Tag Archives: peaking power plant

Weekly News Check-In 4/9/21

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Welcome back.

Just as we were posting last week’s Check-In, news broke that the Massachusetts DEP revoked Palmer Renewable Energy’s air quality permit – effectively killing the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield. It was huge news and a victory for environmental justice, and now we’ve included some of the best articles on that important story.

The Weymouth compressor station is similar. It is a large piece of polluting infrastructure inappropriately located adjacent to vulnerable communities already burdened by long exposure to industrial toxins. It is staunchly opposed by residents of Weymouth and surrounding towns, under attack from every politician from Massachusetts’ two Senators down to local Mayors and City Councillors, and currently under review by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission newly concerned with environmental justice issues and climate change. So Tuesday’s large, unplanned gas release (3rd in eight months!) energized the opposition and raised hopes that this project, too, will be scuttled soon.

The concepts of equity, justice, and addressing the legacy of environmental racism are informing everything from suggestions on how best to build out electric vehicle infrastructure to how the Environmental Protection Agency sets enforcement priorities. These head-spinning changes have all occurred since January 20th, when a departing President Trump left behind a wasteland of hollowed out and demoralized government agencies and told us to “have a nice life”.

Something else to make corporate polluters nervous: environmental and climate advocates and a growing number of world leaders are calling for the designation of a new crime that can be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Ecocide involves the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change.

There’s been a lot of press lately touting hydrogen as the key to our clean energy future, and we’ve been cautious about accepting it as anything more than hype. New analysis from Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy concludes that batteries are much better positioned as the clean energy foundation – and hydrogen will only assume that role if batteries fail to live up to their potential.

A few weeks ago, we ran a story about how difficult it is to purchase a new refrigerator with climate-friendly refrigerant. We are pleased to offer this update, along with a link to Energy Star’s new list. It’s now possible in the U.S. to know you’re buying a non-HFC fridge!

We keep track of pipelines, and this week’s focus is on Enbridge’s Line 5. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered it shut down by May 12, and Enbridge says it will not comply. The Straits of Mackinac are set to be the scene of a complicated international showdown over fossil energy, where the stakes include the potential for catastrophic pollution of the Great Lakes.

Our own Rose Wessel addressed some of the issues and misinformation circulating about peaking power plants, and explains how these expensive, polluting relics can be replaced with clean energy alternatives. We also take a look at resistance from gas utilities to implementing new safety rules developed in the aftermath of the 2018 Merrimack Valley disaster, as necessary to protect the public.

Our Fossil Fuel Industry section includes three great articles about really bad behavior. The first is a white-knuckle thriller about October’s Hurricane Zeta and an ultra-deepwater drilling operation that nearly ended in a disaster that could have eclipsed BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill.

We close with a look at the online shopping that has sustained many of us through the pandemic, and consider Amazon’s excessive use of plastics in its packaging.

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

— The NFGiM Team

BIOMASS

Palmer Plant protest
Mass. Revokes Air Permit For Controversial Biomass Facility In Springfield
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 2, 2021

In a big win for public health and environmental justice advocates, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has revoked a key air permit for a controversial proposed biomass plant in Springfield.

The permit for the Palmer Renewable Energy facility — technically called the “Final Plan Approval” — was issued almost nine years ago, and according to the state, was revoked because of a lag in construction activities as well as major public health and environmental justice concerns.

Springfield City Councilor and long-time opponent of the Palmer facility, Jesse Lederman, praised the decision and called it “welcome news in the City of Springfield.”

“The days of polluters being rubber stamped in communities like ours are over,” he said in a statement. “For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out of town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities.”

First proposed in 2008, the 35 megawatt Palmer facility drew immediate public ire, but managed to receive a series of permits and green lights from local and state regulators. It got its final air permit from MassDEP in 2012 and was supposed to begin construction soon after.

In a letter accompanying the permit revocation, Michael Gorski of MassDEP explained that while there are some signs of pre-construction activities at the site, the company has not meaningfully “commenced construction.” Under state law, MassDEP can rescind a project’s final permit if it doesn’t begin construction within two years, or if it puts construction on pause for more than a year.

“The revocation of the approval for the Palmer biomass plant is a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet,” Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to celebrate this victory with the Springfield residents who fought so passionately against it. Today’s decision will save lives.”

