its Own Murder?
Australia is going up in flames, and its government calls for resilience while planning for more coal mines.
By Richard Flanagan, New York Times Opinion
January. 25, 2020

To describe this terrifying new reality, a terrifying new idea: “omnicide.” As used by Danielle Celermajer, a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney specializing in human rights, the term invokes a crime we have previously been unable to imagine because we had never before witnessed it.

Ms. Celermajer argues that “ecocide,” the killing of ecosystems, is inadequate to describe the devastation of Australia’s fires. “This is something more,” she has written. “This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.”

What does the future look like where omnicide is the norm?

According to the American climatologist Michael Mann, “It is conceivable that much of Australia simply becomes too hot and dry for human habitation.”
» Read article       

worse than you think
Scientists Say Paris Agreement Climate Goals May Now Be Unattainable

By Alex Kirby for Climate News Network, in DeSmog UK
January 23, 2020

The fevered arguments about how the world can reach the Paris climate goals on cutting the greenhouse gases which are driving global heating may be a waste of time. An international team of scientists has learned more about the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) − and it’s not good news.

Teams in six countries, using new climate models, say the warming potential of CO2 has been underestimated for years. The new models will be used in revised UN temperature projections next year. If they are accurate, the Paris targets of keeping temperature rise below 2°C − or preferably 1.5°C − will belong to a fantasy world.

Vastly more data and computing power has become available since the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections were finalised in 2013. “We have better models now,” Olivier Boucher, head of the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace Climate Modelling Centre in Paris, told the French news agency AFP, and they “represent current climate trends more accurately”.

Projections from government-backed teams using the models in the US, UK, France and Canada suggest a much warmer future unless the world acts fast: CO2 concentrations which have till now been expected to produce a world only 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels would more probably heat the Earth’s surface by four or five degrees Celsius.
» Read article

climate blows up economy
Climate Change Could Blow Up the Economy. Banks Aren’t Ready.
Like other central banks, the E.C.B., which met on Thursday, is scrambling to prepare for what a report warns could be a coming economic upheaval.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
January 23, 2020

FRANKFURT — Climate change has already been blamed for deadly bush fires in Australia, withering coral reefs, rising sea levels and ever more cataclysmic storms. Could it also cause the next financial crisis?

A report issued this week by an umbrella organization for the world’s central banks argued that the answer is yes, while warning that central bankers lack tools to deal with what it says could be one of the biggest economic dislocations of all time.

The book-length report, published by the Bank for International Settlements, in Basel, Switzerland, signals what could be the overriding theme for central banks in the decade to come.

“Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to human societies, and our community of central banks and supervisors cannot consider itself immune to the risks ahead of us,” François Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Banque de France, said in the report.
» Read article      
» Read report: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change

» More about climate    

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

geo surprise
Geothermal’s surprise: Cheap renewables could keep states from achieving climate goals
Planners must think beyond the levelized cost for renewables to the value that each resource brings to the grid.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
January 27, 2020

Surprisingly, the plunging cost of some renewables could keep states from reaching ambitious climate goals if planners fail to recognize the higher value in some higher cost renewables.

States like New York, Massachusetts and California with ambitious 2030 renewables and 2045 emissions reduction mandates are starting to find a tension between cost and value. Offshore wind’s reliability and emissions reduction values have raised its profile, though it remains more expensive than onshore wind. Now California policymakers are beginning to see the potentially extraordinary, but so far unrecognized value of its geothermal resources.

“We overbuilt natural gas and then we built so much solar that we have solar over-generation, so we have fallen in love with batteries,” Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) Executive Director V. John White told Utility Dive. “Batteries are great, but planning is too driven by costs, and not enough by the value in meeting grid needs, and not having a balanced resource portfolio could be the Achilles heel of our climate effort.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

LNG bunker bust
LNG fuel fails to deliver GHG emission cuts: report

By Paul Bartlett, Seatrade Maritime News
January 29, 2020

A new report just released by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) concludes that using LNG for bunkers may not be as beneficial as previously thought. In fact, on a lifecycle basis, LNG as a marine fuel may have little impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The analysis compares LNG, marine gas oil, very low sulphur fuel oil and heavy fuel oil used in marine engines in the LNG tanker and cruise sectors. However, results varied widely depending on engine technology. High-pressure dual fuel (HPDF) machinery came out top but the ICCT estimates that only 90 of the 750-plus LNG-fuelled ships in service use these engines.

