Tag Archives: Paris

Weekly News Check-In 3/26/21

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week’s news with a toot of our own horn, thanks to Danny Jin’s excellent reporting on the growing momentum behind BEAT’s campaign to replace polluting peaking power plants with renewables and battery storage. Please join the effort by signing our petition!

The Weymouth compressor station fight appears to be developing into something of a test case at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is beginning to focus on fossil project climate impacts for the first time. We use that framework to explore a couple potential effects: the impact on the broader U.S. natural gas industry, and the tie-in with another controversial project in Canada – the Goldboro LNG export terminal.

We’re exploring the fascinating contest between Michigan’s Governor Whitmer and environmental allies, vs Enbridge, Canada, and a good chunk of the oil industry, over Michigan’s recent demand the shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline – the aging section crossing under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Amy Westervelt of Drilled News offers an excellent podcast dive into the fossil fuel industry’s continuing efforts to criminalize nonviolent civil protest. Related to all those protests, the divestment movement has taken off – but big banks are still financing polluters to a shocking degree.

We have late-breaking news that Governor Charlie Baker signed landmark climate legislation into law just before we posted. As Massachusetts moves forward, we’re also keeping an eye on broader efforts to green the economy. We found a report explaining why skepticism is in order when considering big-polluter claims to go net-zero, and also some encouraging news about the greening of some aquaculture operations – a good thing since a new climate report shows that ocean trawling for fish releases as much carbon as emitted by the global aviation industry.

As usual, we can take a breather and enjoy some good news in our clean energy section, including a report on the multiple benefits of covering open canals and aquaducts with solar panels – a huge opportunity in southern California. The news is a bit more sobering as we consider home energy efficiency and electrification, and look at the current shortage of contractors with up-to-date skills. And likewise in clean transportation, where we’re reminded that heavy future reliance on personal electric vehicles, without reducing miles driven, would still be a problem.

Springfield’s City Council has enlisted the support of the Conservation Law Foundation in its fight against Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass plant. Meanwhile, across the pond, the Dutch have signaled it’s time to end biomass subsidies, ahead of the critical review in June of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). The EU must decide whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

We wrap up with a look at plastics, health, and the environment, along with a youtube video of comedian John Oliver’s deep dive into how the plastics industry convinced us to think we could simply recycle our way out of trouble. It’s pretty rude, but to the point.

   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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


BEAT’s ‘peaker’ campaign draws local support, statewide allies
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
March 20, 2021

In its campaign to convert three local power plants to less-polluting alternatives, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has added local supporters as well as allies across the state.

The “peaker” power plants in Pittsfield and Lee burn [gas, oil, and kerosene]. They serve to meet peak electricity demand — during the hottest summer days, for instance — but rank among the oldest and most polluting plants, disproportionately impacting neighborhoods that already have experienced significant pollution.

More than 10 local groups have joined the coalition opposing the operation of the three plants, and a petition to close them has reached about 200 signatures, said Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative.

“When we put up flyers in the afternoon, you see signatures by the evening,” Wessel said.

As a plan to transition Massachusetts to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 appears set to become law, Wessel said the state’s long-term climate goals align with a move away from fossil fuel-burning plants.

“That’s another argument for us: to switch over before they’re forced to shut down and become extinct,” Wessel said. “It’s a win-win for the companies, and we would get cleaner air sooner.”

The two plants in Pittsfield are on Merrill Road and Doreen Street, and the plant in Lee is on Woodland Road.

Wessel said BEAT has contacted the owners and operators of the plants but has not received a response. The California-headquartered IHI Power Services Corp. runs the Merrill Road plant, and Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix acquired the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants in 2016.

BEAT is pushing for battery storage as a cleaner alternative for peak demand, especially if paired with solar or wind energy. Wessel said BEAT wants to have a conversation with companies to see which storage incentives they might qualify for. The Clean Peak Energy Standard and the ConnectedSolutions program, for example, aim to cut costs and reduce emissions.

The Merrill Road plant is near Allendale Elementary School and Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state has designated an “environmental justice” area. Doreen Street is by Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road is at the edge of October Mountain State Forest.
» Read article               
» Sign the petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaking power plants!

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Why A Federal Order In The Weymouth Compressor Case Has The Natural Gas World Worried
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 19, 2021

In the six years since Massachusetts residents began fighting a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, the controversial and now-operational project has mostly been an issue of local concern. Not anymore.

As a challenge to the compressor station’s permit to operate winds its way through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — the agency in charge of approving interstate energy projects — some on the five-person body have signaled that they’re no longer interested in doing business as usual.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the commission began what some FERC experts are calling “a seemingly unprecedented” review process that not only raises questions about the future of the Weymouth Compressor, but has many in the gas industry worried about the fate of their current and future projects.

At the simplest level, this case is about whether FERC should hold a hearing to relitigate the Weymouth Compressor’s license to operate, known as a “service authorization order.” This happens all the time when project opponents appeal a FERC decision.

But two things make this situation unique: the potential precedent it could set, and the fact that FERC has a new commissioner who has promised to give more weight to climate change and environmental justice concerns.

The Weymouth Compressor was designed to be the linchpin of a large interstate gas pipeline system called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The project connects two pipelines and allows fracked natural gas from western Pennsylvania to flow through New Jersey and New England, and into Maine and eastern Canada for local distribution.

Though no public opinion polling about the compressor exists, there is intense opposition to it here in Massachusetts. From activists groups like the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) and Mothers Out Front, to elected officials, the anti-compressor movement here is vocal and visible.
» Read article                

Braintree Pays $20K For Air Quality Monitors At Fore River Plant
Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the area.
By Jimmy Bentley, Patch
March 19, 2021

Braintree will contribute $20,000 to help pay for an air quality monitoring system near the controversial natural gas plant along the Fore River.

Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the river basin’s communities, including Braintree, Weymouth, Quincy and Hingham.

Residents and elected officials in Braintree, Hingham, Quincy and Weymouth have expressed concern and have opposed Enbridge’s compressor station. Elected officials, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, also came out against the plant after an emergency shut down where 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas was released at the facility. There have been numerous protests outside the plant’s [construction] site and several arrests.

But Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Katie Gronendyke said upon the final approval that the project met all state and federal safety regulations, and that the project had passed air-quality testing impact assessments. Enbridge has also maintained that safety is their priority.

With state regulators approving the plant, Braintree joined Quincy, Hingham, the Ten Persons Group and the Ten Citizens Group in appealing the plant’s approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in federal court. The motion was filed last month in the U.S. 1st District Court of Appeals.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES


Gov. Whitmer offers propane plan for Upper Peninsula after Line 5 shutdown
By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
March 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration released its plan Friday to heat Michigan homes without depending on the Line 5 oil pipeline to deliver propane.

The plan calls for millions of dollars of investment in rail infrastructure and storage to help wean propane suppliers off the pipeline, plus other programs to reduce propane demand, help low-income customers pay their propane bills, and increase the state’s ability to monitor propane supplies.

The plan was praised by environmental groups, Native American tribes and others opposing Enbridge Line 5. But an Enbridge spokesperson called the plan “wholly inadequate” and at least one propane supplier raised doubts about whether it will adequately replace the propane currently supplied by the pipeline.

Whitmer has given Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy until May 13 to stop transporting oil through the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, citing concerns that the aging underwater pipeline poses an “unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

Much of the plan to replace Line 5 relies on grant programs Whitmer has written into her 2022 budget proposal, meaning it may require legislative approval.  Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

But the plan also notes that some propane suppliers have begun to independently wean themselves off Line 5 since Whitmer made the shutdown order in November.

Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis Parisio told Bridge Michigan the governor “is looking forward to discussions with the legislature and is hopeful that we can reach bipartisan support for her budget recommendations.”

In an interview Friday, Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps said the plan will put Michigan “in a good place for next winter and for whatever market changes arise.”
» Read article               
» Read the MI Propane Security Plan               


Ohio, Louisiana argue against Line 5 shutdown in federal court
By Garret Ellison, mlive.com
March 22, 2021

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is asking a federal judge in Grand Rapids to block Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s effort to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, arguing on behalf of Ohio refineries and the state of Louisiana that closing the submerged oil line would have economic impact beyond Michigan.

Yost filed an amicus brief on Friday, March 19 in the case Enbridge brought against Whitmer last fall, which is pending before Judge Janet Neff in the Western District of Michigan. The case is scheduled to begin mediation in April.

In the brief, Yost argues that closing the pipeline segment under the Straits of Mackinac would cause economic hardship for businesses supplied by the pipeline.

In November, Whitmer announced termination of the 1953 easement that allows the pipeline to cross the lakebed where lakes Michigan and Huron connect. She gave Enbridge until May 12 to stop the oil flow, a deadline the company says it won’t comply with absent a court order.

“Ohio refineries, their employees, and key industrial stakeholders directly rely on Line 5′s crude oil supply, and its economic effects are strongly felt in the Buckeye State and beyond,” Yost wrote. “Ohio, joined by Louisiana, respectfully urges the court to carefully balance protections for both the environment and the economic health of individuals and businesses on both sides of the border by allowing Line 5 to continue to operate safely.”

Case documents indicate Michigan opposes the motion but the state has not yet filed a reply.

Enbridge allies have mounted a full-throated defense of the controversial pipeline this year. Canadian government and business officials are lobbying the Biden Administration to intercede in Whitmer’s decision and are threatening to invoke a 1977 treaty governing the operation of cross-border pipelines unless Michigan backpedals the closure order.

Seamus O’Regan, Canadian natural resources minister, told a parliament committee earlier this month that the pipeline’s operation is “non-negotiable.”

The 68-year-old, 645-mile pipeline runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan. It is a key part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network that carries light crude and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac. Its existence has caused escalating concern since another Enbridge pipeline caused a massive oil spill in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River.

Because the pipeline crosses both Michigan peninsulas and many waterways, opponents see little benefit but substantial risk for the state from its existence and dismiss economic concerns around its closure as overblown.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Another Line 3 Battleground: free speech
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
March 20, 2021

We’ve covered the ongoing, fossil fuel-backed push to criminalize protest before. In 2017, Oklahoma passed the first of these bills, specifically citing the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Then American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), the trade group for refineries and petrochemical facilities, crafted sample legislation based on the Oklahoma bill, and pushed the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) to adopt it. In 2020 , the Covid-19 pandemic slowed things down a bit, but in 2021 things are speeding up. In January, Ohio passed a bill that’s been debated for years, bringing the total number of states with so-called “critical infrastructure laws” in place to 14.

What’s defined as critical infrastructure varies a bit from state to state, but pipelines are always included; penalties range, too, but across the board these laws increase both the criminal and financial penalties of protest, potentially landing protestors in jail for years with fines up to $150,000. It’s worth noting that all of these states have trespassing and property damage laws already, it’s not as though those things have been going unpunished; the new laws merely make the consequences much tougher. They also add penalties for organizers and organizing entities. In Montana, for example, a proposed bill would fine organizations up to a million dollars for being involved in protest.

All of which comes into play in Minnesota, where the fight against Line 3 is underway. There are currently six bills under consideration in the state, packaged into four legislative packages. If any of them pass, not only could protestors be facing stiffer penalties but also the organizations involved, most of them led by Native women, could find themselves slapped with large fines too.

In this interview, researcher Connor Gibson walks us through the origin of these laws, why they’re picking up steam, and what to expect this year.
» Listen to podcast, “How the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Undermining Free Speech”

» More about protests and actions               

DIVESTMENT

Big banks’ trillion-dollar finance for fossil fuels ‘shocking’, says report
Coal, oil and gas firms have received $3.8tn in finance since the Paris climate deal in 2015
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
March 24, 2021

The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of NGOs.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking”.

Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2C, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.

US and Canadian banks make up 13 of the 60 banks analysed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.

Overall financing dipped by 9% in pandemic-hit 2020, but funding for the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest expansion plans actually rose by 10%. Citi was the biggest financier of these 100 companies in 2020.

A commitment to be net zero by 2050 has been made by 17 of the 60 banks, but the report describes the pledges as “dangerously weak, half-baked, or vague”, arguing that action is needed today. Some banks have policies that block finance for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but almost two-thirds of funding is for oil and gas companies.

The report’s authors said targeting of banks by campaigners and activist shareholders could help change bank policies but that action by governments was also needed.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

Baker intends to sign climate and emissions bill
By Chris Lisinski, WWLP
March 25, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he plans to sign into law a sweeping climate policy bill the Legislature approved last week after vetoing an earlier version in January.

Asked as he departed a press conference if he would approve the climate bill, Baker replied with one-word: “Yes.” A spokesperson for his office then confirmed his intent to sign the legislation.

The landmark proposal aims to craft a path toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions statewide by 2050 by setting interim targets for emissions reductions, establishing energy efficiency standards for appliances and addressing the needs of environmental justice communities. Baker vetoed the original version of the bill, approved at the end of the 2019-2020 lawmaking session, in January over concerns that it could limit housing production and did not do enough to help cities and towns adapt to the effects of climate change effects.

Lawmakers passed the legislation a second time and then adopted many of Baker’s sought changes, though they did not agree to some of his more substantial amendments, such as a lower emissions-reduction milestone for 2030.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides signaled after the bill’s passage that the administration was happy with the amendments. Business groups NAIOP and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce have recently announced support for the bill after previously expressing hesitation. Baker has until Sunday to act on the climate bill.
» Read article            

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Why Companies’ ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions Pledges Should Trigger a Healthy Dose of Skepticism
By Oliver Miltenberger, The University of Melbourne and Matthew D. Potts, University of California, Berkeley, The Conversation, republished in DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2021

Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?

As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.

The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper.

The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.

Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.

Environmentalists may welcome Shell’s newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
» Read article            


That Salmon on Your Plate Might Have Been a Vegetarian
Pescatarians take note: Farmed fish are eating more veggies and less wild fish, according to new research. That’s good news for nature.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
March 24, 2021

Twenty years ago, as farmed salmon and shrimp started spreading in supermarket freezers, came an influential scientific paper that warned of an environmental mess: Fish farms were gobbling up wild fish stocks, spreading disease and causing marine pollution.

This week, some of the same scientists who published that report issued a new paper concluding that fish farming, in many parts of the world, at least, is a whole lot better. The most significant improvement, they said, was that farmed fish were not being fed as much wild fish. They were being fed more plants, like soy.

In short, the paper found, farmed fish like salmon and trout had become mostly vegetarians.

Synthesizing hundreds of research papers carried out over the last 20 years across the global aquaculture industry, the latest study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The findings have real-world implications for nutrition, jobs and biodiversity. Aquaculture is a source of income for millions of small-scale fishers and revenue for fish-exporting countries. It is also vital if the world’s 7.75 billion people want to keep eating fish and shellfish without draining the ocean of wild fish stocks and marine biodiversity.

At the same time, there have long been concerns among some environmentalists about aquaculture’s effects on natural habitats.

