Tag Archives: Paris climate agreement

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

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20

banner 07

Welcome back.

We’re covering a lot of ground, beginning with last week’s announcement that Liberty Utilities has cancelled the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline project. While the utility’s move allows a continued increase of its natural gas footprint in New Hampshire, the very good news is they’ll proceed without a massive new infrastructure buildout. In other pipeline news, an appeals court decided to allow continued oil flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will continue its opposition in defense of its vulnerable water resources.

Another notable protest action is underway in Alvin, a small rural California community at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley. Already burdened with heavy pollution loads from agriculture and oil extraction, the mostly low-income, Latino residents have joined with other communities to demand reasonable setbacks between populated areas and new drilling rigs – and the pollution that comes from them.

Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the related economic crash, and the urgency to address climate change, financial managers are “having a moment”. Divesting from fossil fuels is an easy call considering the sector’s uncanny ability to destroy capital – but what next? We found a report describing how a major investor group is thinking strategically about investments to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

The urgency for climate action continues to be underscored by new research. One study finds that global heat-related mortality may eventually equal deaths from all infectious diseases combined. Another study warns that whatever emissions levels we achieve, we should expect real-world climate response to be on the hot side (worst case) of what models predict for those levels.

Better buildings will be a major factor in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. We found two articles on efforts in the northeast to meet the challenge by improving affordable housing. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has taken a legislative step forward in clean energy and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, while also moving to reduce power plant emissions during peak demand hours. All of which will benefit from continued innovations in energy storage technology.

We spotted a flashing yellow hazard light on the clean transportation speedway, related to the coming huge demand increase for electric vehicle battery materials like lithium and cobalt. We’re seeing a lot of interest in developing deep-sea mining – a new frontier with potentially catastrophic environmental consequences. The European Parliament and at least 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining to allow for the study of potential impacts along with management and mitigation methods.

For our friends in Ohio who may be wondering why their state recently gutted its renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives while simultaneously bailing out several coal and nuclear companies, we found a story that explains the whole sordid affair. It’s one of the worst utility scandals in the country.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to accumulate lawsuits, we see growing recognition among some of the major players that significant portions of their reserves – a primary basis for market valuation – are worthless in the sense that they can never be extracted, sold, and burned. BP leads the pack, along with some of the other European majors – but even Exxon recently admitted that 20% of global oil and gas reserves should be written off. We humbly suggest that number might be on the low side.

Liquefied natural gas is having its own troubles. Once considered a safe investment, the future is looking considerably less certain. In the last six years, 61% of LNG export terminal projects have failed. While many of those failures predated the current pandemic-related demand crash, the future outlook isn’t improving.

The myth of woody biomass as a sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel recently collided with the notoriously clear-eyed analytical thinking of the Dutch. According to a new policy, The Netherlands recognizes that biomass is an indispensable resource in the circular economy, and burning it is “wasteful”. Accordingly, they will rapidly phase out the use of biomass-to-energy plants. The rest of the European Union should follow their lead.

We finish with a story highlighting the challenges associated with recycling plastics, and the lure of the easy fix. While there are still no good solutions to the plastic waste problem, there are definitely bad ones masquerading as “recycling”.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

stop the pipeline and tank
Liberty Utilities nixes Granite Bridge Route 101 pipeline project
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 31, 2020

The utility proposing to construct the controversial Granite Bridge pipeline along Route 101 between Manchester and Exeter is abandoning the project after seeking an alternative plan.

Liberty Utilities filed notice with state Public Utilities Commission Friday afternoon it now intends to enter agreement with the owner of the Concord Lateral pipeline to carry natural gas to its customers in central New Hampshire, ending its pursuit of constructing the Granite Bridge pipeline.

“We’ve been fighting this pipeline for three years,” said Epping resident Joe Perry, who was a driving force behind a 2019 citizens petition opposing Granite Bridge. “It’s a tremendous weight off our shoulders.”
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline        

OTHER PIPELINES

DAPL undead for now
Appeals Court Halts Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown Order
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
August 6, 2020

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline won a reprieve Wednesday when an appeals court canceled a lower court order mandating the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil while a full environmental impact statement is completed.

The shutdown order, which would have gone into effect Wednesday, marked the first time a major oil pipeline was court ordered to cease operations for environmental reasons. But while its reversal is disappointing for pipeline opponents, Wednesday’s decision was not wholly favorable for the pipeline, either. The court refused to halt the initial order for a new environmental review of the pipeline’s crossing under the Missouri River, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fears it will pollute its drinking water and sacred lands if it leaks.

“We’ve been in this legal battle for four years, and we aren’t giving up this fight,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in an Earthjustice press release. “As the environmental review process gets underway in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate.”
» Read article             
» Read the Earthjustice press release

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Committee for a Better Arvin
Tired of Wells That Threaten Residents’ Health, a Small California Town Takes on the Oil Industry
The mostly low-income, Latino residents of Arvin have joined with other communities to demand setbacks for wells. Their slogan: “No drilling where we are living.”
By Julia Kane, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

In Arvin, a small, agricultural town at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, pollution is a pervasive part of life. Pesticides sprayed on industrial-scale farms, fumes drifting from the region’s ubiquitous oil and gas wells, exhaust from the trucks barrelling down Interstate 5—it all gets trapped in the valley, creating a thick haze. This year the American Lung Association ranked Bakersfield, just 15 miles northwest of Arvin, as the worst metropolitan area in the U.S. in terms of annual particle pollution.

Arvin’s residents, like people in many other parts of California, are especially concerned by the oil and gas wells sprinkled throughout their community. These wells, sometimes drilled and operated in close proximity to neighborhoods, schools, and health care centers, release a toxic mix of hydrogen sulfide, benzene, xylene, hexane and formaldehyde into the air.

Studies have linked living near oil and gas extraction to a wide range of adverse health effects, including increased risk of asthma, respiratory illnesses, preterm birth, low birthweight and cancer—serious fears for the more than two million Californians who live within a quarter-mile of operational oil and gas wells.
» Read article 

» More about protests and actions      

DIVESTMENT

Moscow power plant
Investors launch climate plan to get to net zero emissions by 2050
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 5, 2020

An investor group managing more than $16 trillion on Wednesday launched the world’s first step-by-step plan to help pension funds and others align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Many investors have pledged high-level support to the goals of the 2015 Paris deal, but the “Net Zero Investment Framework” is the first to lay out the steps they need to take to ensure the commitment is backed up by the necessary action.