Moreover, using a 20-year global warming potential model and taking into account upstream emissions, combustion emissions and methane slip, there is no climate benefit from using LNG, regardless of engine technology, the analysis concludes. Even HPDF engines emitted more lifecycle GHG emissions than when they used marine gas oil.
» Read article
» Read report       

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking Canada
Birth defects, cancer and disease among potential health risks from fracking for Canadians, doctors warn
By Kieran Leavitt, The Star
January 29, 2020

EDMONTON—Dire health impacts and a damaged environment are among concerns raised in a new review on the fracking of natural gas written by a Canadian non-profit made up of physicians.

Due to the chemicals involved in fracking, the practice’s wide-ranging impacts on humans includes the potential for birth defects, cancer, neurological issues, psychological impacts, disease and illness, reads the review by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
» Read article      
» Read CAPE report        

crude export ban
‘Like Handing Out Blankets Affected With Smallpox’: US Called to End Oil Exports to Thwart Climate Crisis
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams, in DeSmog Blog
January 28, 2020

A new report released Tuesday by Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA found that reinstating the U.S. crude oil export ban Congress lifted in 2015 would slash global carbon emissions by up to 181 million tons of CO2-equivalent each year — a reduction comparable to shuttering dozens of coal-fired power plants.

Given the significant impact it would have in the fight against the global climate crisis, Oil Change and Greenpeace demanded that the next president and Congress commit to reviving the crude oil export ban as part of a broad and just transition away from fossil fuel production, which the Trump administration has worked to increase.

The next president, the groups note, has the “legal authority to reinstate crude oil export restrictions by declaring a national climate emergency.” Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, have both committed to ending crude oil exports if elected.
» Read article     

» Read report     

Permian Basin Hwy 67
The Hidden Danger Of Radioactive Oil And Gas Wastewater
Because oil and gas waste is exempt from hazardous waste regulations, the trucks that carry it are unmarked and free to travel near schools and reservoirs.
By Terri Langford, Texas Standard
January 27, 2020

Many Texans likely have a basic idea of how oil and gas is produced. The fuels are extracted from the ground and trucked to plants where they’re refined. But many people may be less familiar with the extraction waste, or “brine,” that is trucked away as part of that process.

Brine, a salty substance, is sent to treatment plants or injection wells where it’s then shot back into the Earth. It’s also radioactive, and Justin Nobel’s recent story in Rolling Stone details how little those who transport this material are told about its risks, and how little regulation there is when it comes to moving the radioactive substance.
» Read article    
» Read Justin Nobel’s Rolling Stone article      

murky water
‘We can’t live like this’: residents say a corrupt pipeline project is making them sick
A community in Pennsylvania says clay-colored water appeared during a drilling mud spill, but the pipeline company insists it’s not to blame
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
January 27, 2020

Every evening, Erica and Jon Tarr load up their car with towels, toiletries and dirty dishes, before driving their two-year-old daughter to a relative’s home to bathe, wash up and eat a meal cooked in clean water.

The Tarrs, who moved into their spacious detached home in semi-rural Pennsylvania last April, have relied upon bottled water and family generosity since June, when their crystalline tap water first turned murky.

Since then, they’ve spent more than $32,000 on new equipment, lab tests, bottled water, repairing pipes and parts damaged by the turbid water. It still isn’t safe, and they don’t know why.
» Read article       

USMCA oil slick
5 Reasons Many See Trump’s Free Trade Deal as a Triumph for Fossil Fuels
The USMCA is a cornucopia of free-trade provisions for oil and gas companies. One environmentalist calls it “a climate failure any way you look at it.”
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
January 24, 2020

The oil and gas industry had qualms when Trump first moved to scrap the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. “Renegotiating NAFTA creates risks,” said the American Petroleum Institute in an August 2017 position paper.

But through lobbying over subsequent months, the industry helped shape a deal better for its interests than NAFTA. The USMCA takes into account the monumental transformations in the North American oil and gas industry since NAFTA—the rise of the Canadian oil sands, the U.S. fracking boom, the opening of Mexico’s long-nationalized industry to private investment—and seeks to maintain them.
» Read article

casing failure
This Problem With Fracked Oil and Gas Wells Is Occurring ‘at an Alarming Rate’
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
January 23, 2020

On February 15, 2018, a fracked natural gas well owned by ExxonMobil’s XTO Energy and located in southeast Ohio experienced a well blowout, causing it to gush the potent greenhouse gas methane for nearly three weeks. The obscure accident ultimately resulted in one of the biggest methane leaks in U.S. history. The New York Times reported in December that new satellite data revealed that this single gas well leaked more methane in 20 days than an entire year’s worth of methane released by the oil and gas industries in countries like Norway and France.