If built, Palmer would have been the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would have burned about 1,200 tons of waste wood per day in the heart of a state-designated environmental justice community. Nearly one in five children in Springfield have asthma; the air quality is so poor that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked it the “Asthma Capital” of the country.
» Read article            

welcome to Springfield
Massachusetts Revokes Permit for Springfield Biomass Plant
By Partnership For Policy Integrity
April 5, 2021

In a major victory for Springfield residents and for environmental justice, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has revoked the permit for the long-contested Palmer Renewable Energy 42-megawatt biomass power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

While MassDEP based its April 2nd decision on a technicality – the permit is nearly a decade old and the developers have still not begun construction on the plant – the real reason behind this move is far more significant:

“MassDEP has determined to exercise this authority due to the amount of time that has elapsed since issuance of the PRE Final Plan Approval, more recent health-related information, and the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution during the intervening years.”

It took a long time for state officials to hear what the project’s opponents have been saying all along, but it’s clear they finally got the message: Stop treating Springfield as an environmental sacrifice zone.
» Read web post                

reason enough
After years of protests, state officials revoke permit for controversial biomass plant in Springfield
By David Abel, Boston Globe
April 2, 2021

After years of protests, the state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday revoked a critical air permit for a massive wood-burning power plant proposed to be built in Springfield, which opponents said would pollute the city and contribute to climate change.

In a five-page letter, state officials cited potential adverse health impacts in rejecting plans for the state’s largest commercial biomass plant, which was expected to burn nearly a ton of wood a minute and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants.

Noting the “strong opposition” from residents in Springfield, which has among the nation’s highest rates of asthma, environmental regulators said their decision was based on a “heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution.”

The link between environmental factors and heightened risk to the coronavirus also played a role in their decision.

“With COVID-19 rates particularly high in Springfield, there is increased concern, given multiple studies establishing a relationship between low-income and minority communities with elevated air pollution levels and increased severity of disease and/or mortality,” wrote Michael Gorski, director of the department’s offices in Western Massachusetts.

Officials at Palmer Renewable Energy, which proposed building the 42-megawatt incinerator, did not respond to requests for comment.

Local residents and environmental advocates, who have lobbied against the plant for years, cheered the decision.

“For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out-of-town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities,” said Jesse Lederman, a city councilor and outspoken critic of the plant who chairs the city’s sustainability and environment committee. “The days of polluters being rubber-stamped in communities like ours are over.”

Laura Haight, policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a Pelham-based advocacy group that opposes biomass, called the state’s decision “a huge victory” for environmental justice.

“Hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin for this ‘zombie’ plant,” she said, noting that it had been in the planning stages for more than a decade. She said provisions in the state’s new climate law, which Governor Charlie Baker signed last month, made it unlikely that the developer could find another way to build the plant.
» Read article           

» More about biomass            

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

strike three
Weymouth Compressor Reports Another ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release. Third Time In 8 Months
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 6, 2021

On Tuesday morning, the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station released a large quantity of gas into the air above the facility. The cause of the unplanned release remains unclear, but the company that owns and operates the facility, Enbridge, said it’s “continuing to gather information.”

Under state law, Enbridge is required to notify state and local officials if it vents more than 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas — an amount roughly equivalent to what the average U.S. home uses in two months.

According to Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron, the gas was released “in a controlled manner” through the compressor station’s tall vent stack and “the safety of the facility and surrounding area were not impacted by this occurrence.”

But opponents of the compressor like Alice Arena of the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) are skeptical. Big gas releases like this “don’t instill confidence in safety at all,” she said, adding that perhaps federal regulators should have some sort of “three-strikes rule” for problematic facilities

This is the third unplanned gas release in the last 8 months. The first — on Sept. 11, 2020 — occurred after an O-ring gasket failed and workers had to manually shut down the compressor. The second — on Sept. 30, 2020 — occurred after the emergency shutdown system loss power and automatically shut itself down. In both cases, the total amount of gas vented turned out to be much higher than initially reported
» Read article           

electrified barbed wire
Massachusetts politicians push to shutter Weymouth gas compressor station after third unplanned release of gas
By Emma Platoff, Boston Globe
April 7, 2021

Ahead of a deadline Monday evening, gas companies and industry groups rushed to tell federal regulators that a controversial Weymouth gas compressor station should be allowed to continue operating despite its rocky history, arguing the site was safe and critical to the country’s energy infrastructure.