The new paper found promising developments, but also lingering problems. And it didn’t quite inform the average fish-eater what they should eat more of — or avoid.
» Read article              
» Read the original study
» Read the new aquaculture study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE


Trawling for Fish May Unleash as Much Carbon as Air Travel, Study Says
The report also found that strategically conserving some marine areas would not only safeguard imperiled species but sequester vast amounts planet-warming carbon dioxide, too.
By Catrin Einhorn, New York Times
March 17, 2021

For the first time, scientists have calculated how much planet-warming carbon dioxide is released into the ocean by bottom trawling, the practice of dragging enormous nets along the ocean floor to catch shrimp, whiting, cod and other fish. The answer: As much as global aviation releases into the air.

While preliminary, that was one of the most surprising findings of a groundbreaking new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The study offers what is essentially a peer-reviewed, interactive road map for how nations can confront the interconnected crises of climate change and wildlife collapse at sea.

It follows similar recent research focused on protecting land, all with a goal of informing a global agreement on biodiversity to be negotiated this autumn in Kunming, China.

Protecting strategic zones of the world’s oceans from fishing, drilling and mining would not only safeguard imperiled species and sequester vast amounts of carbon, the researchers found, it would also increase overall fish catch, providing more healthy protein to people.

“It’s a triple win,” said Enric Sala, a marine biologist who directs National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. Dr. Sala led the study’s team of 26 biologists, climate scientists and economists.

How much and what parts of the ocean to protect depends on how much value is assigned to each of the three possible benefits: biodiversity, fishing and carbon storage.

Trisha Atwood, an aquatic ecologist at Utah State University who was one of the study’s authors, compared trawling to cutting down forests for agriculture.

“It’s wiping out biodiversity, it’s wiping out things like deep sea corals that take hundreds of years to grow,” Dr. Atwood said. “And now what this study shows is that it also has this other kind of unknown impact, which is that it creates a lot of CO2.”
» Read article               
» Read the study


We have turned the Amazon into a net greenhouse gas emitter: Study
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
March 19, 2021

Something is wrong in the lungs of the world. Decades of burning, logging, mining and development have tipped the scales, and now the Amazon Basin may be emitting more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

Most of the conversation about climate change is dominated by carbon dioxide. While CO2 plays a critical role in the complex climate equation, other forces such as methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and black carbon are also factors.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a group of 31 scientists calculated the balance of all natural and human-caused greenhouse gases coming in and out of the massive Amazon Basin. The team concluded that warming of the atmosphere from agents other than CO2 likely exceeds the climate benefits the Amazon provides via CO2 uptake. Or more simply: due to humans, the Amazon Basin is now a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

“I would highlight that natural greenhouse emissions from ecosystems aren’t causing climate change,” the study’s lead author, Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor at Skidmore College told Mongabay. “It’s the many human disturbances underway in the basin that are contributing to climate change.”

Earth receives constant energy from the sun. Climate-forcing factors in the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases, act like a blanket, trapping that heat energy on Earth. When there’s more energy coming in from the sun than is being reflected back out into space, the planet warms and our climate is thrown out of balance.

A healthy forest ecosystem sucks in CO2 and keeps other climate-forcing factors in relative balance. But in the Amazon, where forests have faced increased logging, mining, dam construction, and clearing for agricultural (typically using fire), the system is drying and degrading. One study found that the amount of aboveground plant tissue in the Amazon was reduced by roughly one-third over the past decade.

In short, the ability of the Amazon to absorb CO2 is declining.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Why Covering Canals With Solar Panels Is a Power Move
Covering waterways would, in a sense, make solar panels water-cooled, boosting their efficiency.
By Matt Simon, Science
March 19, 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Hall & Oates. Now there’s a duo that could literally and figuratively be even more powerful: solar panels and canals. What if instead of leaving canals open, letting the sun evaporate the water away, we covered them with panels that would both shade the precious liquid and hoover up solar energy? Maybe humanity can go for that.

Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership. Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

California’s water conveyance system is the world’s largest, serving 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland. Seventy-five percent of available water is in the northern third of the state, while the bottom two-thirds of the state accounts for 80 percent of urban and agricultural demand. Shuttling all that water around requires pumps to make it flow uphill; accordingly, the water system is the state’s largest single consumer of electricity.

Solar-paneling canals would not only produce renewable energy for use across the state, it would run the water system itself. “By covering canals with solar panels, we can reduce evaporation and avoid disturbing natural and working lands, while providing renewable energy and other co-benefits,” says environmental engineer Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Merced, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead author on the paper.
» Read article              


As early renewables near end-of-life, attention turns to recycling and disposal
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
March 24, 2021

Although only a handful of states have implemented rules related to the disposal of batteries, PV panels and other renewable assets, the time has come to consider their fate as early installations reach the end of their useful life, industry leaders concluded during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Batteries, solar panels and even wind turbines contain components that could be repurposed and recycled, panelists said, but high costs and the limited availability of these materials present barriers to scaling up recycling operations.

To create a “circular economy” in which no raw materials are wasted would reduce the lifetime environmental impact of renewable energy, but accomplishing this requires intent and funding that “starts at the design phase,” said Peter Perrault, senior manager of circular economy and sustainable solutions at Enel North America.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND ELECTRIFICATION


He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem.
Want to electrify your home? Good luck finding a contractor.
Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 18, 2021

Adam James had been casually browsing the housing market for about a year when he came across a home that seemed like the perfect fit. The 31-year-old and his wife recently had their third child, and the 1960s split-level ranch house in Ossining, New York, a village on the Hudson River with ample green space and a commuter train station, was just what they were looking for. The house had only one downside: Its oil-based heating system was 35 years old and on the brink of sputtering out.

Except that wasn’t a downside for James, who works as chief of staff at Energy Impact Partners, a sustainable energy investment firm. “I was actually excited because I was like, I’m gonna get this thing off of fuel oil and decarbonize it,” he told Grist last October.

By that he meant he wanted to switch out the heating and hot water systems in the house for appliances that run on electricity. This kind of conversion is called electrification, and it is currently the only proven way to eliminate the carbon emissions directly generated by our buildings. But even in New York state, which has a legal mandate to cut emissions 85 percent by 2050, a goal of getting 130,000 electric heat and hot water systems installed by 2025, and several public and private programs that promote and incentivize electric heating, James had an unexpected amount of trouble getting it done.

The first thing James did was call a few local contractors to ask about geothermal heat pumps, highly efficient systems that absorb heat from the near-constant temperature beneath the earth’s surface and transfer it into your home. But he quickly learned that it was going to cost a lot more than he thought — around $40,000, by one estimate. So James gave up on geothermal and began looking into air-source heat pumps, similar systems that instead absorb heat from the outdoor air, even on cold winter days. He found a list of contractors on the website for New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, a state agency tasked with promoting energy efficiency and renewables. The contractors on the list were ostensibly certified to install heat pumps, and James said he called about 10 of them just to figure out what his options were.

Several didn’t respond to his inquiry. A few told him they didn’t do heat pumps. The rest said they could install heat pumps but tried to talk him out of it, explaining that a heat pump would be more expensive than a fuel oil system or a propane furnace, and that he would still need one of those as a backup source of heat.