Specific targets could include increasing the percentage of assets invested in low-carbon passive indexes and ensuring the leaders of investee companies link pay to climate-related targets.

“Countries, cities and companies around the globe are committing to achieve the goal of net zero emissions and investors need to show similar leadership,” said IIGCC Chief Executive Stephanie Pfeifer

“The willingness is there, but until now the investment sector has lacked a framework enabling it to deliver on this ambition.”
» Read article

» More about divestment          

CLIMATE

cool-off
Rising temperatures will cause more deaths than all infectious diseases – study
Poorer, hotter parts of the world will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions, research finds
Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 4, 2020

The growing but largely unrecognized death toll from rising global temperatures will come close to eclipsing the current number of deaths from all the infectious diseases combined if planet-heating emissions are not constrained, a major new study has found.

Rising temperatures are set to cause particular devastation in poorer, hotter parts of the world that will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions that will kill increasing numbers of people, the research has found.

The economic loss from the climate crisis, as well as the cost of adaptation, will be felt around the world, including in wealthy countries.

In a high-emissions scenario where little is done to curb planet-heating gases, global mortality rates will be raised by 73 deaths per 100,000 people by the end of the century. This nearly matches the current death toll from all infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, malaria, dengue and yellow fever.
» Read article             
» Obtain the study         

expect the worst
The Worst-Case Scenario for Global Warming Tracks Closely With Actual Emissions
With scientists divided between hope and despair, a new study finds that the model projecting warming of 4.3 degrees Celsius is “actually the best choice.”
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

When scientists in the early 2000s developed a set of standardized scenarios to show how accumulating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will affect the climate, they were trying to create a framework for understanding how human decisions will affect the trajectory of global warming.

The scenarios help define the possible effects on climate change—how we can limit the worst impacts by curbing greenhouse gas emissions quickly, or suffer the horrific outcome of unchecked fossil fuel burning.

The scientists probably didn’t think their work would trigger a sometimes polarized discussion in their ranks about the language of climate science, but that’s exactly what happened, and for the last several months, the debate has intensified. Some scientists say the worst-case, high emissions scenario isn’t likely because it overestimates the amount of fossil fuels that will be burned in the next few decades.

But a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that the high-end projection for greenhouse gas concentrations is still the most realistic for planning purposes through at least 2050, because it comes closest to capturing the effects “of both historical emissions and anticipated outcomes of current global climate policies, tracking within 1 percent of actual emissions.”
» Read article
» Read the PNAS report

» More about climate     

BETTER BUILDINGS

NY home improvement plan
New York is spending $1 billion to help residents conserve energy — and lower their bills
By Angely Mercado, Grist
August 4, 2020

As summer heat waves converge with a surging pandemic and an impending economic collapse, energy-efficient homes are becoming particularly critical to Americans’ well-being. Millions now face tough choices when it comes to energy usage: The longer they stay home to stay safe from both scorching heat and COVID-19, the higher their utility bills climb.

New York’s state government, for its part, is eyeing a long-term solution to this conundrum. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with the region’s investor-owned utilities to provide clean and energy-efficient solutions to more than 350,000 low-to-moderate income households throughout the state.

The collaboration aims to more than double the number of lower-income households that have access to services like voluntary electric load reduction, as well as better insulation and air sealing for more efficient cooling and heating, according to an announcement from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office last week. The initiative will also provide education and community support programs to connect these upgrades to the households most in need.
» Read article

triple-decker design challenge
Getting rid of fossil fuels in buildings
Passive house building too cost effective to resist
By Joan Fitzgerald, CommonWealth Magazine – opinion
August 2, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey recently ruled that Brookline’s clean energy bylaw prohibiting installation of oil and gas lines in new and substantially renovated buildings violates state law. It’s true—state preemption law does not allow cities and towns to pass energy requirements stronger than the state’s code. But cities and towns still have substantial leverage. While we work on changing state law, we have other means to get rid of fossil fuels in buildings.

For example, the passive house building standard, promoted by the Commonwealth’s own three-year energy efficiency plan, released in October 2018, is one key element. The plan includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing. Even if energy codes are unchanged, this technology is becoming too cost-effective to resist.

A passive-house building is designed to keep heat in, using super-insulation, triple-pane windows, and similar measures. It consumes about 90 percent less energy for heating and 60 percent less energy overall than a typical building and usually does not require active heating and cooling systems. The buildings also use air exchangers that use the heat produced from lighting, cooking, and other sources to warm incoming cold air.

Dozens of European cities require the passive-house standard for some new construction—particularly in Germany, where it was developed. The passive-house standard is technologically and economically feasible for both new construction and retrofitting existing buildings, even in cold climates. By definition, passive house construction can be fossil-fuel free if it uses electric heating and appliances.

It’s been slow to catch on in the US, but Massachusetts is poised to become a leader—and gearing it to low-income housing. In 2017, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, launched the Passive House Design Challenge to demonstrate that the standard can be employed at little extra cost. In 2019, the Clean Energy Center funded eight projects to the tune of $1.73 million that will build 540 units of affordable passive housing.

Joan Fitzgerald is a professor in the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Her latest book, Greenovation: Urban Leadership on Climate Change, was published by Oxford University Press in March.
» Read article

» More about better buildings      

CLEAN ENERGY

fundamentally flawed
Massachusetts set to pass landmark clean energy law to reach net-zero by 2050
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News, in Energy News Network
August 6, 2020

Massachusetts is expected to pass clean energy and climate legislation in the coming months that would require the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, dividing conservative groups and environmentalists in atypical ways.

The state House and Senate, which are both controlled by Democrats, have yet to agree on final language. But both chambers have passed bills backing the net-zero goal, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has declared that his administration is planning to meet it.

If enacted, the law would place Massachusetts among a handful of states requiring a carbon-neutral economy by midcentury.

One environmental group, Environment Massachusetts, has set itself apart from most clean energy organizations in the state by opposing the net-zero bills.