Then, around 9:37 a.m. Tuesday morning, the site spewed at least 10,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas into the surrounding neighborhood, its third unplanned release in just eight months.

That incident comes at a crucial moment for the compressor station as federal regulators take a rare second look at its safety protocols and community impact. And it triggered a new wave of condemnations from top Massachusetts politicians, who say the only appropriate course of action is to shutter the site immediately.

“Every accident at the Weymouth Compressor Station endangers the lives and health of local residents and surrounding communities and these so-called blow outs have become a dangerous pattern of releasing harmful gas into the nearby residential neighborhood,” said US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who represents Weymouth. “It is completely unacceptable to allow Enbridge to continue their operations.”

Environmental activists and prominent politicians have been fighting the site for years, saying it brings unnecessary danger to a densely populated South Shore neighborhood.

After the latest release, and amid a federal review launched under a presidential administration that has called environmental justice a priority, activists hope this time the plant will be closed permanently.

Alice Arena, head of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has long protested the Weymouth site, said she’s “waffling between my regular pessimism and optimism.”

The timing of the incident feels less like coincidence than “karma,” she said.

“It seems as though every time they’ve had an accident it’s been at a tipping point,” Arena said. She pointed to a previous unplanned release last fall, which came just days before the facility was set to begin full operations.

“Instead, they ended up with a shutdown order,” she said wryly. The three gas releases show that operators are too reckless to continue work in the area, she said.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor           

 

PIPELINES

Line 5 - Getty
Can a pipeline company defy a governor’s orders? Gretchen Whitmer is about to find out.
The ongoing battle between North America’s largest mover of oil, Enbridge Energy, and the state of Michigan.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
April 7, 2021

As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada.

Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.    

A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirements laid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in a press release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.” 

Her order to shut down the pipeline follows years of concern from researchers, activists, and policymakers that Line 5 could seriously threaten Great Lakes fisheries and drinking water. The National Wildlife Federation found that the pipeline has spilled over 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in an estimated 30 spills to date. “Every day that pipeline lays on the lakebed, we’re a day closer to a catastrophe,” said David Holtz, an activist and coordinator for Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of Michigan organizations fighting to shut down Line 5 and support a clean energy transition.

Since Whitmer’s closure order in November, Enbridge has sued the state of Michigan on the grounds that it doesn’t have authority over the company because Enbridge is regulated federally by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Enbridge has also stated outright that it will defy the governor’s orders. “We do not plan to shut down Line 5 unless ordered by a court or PHMSA, which we view as highly unlikely,” a spokesperson for the company told Grist. Among its stated reasons for refusing to shut down are concerns over energy security for Michigan and Canada and the increased environmental impact from alternative modes of transporting propane. The pipeline supplies between 55 to 65 percent of Michigan’s propane needs.

For the shutdown to go into effect, a state or federal court would need to rule in Whitmer’s favor. If the case is sent to state court, Shroeck said, Enbridge could appeal that decision, therefore sending it to a federal court of appeals, whereafter it could be years before a decision is reached. In the meantime, Enbridge would be able to continue operating without penalty. 

The U.S. portion of the pipeline that crosses under the Mackinac straits is the worst possible location in the Great Lakes for an oil spill. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that because of the turbulent waters and switching directions of the current, a Line 5 oil spill could potentially contaminate more than 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines       

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

equity and infrastructure
States, utilities must ensure equitable investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, new report warns
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2021

Only a few states and power companies are taking steps to ensure low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color benefit from the transition to electric vehicles, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The study, published Tuesday morning, examined 36 states where utilities have filed transportation electrification plans, and concluded only six have some form of equity mandate or consideration.

“Without strong policies in place, you could see a big round of ratepayer-funded charging investments going disproportionately to communities that least need the support,” said Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior research analyst for transportation and author of the study.
» Read article            
» Read the ACEEE study          

» More about greening the economy               

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Donaldsonville LA
Exclusive: EPA reverses Trump stance in push to tackle environmental racism
Environmental Protection Agency launches crackdown on pollution that disproportionately affects people of color
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 12, 2021

Michael Regan, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has sought to revive the effort to confront environmental racism by ordering the agency to crack down on the pollution that disproportionately blights people of color.

On Wednesday, Regan issued a directive to EPA staff to “infuse equity and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs”. The memo demands the agency use the “full array of policy and legal tools at our disposal” to ensure vulnerable communities are front of mind when issuing permits for polluting facilities or cleaning up following disasters.