[Nate Adams, a home performance specialist based in Ohio who goes by the nickname the “House Whisperer,”] said some contractors are afraid of heat pumps because earlier generations of the technology were noisy and didn’t work well in colder temperatures. The technology has come a long way, and new, cold-climate heat pumps work just fine in places like New York, but contractors still perceive them as riskier than traditional systems. “We have 105,000 HVAC contractors across the U.S. that have to be convinced this is a good idea,” said Adams, using the acronym for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

There’s disagreement about heat pump effectiveness even among contractors who recommend the technology. In February, about five months after James’ ordeal, I called several contractors from the same list James consulted and reached Scott Carey, a contractor in Briarcliff, New York, who installs heat pumps for clients and even recently put them in his own house. However, he recommends that his customers keep a back-up source of heat, such as a propane furnace, for when the heat pump periodically goes into defrost mode, running the system in reverse and pumping cold air into the house.

Daphney Warrington, who runs an HVAC company called Breffni Mechanical with her husband in Yonkers, New York, and also installs heat pumps, disagreed — she said there was no need for a backup system unless the homeowner wanted to have one. When asked about James’ trouble finding a contractor, Warrington and Carey offered a similar assessment — a lot of contractors are old school and haven’t stayed up to date with the latest technology. “They still are thinking that heat pumps aren’t for this part of the country,” said Carey.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency and electrification

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Critics warn Massachusetts’ climate progress is headed for traffic jam
Climate advocates and analysts say the state will need to reduce driving if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and that current plans focus too much on vehicle electrification.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 22, 2021

Massachusetts won’t meet its climate goals without getting people to drive less.

That’s the unpopular message from climate advocates and analysts who say the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan draft places too much emphasis on vehicle electrification and all but ignores the critical need to also reduce driving miles.

The number of vehicle miles traveled in the state is on pace to increase by 21% from 2010 to 2030, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for greater Boston. This growth would cause emissions to rise unless all the vehicles in the state achieved an average — and unlikely — efficiency of 29 miles per gallon, the report concludes.

To alter this course, advocates say, state leaders will need to consider implementing congestion pricing, per-mile fees for road usage, or land use policies that make it easier and more attractive to use public transit — ideas that are not currently major parts of the climate plan.

“It leans on electrification of the vehicle fleet, which is obviously a critical pathway to pursue at the policy level,” said Conor Gately, senior land use and transportation analyst for the planning council. “There’s not as much enthusiasm for the land use side of things to reduce underlying demand.”
» Read article               
» Read the MAPC report

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick, Danly spar over gas pipeline reviews as FERC considers project’s climate impacts for first time
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
March 19, 2021

FERC’s decision to consider climate impacts when approving a pipeline certificate marks a significant compromise between Glick and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who had indicated in the weeks leading up to the meeting that he might be willing to consider such factors.

“I give [Chatterjee] a lot of credit,” said Glick. “He approached me a while back and said ‘Hey, I think we can work out some sort of compromise here on this issue.'”

Danly, in his dissent, accused the commission of a “dramatic change” inconsistent with long-standing precedent that the commission does not have the right tools to properly assess the impact of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. Further, he expressed concern that oil and gas companies were not sufficiently involved in the process.

“It appears to me that the financial gas industry and its customers are on the verge of experiencing some dramatic changes in the coming months and years, and we’ve learned that those changes can come from unexpected proceedings,” he said.

FERC’s Thursday meeting followed the commission’s first listening session of the Office of Public Participation, wherein commissioners listened to hours long testimony from landowners and others who had been negatively impacted by gas infrastructure development and, they felt, left out of FERC’s proceedings. Glick pointed out that Danly’s arguments disregard those stakeholders.

“You had suggested that everyone should intervene in all these natural gas pipeline proceedings,” he said. “Well, I would say the same for not just the pipeline companies, but for all the other people that have been screwed by the Commission,” Glick said, calling Danly’s stance “the height of hypocrisy.”

“You were the general counsel, Mr. Danly, when the Commission … without any notice, without telling landowners, without telling people that are concerned about climate change” repeatedly chose not to examine the climate impacts of infrastructure, despite a 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that found that FERC’s environmental impact assessment for pipelines was “inadequate.”

“Absolutely, if you’re a pipeline company, and you want to intervene in a proceeding, go for it … but I would say that everyone else, please you intervene too, because we need to hear your voices as well,” Glick said. “Not just the voices that can afford high-priced Washington D.C. law firms to participate in these proceedings.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


SLAPPed silly: the company promoting the Goldboro LNG plant that Premier Rankin supports is trying to bully its critics into silence
By Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner
March 22, 2021

This weekend, delegates at the Conservative Party of Canada’s national convention rejected a motion that called for the party to acknowledge that “climate change is real.”

Some of the no votes were more nuanced than others, but the gist is that party members don’t want to adopt policies — support for the Paris Accord and carbon taxes, better regulation of emissions from the oil and gas industry — that are necessary to confront the problem. If it means losing votes in the oil fields, they’re against it, the future of the planet be damned.

It’s a reprehensible attitude, but hopefully will have little real-world impact: the CPC is out of power, not even a bit player in the governing minority government, and by voting against the motion, delegates made it that much harder for the party to get back in power.

But it’s an entirely different matter when Iain Rankin, the Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, who is presiding atop a majority government that is setting energy policy for the next several decades, embraces the natural gas industry. Unlike the now powerless CPC, Rankin’s actions can contribute materially to humanity’s failure to confront climate change.

The Pieridae proposal envisions natural gas sourced in Alberta being delivered via new and enlarged pipelines to Nova Scotia, where it will be liquified at the Goldboro plant. That LNG would then be pumped into giant LNG carriers that will carry the LNG across the Atlantic to a new terminal to be built by the energy company Uniper in Wilhelmshaven, Germany; there, the gas will be regasified and distributed to German homes and businesses.

And last night, activists in the US alerted me to yet another possible gas source for the Goldboro plant — natural gas produced by fracking in Western Pennsylvania.

At issue is a now-operating natural gas compressing plant in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As WBUR, the NPR station in Boston, explained it in October:

The 7,700-horsepower Weymouth compressor [emphasis added] is part of a larger gas pipeline plan called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The purpose of the project is to make it easier for “fracked” natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of Western Pennsylvania to get to northern New England and Canada, and it does this by connecting two existing pipeline systems: the Algonquin Gas Transmission, which flows from New Jersey into Massachusetts, and the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which flows from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, Canada.
» Read article                
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 1           
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 2             

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Springfield City Council enlists Conservation Law Foundation in fight against Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
March 23, 2021


The Springfield City Council will challenge Palmer Renewable Energy’s decade-old building permit with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation of Boston.

At issue is councilors’ contention that the 2011 permit expired because construction has not begun at the proposed $150 million, 35-megawatt power plant. They say any construction now would require a new special use permit under a 2013 city ordinance.

The appeal will be filed this week — possibly Wednesday — with the Springfield Zoning Board. Whatever side loses at the Zoning Board can appeal to one of several courts after that.

“The people of Springfield seem largely opposed (to the plant),” said Johannes Epke, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “We had a unanimous vote of the city council (Monday) night. If the city council and the people of Springfield cannot make these developers come in for a special permit and explain to the city why this is a beneficial use, there is a real problem in the operation of zoning and building enforcement.”

Building permits require construction to commence within six months, Epke said.

The appeal isn’t costing the council, or the city, anything to pursue, Epke said. The Conservation Law Foundation is “happy” to advocate on the council’s behalf, he said.
» Read article                

Dutch to limit forest biomass subsidies, possibly signaling EU sea change
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
March 9, 2021

The Dutch Parliament in February voted to disallow the issuing of new subsidies for 50 planned forest biomass-for-heat plants, a small, but potentially key victory for researchers and activists who say that the burning of forests to make energy is not only not carbon neutral, but is dirtier than burning coal and bad climate policy.