Instead of simply mandating emissions reductions and allowing for energy officials to regulate the technologies involved, the state should create 100% mandates for renewable power, electric cars and other zero-carbon technologies, the group has argued.

“The underlying framework of this bill is fundamentally flawed,” said Ben Hellerstein, the group’s state director, adding that it could “leave Massachusetts dependent on dirty energy for decades to come.”
» Read article

clean peak passes
Massachussets policy to decarbonise grid at times of peak demand gets underway
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 5, 2020

A “first-in-the-nation” policy called the Clean Peak Standard has been launched in Massachusetts, US, whereby a proportion of electricity used on the grid at times of highest demand must be considered ‘clean’.

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito’s administration announced the launch yesterday of the Standard, with Baker calling it an “innovative approach to create a cleaner and more affordable energy future for residents and businesses across the Commonwealth, while serving as a national role model for making meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”. The plan was first introduced in 2018, as part of the administration’s Bill H4857, ‘An act to advance clean energy’.
» Read article

float a loan
Floating Offshore Wind on Cusp of Unlocking Big Source of Finance, Experts Say
Non-recourse finance is the largest source of funding for offshore wind, and lenders are becoming more comfortable with floating turbines.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
August 3, 2020

A major source of finance for offshore wind projects may soon open up to the industry’s most important technological frontier: floating turbines.

Non-recourse finance, which allows lenders to be repaid from the profits of a project and have no claim over the assets of the borrower, will likely be available to upcoming floating wind projects as the market reaches an initial stage of maturity, experts say. That would help to lower the cost of projects. Non-recourse lending accounts for the majority of funding flowing to conventional European offshore wind projects today.

So far, no floating projects have secured pure non-recourse finance, “but the market is becoming ready for it,” said Clément Weber, a floating wind expert at renewable energy financial advisory firm Green Giraffe.
» Read article

» More about clean energy     

ENERGY STORAGE

Voltstorage SMART
‘World’s only’ home vanadium battery storage provider Voltstorage nets €6 million funding
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
July 31, 2020

Germany company Voltstorage, claiming to be the only developer and maker of home solar energy storage systems using vanadium flow batteries, raised €6 million (US$7.1 million) in July.

Voltstorage claims that its recyclable and non-flammable battery systems, which also enable long cycle life of charging and discharging without degradation of components or electrolyte, can become a “highly demanded ecological alternative to the lithium technology”. Its battery system, called Voltstorage SMART, was launched in 2018 and comes with 1.5kW output and 6.2kWh capacity. At the time of its launch, company founder Jakob Bitner claimed that Voltstorage had been “the first to automate the production process of redox-flow battery cells,” enabling the production of “high-quality battery cells at favourable cost”. The company also claims that around 37% less CO2 is emitted in the production of its systems versus comparable lithium-ion storage.
» Read article

» More about energy storage     

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

step away from the edge
Could Deep Sea Mining Fuel The Electric Vehicle Boom?
By MINING.com
August 3, 2020

The world is hungry for resources to power the green transition. As we increasingly look to solar, wind, geothermal and move towards decarbonization, consumption of minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper, which underpin them, is set to grow markedly.

One study by the World Bank estimates that to meet this demand, cobalt production will need to grow by 450% from 2018 to 2050, in pursuit of keeping global average temperature rises below 2°C.

The mining of any material can give rise to complex environmental and social impacts. Cobalt, however, has attracted particular attention in recent years over concerns of unsafe working conditions and labour rights abuses associated with its production.

New battery technologies are under development with reduced or zero cobalt content, but it is not yet determined how fast and by how much these technologies and circular economy innovations can decrease overall cobalt demand.

Deep-sea mining has the potential to supply cobalt and other metals free from association with such social strife, and can reduce the raw material cost and carbon footprint of much-needed green technologies.

On the other hand, concerned scientists have highlighted our limited knowledge of the deep-sea and its ecosystems. The potential impact of mining on deep-sea biodiversity, deep-sea habitats and fisheries are still being studied, and some experts have questioned the idea that environmental impacts of mining in the deep-sea can be mitigated in the same way as those on land.

In the face of this uncertainty, the European Parliament, the prime ministers of Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and more than 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining, until its potential impacts and their management methods are further investigated. [Emphasis added by blog editor.]
» Read article

sit in traffic
Environmental Advocates Call for Ban on SUV Ads
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
August 3, 2020

To meet its climate targets, the UK should ban advertisements for gas-guzzling SUVs, according to a report from a British think tank that wants to make SUVs the new smoking, as the BBC reported.

The UK has set the ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050, but that will be difficult to achieve if the public’s appetite for large, private cars does not subside.

The report, called Upselling Smoke, from New Weather Institute and climate charity Possible, says that SUV advertising should be compared to tobacco advertising, blaming the vehicles for creating a “more dangerous and toxic urban environment.”
» Read article             
» Read the New Weather Institute report

» More about clean transportation         

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Ohio scandal explained
The Ohio Utility Scandal, Explained
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
August 5, 2020

Leah Stokes, author of Short Circuiting Policy and a political science professor at University of California at Santa Barbara, has been following utilities corruption for years. Back in 2013 Stokes started looking into what utility FirstEnergy was doing in Ohio, so when Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder was arrested last month in connection with a utility bribery scandal she knew exactly what had happened. Householder was the architect of a piece of state legislation in Ohio called HB six, which passed in July 2019. That bill essentially gutted Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives and bailed out several coal and nuclear companies. It turns out it was a bill that was bought and paid for by FirstEnergy.

In this Q&A with the Drilled podcast, Stokes explains the whole sordid tale.
» Read transcript or listen to podcast 

» More about electric utilities        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Title XVII fraudEnergy Dept. Sued Over Hiding Details of Loan Guarantee for Appalachian Gas Liquids Project
DOE refuses to release documents that could shine light on how a massive petrochemical storage facility would be eligible for a nearly $2 billion loan guarantee under a clean energy program
By Food and Water Watch – press release
August 6, 2020

The national advocacy group Food & Water Watch filed suit against the Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today, charging the agency has refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to a massive loan guarantee for a fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The controversial $1.9 billion loan guarantee was sought by the Appalachian Development Group to support its plan to build a massive ethane gas liquid ‘storage hub’ in Appalachia – a project meant to stabilize feedstock prices for future petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.