The directive states there should be better consultation with affected communities and indicates the EPA will be tougher on companies that violate air and water pollution mandates. Regan’s memo calls for the EPA to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution”.

Enforcement of pollution violations dropped steeply under Donald Trump’s administration, with the EPA even suspending routine inspections of facilities while the Covid-19 pandemic raged in the US last year.

A lack of federal intervention further exacerbated a longstanding inequity where poorer people and communities of color in the US are far more likely to be exposed to dangerous pollutants. The pandemic has further worsened this situation, with research showing that people with chronic exposure to air pollutants have suffered worse outcomes from Covid.

Years of discriminatory decisions over the placement of highways and industrial facilities have led to Black people being exposed to 38% more polluted air than white people, with exposure to toxins from cars and trucks in parts of the US two-thirds higher than for white people. Black children are five times more likely to be hospitalized from asthma than white children.
» Read article           

» More about EPA              

 

CLIMATE

ecocideAs the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
International lawyers, environmentalists and a growing number of world leaders say “ecocide”—widespread destruction of the environment—would serve as a “moral red line” for the planet.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Katie Surma and Yuliya Talmazan, Inside Climate News
April 7, 2021

In 1948, after Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews and other minorities during World War II, the United Nations adopted a convention establishing a new crime so heinous it demanded collective action. Genocide, the nations declared, was “condemned by the civilized world” and justified intervention in the affairs of sovereign states. 

Now, a small but growing number of world leaders including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have begun citing an offense they say poses a similar threat to humanity and remains beyond the reach of existing legal conventions: ecocide, or widespread destruction of the environment.

The Pope describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster,” and has proposed making it a sin for Catholics. 

The Pontiff has also endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. The monumental step, which faces a long road of global debate, would mean political leaders and corporate executives could face charges and imprisonment for “ecocidal” acts.
» Read article           

northern lights
Projected Surge of Lightning Spells More Wildfire Trouble for the Arctic
A major climate shift in the High North is sparking fires that can release huge amounts of greenhouse gases from tundra ecosystems, where fires have been rare until recently
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
April 5, 2021

With the Arctic warming at up to three times the pace of the global average, more lightning storms will invade the High North, igniting wildfires that release carbon dioxide and speeding the transition of flat mossy tundra to brush and forest landscapes that absorb more solar heat energy.

Yang Chen, an Earth scientist with the University of California, Irvine and lead author of a study released today in the journal Nature Climate Change that projected the increases in lightning strikes, said the findings were somewhat unexpected, and intensify wildfire concerns in the High North because lightning is the main ignition source in the Arctic.

“The size of the lightning response surprised us because expected changes at mid-latitudes are much smaller,” he said. More lightning-caused fires would speed a vicious circle of climate-warming changes already under way in vast areas of tundra and permafrost across Siberia and Alaska, he added.

A surge in the frequency of large Arctic fires in the last five years spurred the research, which is based on 20 years of NASA satellite data showing the relationship between lightning and the climate, he said. 

Linking that data with climate projections through 2100, the scientists estimated the number of lightning strikes will grow by about 40 percent for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. By late in the century, the IPCC projects the Arctic could warm by 4.5 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on emissions.

The study also shows that the region that experiences lightning will shift, with future flash rates in the far northern tundra areas equal to the current rate in boreal forests, 300 miles to the south. 

The increase may cause “a fire-vegetation feedback whereby more burning in Arctic tundra expedites the northward migration of boreal trees,” that will absorb more heat from the sun, accelerating the Arctic cycle of warming,” the authors wrote in the study.
» Read article           
» Obtain the study               

» More about climate                

 

CLEAN ENERGY

H2 uh-ohFor hydrogen to dominate the low-carbon world, batteries must fail
By James Fernyhough, Renew Economy
April 5, 2021

Hydrogen has the potential to help bring more than half of the world’s emissions down to zero, but to reach that potential it requires aggressive government support, a dramatically improved value chain – and it needs batteries to fail.

That last point is one of the most striking findings in a new series of reports by Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy, the last of which, on the “battery society”, was released last week.

The reports examine three solutions to the problem of storage in an energy system dominated by wind and solar: carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and batteries.

They conclude that battery technology is the most powerful of the three, having the potential to help reduce to zero 78 per cent of the world’s emissions. CCS could potentially help reduce 62 per cent of the world’s emissions, though it is the least practical of the three.