With public opinion opposing forest biomass as a climate solution now growing in the EU, the decision by the Netherlands could be a bellwether. In June, the EU will review its Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

Currently, forest biomass burning to make energy is ruled as carbon neutral in the EU, even though a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that it takes many decades until forests regrow for carbon neutrality to be achieved.

The forestry industry, which continues to see increasing demand for wood pellets, argues that biomass burning is environmentally sustainable and a viable carbon cutting solution compared to coal.
» Read article                

» More about biomass                 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

My Team Found 2,000 Plastic Bags Inside A Dead Camel
By Marcus Eriksen, Bloomberg | Opinion, in NDTV
March 24, 2021

Digging between the ribs of a dead camel buried in the sands of Dubai, I couldn’t believe what my colleagues and I found: a mass of plastic bags as big as a large suitcase. At least 2,000 plastic bags were lumped together where the animal’s stomach would have been.

We had been led to the site by Ulrich Wernery of the Dubai-based Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, who knew we were researching floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region. After two decades at sea, I thought I had seen it all. We had traveled from the Arctic to the Antarctic, publishing research on plastic pollution across all the oceans’ garbage patches. We found plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. We have seen albatrosses full of plastic on Midway Atoll, fish with microplastics in their stomachs and California sea lions with nooses of fishing line around their necks.

But the camels were a whole new level of appalling. Our team of scientists documented that more than 300 camels in the Dubai region had died because they ate humans’ trash, accounting for 1% of dead camels evaluated there since 2008. Unlike other research that might examine animals in a laboratory, this was a field study with concentrations of plastic trash that exist in the environment. It is a real-world tragedy with ecologically relevant concentrations of trash.

Imagine having 50 plastic bags in your stomach that you could not digest, causing ulcers and tremendous discomfort and the feeling that you’re full all the time. You can’t and don’t eat any food. This is what happens to camels, and it results in intestinal bleeding, blockages, dehydration, malnutrition and death.

Much of the world still perceives plastic pollution as a problem limited to the ocean. Last month, U.N. Secretary General Antnio Guterres opened the gathering of the United Nations Environmental Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making body, by warning that the “oceans are filling with plastic,” and left it at that.

This is wrong. The camels are only the latest casualties occurring in all environments on this planet due to plastic. Researchers have also observed death and suffering in animals from elephants to reindeer. They have found plastic fragments in farmland, food and drinking water. Another recent report drawing on the results of more than 30 studies calls attention to the damage that a chemical found in plastic may do to babies’ brains. Plastic has even been seen in Earth’s orbit.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING


John Oliver Takes on the Plastics Industry
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 23, 2021

In his latest deep dive for Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver took on plastic pollution and, specifically, the myth that if we all just recycled enough, the problem would go away.

Instead, Oliver argued, this is a narrative that has been intentionally pushed by the plastics industry for decades. He cited the [iconic] 1970 Keep America Beautiful ad, which showed a Native American man (really an Italian American actor) crying as a hand tossed litter from a car window. Keep America Beautiful, Oliver pointed out, was partly funded by plastics-industry trade group SPI.

“Which might seem odd until you realize that the underlying message there is, ‘It’s up to you, the consumer, to stop pollution,'” Oliver said. “And that has been a major through line in the recycling movement, a movement often bankrolled by companies that wanted to drill home the message that it is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products.”
» Read article              
» Watch ‘Last Week Tonight’ video (viewer discretion advised)

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 7/31/20

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Welcome back.

Candidate positions on the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline may be a significant factor determining New Hampshire’s next governor. The contested status of other pipelines is also roiling related industries and enlivening local politics wherever they exist.

Two new nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may finally rebalance its makeup, which has been operating for much of the year with four of its five commissioners – only one of whom is a Democrat.

The recently-launched nonprofit Rewiring America has released its first major report on greening the economy and the jobs that could be created by a full-on effort at electrification. It’s an exciting prospect that requires a post-Trump political ecosystem. We found a related investigative report from DeSmog Blog, exposing efforts by the natural gas industry to delay electrification of the building sector.

Now that we’re heading into the home stretch of this political season, articles we’re finding on climate all project a jittery edginess around the stakes of the November election. Given the urgent need for sharp emissions reductions and a kind of global leadership that’s only possible when America is at its best, Bill McKibben’s suggestion that this election is about the next 10,000 years lacks even a hint of hyperbole.

We caught some encouraging glimpses of steady advances in clean energy and transportation  – things coming our way despite the best efforts of the Trump administration and fossil fuel industry. News from that sector, as usual, amounts to flashing red lights warning of an impending financial implosion.

We wrap up with two stories about “green energy” that is anything but. While Europe continues to insist – contrary to science – that woody biomass is effectively carbon neutral in the short term, American forests are being felled for pellets to fuel their converted coal power plants. This is all based on a carbon accounting error that originated with the Kyoto Climate Agreement, and was grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. It’s turned out to be a stubbornly difficult problem to correct.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

Breaking news: shortly after we published this post on 7/31, Liberty Utilities announced the cancellation of its Granite Bridge Pipeline project. Look for coverage in the upcoming Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20.

USD 400M misstep
Gas pipeline fuels debate among NH gubernatorial candidates
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 24, 2020

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky called the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline a ”$400 million step in the wrong direction” during a press conference in front of the Town Hall Friday.

Volinsky said Liberty Utilities’ proposed 16-inch liquefied natural gas pipeline for the Route 101 corridor between Exeter and Manchester will exacerbate climate change while other high-profile projects, like the Dakota Access pipeline, were being halted around the country.

“A key part of why I’m running for governor is to combat climate change, and part of that effort is to be opposed to fracked gas pipelines projects, like the Granite Bridge pipeline,” said Volinsky, a member of the state Executive Council. “Last municipal election, Exeter went on record as opposed to the pipeline. Fracking is especially dangerous for the environment, ratepayers would have to pay for that project for 20 or 30 years, and to what purpose? To line the pockets of Liberty Utilities and Granite Bridge shareholders.”

The Granite Bridge application is stalled at the state Public Utilities Commission after being filed in December 2017. The project includes a 150- to 170-foot high tank capable of storing 2 billion cubic feet of LNG in an abandoned quarry in West Epping.
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline

OTHER PIPELINES

risky business
Dakota Access Pipeline Saga Stalls Oil Production Recovery In The Bakken

By Tsvetana Paraskova, oilprice.com
July 29, 2020

The uncertainty surrounding the future operations of Dakota Access, the key pipeline carrying crude out of the Bakken, is stalling oil companies’ plans to invest in bringing back online the output they had curtailed after the pandemic-driven crash in oil demand and prices, executives told Reuters.

A federal judge ruled on July 6 that the Dakota Access Pipeline, in operation since 2017, must be emptied and shut down by August 5, until a new comprehensive environmental review is completed.

A week later, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Dakota Access can continue to operate while the court considers whether the pipeline should be shut down as ordered by a lower court’s ruling.

Until the new saga with the Dakota Access pipeline is resolved, oil drillers in the Bakken are not rushing to restore production as they see the move as too risky in case Dakota Access were to shut down.
» Read article

Ashland Select Board wins court case against Eversource over gas pipeline
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
July 23, 2020

Eversource must remove a decommissioned gas pipeline if it gets the go-ahead to install a new, wider pipeline through Ashland, a state Land Court judge has ruled.

Associate Justice Michael D. Vhay issued the judgment earlier this week, supporting the Town of Ashland’s position.