The loan guarantee was sought as part of the DOE’s Title XVII program, which requires that eligible projects must meet several criteria, including a provision that facilities must “avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases.” A facility that would store ethane, a plastics feedstock derived from fracked gas, in order to utilize those gas liquids in petrochemical manufacturing would plainly not qualify on those grounds.
» Read press release             
» Read the complaint

oil due for a haircut
Exxon: 20 Percent Of Global Oil And Gas Reserves May Be Wiped Out
By Julianne Geiger, oilprice.com
August 5, 2020

After a grim Q2 season for Big Oil, the world’s third-most valuable energy company is warning that 20% of the world’s oil and gas reserves may no longer be viable, according to Bloomberg.

According to Exxon Mobil, one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves will no longer qualify as “proved reserves” at the end of this year if oil prices fail to recover before then.

A flurry of oil and gas companies have written off billions in oil and gas assets as the value of those assets in the current oil price climate is no longer what it once used to be. Exxon was not among them.

Exxon is currently reviewing its oil and gas assets, the results of which should be available by November.
» Read article

BP greening-ish
BP Reports a Huge Loss and Vows to Increase Renewable Investment
The European oil giant has plans for a future with more electrical generation.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
August 4, 2020

BP reported a $16.8 billion quarterly loss on Tuesday, and cut its dividend in half — the first reduction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago.

But what caught the attention of analysts and, apparently, investors, was the ambitious plan that Bernard Looney, the chief executive, set out for making over the London-based oil giant into a diversified purveyor of cleaner energy within a decade. BP’s share price jumped by more than 7 percent during trading Tuesday.

On a webcast with analysts Mr. Looney described a transformation plan that Stuart Joyner, an analyst at the market research firm Redburn, said in a note to clients was “major, positive, thoughtful and largely unexpected.”
» Read article

end game for oil
We have entered the “end game” for oil — with “permanent demand destruction”
What the industry denied for years, that its assets have become liabilities, has become a reality.
By Andy Rowell, Oil Price International – blog post
Photo by Pete Markham
July 30, 2020

With many countries and regions trying to open up their economies after COVID-19 lockdowns, many in the oil industry had been hoping that as hundreds of millions of people resume as normal a life as possible, demand for oil would pick up to pre-COVID levels.

This is not going to happen. The “old normal” is not coming back. As we have been repeatedly saying for months, we are witnessing the end of the oil age. Even once great giants are now crumbling at their core.

Today, oil giant Shell, a titan of the industry, revealed a net loss of USD 18.3 billion for the second quarter of this year, down from a net profit of USD 3 billion over the same period last year. This means Shell business is down USD 20 billion from last year.

Meanwhile, another titan, French oil company Total, has announced a USD 8 billion write-down on the value of its assets, including USD 7 billion from dirty Canadian tar sands Canadian operations.

The company stated, “Total now considers oil reserves with high production costs that are to be produced more than 20 years in the future to be ‘stranded.’”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels        

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG carriers
Global LNG terminal survey casts doubt on industry as ‘safe bet’
The failure rate for proposed LNG export terminal projects between 2014 and 2020 is 61 per cent, study says
By Carl Meyer, National Observer – in Terrace Standard
July 7, 2020

A new report is raising questions about the long-term viability of the liquefied natural gas export industry around the world as the Trudeau government continues to signal support for one such project in B.C.

The natural gas industry is facing multiple headwinds, from a collapse in demand due to COVID-19 disruptions, to competition from renewable energy sources, and protests against fossil fuel expansion such as those in support of Wet’suwet’en against the Coastal GasLink pipeline through B.C.

A global survey of LNG terminals released Monday by the San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor research network outlines the central risk facing the hundreds of billions of dollars in sunk investments in LNG infrastructure: That some of these structures could become underused, or stranded, long before the end of their useful lives.

“LNG was once considered a safe bet for investors,” said research analyst Greig Aitken, one of the report’s five authors. “Suddenly, the industry is beset with problems.”

[The] survey suggests that the reputation of LNG as an “environmentally benign” fuel that is less dirty than coal has been debunked by scientific studies highlighting the serious impact of methane on global warming.

Methane, a greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas, is 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Scientific studies have connected a rise in global methane levels with the fracking boom, and say this rise in atmospheric methane is undercutting efforts to hold the global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
» Read article

» More about LNG   

BIOMASS

not sustainable
The Dutch have decided: Burning biomass is not sustainable
The Netherlands should phase out the use of biomass for generating electricity as soon as possible, the advisory board of the Dutch government said in a report presented earlier this month.
By Davine Janssen’ EURACTIV.com
July 21, 2020

Biomass is an “indispensable” resource for the circular economy, but burning it is wasteful.

That is the main message of the report issued on 8 July by the Socio-Economic Council (SER), an independent advisory board of the Dutch government consisting of entrepreneurs, employees and independent experts.

In the chemical industry, the building sector and agriculture, biological materials are crucial for the transition to a circular economy, the council writes. But sustainably produced biomass is too scarce to keep using it for the production of heat or electricity, for which other low-carbon and renewable alternatives exist, the report states.

Accordingly, the billions worth of subsidies that were intended for biomass combustion plants should be phased out as well, the advisors say, calling however for measures to preserve “investment security” when designing a phase-out plan.
» Read article            

» More about biomass      

PLASTICS RECYCLING

not recycling
This ‘solution’ to the plastic crisis is really just another way to burn fossil fuels
By Joseph Winters, Grist
August 3, 2020

Amid an escalating plastic pollution crisis that threatens “near permanent contamination of the natural environment,” the fossil fuel and plastics industries say they have a not-so-surprising solution: recycling.

To be more precise, they’re advocating for “chemical” or “advanced” recycling. The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group whose members include ExxonMobil, Dow, and DuPont, has promoted state-level legislation to expand it nationwide. Policymakers have taken note, and bills easing regulations on chemical recycling facilities have already been passed in eight states and introduced in at least five more.