The cause of this massive leak was a failure of the gas well’s casing, or internal lining. Well casing failures represent yet another significant but not widely discussed technical problem for an unprofitable fracking industry.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

ban the bags
Booming Plastics Industry Faces Backlash as Data About Environmental Harm Grows:
Environmentalists cite “an incredible disconnect” between government support for plastics manufacturing and evidence of the industry’s pollution and climate impact.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
January 24, 2020


Frustrated with the sight of plastic bags and styrofoam containers piling up in its harbor, the city of Charleston, South Carolina, rang in the new year with a promise to start enforcing a ban on single-use plastic containers and utensils.

It’s one of hundreds of similar bans that have been launched across the U.S. and Europe, amid a growing backlash to an industry that is expanding despite increasing evidence of the harm its products can do.

In just the past year, researchers have shown that tiny particles of plastic are pervasive in the environment, even high in the mountains and inside human bodies. Dead whales have washed up with dozens of pounds of plastic waste in their stomachs. And a new awareness of the role the plastics industry plays in climate change is emerging.
» Read article

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 10/25/19

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

While the Baker administration continues to move toward approval of the Weymouth compressor station, all local politicians are campaigning on their opposition to it. Citizens and environmental groups continue the fight, with actions planned for October 30th and November 1st. You can follow these and other events here.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report, blaming last year’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions on weak engineering management at Columbia Gas. Meanwhile, the company has abandoned efforts to add capacity to the Northampton/Easthampton  area, and will extend the moratorium on new gas hookups indefinitely. Other pipelines in the news include Atlantic Coast, PennEast, and Bayou Bridge.

We found interesting reporting from Hopkinton this past July, where town officials were attempting to get Eversource Energy to explain a 2017 “thermal anomaly” at one of three large liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tanks – in which the temperature dropped abnormally. LNG is held at a constant -260F using refrigeration equipment.

Virtual pipelines were in the news because of two recent fatal accidents involving trucks carrying compressed natural gas (CNG). Moving volatile fuel entails risk no matter how it’s done.

Climate news highlights how deniers and carbon-intensive industries are fighting back against efforts to secure a livable future. Expect much more pro-carbon propaganda and fake news during the 2020 presidential campaign. It will come from the oil and gas industry, plastics and petrochemicals, agriculture (especially beef producers), and biomass – and it will be delivered by the likes of The Empowerment Alliance. All this is funded, of course, by dark money.

There’s some good news about clean energy alternatives – global benchmark prices for offshore wind, PV solar, and battery storage continue to fall. New York City is in the news for choosing to replace some gas peaker plants with battery storage.

We wrap up with news about the likelihood that taxpayers will foot the bill for cleaning up the mess after the fracking boom. Also a health warning that EPA limits for exposure to fine particulate air pollution are too high (this very much ties into the Baker administrations attempt to promote biomass as a source of “clean” energy). And a recent study indicates that Styrofoam in the ocean may not last forever.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor foes vow to continue fight
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 22, 2019

Opponents of a proposed compressor station in the Fore River Basin say they will appeal a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection hearing officer’s ruling to uphold wetlands and waterways permits for the facility.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the group will challenge the ruling in superior court if DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg reissues wetlands and waterways permits to Algonquin Gas Transmission.

“We will ask Commissioner Suuberg to review this ruling,” she said. “It does not seem to be the policy of the DEP to follow their own regulations by giving us clean air, water, and soil.”

Arena said DEP hearing officer Jane Rothchild’s ruling to uphold the waterways and wetlands permits previously issued to Algonquin is ” extremely disappointing.”
» Read article

Weymouth council candidates vow to fight compressor station
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 21, 2019

Nearly all the councilors-at-large seeking reelection and their opponents vowed during a North Weymouth Civic Association candidates’ night on Oct. 16 to continue fighting against a proposed compressor station in the Fore River Basin.
» Read article

State official backs two key approvals for compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
October 16, 2019

WEYMOUTH — Opponents of a natural gas compressor station proposed for the Fore River Basin were dealt two major blows Wednesday when a state adjudicator recommended the approval of a waterways license and a wetlands permit for the project, triggering the start of the final state review in the approval process.

Hearing officer Jane Rothchild of the state Department of Environmental Protection said the department should uphold the license and permit issued to gas company Spectra Energy-Enbridge and reject an appeal filed by Weymouth and a citizens group, which together had argued that the proposed station would worsen air and noise pollution in the Fore River Basin and is not an appropriate use based on state waterways regulations.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg has the final say on the approval of the permit and license.

“In sum, the petitioners have failed to offer persuasive evidence demonstrating that the proposed project does not conform to the requirements of the applicable waterways regulations,” Rothchild wrote in her decision on the waterways license.

Mayor Robert Hedlund said the rulings Wednesday were “further salt in the wound” and a continuation of the town’s disappointment with state officials.