In Ashland and Hopkinton, Eversource wants to decommission a 6-inch-wide, 3.7-mile underground gas line that passes through both towns and replace it with new 12-inch pipeline. In Ashland, the gas line runs for 2.5 miles, cutting through more 80 house lots, town-owned properties, wetlands, the Chestnut Street Apartments and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.

Town officials and many residents adamantly oppose the project, saying it will have no direct benefit for Ashland residents and runs counter to the town’s sustainability goals.

In a Facebook status posted on the town’s Facebook page,Town Manager Michael Herbert shared the news of the court’s decision.

“Rarely does a small suburban town of 17,000 people take on a corporate giant like Eversource Gas and come out on top,” he said.
» Read article             

JC permit reversal
Land use permit for Jordan Cove pipeline is reversed
By Amanda Slee, KCBY.com
July 21, 2020

NORTH BEND, Ore. — The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has reversed a land-use permit approved by the city of North Bend.

The permit is for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal.

The Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition was the petitioner in the appeal. The decision by the North Bend City Council was to approve a temporary dredging material transport pipeline and dredging offloading facility.
» Read article             

» More about other pipelines        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC nominations
Trump makes two FERC nominations, potentially rebalancing commission
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
July 27, 2020

President Trump made two nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Monday, bowing to pressure from Democratic lawmakers who have pushed to maintain the bipartisan split in the commission.

Trump nominated Allison Clements, Democrats’ preferred nominee, alongside Mark C. Christie, who currently serves as chairman of Virginia State Corporation Commission. If confirmed, the two would regulate electricity and natural gas markets alongside other major energy projects.

FERC’s five-member board is supposed to have no more than three members of any one party, but for much of the year it’s been operating with just four members — three Republicans and one Democrat.

Clements currently serves as the founder and president of Goodgrid, LLC, an energy policy and strategy consulting firm. She previously worked for a decade at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She also spent two years as director of the energy markets program at Energy Foundation, which advocates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Christie is one of the nation’s longest-serving state utility regulators, having served for 16 years on Virginia’s board overseeing utilities and other industries.

The nominations come as Commissioner Bernard McNamee’s term expired at the end of June.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

big green jobs machine
New Analysis Shows How Electrifying the U.S. Economy Could Create 25 Million Green Jobs by 2035
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
July 30, 2020

A report released Wednesday by a new nonprofit—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic disaster, and calls for a green recovery from those intertwined crises that prioritizes aggressive climate policies—lays out how rapidly decarbonizing and electrifying the U.S. economy could create up to 25 million good-paying jobs throughout the country over the next 15 years.

Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America envisions a dramatic transformation of the nation’s power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors by 2035 to meet the global heating goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The first project of the newly launched Rewiring America is “based on an extensive industrial and engineering analysis of what such a decarbonization would entail.”
» Read article             
» Read the report

» More about greening the economy

BETTER BUILDINGS

unplugged
Unplugged: How the Gas Industry Is Fighting Efforts to Electrify Buildings
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 28, 2020

Just over a year ago, the city of Berkeley, California, passed into law a first-in-the-nation ordinance prohibiting natural gas hookups in new buildings, a move that alarmed the gas industry. This alarm has since boiled over into a full-fledged opposition campaign to counter the rising tide of similar measures meant to restrict gas in favor of constructing all-electric buildings and cutting carbon pollution.

Natural gas constitutes a vast majority, about 80 percent, of the direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sectors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Transitioning away from direct fossil fuel use in buildings is key for de-carbonizing and meeting climate targets, experts say.

Initiatives are starting to emerge at the local level on the West Coast and in the Northeast to support this transition, with 31 cities in California committed to phasing out gas use in buildings, as of July 8, and several Massachusetts communities in the Boston area doing the same. Policies for electrifying buildings are also in the works in New Jersey as well as Seattle and other cities.
» Read article             

Mass. gas ban backers press ahead after state strikes down 1st East Coast bylaw
ByTom DiChristopher, S&P Global
July 24, 2020

Boston-area lawmakers intend to continue pursuing building electrification ordinances, but they acknowledged their path forward is uncertain after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the commonwealth’s first building gas ban.

Healey’s decision undermines the effort to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations in Arlington, Cambridge and Newton — all of which modeled their legislation after the rejected bylaw in neighboring Brookline, Mass.

The Board of Building Regulations and Standards — the state agency that Healey argued has exclusive control over building permits — is one potential avenue, [Cambridge City Councilmember Quinton] Zondervan said. The board regularly updates the state building code and could include a stretch code that allows towns and cities to require certain buildings be fossil fuel free. Bay State climate activists are already pushing for a stretch code allowing net-zero building energy requirements.

Brookline and environmental groups have already called for state-level action in light of Healey’s decision, in which the attorney general expressed support for the policy of limiting gas use.

“The attorney general’s opinion makes clear that the state does have the authority to stop this fracked gas infrastructure if it wants,” Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter Director Deb Pasternak said in a statement. “The fact is that we need an equitable statewide plan here in Massachusetts to close down the fracked gas energy system.”

The Sierra Club, along with ratepayer advocates and other climate activists, have recently presented regulators with plans for building electrification proceedings and gas distribution system phase-outs.

Healey herself has petitioned the DPU to open a proceeding to overhaul gas infrastructure planning in Massachusetts, with a goal of aligning the regulatory framework with state climate goals and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about better buildings

CLIMATE

regime change starts at home
The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years
By Bill McKibben, YES! Magazine, in EcoWatch – opinion
July 27, 2020

Every election that passes, we lose leverage—this time around our last chance at limiting the temperature rise to anything like 1.5 degrees would slip through our fingers. Which is why we need to register and vote as never before. It’s also, of course, why we need to do more than that: many of us are also hard at work this year taking on the big banks that fund the fossil fuel industry, trying to pull the financial lever as well as the political one. And even within the world of politics, we need to do much more than vote: no matter who wins, Nov. 4 and 5 and 6 are as important as Nov. 3; we have to push, and prod, and open up space for the people we work to install in office.
» Read article             

boot the joker
How the global climate fight could be lost if Trump is re-elected
The US will officially exit the Paris accord one day after the 2020 US election and architects of that deal say the stakes could not be higher
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 27, 2020

It was a balmy June day in 2017 when Donald Trump took to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden to announce the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the only comprehensive global pact to tackle the spiraling crisis.

Todd Stern, who was the US’s chief negotiator when the deal was sealed in Paris in 2015, forced himself to watch the speech.

“I found it sickening, it was mendacious from start to finish,” said Stern. “I was furious … because here we have this really important thing and here’s this joker who doesn’t understand anything he’s talking about. It was a fraud.”

The lifetime of the Paris agreement, signed in a wave of optimism in 2015, has seen the five hottest years ever recorded on Earth, unprecedented wildfires torching towns from California to Australia, record heatwaves baking Europe and India and temperatures briefly bursting beyond 100F (38C) in the Arctic.

These sorts of impacts could be a mere appetizer, scientists warn, given they have been fueled by levels of global heating that are on track to triple, or worse, by the end of the century without drastic remedial action. The faltering global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off further calamity hinges, in significant part, on whether the US decides to re-enter the fray.

“The choice of Biden or Trump in the White House is huge, not just for the US but for the world generally to deal with climate change,” said Stern. “If Biden wins, November 4 is a blip, like a bad dream is over. If Trump wins, he seals the deal. The US becomes a non-player and the goals of Paris become very, very difficult. Without the US in the long term, they certainly aren’t realistic.”
» Read article             

better than last year
House climate change bill calls for roadmap
Measure differs from more prescriptive Senate approach
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 29, 2020

The House unveiled a climate change bill on Wednesday that directs the executive branch of government to create a roadmap for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and includes sections dealing with solar power subsidies, grid modernization, clean energy jobs, and municipal light plants.