But environmental activists say the word “recycling” is misleading. Rather than repurposing used plastic into new plastic products, most processes that the industry calls “chemical recycling” involve turning plastic into oil and gas to be burned. In a new report criticizing the practice, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, GAIA, didn’t pull any punches, calling chemical recycling an “industry shell game” that keeps single-use plastics in production, contributes to climate change, and produces toxic chemicals that disproportionately harm marginalized communities.
» Read article           
» Read the GAIA report
» Read the no-burn.org legislative alert (includes legislation introduced in MA)

» More about plastics recycling   

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 7/17/20

banner 04

Welcome back.

Last week’s news was all about pipeline projects scuttled by fierce popular resistance, smart litigation, and economic reality. This week, proponents of big gas/oil and business-as-usual struck back by further slashing environmental regulations in the hope of greasing the skids for future projects. And with the Dakota Access Pipeline held up indefinitely, a lot more volatile crude may soon be moving by rail on trains and track near you – having never effectively addressed all those “bomb train” safety issues.

Some of the biggest banks financing fossil fuel projects are prime targets of the divestment movement. Many are also backing Rocky Mountain Institute’s new Center for Climate-Aligned Finance. The Center’s mission is to guide banks operating in carbon-heavy sectors, with the goal of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050. Conflict of interest? Environmental organizations will be watching closely.

The Biden campaign released an ambitious plan that aims to green the economy while rescuing it from the Covid-19 collapse. And while the climate reels from unchecked methane emissions – posting another record – scientists are launching a new satellite system supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning to pinpoint and track global carbon emissions in real time. This will allow direct measurement for the first time – and presents an opportunity for effective management and stronger international agreements.

Some good news in clean energy involves the rescue of rooftop solar net metering from an attempt by the shadowy New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) to move policy decisions from State to Federal jurisdiction. And now that natural gas is no longer seriously considered a clean bridge fuel, we’re facing the tricky question of how best to trim back its role in generating power and heating buildings. Massachusetts, New York, and California are leading the way.

Energy storage and clean transportation are increasingly synergistic. Expect to see robust growth in both sectors, with topped-up EVs providing storage services to the grid, and retired EV batteries finding their way into stationary storage installations – especially now that a new generation of lithium-ion batteries is expected to last much longer than a typical vehicle’s life on the road.

The fossil fuel industry is promoting “renewable” natural gas, derived from non-fossil methane sources. We offer an analysis of this niche fuel, and how it’s being used as cover for the continued use of fossil methane. Also a must-read article from the Times, discussing the huge and growing problem of methane leaks from abandoned oil and gas wells, at a time when fracking companies are failing and leaving cleanup costs to taxpayers.

The wood pellet industry is booming, thanks to policies in both Europe and the U.S. that treat woody biomass as a carbon neutral fuel. A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency may make the problem worse, and that’s bad news for the climate and forests.

We reported last week that plastics industry lobbyists had pounced on the opportunity presented by uncertainty around modes of disease transmission in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis – convincing states to roll back municipal plastic bag bans in the interest of public safety. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has now reinstated those bans, since we now understand that Covid-19 transmission from surfaces is a low risk. We close with a report on plastics in the environment – everywhere.

— The NFGiM Team

OTHER PIPELINES

orange is the new stupid
President Trump just made it harder to stop new pipelines
Trump moved to speed up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 15, 2020

President Trump today gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, a move that many environmental advocates worry will make it harder for people to have a say in how major infrastructure projects would affect them. The new rules speed up permitting for large infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways by truncating the environmental review process.

Environmental reviews are designed to figure out if a project will significantly change the environment around the project in some way. The process can take years and involves scientific studies, intense analysis, and time for the public to comment on the proposals. The new rules, first proposed in January, limit the timeline for environmental reviews to two years — even though the process frequently takes twice as long. The changes would also allow projects that aren’t primarily federally funded to bypass the environmental reviews entirely. The revised rules also permit federal agencies to ignore climate change when making their assessments.

NEPA helped Native American tribes and pipeline opponents secure recent victories. A federal judge decided in March that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated NEPA in granting a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and earlier this month ordered the pipeline to shut down pending an environmental review. Pipeline opponents successfully asserted in 2018 that developers of the Keystone XL pipeline violated NEPA.

While today’s changes won’t affect pipeline decisions that have already been made, environmental advocates and attorneys argue that it will become harder for people to contest a major new infrastructure project in the future.
» Read article          

Return of the Bomb Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 12, 2020

On July 6th Reuters published an article on the potential for a resurgence of moving crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota across the country by rail, due to a judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline over permit issues.

July 6th also was the 7th anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec when a train full of Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded — resulting in 47 fatalities and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic.

And while the timing was just coincidence, it is a stark reminder of the dangers of moving Bakken crude (and Canadian crude) oil by rail and the risks that a resurgence of this industry poses to the 25 million people living along the tracks these oil trains traverse.

After the Lac-Mégantic disaster, regulators in Canada and the U.S. worked to put in place new safety regulations to prevent another such disaster from happening. However, as we have documented here on DeSmog and in my book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk, the oil and rail industries have effectively blocked or forced the repeal of any meaningful safety regulations.

Regulations for modern electronically controlled pneumatic brakes were repealed by the Trump administration. State regulations to require the volatile Bakken oil to be stabilized to remove the natural gas liquids in the crude oil that make it so dangerous were overruled by the Trump administration.

There still are no regulations about rail track wear and replacement even though track failure is a leading cause of train derailments and is suspected of causing the two most recent oil train derailments that resulted in large spills and fires. There still are no regulations on the length of the trains, even though longer trains derail more often and train operators — the men and women driving the trains — say that longer trains are harder to operate.

And the new tank cars that were supposed to be safer have failed in every major oil and ethanol train derailment they have been involved in to date.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines              

DIVESTMENT

RMI bedfellows
JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs back launch of climate finance center
By Dan Ennis, Utility Dive
July 15, 2020

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy nonprofit, launched the Center for Climate-Aligned Finance on Thursday with financial backing from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs.

With the goal of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, the center aims to collaborate with banks to design guidance for working with carbon-heavy sectors such as steel or utilities, and to help banks determine which climate benchmarks and data to follow.