“We have a couple of state agencies that seem hell-bent on getting this permitted,” he said. “We thought we came up with some really strong positions to oppose this on the two permits in question today. Obviously, we don’t have a lot of sway with the feds, but in the areas the state had jurisdiction … we thought we had the greatest opportunity to fight this at the state level.”

Hedlund said the town has fought the proposal at every possible step. Local officials will now have to decide whether to appeal the license and permit in court.
» Read article

» More Weymouth compressor station articles

COLUMBIA GAS DISASTER – MERRIMACK VALLEY

Weak engineering management led to gas explosions, NTSB says
WCVB, Boston
October 24, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board released the final report Thursday on the investigation into the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

The probable cause of the overpressurization of natural gas, which led to the explosions and fires, was Columbia Gas’ “weak engineering management” that did not properly plan and oversee a construction project, the 73-page report says.

According to the report, Columbia Gas “did not adequately plan, review, sequence and oversee the construction project that led to the abandonment of a cast iron main without first relocating regulator sensing lines to the new polyethylene main.”

On Sept. 13, 2018, a series of fires and explosions began to erupt in Merrimack Valley homes and businesses served by Columbia Gas. One person was killed and 22 individuals were injured.
» Read article    
» Read report

NiSource Appoints Nick Stavropoulos, Veteran Gas Industry Executive, to Lead Safety Efforts for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts
NiSource, via PR Newswire
October 16, 2019

NiSource Inc., (NYSE:NI) announced today the appointment of Nick Stavropoulos to a new, senior role focused on safety at Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, one of NiSource’s subsidiary companies. Stavropoulos will serve as Chief Safety Advisor for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, and will report directly to Joe Hamrock, Chief Executive Officer and President of NiSource.

Stavropoulos recently retired from his role as President and Chief Operating Officer of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) following a career leading several of the country’s largest natural gas companies.

Stavropoulos will be based in Massachusetts and will advise on all operational safety strategy and planning statewide. As a senior safety expert, he will also engage regularly with external audiences as the company executes on its safety priorities across the state.
» Read article

» More Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley articles

COLUMBIA GAS / TGP 261 UPGRADE

Columbia Gas extends moratorium for Northampton, Easthampton customers
By SCOTT MERZBACH, Daily Hampshire Gazette
October 16, 2019

NORTHAMPTON — A moratorium on adding new natural gas customers in Northampton and Easthampton will continue indefinitely following a decision by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts to abandon a project aimed at increasing the pipeline capacity for both cities.

The company last week announced that the moratorium for Northampton and Easthampton, which began in 2015 and has since meant new connections to its supply line are not allowed, will be extended due to changes in the planned “Greater Springfield Service Territory Reliability Project” first unveiled in November 2017.

The company contends that removal of leak-prone pipe, and offering energy-efficiency measures and load management solutions will maintain the safety, reliability and efficiency of its natural gas distribution system for Northampton and Easthampton, along with the rest of its service territory.

Kempic cited limited new growth potential in Northampton and cost as reasons for the cancellation of this project.
» Read article

» More Columbia Gas / TGP 261 Upgrade articles

OTHER PIPELINES

Atlantic Coast Pipeline waiting on Supreme Court, but natural gas debate in SC continues
By Andrew Brown, The Post and Courier
October 13, 2019

No applications have been submitted yet, but the battle lines are being drawn anyway.

The debate over natural gas continues to build in South Carolina, with industry groups and utilities highlighting a potential need for new pipelines and the state’s environmental groups hoping to deter such projects.

Construction on the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been on hold since December because of legal challenges over its federal permits. It’s now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether work may continue on the project, which is set to begin in West Virginia and end in Lumberton, N.C., some 21 miles away from the South Carolina border.

But those legal setbacks haven’t stopped speculation about the massive project in the Palmetto State.
» Read article

Two New Jersey lawmakers ask FERC for hold on PennEast gas line work after 3rd Circuit setback
By Maya Weber, S&P Global
October 10, 2019

The lawmakers asked for the block on land-clearing and construction-related activities until PennEast submits a new route for FERC a new National Environmental Policy Act review, and a new determination is made of whether the project is in the public interest.

Megan Gibson, staff attorney with the Niskanen Center, which has argued on behalf of landowners, said that while construction is not yet underway, it would not be bad for FERC to issue a stop-work order to draw a bright line blocking any work beyond surveying at this point.
» Read article

Bayou Bridge Pipeline Construction Mess Poses Major Risk to Atchafalaya Basin
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
October 10, 2019

Construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline was completed at the end of March, despite high-water conditions, and has been operational for months.

“The destruction is even worse than I anticipated,” Wilson said, scanning piles of dirt left along the construction site that, in places, were blocking small natural waterways through the swamp.