The bill is expected to be taken up in the House on Thursday and then go to a conference committee that will be charged with sorting out differences with a Senate bill that is broader in scope and far more detailed in its instructions.

The House bill requires the administration to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and sets interim goals for 2030 and 2040. It charges the administration with coming up with a roadmap of policies, regulations, legislative recommendations, and carbon pricing mechanisms to reach the targets.

The Senate bill is far more detailed and prescriptive. It requires the administration to meet statewide emission targets every five years and also requires the setting of emission reduction targets for individual sectors, including transportation, buildings, solid waste, and natural gas distribution. The Senate bill calls for phased-in carbon pricing on automobile and building fuels and requires all MBTA buses to be electrified by 2040.
» Read article             

tell the truth
Mainstream News Prioritises Big Business and Opponents of Climate Action – Study
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 29, 2020

Statements from large business associations and opponents of climate action are twice as likely to be included in climate change coverage by national newspapers than pro-climate action messaging, according to a new study. The findings suggest mainstream media bias favors entrenched economic interests and that journalistic norms of objectivity and balance have skewed the public conversation around climate change.

“I wanted to specifically look at which interest groups get a say in this debate, what voices are dominating the national conversation about climate change, and how is that reflected in media coverage,” study author Rachel Wetts, Assistant Professor of Environment and Society and Sociology at Brown University, told DeSmog.

The study also found that climate-related messaging from scientific and technical experts was least likely to be picked up in national news. Messaging from business coalitions and large businesses on climate change, on the other hand, received heightened media visibility.

“In terms of this question of whose voices are being heard and who gets to dominate the national conversation around climate change, I find that opponents of climate action and large business interests are the groups that are getting the most visibility, while organizations with scientific expertise are getting very low visibility,” Wetts said in an interview with DeSmog. “This says something about whose voices are being heard that could potentially help explain why we’ve been so slow to adopt any [national] policy to address this issue.”
» Read article             
» Obtain the study            

scud
What’s Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?
Scientists are studying the extreme weather in northern Argentina to see how it works — and what it can tell us about the monster storms in our future.
By Noah Gallagher Shannon, New York Times
July 22, 2020

Every storm is composed of the same fundamental DNA — in this case, moisture, unstable air and something to ignite the two skyward, often heat. When the earth warms in the spring and summer months, hot wet air rushes upward in columns, where it collides with cool dry air, forming volatile cumulus clouds that can begin to swell against the top of the troposphere, at times carrying as much as a million tons of water. If one of these budding cells manages to punch through the tropopause, as the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere is called, the storm mushrooms, feeding on the energy-rich air of the upper atmosphere. As it continues to grow, inhaling up more moisture and breathing it back down as rain and hail, this vast vertical lung can sprout into a self-sustaining system that takes on many different forms.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

welcome mat
Colorado’s Eastern Plains is big-time producer of renewable energy, ripe for even more, report says

New report highlights renewable energy’s economic benefits for eastern Colorado: thousands of jobs, millions of dollars a year
By Judith Kohler, The Denver Post
July 29, 2020

Along with wheat, corn and cattle, Colorado’s Eastern Plains grow another big crop: more than 95% of the state’s renewable energy capacity that produces thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in benefits each year.

A report released Tuesday by The Western Way, a conservative organization that promotes environmental stewardship, in partnership with PRO 15 and Action22, policy and economic development organizations, highlights the importance of renewable energy to eastern Colorado.

Greg Brophy, a former state legislator and Colorado director of The Western Way, said he hopes the report demonstrates how valuable renewable energy is to the area’s economy and that it encourages other eastern Colorado counties to “roll out the welcome mat” for wind, solar and battery storage projects.
» Read article       
» Read the report

Sununu Blocks Bill To Expand N.H.’s Required Renewable Energy Use, Now Lowest In New England
By Annie Ropeik, NHPR
July 24, 2020

Gov. Chris Sununu handed down another expected veto of a clean energy plan Friday.

He rejected a bill that would expand New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and increase how much solar power utilities must use.

Right now, the state caps that solar requirement at 0.7% from this year on out. The bill Sununu vetoed would have increased that to nearly 19% by the year 2040.

Sununu says it represented a handout to the state’s fledgling solar industry. Democrats decried the veto as another effort by the governor to block clean energy expansion.

The bill also would have increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard, to make clean energy cover nearly 57% of New Hampshire’s fuel mix by 2040.

The current standard levels out at around 25 percent in 2025 – the lowest percentage, at the earliest date, of any New England state.
» Read article             

green ammonia
How stored electricity can make cleaner fuels
EU industry is seeking ways to save surplus power. Now it’s also hunting for methods to use that stored electricity to make green fuels.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
July 21, 2020
   
With renewable energy now the cheapest way of mass-producing electricity, the race is on to find the best way to conserve the surplus for use at peak times, and also to use the stored electricity to develop new fuels for transport.

And European Union companies are competing to devise lucrative ways to use this cheap power just as more solar and wind energy is being produced than the market demands.

Large batteries are currently the favoured method, because they are already cost-effective when used with pumped storage. This uses cheap electricity to move water uphill into reservoirs, to be released later to drive turbines when extra electricity is needed to meet peak demand.

Both these technologies take advantage of buying power at rock-bottom prices, and make their profits by storing it – until they can sell it back at much higher prices when the peak arrives.

The newer technologies under development seek to use the cheap surplus electricity to create so-called green hydrogen, and now green ammonia – both for use as substitutes for fossil fuels.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

plagued by controversy
E.P.A. Inspector General to Investigate Trump’s Biggest Climate Rollback
The agency’s watchdog office said Monday it would investigate whether the reversal of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards violated government rules.
By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 27, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog said Monday it had opened an investigation into the agency’s weakening of Obama-era regulations that would have limited automobile emissions by significantly raising fuel economy standards.

The yearlong effort to write the Trump administration rule was plagued with controversy. Just weeks before the final rule was published, the administration’s own internal analyses showed that it would create a higher cost for consumers than leaving the Obama-era standard in place and would contribute to more deaths associated with lung disease by releasing more pollution into the air.

“This is really serious,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s rare for E.P.A.’s inspector general to conduct an investigation of the agency’s rule-making.”
» Read article             

E-ferry
Danish electric ferry reports successful first year in service
By Nick Blenkey, MarineLog
July 13, 2020

In its first year of operation on a 22 nautical mile route, the pioneering Danish all-electric ferry Ellen has notched up some noteworthy milestones, according to Danfoss Editron .

Operating between the Danish islands of Ærø and Fynshav, the vessel was designed by Jens Kristensen Consulting Naval Architects and built by the Søby Værft shipyard. Just under 60 meters long and with a breadth of approximately 13 meters, the ferry travels at speeds of 12-12.5 knots, and is capable of carrying 198 passengers in summer months, with this capacity dropping to 147 during winter. It can also carry 31 cars or five trucks on its open deck.

With a 4.3 MWh capacity battery pack, the largest currently installed for maritime use, it is the first electric ferry to have no emergency back-up generator on board.