Banks are increasingly seeing the value — not just in optics but in revenue — of environmentally responsible investment.

Paul Bodnar, chair of the center and managing director of the institute, said the Poseidon Principles, which encourage financing of more environmentally friendly shipping vehicles, influenced the center’s creation.

“One sector provides the lifeblood that powers all the others, and that is finance,” he told American Banker.

Climate activists indicated the center is an initiative to watch.

“It could drive real steps toward banks aligning with 1.5°C,” Jason Opeña Disterhoft, senior climate and energy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement emailed to Banking Dive, referring to a goal of limiting global temperature increase. “But it could also be used as an excuse for banks to keep supporting the world’s worst climate polluters.

“The four founding partner banks include three of the top four fossil banks in the world, and together are responsible for more than $700 billion in fossil financing since Paris,” he added. “The four of them bank a clear majority of the companies doing the most to expand oil, gas and coal.”
» Read article           https://www.utilitydive.com/news/jpmorgan-bank-of-america-wells-fargo-goldman-sachs-back-launch-of-climat/581599/

» More about divestment      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

build back better
Biden’s $2 Trillion Climate Plan Promotes Union Jobs, Electric Cars and Carbon-Free Power
The former vice president linked a new green economy with America’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, saying the nation needs to “Build Back Better.”
By Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers, Ilana Cohen, Judy Fahys, and Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
July 15, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion clean economy jobs program Tuesday that marked a significant expansion in his plan for tackling climate change, with jobs-creation and environmental justice as its pillars.

With a blue “Build Back Better” placard on his lectern, the former vice president sought to signal that the coronavirus crisis will not displace the imperative to act on climate. Instead, he framed the immediate and long-term crises as linked, requiring the same sort of government intervention: a massive program to ramp up electric vehicles, carbon-free power and energy efficiency throughout the economy.
» Read article          

» More about greening the economy            

CLIMATE

TRACE by COP-26
The entire world’s carbon emissions will finally be trackable in real time
The new Climate TRACE Coalition is assembling the data and running the AI.
By David Roberts, Vox
July 16, 2020

There’s an old truism in the business world: what gets measured gets managed. One of the challenges in managing the greenhouse gas emissions warming the atmosphere is that they aren’t measured very well.

“Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” says Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Without this information “you cannot devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions,” she says, and “you cannot track them to see if you are making progress against your goals.”

The lack of good data also complicates international climate negotiations. “It’s frustrating that nearly three decades after countries committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to publish national GHG emissions inventories, we still don’t have recent, comprehensive, and consistent inventories for all countries,” says Taryn Fransen of the World Resources Institute.

The ultimate solution to this problem — the killer app, as it were — would be real-time tracking of all global greenhouse gases, verified by objective third parties, and available for free to the public.

When countries began meeting under the UNFCCC in the mid-1990s, that vision was speculative science fiction. It was basically regarded as science fiction when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. But science moves quickly — in particular, artificial intelligence, the ability to rapidly integrate multiple data sources, has advanced rapidly in recent years.

Now, a new alliance of climate research groups called the Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition has launched an effort to make the vision a reality, and they’re aiming to have it ready for COP26, the climate meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 (postponed from November 2020). If they pull it off, it could completely change the tenor and direction of international climate talks.
» Read article          

no peak for methane
Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High
Scientists expect emissions, driven by fossil fuels and agriculture, to continue rising rapidly.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 14, 2020

Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday.

And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects.

The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals, underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning.

“There’s a hint that we might be able to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions very soon. But we don’t appear to be even close to peak methane,” said Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford University who heads the Global Carbon Project, which conducted the research. “It isn’t going down in agriculture, it isn’t going down with fossil fuel use.”
» Read article          

number cooker
G.A.O.: Trump Boosts Deregulation by Undervaluing Cost of Climate Change
The Government Accountability Office has found that the Trump administration is undervaluing the cost of climate change to boost its deregulatory efforts.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 14, 2020

A federal report released on Tuesday found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates. Reducing that metric, known as the “social cost of carbon,” has helped the administration massage cost-benefit analyses, particularly for rules that allow power plants and automobiles to emit more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
» Read article          
» Obtain GAO report          

Maureen Raymo
She’s an Authority on Earth’s Past. Now, Her Focus Is the Planet’s Future.
The climate scientist Maureen Raymo is leading the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia. She has big plans for science, and diversity, too.
By John Schwartz, New York Times
July 10, 2020

Columbia University is taking new steps to make climate change, which has been studied there for decades, an even more prominent part of the school’s mission. And Maureen Raymo is a big part of that.

On July 1, Dr. Raymo, one of the world’s leading oceanographers and climate scientists, became interim director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Founded in 1949 and perched on hills overlooking the Hudson River 18 miles north of Manhattan, the observatory has been one of the world’s leading centers of scientific exploration into earth sciences and climate change. It was a Lamont researcher, Wallace Broecker, who brought the term “global warming” to public attention in a landmark 1975 paper.

And while there are more women represented at Lamont today than when Dr. Raymo was a graduate student there in the 1980s, she comes to her leadership position at a time when addressing other issues of diversity and equity in the field, and within the institution, is overdue.

Having experienced discrimination in her own career, she said an important way to address it is to “get into a position where you can change things.” She has dedicated fans among Lamont students, who value not just her scientific prowess but also her attention to social justice issues.
» Read article          

rescue debate
A Rescue Plan for the Planet? Watch Our Debate Here.
A virtual event with eight speakers and one question: Has Covid-19 created a blueprint for combating climate change?
By The New York Times
July 10, 2020

The devastation of Covid-19 has forced swift and startling change around the globe. To combat the coronavirus, governments poured money into rescue programs, companies adapted their goals and production, central banks permitted exceptional stimulus packages and many societies mobilized to shield the most vulnerable.

The New York Times hosted a debate on July 9, 2020, to explore the hard-earned lessons of Covid-19 and how to apply them to climate change. Have these dramatic actions against the coronavirus given us a blueprint for mobilization against climate change? Is this an opportunity for a new path forward that puts accelerated climate solutions at its center?
» Watch debate          

» More about climate               

CLEAN ENERGY

NERA path still open
FERC shuts down petition to upend net metering, McNamee signals issue could return
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 17, 2020

The New England Ratepayers Association’s (NERA) petition was opposed by a wide swath of industry leaders, environmentalists, bipartisan government officials, legal experts and others. In total, almost 50,000 groups and individuals issued comments in opposition, while just 21 supported it.