“I knew it was going to be bad because construction should have stopped when the water got high, but I never imagined it would be this bad,” Wilson told me.

After a monitoring trip in October 2018 of the east side of the basin, when the water in the basin was about three and a half feet higher than normal, he found many navigable waterways blocked, and unbroken stretches of trenched dirt piles, known as spoil banks, restricting water flow in the basin. Wilson reported these issues to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has the authority to enforce regulations. Two weeks ago, on September 26, he was distressed to find the same waterways remain blocked off.

With documentation from several monitoring trips conducted in September, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, and Healthy Gulf, another environmental advocacy group, filed a federal administrative complaint that accuses Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC of a series of U.S. Clean Water Act violations in the basin.
» Read article

» More articles on other pipelines

LNG NEWS

Hopkinton wants answers on ‘thermal anomaly’ at LNG tank
By Jonathan Phelps, MetroWest Daily News
July 15, 2019

HOPKINTON — Fire Chief Steve Slaman is unhappy about town officials being left in the dark about Eversource Energy’s plans to identify and repair a “thermal anomaly” that took place in one of three massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanks on Wilson Street.

While officials don’t know the exact cause, the middle tank — known as Tank B — experienced an abnormal drop in temperature in December 2017. The tanks are designed to keep the LNG at a constant temperature of minus 260 degrees.

“They can’t explain it, so they decided to drain the tank,” Slaman said.

The temperature drop came to Slaman’s attention in August 2018 — eight months after the energy company discovered it, according to town officials. The tanks are located at Wilson Street and Legacy Farms Road North.

Last week, Slaman, who also serves as the town’s emergency management director, sent a letter to state Department of Public Utilities officials asking for help to facilitate better communication and planning between the town and Hopkinton LNG Corp., an affiliate of Eversource.

“I have been excluded from real-time information sharing and planning on this important safety issue,” Slaman wrote. “Unless I directly ask for information, the company does not provide it to me.”
» Read article

» More LNG articles

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

virtual pipeline in ditch
After Second Deadly Crash, Regulators Say Trucks Leaking Fracked Gas Cargo Are Fine
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
October 17, 2019

Last Friday, October 11, a “Virtual Pipeline” truck carrying compressed natural gas crashed on a highway in Orange, Massachusetts, killing the driver, leaking the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, and leading local authorities to evacuate nearby residents.

“Let me put this in perspective, if one of these trucks blew up in the right conditions, it could destroy a neighborhood,” said Bill Huston, director of a research and advocacy program called Terra Vigilate, and one of a small group of advocates raising awareness about the extreme risks of fire and explosion of Virtual Pipeline trucks. “We have called every state and federal agency, we have called the news media, and nobody is responding. These trucks are a brand-new technology, and nearly entirely unregulated — it’s very frustrating.”

This was the second Virtual Pipeline truck crash within three weeks in which the driver was killed and the special cylinders containing the gas, which can be highly explosive, were compromised. It’s part of a string of accidents that a retired state regulator says indicates the vehicles may be violating a federal exemption allowing the trucks to operate, but which federal regulators have disputed.
» Read article

» More virtual pipeline articles

CLIMATE

he who cannot be named
Trump Administration to Begin Official Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
October 23, 2019

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing the formal withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to three people briefed on the matter, a long expected move that nevertheless remains a powerful signal to the world.

The official action sets in motion a withdrawal that still would take a year to complete under the rules of the accord. Abandoning the landmark 2015 agreement in which nearly 200 nations vowed to reduce planet warming emissions would fulfill one of President Trump’s key campaign promises while placing the world’s largest economy at odds with the rest of the globe on a top international policy priority.

“I withdrew the United States from the terrible, one-sided climate accord, was a total disaster for our country,” he told a crowd of cheering men and women in hard hats on Wednesday at a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh.
» Read article

TEA logo - large
‘The Empowerment Alliance’ and Other New Dark Money Groups Sound a Lot Like the Natural Gas Industry
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 22, 2019

Amid the crescendo of calls for climate action and rising rage directed at the fossil fuel industry, petroleum producers and their allies are engaging in an aggressive promotional push focused on natural gas. The same month that the American Petroleum Institute (API) started running ads emphasizing gas’s role in reducing carbon emissions, a new dark money group has launched under the patriotic guise of promoting “America’s energy independence” by promoting, you guessed it, natural gas.

That group, called The Empowerment Alliance (TEA), is a registered 501(c)4 that does not disclose its donors (and is not required to under law). TEA launched on September 30 with a news release filled with natural gas industry talking points and attacks on the Green New Deal. The organization describes natural gas as “essential to our shared prosperity” in terms of jobs, national security, energy costs, and even air quality, while the Green New Deal is labeled as “radical and unachievable” and a “risky tax scheme.”