Hydrogen could help reduce 51 per cent of the world’s emissions, but to reach that level it would need to be used in areas where batteries currently have a big edge, such as electric vehicles and electricity grid support.

The race between hydrogen and battery technology is the latter’s to lose, the report argues. Batteries are not especially reliant on either dramatic policy changes, such as aggressive carbon pricing; or on rapid development in the value chain.

“An important advantage of the Battery Society is the fact that battery manufacturers must only rely on themselves to ramp up battery supply and bring the Battery Society to fruition,” the report says. “The CCS and Hydrogen Societies, on the other hand, are dependent on policy changes and cost developments in other parts of the value chain.

“In order to succeed, they essentially need batteries to fail,” it concludes
» Read article           

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Energy STAR refrigerant listWant to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator? Leading Manufacturers Are Finally Providing the Information You Need
The change came after I went out of my way to buy a green fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 6, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and leading appliance manufacturers have finally released key chemical refrigerant information that makes it easier for consumers to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators. 

Until the past few years, it’s been virtually impossible to buy a full-sized refrigerator in the United States that uses climate-friendly refrigerants like isobutane. The vast majority of refrigerators came with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemical refrigerants that are thousands of times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. 

For environmentally conscious consumers who wanted to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators, like me, it’s been difficult, if not impossible, to know which was which. As I found out the hard way, it seemed as if the manufacturers themselves didn’t even know.

But now, after I told the story last month of ordering an environmentally friendly fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house, two leading manufacturers have for the first time released lists of dozens of HFC-free refrigerators that they produce.

Meanwhile, the EPA’s Energy Star program has published its first concise list of all refrigerators that use climate friendly refrigerants.
» Read article           
» See the Energy Star list of products with climate-safe refrigerants                

MinneapolisMinneapolis program puts energy audits into hands of potential homebuyers
In its first year, a city ordinance requiring energy audits prior to home sales resulted in more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation, and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
April 5, 2021

Minneapolis saw near-perfect compliance and few complaints during the first year of a new ordinance requiring energy audits prior to all home sales.

The city’s residential energy benchmarking program generated more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners. The information is also publicly available online.

That’s more than six times the number of home energy audits typically conducted each year through a voluntary program.

“That’s an incredible gamechanger,” said Kim Havey, the city’s sustainability director, “but we need to be able to do that each and every year if we are going to be able to meet some of our goals for climate change.”

Sellers complied with the requirement for 95% of listings, but the city doesn’t yet have data on how the audits are affecting the housing market. Real estate agents said it’s unlikely energy efficiency is a deciding factor given how quickly homes are selling, but the reports could provide a useful roadmap for future home improvements — and in at least a few cases they have already spurred projects.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency            

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

green-drinks-ppp
‘Peaker’ plants or dirty energy is a false choice
By Rosemary Wessel, Cummington, Letter to the Editor – Berkshire Eagle
April 2, 2021
The writer is a member of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team

To the editor: In response to a recent letter about Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to put “peaker” plants in the past, it’s not surprising to see a restating of the false choices frequently proposed by the fossil fuel industry (“Letter: Environmental group misguided to target Berkshire ‘peaker’ plants,” Eagle, March 26).

It’s true that the sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow, as renewable energy detractors like to point out. And while it’s true that emissions from burning natural gas are roughly two-thirds that of oil or half that of coal, the truth is also that burning gas still creates dangerous fine particulate emissions as well as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. For the five percent of the time that the Pittsfield generating plant actually runs, it generates 15 percent of Pittsfield’s total annual stationary emissions.

One of the other fallacies in the author’s statement is that renewable energy would require cutting trees. I’m not sure if his reference was to biomass, which is not renewable in any realistic time scale and produces emissions roughly equivalent to coal, or if his assumption is that the only place to put solar panels is in the middle of forested land. BEAT does not support either of those options.

Understanding why fossil fuel peaker plants are no longer a valid option in the face of climate change requires consideration of modern options. Deployment of our state’s aggressive energy efficiency programs and other peak shaving options like demand response programs have already sharply reduced peak demand events on our region’s power grid and saved program participants significant sums in reduced energy costs.