“NERA’s petition to attack rooftop solar investments and gut energy savings during a health and financial crisis was ill-conceived,” Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, said in a statement. Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors drove over 20,000 comments in opposition to the petition by the filing deadline.

FERC dismissed the NERA petition on the grounds that the group was unable to point to a particular harm.

Instead, NERA “asked the commission to make certain jurisdictional determinations regarding energy sales from rooftop solar facilities, and other distributed generation located on the customer side of the retail meter,” said Chatterjee. “Declaratory orders to terminate a controversy, or remove uncertainty, are discretionary. We exercise that discretion today and find that the issues presented in the petition do not warrant a generic statement from the commission at this time.”

But NERA saw the commission’s order and the two commissioner’s concurrence statements as a sign the issue could be raised again.

“While we are disappointed by FERC’s decision to dismiss our [p]etition on procedural grounds this issue is far from resolved,” Marc Brown, president of NERA, said in a statement. “FERC demonstrably leaves the door open for NERA to address the concerns raised by the Commissioners in its order.”
» Read article          

scripting the endgameThe Natural Gas Divide
States are confronting the future of gas in buildings — and facing a set of high-stakes questions.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
July 15, 2020

In early June, the attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, filed a petition with state utility regulators advising them to investigate the future of natural gas in the Commonwealth. Healey described the urgent need to figure out how the gas industry, which helps heat millions of homes throughout freezing Northeastern winters, fits into the state’s plan to zero-out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — especially considering the fuels burned for indoor heating and hot water are responsible for about a third of the state’s carbon footprint.

Eliminating emissions from this sector means venturing into uncharted waters. While many states are rapidly developing wind and solar farms to cut carbon from their electric grids, few are tackling the thornier challenge of reducing the gas burned in buildings. Officials in California and New York, which both have binding economy-wide net-zero emissions laws, have recently come to the same conclusion as Healey: Meeting state climate goals is going to require changes to the way gas utilities are regulated. Earlier this year, both states opened up precisely the kind of investigation that Healey is requesting in Massachusetts.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, has long been called a “bridge” to a cleaner energy future because burning it has a much lower carbon footprint than burning coal or oil. But research has called that narrative into question by showing that methane leaking across the natural gas supply chain raises its climate impact significantly. Recent developments have called the economics of natural gas into question, too: In early July, the developers of the high-profile Atlantic Coast Pipeline decided to abandon the project after an onslaught of lawsuits made the pipeline too expensive to build.

California, Massachusetts, and New York haven’t decided whether — or to what extent — natural gas can remain in their energy mixes. But the point of these investigations is much larger than those questions. There’s no established roadmap for managing the transition to zero-emissions buildings, and there are serious consequences to getting it wrong — huge cost burdens on residents, mass layoffs and bankruptcies at utilities, and of course, climate disaster.
» Read article          

pushing 2836
Massachusetts lawmakers face pressure to pass 100% renewable bill this session
Gov. Charlie Baker supports a goal of net-zero by 2050, but a growing list of stakeholders say that’s not good enough.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Timothy Vollmer, Flickr / Creative Commons
July 15, 2020

As the end of Massachusetts’ state legislative session draws near, activists, municipal officials, businesses, and civic organizations are urging lawmakers to take action on a bill that would require a 100% renewable electricity transition by 2045 — and making plans for next steps if the measure is not passed this year.

“We want to make sure that this year does not go by without strong and decisive action on clean energy at the Statehouse,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in January committed to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Many, however, argue that this target will be impossible to hit without stronger measures to accelerate the switch to renewable energy. If current standards are not changed, the transition to clean energy would not be complete until the turn of the next century.

To address this disparity, state Rep. Marjorie Decker and state Rep. Sean Garballey sponsored a bill (H.2836) that calls for all the state’s electricity to be renewably sourced by 2035, and all energy used for transportation and heating to be renewable by 2045.
» Read article          
» Read Bill H.2836

» More about clean energy               

ENERGY STORAGE

energy storage second life
California Awards $10.8M to Reuse EV Batteries in Solar & Microgrid Projects
By Elisa Wood, Microgrid Knowledge
July 15, 2020

The California Energy Commission (CEC) awarded $10.8 million to four projects that will explore repurposing used batteries from electric vehicles (EV), partly to support microgrids.

The awards approved in meetings in June and July stemmed from a solicitation for research and development projects showing how used batteries could cost-effectively integrate solar at small-to-medium commercial buildings.

With a goal of having 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, the commission is looking for ways to give degraded car batteries a second life. Typically, EV batteries are retired when they lose 70 percent to 80 percent of their capacity. However, they can be used for other applications like energy storage.
» Read article          

841 upheld
‘Enormous Step’ for Energy Storage as Court Upholds FERC Order 841, Opening Wholesale Markets
Federal regulators — not utilities and states — get to decide how batteries engage in transmission-scale power markets, the appeals court rules.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
July 10, 2020

In a victory for the energy storage industry, a federal appeals court has upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841, clearing the way for transmission grid operators across the country to open their markets to energy storage, including aggregated batteries connected at the distribution grid or behind customers’ meters.

Friday’s court opinion (PDF) declared that FERC has jurisdiction over how energy storage interacts with the interstate transmission markets it regulates, even if those systems are interconnected to the grid under regulations set by the states.

The court also rejected arguments by utility groups and state utility regulators seeking to opt out of allowing energy storage resources (ESRs) to participate under Order 841, which allows for units as small as 100 kilowatts to access wholesale markets.