This anonymously funded organization, from its leaders to its messaging, is part of a broader chorus of misleading talking points that goes beyond the “natural gas and oil” industry (as the API ads say) to conservative media pundits and top strategists and officials within the Trump administration and the GOP.
» Read article

big beef strikes back
As Beef Comes Under Fire for Climate Impacts, the Industry Fights Back
In at least two states this year, beef and dairy industries have successfully beat back government food initiatives linking livestock to global warming.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
October 21, 2019

In California, a state legislator introduced a bill called the California Climate-Friendly Food Program, with the goal of promoting plant-based foods in schools and reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to livestock.

Within a few months, references to climate change were stripped out of the text and title. The bill instead became the California School Plant-Based Food and Beverage Program.

On the other coast, in Maryland, the state’s Green Purchasing Committee launched the Carbon-Intensive Foods Subcommittee to study which foods have the largest carbon footprints and to steer the state away from buying those foods. The administration of Gov. Larry Hogan disbanded the committee months later.

In both cases, the states’ farm and beef lobbies got their way.
» Read article

outdoor AC - Doha
Facing unbearable heat, Qatar has begun to air condition the outdoors
By Steven Mufson, The Washington Post, reprinted in The Denver Post
October 20, 2019

To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors — in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development.

Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference.

And it’s going to get hotter.
» Read article

Utilities Are Promising Net Zero Carbon Emissions, But Don’t Expect Big Changes Soon
While the utilities tout ambitious mid-century climate goals, most plan to rely heavily on coal and natural gas for decades. That’s a problem for climate change.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
October 15, 2019

On the western shore of Lake Erie in Michigan, the Monroe Power Plant has been burning coal since the mid-1970s. Its owner, DTE Energy, has no intention of shutting down the massive power plant any time soon, despite its new pledge to cut its company-wide carbon emissions to net zero.

DTE’s plans for the Monroe plant are emblematic of a problem surfacing as a growing number of utilities promise to significantly cut their planet-warming emissions: a lack of urgency.

The timing matters. A recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius—the aim of the Paris climate agreement—human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide will have to fall to net zero by mid-century.

Since CO2 emissions build up in the atmosphere and remain there for centuries, those cuts can’t wait until 2050. They have to start now and should be down by nearly half by 2030 for the least disruptive transition, the IPCC shows.
» Read article

Nobel Prize in Chemistry Honors 3 Who Enabled a ‘Fossil Fuel-Free World’ — with an Exxon Twist
The winners developed lithium-ion batteries that made electric vehicles and battery storage for solar and wind power possible as climate solutions.
By Neela Banerjee, InsideClimate News
October 10, 2019

When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three scientists who developed lithium-ion batteries, it noted the importance of their research in making “a fossil fuel-free world possible,” with electric vehicles and renewable energy storage helping cut emissions that drive climate change.

The great twist in the story is that the Nobel recipient cited for making the “first functional lithium battery,” M. Stanley Whittingham, came to his discovery in the 1970s as a research scientist in the laboratories of Exxon, the corporation that later would lead the vastly successful effort to deny climate change. ExxonMobil faces a trial in New York later this month for allegedly misleading shareholders about the risks climate change poses to the company—and their investments.

Whittingham was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday along with John B. Goodenough, a professor of engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and Akira Yoshino, a chemist at Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan.
» Read article

Rich Counties Get More Help to Escape Climate Risk, New Data Show
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 9, 2019

Federal programs to help Americans move away from disaster-prone areas are skewed by the income levels of communities seeking help — rather than being based solely on the risk they face — new data shows, blunting an important tool for helping people cope with climate change.

Since 1989, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has bought and demolished more than 43,000 homes in flood-prone areas, a strategy meant to make communities less vulnerable to disasters. But which homes get selected for the buyouts depends as much on the wealth of the affected neighborhoods as on the actual level of danger that those areas are exposed to, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The findings raise concerns that limited federal funding for adapting to climate change isn’t helping the areas that need it the most, according to the paper’s authors.

“Who benefits?” asked Katharine J. Mach, a professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the paper’s lead author. “There is a real potential for our responses in a changing climate to make the fat cats fatter, so to speak.”
» Read article

life not death for grandchildren
As Climate Rebellion Spreads, UK Gov. Risks “Carbon Blowout” By Investing in Gas
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International – blog post
October 7, 2019

As I write, the latest mobilization of inspiring climate activism by Extinction Rebellion is underway in some 60 cities across the globe, in protests that started in New Zealand and Australia, which then spread across Europe and are now targeting the financial district in New York.