When the wind blows and sun is shining, energy can be stored in grid-scale battery installations. It can also be stored in individual buildings like schools, town offices and other key municipal locations, commercial and industrial locations, multi-unit rental properties and even individual homes. This not only allows renewables to be installed on rooftops and over already disturbed grounds like parking areas, as they should be, but allows for thousands of “virtual power plants” to supply energy during peak demand, outages or whenever customers prefer to not draw power from the grid.

Mass Save’s Connected Solutions program allows for battery storage installations to be used in all these ways, and allows customers to combine financial incentives, shortening a payback period to a matter of years rather than a decade or more. Please visit tinyurl.com/putpeakersinthepast to learn more.
» Read article           

» More about peaker plants         

 

GAS UTILITIES

extra safe
Gas industry says new rules not needed
By Christian M. Wade, Eagle Tribune
April 8, 2021
*Photo from September 14, 2018 New York Times article on the Merrimack Valley gas disaster caused by shoddy work and lax engineering oversight.

BOSTON — A gas industry official told regulators Thursday that proposed rules requiring a professional engineer’s approval of certain projects may be unnecessary because gas companies already follow heightened standards.

State regulators are hammering out rules that mandate an engineer’s stamp on plans for “complex” projects that could pose a risk to public safety. The new rules stem from a 2018 law passed in response to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

The state Department of Public Utilities, which is drafting the rules, held an online hearing Thursday where an industry representative said utilities have since adopted guidelines, known as Pipeline Safety Management Systems, that make the new regulations unneeded.

Jose Costa, vice president of operations service at the Northeast Gas Association, said those guidelines include an engineering requirement that “provides another layer of protection that was not in place prior to 2018.”

“Some of the proposed prescriptive requirements in this rule-making are already being addressed through other methods and programs,” he told the panel.

Utilities, including National Grid and Eversource, have complained that the proposed regulations will be too costly, and that they are unnecessary.

Utilities have lobbied to limit the kinds of projects that must get an engineer’s sign-off, and submitted a litany of proposed changes to the rules ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

Brendan Vaughn, an attorney representing the utilities, made no mention of those requests Thursday but told regulators his clients “look forward to working with them.”

Meanwhile, an engineering group cautioned against excluding certain types of gas projects from review.

“While there may be instances in which a licensed engineer is not needed, I urge caution in defining those instances too broadly,” Anthony Morreale, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professional Engineers, wrote to regulators.

Gas industry officials have also raised concerns about a shortage of engineers who specialize in utility work, warning that delays could result.

But Morreale noted more than 15,000 licensed professional engineers are working in Massachusetts.

“I respectfully suggest that decisions about public safety should not be made based on the purported availability or not of personnel, but rather that companies tasked with upholding public safety adjust recruitment and hiring practices to ensure they are appropriately staffed,” Morreale wrote in an April 1 letter.
» Read article           

» More about gas utilities           
» More about the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster                    

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

AsgardExclusive: 2020’s Hurricane Zeta Nearly Caused ‘Another Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe’ in Gulf of Mexico
The near-miss raises questions of corporate management in a battered oil industry, how drillers will handle increasingly volatile hurricanes, and federal oversight of the offshore drilling industry nearly 11 years after the Gulf of Mexico was coated in oil.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 5, 2021

It was Thursday, October 22, 2020, when the crew aboard the Transocean Deepwater Asgard, an ultra-deepwater rig in the Gulf of Mexico, started monitoring a weather disturbance in the nearby Caribbean Sea that bore the tell-tale signs of a forming hurricane.

But the Asgard, which was drilling an oil well in the waters about 225 miles south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had other pressing matters to deal with. That same day, the oil well it was drilling more than a mile below the water’s surface experienced a kick — an eruption of oil, gas, or other fluids from deep underground up the drill pipe. If not properly controlled, this type of incident can sometimes lead to a blowout.

Kicks aren’t necessarily all that uncommon during offshore drilling. What happened over the following week, however, not only left the crew of the Asgard in deadly peril and caused over $5 million in damages to the ship and its equipment, but also, according to experts, risked an oil spill potentially several times the size of the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.

Events out to sea on the Asgard received little or no media attention at the time. An investigation by DeSmog reveals how close the Gulf Coast may have been to a major oil industry disaster this past fall.