The E-ferry is the result of a project supported by the EU Horizon 2020 program that set out to achieve two main objectives. The first was to design and build an innovative fully-electric vessel which would incorporate an energy-efficient design, lightweight equipment and materials, and state-of-the-art electric-only systems with an automated high-power charging system. The second objective was to validate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the concept to the industry and ferry operators. The fully-electric ferry had to be able to cover distances of up to 22 nautical miles in the Danish part of the Baltic Sea that were, at the time, only operated on by conventional diesel-powered vessels.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL

hang it up
As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 30, 2020

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Today, the shale boom of the 2010’s is officially bust, battered not only by the US’s outsized failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks and an oil price war in which foreign producers proved their ability to steer oil prices, but also a wave of multi-billion dollar write-downs by oil giants — write-downs that predated both the price war and the pandemic and resulted from the industry’s perpetual struggles to generate profits from shale drilling and fracking regardless of the price of oil.

In April, Scott Sheffield, the chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, testified before the Texas Railroad Commission (which serves as the state’s oil regulator) that the shale rush had been “an economic disaster.”

“Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste,” Sheffield testified, warning that without state intervention, “we will disappear as an industry, like the coal industry.”

Indeed, before the pandemic struck, the shale industry’s financial foundations were stunningly shaky, with experts questioning the ways companies calculated their reserves, their ability to generate free cash flow from their drilling operations, and ratings agencies grading shale debts at junk levels. The entire fossil fuel industry’s long-term future is also deeply uncertain, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly visceral and the global need to cut emissions from oil and gas more urgent.
» Read article             

pipeline uncertainty for oilsands
Regardless of COVID, the outlook for the oilsands gets dimmer year after year
The pandemic has cost the industry billions, but in the long term, it has bigger challenges
By Kyle Bakx, CBC News
July 29, 2020

The latest forecast for oilsands production growth was released on Tuesday, and it continues a trend over most of the last decade of industry experts having a less optimistic outlook for the sector.

The new report by IHS Markit expects oilsands production to reach 3.8 million barrels per day of oil in 2030, compared to last year’s projection of production climbing to 3.9 million bpd.

It’s a relatively small change to the forecast the firm released in 2019, but notable because of yet another downward revision. That pattern has occurred just about every year since 2014, when the main oilpatch industry group forecast oilsands output climbing to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030.

For context, oilsands production at the beginning of this year was about 2.9 million barrels per day.

Analysts with IHS Markit lowered their latest forecast predominantly because of pipelines. There is still doubt about when and if new export pipelines will be built, and that uncertainty will weigh on the confidence level of companies looking to invest the significant funds needed to build new oilsands facilities.
» Read article             

tick-tick report-zoom Fossil fuel “fraud” regarding climate risks is a “ticking time bomb” to financial system
By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International
July 27, 2020

If the fossil fuel industry had acted decades ago, we would not be in a climate emergency. And some believe that this climate emergency is going to cause a financial emergency too.

A new report, published last week by U.S. National Whistleblower Center (NWC), entitled “How fossil fuel industry fraud is setting us up for a financial implosion – and what whistleblowers can do about it,” does not mince its language.

It outlined what it called “widespread deception by fossil fuel executives regarding the financial risks of climate change [which] represents a ticking time bomb that, if not addressed, could contribute to worldwide economic devastation.”

It claims it is the “first-ever analysis of legal strategies for exposing climate risk fraud by the fossil fuel sector,” and says it is a “call to action” for executives of fossil fuel companies and others with knowledge of improper accounting and disclosure practices, such as external auditors, to blow the whistle on the decades of deception.
» Read article             
» Read the NWC report         

‘It’s Past Time’: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders Unveil Bill To Strip Fossil Fuel Funding
The legislation aims to cut off oil, gas and coal companies reaping billions from federal COVID-19 relief and annual subsidies.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
July 24, 2020

In the richest and most powerful nation in history, doctors beg for basic protective gear amid a deadly pandemic, 21% of children live in poverty and 84-year-olds take jobs scrubbing motel toilets to survive.

Yet, as fossil fuel emissions cook the planet and wreak a mounting toll of destruction, the federal government gives oil, gas and coal companies nearly $15 billion per year in direct federal subsidies and already directed billions more in support through coronavirus relief programs this year.

New legislation from five of the country’s top progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aims to cut the fossil fuel industry off, HuffPost has learned.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

burning down the houseBurning down the house? Enviva’s giant U.S. wood pellet plants gear up
By Saul Elbein, Mongabay
July 29, 2020

When biomass manufacturer Enviva completes its two newest U.S. Gulf Coast plants on opposite sides of the Alabama-Mississippi state line, likely by 2021, they will be the largest “biomass for energy” manufacturing plants on the planet.

Every year, the two factories will grind the equivalent of a hundred square miles of forest into 2.7 million metric tons of combustible wood pellets, to be burned at former coal plants in Europe and Asia — with all the resulting carbon released into the atmosphere.

These U.S. biomass plants, and the wood pellets they churn out, will thrive atop a shaky Jenga tower of political, economic and environmental paradoxes, according to environmentalists. Unable to compete with carbon fuels like coal or natural gas on price, Enviva’s wood pellet plants will stay afloat because of direct and implicit subsidies coming from the European Union, whose members agreed to derive 32% of their energy from renewables by 2030 — a category that they deemed to include biomass.

Those subsidies, say scientists, are based on now debunked research first conducted and used as guidance for making policy incorporated into the Kyoto Climate Agreement, a policy then grandfathered into the 2015 Paris Agreement. They say the mistake that makes biomass economically viable today is the contention that burning up the world’s forests to produce energy is carbon neutral, an inconvenient untruth that, critics contend, the United Nations has dodged facing at every annual international meeting since Paris.

And so the EU renewables quotas — with their claim of biomass carbon neutrality — have meant a boon for companies like Enviva that sell wood pellets to energy producers and countries now leery of more traditional power sources, ranging from nuclear to coal to hydropower, and who want to squeeze a few more decades out of existing coal burning power plants — now converted to burning wood pellets on an industrial scale.
» Read article             

what it looks like
House Climate Crisis Action Plan Gets a Lot Right on Biomass

By Sasha Stashwick, National Resources Defense Council – blog post
July 9, 2020

Biomass refers to the use of any plant or organic matter to produce energy. Too often, in places that have incentivized biomass use to generate electricity like the European Union, biomass is incentivized to generate electricity in dedicated power plants, or old coal plants converted to run partially or fully on biomass. The fuel demand of these plants is so large that the only source of biomass supply big enough to meet is, unfortunately, wood from forests.

Established science now shows that burning biomass from forests for electricity is not a climate solution within timeframes relevant to addressing climate change. Here in the US, it’s therefore critical that federal climate plans do not repeat the same mistakes as the E.U. in adopting flawed policies based on the debunked assumption of biomass “carbon neutrality.”

In 2018, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out its report describing the climate action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, it explained that countries would have to cut their CO2 emissions, such as from power plants, to net zero by around 2050. To reach that goal, it said, CO2 emissions would have to start dropping “well before 2030” and be on track to fall by roughly 45% by around 2030. Scientists are clear that what we do over the next decade is incredibly consequential in this fight.

That is why the timeframe used to evaluate the climate impacts of biomass systems is so critical. Evaluate the carbon impacts of biomass-burning over a long enough timeframe, and it may look good. Eventually, if new trees are replanted, they can suck up the carbon that was emitted when older trees were harvested and burned as fuel for energy production. But trees take many decades to grow back. In the meantime, biomass electricity actually loads the atmosphere with more CO2 than fossil fuels (because wood is a less energy dense fuel, so more of it needs to be burned to generate the same amount of electricity).
» Read article             

» More about biomass

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