In London, there are two weeks of protests around Westminster, trying to force the UK Government to adopt for mare radical targets to decarbonise the economy by 2025, not the stated Government policy of 2050.

As the Washington Post notes about today’s protests: “It seems their tactics work. It was after those protests, that [UK] Parliament declared a climate emergency. In June, the government signed up to a 2050 decarbonization target, the first major economy to do so.”

But, this comes with a caveat. The Government of Boris Johnson is probably the least climate-friendly ever, with many links to fossil fuel funded think-tanks. The UK Parliament may have declared a climate emergency, but in its Brexit-dominated political deadlock, it has taken no meaningful action on climate.

In fact, the opposite is true, over the last three years since the Brexit vote, as the climate emergency has intensified, the British Parliament has wasted three years of time, and billions in finance that could have helped solve the climate problem. Britain could have shown true climate leadership. It may have signed up for a 2050 decarbonisation policy, but this is way too late to prevent climate chaos.

And it is still making the problem worse. Like many other groups, Oil Change International has pointed out that gas is no bridge fuel. It will not solve the climate crisis.
» Read article

Standing Rock
The Next Standing Rock Is Everywhere
The fight to stave off pipeline projects across the country is being led by tribal nations and marginalized communities. It’s time to listen to them before it’s too late.
By Nick Martin, The New Republic
October 7, 2019

In the past three years, numerous media outlets, The New Republic among them, have predicted a variety of similar pipeline controversies could be the “next Standing Rock.” But the exercise misses something fundamental about the new age of environmental justice.

Pipeline companies—and their lobbyists and ex-employees they’ve planted in the government—are learning. The pitch-to-pipeline process, so often practiced at the expense of marginalized communities, has been honed to perfection. Every day, energy companies participate in the political process that sets the rules of play. With each passing state legislative budget session and hurried community consultation town hall, their roots sink deeper—not just here, in America, but in Canada, in Europe, and in Asia. They are everywhere.
» Read article

» More climate articles

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

low benchmark wind-solar-battGlobal offshore wind prices drop 32%: BloombergNEF
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
October 24, 2019

Global benchmark prices for offshore wind have plunged 32% in the past year and 12% in the last six months, according BloombergNEF’s latest analysis released Tuesday.

Benchmark prices hit $78/MWh for the second half of 2019, largely driven by cheaper equipment costs, according to analysts. Meanwhile, onshore wind and solar prices have dropped 6% and 11% respectively since the first half of 2019, hitting global benchmark prices of $47/MWh and $51/MWh. Battery storage prices also fell 35% in the past year, hitting a global average of $186/MWh.

“Ongoing cost declines mean that benchmark PV and wind plants are just 4-5 years away from starting to challenge existing coal and gas plants on a cost-of-energy basis,” BloombergNEF said in its executive summary. “[I]n the U.S., recently financed wind farms in the most windy states are at cost parity with the least efficient operating gas plants, even without the production tax credit.”
» Read article

Richmond Council Limits Commerical Solar Sprawl
By TIM FAULKNER, ecoRI News
October 21, 2019

RICHMOND, R.I. — Another rural community is setting limits on renewable energy.

A week after the the Hopkinton Town Council banned wind turbines, the Richmond Town Council moved to curtail utility-scale solar sprawl.

With no opposition from the public or developers, the council voted unanimously Oct. 15 to adopt a ban on commercial solar development in residential neighborhoods, areas that are classified as R-3 zoning districts. The town already prohibits wind turbines.

The latest restriction on renewable energy in Rhode Island is part of a trend that many communities are following, especially towns with farmland and open space, as developers look for cheap land for industrial-scale wind and solar projects. Efforts to pass statewide siting rules have been sidelined by policy disputes in the General Assembly.

To help these communities, a study through the Office of Energy Resources would help create incentives for building renewable projects on brownfields and built environments such as parking lots and former quarries.
» Read article

New York City trades gas plant for the world’s largest battery
Regulators have approved Ravenwood Development to build a 316 MW / 2,528 MWh energy storage facility across the East River from Manhattan to replace two gas peaker plants in Queens.
By John Weaver, PV Magazine
October 18, 2019
The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved a 316 MW / 2528 MWh (that’s 8 hours!) energy storage facility (pdf) to “provide peak capacity, energy, and ancillary services in New York City while enhancing grid reliability”. Ravenwood Development (owners of the current gas plants at the site) plans to build out the project in three phases – 129 MW, 98 MW and then 89 MW – with the first phase complete by March 2021. There is no timetable given for deployment of second and third phases of the project.
» Read article

» More clean energy articles

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY NEWS

fracking tabWill the Public End up Paying to Clean up the Fracking Boom?
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 18, 2019

Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.