“This could easily have become another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and former professor at the University of Alaska whose background includes advising on the response to that spill, the Exxon Valdez, and many others worldwide. “Secretary [of the Interior Deb] Haaland should order a comprehensive independent inquiry into the Deepwater Asgard incident, the failures leading up to it, and what needs to be done to prevent another such near casualty in the future.”
» Blog editor’s note: this article is a gripping and unsettling account of what’s happening out there in the world of deep water drilling.
» Read article           

tax refund
Analysis: Fossil Fuel Tax Programs to Cut Emissions Lead to Lots of Industry Profit, Little Climate Action
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 4, 2021

The fossil fuel industry and its investors have financially benefited from tax policies and subsidies designed to reduce the emissions from oil, gas, and coal — sometimes without taking the action required to tackle climate change.

Recently, claims have been surfacing of companies taking the taxpayer money offered to incentivize these actions but not following through on reducing their emissions. In March, for example, Reuters reported that Congress has opened an investigation into problems with the government’s “clean coal” tax credit. This is after Reuters revealed that financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs, were making huge profits off the program, despite it not effectively reducing emissions.

Now, companies such as ExxonMobil are lobbying against transparency efforts when it comes to reporting their emissions for an existing carbon capture tax credit.

And the industry is also increasingly calling for a national carbon tax to be introduced. In March, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it supports efforts to put a price on carbon — this is a reversal from its position a decade ago when it was opposed to a bill that would have introduced a cap and trade program to limit carbon emissions.

Introducing a carbon tax would allow polluters to continue to produce carbon, they would just have to pay a price to do so.

These market-based approaches to limiting climate emissions, however, raise concerns about their overall effectiveness. They provide an opportunity for companies to reap the financial benefits of climate action without actually delivering the emission reductions. This makes them incredibly popular with the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s naive of us to think that all of a sudden the oil and gas industry is going to put forward policies that are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Jim Walsh, senior energy policy analyst for environmental NGO Food and Water Watch, told DeSmog.
» Read article           

foolery exposedNAACP Report: Fossil Fuel Industry Uses Deception to Conceal Damage to BIPOC Communities
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2021

The fossil fuel industry continues to use a long list of deceptive tactics to conceal environmental destruction that harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.

That’s the top finding of a newly released NAACP report titled “Fossil Fuel Foolery.” The report identifies 10 tactics that polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians often deploy to deflect accountability for the impacts of fossil fuel production and pollution on the environment and human health.

This report updates material on fossil fuel industry influence tactics that the NAACP published in 2019.

Many of the industry’s tactics are familiar, such as obscuring or denying the true effects of pollution. In one glaring instance, a firm named Mobile Gas did not report a 2008 Alabama spill of tert-butyl mercaptan, a chemical that is mixed with natural gas to give it an odor that can help with detecting leaks. The spill probably contributed to respiratory ailments and other health problems affecting nearby residents of a mostly Black and working-class community. Years later, Mobile Gas maintained that the amount spilled was “safe.”

Another top-ten industry tactic identified by the NAACP is to “co-opt community leaders and organizations and misrepresent the interests and opinions of communities,” sometimes with financial support, to “neutralize or weaken public opposition.”

Utilities have lavished donations on churches, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to obtain local community buy-in on pollution-generating projects, or to stifle the push towards renewable energy. In a situation that directly affected the NAACP itself, the utility Florida Power & Light donated roughly $225,000 to the group’s Florida state chapter between 2013 and 2017. The donations alarmed the national organization when the Florida chapter began repeating industry talking points against the growth of solar energy in the state, and helped spur the NAACP’s initial 2019 report.

Fossil fuel companies and their allies also try to shift blame onto the very communities affected by pollution to distract from the impact of industry operations, the NAACP found.
» Read article           
» Read the NAACP report                

» More about fossil fuels                 

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

air pillow
This Peeler Did Not Need to Be Wrapped in So Much Plastic
Amazon must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.
By Pamela L. Geller and Christopher Parmeter, New York Times | Opinion
April 5, 2021

The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone.

Did you need a book, disposable surgical mask, beauty product, or garden hose? Amazon was probably your online marketplace. If you wanted to purchase a Nicolas Cage pillowcase or a harness with leash for your chicken, Amazon had your back (They’re #17 and #39 on a 2019 Good Housekeeping list of the 40 ‘weirdest” products available on the website “that people actually love.”) From pandemic misery came consumer comfort and corporate profit.

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

In 2019, Amazon used an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging, according to the nonprofit environmental group Oceana. The group also estimated that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste ended up as trash in freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world. These numbers are likely to rise in 2021.