Instead, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with FERC’s contention that “[k]eeping the gates open to all types of ESRs — regardless of their interconnection points in the electric energy systems — ensures that technological advances in energy storage are fully realized in the marketplace, and efficient energy storage leads to greater competition, thereby reducing wholesale rates.”
» Read article          
» Read the Circuit Court opinion

» More about energy storage             

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

dig this
Next Up for Electrification: Heavy-Duty Trucks and Construction Machinery
Electrified transport is not just about cars anymore, as California’s landmark Advanced Clean Trucks regulation shows.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
July 13, 2020

Electric models of work trucks, commercial vehicles, and construction machinery are hitting the market in greater numbers than ever before, and policymakers are growing increasingly optimistic about the sector. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s powerful air quality regulator, voted last month to require that every new truck sold in the state by 2045 be zero-emission, with truck makers forced to begin the transition in 2024.

Part of the challenge in electrifying transportation is simply getting enough good models on the market to attract customers and foster competition. In that realm, things are advancing: By 2023, there will be 19 all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell versions of heavy-duty trucks in production in North America, up from five Class 8 models available today, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

In Europe, meanwhile, there are early signs of progress on electrifying off-road construction equipment, with electric versions of excavators, loads and dumpers now available from a range of manufacturers including Hitachi, Komatsu and Volvo. Oslo launched the world’s first zero-emission construction site last year, and Norway’s capital city has mandated that by 2025 all public construction sites will operate only zero-emission construction machinery.
» Read article        

» More about clean transportation             

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

greenwashing RNG
Report: Push for Renewable Natural Gas Is More Gas Industry ‘Greenwashing’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2020

“Renewable natural gas,” or RNG, is an alternative gas fuel that comes from landfills, manure, or synthetic processes. That’s opposed to the fossil gas that drillers traditionally pump out of underground reserves in oil and gas fields.

With “renewable” in the name, it may sound like a promising alternative to the fossil-based “natural” gas commonly used for heating and cooking in buildings. According to a new report from Earthjustice and Sierra Club, however, these fuels pitched as “renewable ” and environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil gas amount to a PR campaign meant to distract from efforts to convert the building sector to all electric power.

The report, published July 14, argues that RNG is an example of fossil fuel industry greenwashing and is not a viable solution for simply replacing fossil gas in buildings. According to the report, RNG is touted by gas utilities for the purpose of countering building electrification policies that restrict the use of gas in buildings for uses like heating, hot water, and cooking. Converting buildings to all-electric usage is recognized as a key climate strategy to shift away from fossil fuels, because electricity can be generated from a variety of sources that do not produce globe-warming emissions.
» Read article          
» Read the report

MDC methane leak
Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears
Oil and gas companies are hurtling toward bankruptcy, raising fears that wells will be left leaking planet-warming pollutants, with cleanup cost left to taxpayers.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2020

Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up.

Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.

The industry’s decline may be just beginning. Almost 250 oil and gas companies could file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next year, more than the previous five years combined, according to Rystad Energy, an analytics company. Rystad analysts now expect oil demand will begin falling permanently by decade’s end as renewable energy costs decline, energy efficiency improves, and efforts to fight climate change diminish an industry that has spent the past decade drilling thousands of wells, transforming the United States into the biggest oil producer in the world.

The environmental consequences of the industry’s collapse would be severe.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels                   

BIOMASS

pellet boom
The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.
Trump’s EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring burning biomass to be carbon neutral, as industry looks to expand its domestic markets.
By James Bruggers, InsideClimate News
July 13, 2020

In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them.

On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia.

While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it’s still boom time.

The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of the U.S. Congress, is expected to propose securing that loophole with a new rule that details how burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, at least in the United States.

The industry wants to see regulations that will keep their businesses growing, including expanding U.S. energy markets that now barely exist. But some scientists and environmental groups argue that new EPA rules that are favorable to the industry would put the climate at further risk, along with forest ecosystems across biologically rich landscapes.
» Read article        

» More about biomass              

PLASTIC BAG BANS

reusable bags OK again in MA
Environmental groups hail Baker’s lift on reusable bags, and plastic bag ban suspension
By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
July 11, 2020

Shoppers once again can bring their own reusable bags to grocery stores and pharmacies and no longer will have the option to use single-use plastic bags in places with municipal bans on them.

Environmental groups are thrilled. They have been wary of what they say is an opportunistic plastics industry that, early on, used the coronavirus pandemic to stoke fear about the safety of reusable bags in an attempt to kill plastic bag bans.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday rescinded his March 10 emergency order that temporarily lifted the ban on plastic bags supplied in stores to protect the public and essential workers from infection with the coronavirus, back when there was less certainty about the risk of catching the virus from touching surfaces.
» Read article       

» More about plastic bans             

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

serious situation
‘Our life is plasticized’: New research shows microplastics in our food, water, air
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
July 15, 2020

In 1997, Charles Moore was sailing a catamaran from Hawaii to California when he and his crew got stuck in windless waters in the North Pacific Ocean. As they motored along, searching for a breeze to fill their sails, Moore noticed that the ocean was speckled with “odd bits and flakes,” as he describes it in his book, Plastic Ocean. It was plastic: drinking bottles, fishing nets, and countless pieces of broken-down objects.

“It wasn’t an eureka moment … I didn’t come across a mountain of trash,” Moore told Mongabay. “But there was this feeling of unease that this material had got [as] far from human civilization as it possibly could.”

Moore, credited as the person who discovered what’s now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, returned to the same spot two years later on a citizen science mission. When he and his crew collected water samples, they found that, along with larger “macroplastics,” the seawater was swirling with tiny plastic particles: microplastics, which are defined as anything smaller than 5 millimeters but bigger than 1 micron, which is 1/1000th of a millimeter. Microplastics can form when larger pieces of plastics break down into small particles, or when tiny, microscopic fibers detach from polyester clothing or synthetic fishing gear. Other microplastics are deliberately manufactured, such as the tiny plastic beads in exfoliating cleaners.

“That’s when we really had the eureka moment,” Moore said. “When we pulled in that first trawl, which was outside of what we thought was going to be the center [of the gyre], and found it was full of plastic. Then we realized, ‘Wow, this is a serious situation.’”

Plastic waste isn’t just leaking into the ocean; it’s also polluting freshwater systems and even raining or snowing down from the sky after getting absorbed into the atmosphere, according to another study led by Steve and Deonie Allen. With microplastics being so ubiquitous, it should come as no surprise that they are also present in the food and water we drink.
» Read article       

» More about plastics in the environment      

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!