“It’s starting to become out of control, and we want to rein this in,” Bruce Hicks, Assistant Director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, said in August about companies abandoning oil and gas wells. If North Dakota’s regulators, some of the most industry-friendly in the country, are sounding the alarm, then that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the nation.

Legally, oil and gas companies are required to set aside money to pay for well cleanup costs, a process known as bonding. These requirements vary by state and for public lands, but in all cases, the amounts required are so small as to be practically irrelevant.
» Read article

Saudi Arabia’s $2 Trillion Climate Wreckage Sale
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
October 16, 2019

Later this week, the board of the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, known as Saudi Aramco, is expected to give its final approval to proceed with its long awaited part privatization, otherwise known as an “Initial Public Offering” or IPO. It is predicted to the biggest IPO in history.

Last week the Guardian newspaper published details of the 20 fossil fuel companies whose “relentless exploitation of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.”

Those who invest in Saudi Aramco will be investing in oil production, just at a time when fossil fuel disinvestment increases apace. And rightly so, as CNN points out, one of the risks to the sale is “the potential for reduced oil consumption due to concerns about climate change.”
» Read article

» More fossil fuel industry articles

BIOMASS

particle pollution
Scientists fired by Trump warn particle pollution standards don’t protect people
Group was disbanded by the EPA, but continued its work anyway, as Trump agencies roll back environment and health protections
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
October 22, 2019

A group of scientist advisers dismissed by the Trump administration has concluded that national limits on fine particles of air pollution aren’t strong enough to protect people.

The expert panel of epidemiologists and toxicologists was disbanded by the Environmental Protection Agency but decided to continue its work anyway.

The members are issuing their warnings as US regulators are reconsidering a standard for particulate matter – the inhalable pollution that is 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The pollution can include any of hundreds of chemicals and come from power plants, cars, construction sites and fires. It is linked with breathing and heart illnesses and early deaths.

“Based on full consideration of the overall body of scientific evidence, we unequivocally find that the current standards for fine particulate matter do not protect public health and must be revised,” said Chris Frey, a scientist from North Carolina State University who chaired the group. “There is no way for EPA to spin this otherwise.”
 » Read article    
» Blog editor’s note: this article does not specifically mention biomass, but regional development of biomass power plants would increase fine particulate pollution in the northeast. See Baker administration attempts to reclassify biomass as a clean renewable energy source.

NH biomass layoffs
Layoffs Begin At Embattled N.H. Biomass Plants After Subsidy Plans Fail 
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
October 18, 2019

Two of the state’s wood-fired power plants are going offline and laying off staff, after subsidy plans failed in the legislature.

Now, the state is offering job training resources to affected workers – and a new proposal would put more funds toward helping affected workers in the timber industry.

The biomass plants in Springfield and Whitefield laid off most of their 40 total workers this week, says Jasen Stock, the head of the state Timberland Owners’ Association.
» Read article

Is Massachusetts Opening the Door to Dirty Energy?
At the behest of the biomass industry, the Commonwealth might redefine clean energy for the state and start subsidizing pollution.
By Rohemir Ramirez, Conservation Law Foundation blog
October 11, 2019

Earlier this year, I joined Springfield, Massachusetts, residents protesting proposed changes to a state policy that would help build a dirty power plant in their neighborhood. As written, these changes would significantly roll back hard-fought protections against environmentally harmful biomass plants. Community members were unanimous: they do not want these changes, and they do not want this plant.

CLF agrees. These policy changes would incentivize biomass plants to emit more dangerous air pollution, underreport their climate impacts, and take families’ and businesses’ money while harming the health of our communities. They prioritize profits for industry executives over the people who live and work near the plants. And, while biomass developers are pushing for changes that would imminently affect Springfield, weakening this regulation encourages companies to build dirtier power plants in other vulnerable communities, too.
» Read article

» More biomass articles

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

styrofoam on beach
In the Sea, Not All Plastic Lasts Forever
Polystyrene, a common ocean pollutant, decomposes in sunlight much faster than thought, a new study finds.
By William J. Broad, New York Times
October 11, 2019

A major component of ocean pollution is less devastating and more manageable than usually portrayed, according to a scientific team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Previous studies, including one last year by the United Nations Environment Program, have estimated that polystyrene, a ubiquitous plastic found in trash, could take thousands of years to degrade, making it nearly eternal. But in a new paper, five scientists

Many nations, companies, citizen groups and ocean institutes, as well as United Nations programs, have worked hard to ban single-use items and better regulate their disposal.

“We’re not calling the concerns or the actions wrong,” Christopher M. Reddy, a marine chemist at Woods Hole and another author on the study, said in an interview. “We just have a new thread to add and we think it’s significant.”
» Read article

» More plastics articles

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