The magnitude of plastic packaging that is used and casually discarded — air pillows, Bubble Wrap, shrink wrap, envelopes, bags — portends gloomy consequences.

These single-use items are primarily made from polyethylene, though vinyl is also used. In marine environments, this plastic waste can cause disease and death for coral, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Plastic debris is often mistaken for food, and microplastics release chemical toxins as they degrade. Data suggests that plastics have infiltrated human food webs and placentas. These plastics have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the bloodstream that help control growth and development during childhood, among many other important processes.
» Read article           

» More about plastics in the environment              

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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 3/19/21

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Welcome back.

Cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was a positive move for the planet. But in the near term, it will force more tar sands oil into virtual pipelines – rail cars that have been implicated in horrific “train bomb” incidents involving massive destruction and mass casualties. Recent experiments prove that this oil can be transported economically without the explosive volatile constituents that make these trains so dangerous. Fast-track implementation of this transport method would extend direct benefits from the pipeline cancellation down to everyone living or working near train tracks.

Now that the Biden administration’s energy policies are coming into focus, a coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries is pressing for a rapid cut-off of all fossil fuel subsidies. The confirmation of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as the Interior Department’s first Native American Secretary sends a powerful signal, and indicates the administration’s seriousness about greening the economy. More locally, activists in Massachusetts are celebrating passage of truly landmark climate legislation, which now appears likely to receive Governor Charlie Baker’s signature.

As wealthy countries distribute Covid-19 vaccines, economic activity is resuming and oil consumption is rebounding toward pre-pandemic highs. Climate watchers expected this, and caution that we’re a long way from addressing the profound changes required at all levels of society to address global warming.

We’re always on the lookout for bird-safe wind power at an appropriate scale for residential use. Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless is proposing more than we bargained for! Maybe News Check-In readers can suggest finishing touches that would show the neighbors you’re really living the clean energy lifestyle.

Energy storage is getting some good attention in New York, with utility Con Edison moving to take advantage of virtual power plant services of batteries in homes and commercial buildings. This is a non-wires solution, where the utility incentivizes ownership of batteries in parts of the grid where extra power is needed during peak usage periods. In a complementary development, large stationary batteries, especially when associated with wind and solar power, have reached an economic point where they out-compete fossil fueled peaking power plants.

Of course batteries are also key to getting everyone into electric vehicles. We lead this section with a side trip into the new age of sailing ships, and follow that with a dose of reality about those vehicle batteries. Two articles consider consequences of sourcing all the lithium, nickel, and cobalt required to whisk all these people and things around without burning fuel.

All these new electric vehicles, wind turbines, and green buildings are – at least for now – going to need a lot of steel. But it’s a notoriously carbon-intensive material, and that has the industry taking a hard look at the possibility of creating a zero-carbon product. It’s technically possible, but the capital investment is daunting.

Regardless of how fast humanity reduces its emissions, we’ve already reached such a crisis point that climate scientists argue for some amount of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This can be a tricky subject, because the fossil fuel industry dangles the promise of carbon capture from smokestacks to greenwash a version of the future where business-as-usual continues without consequences. We’ll be bringing you CCS news as we find it, and will attempt to call out the propaganda.

While the Biden administration has already paused new oil and gas leases on federal land, legal experts are examining the feasibility of canceling some existing leases. This is in line with the “keep it in the ground” strategy, a reality that the fossil fuel industry appears to be grudgingly acknowledging through record write-downs of the value of their reserves. Another threat to the industry is a broad-based call for Biden to halt liquefied natural gas exports. We found a report that explores that issue, and considers the complicating factors – which unfortunately seem to rely heavily on the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” argument, when maybe we should be diverting some of this LNG build-out investment into the clean energy infrastructure that will achieve real climate goals.

We close with another clarification of the environmental threat that proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant poses to the environmental justice communities in Springfield. Also, a check-in on a newly-implemented international agreement that aims to curb the dumping of waste plastic into developing countries ill-equipped to safely process it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

bomb train alternativeAnalysis: Canceled Keystone XL Pipeline Driving Major Safety Changes in Canadian Oil-by-Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 12, 2021

The Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in January appears to be driving a revolutionary improvement in Canadian oil-by-rail safety that could protect the public from what have become known as “bomb trains.”

Without the KXL pipeline to help transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the United States, Canadian oil producers are turning to trains. And using a new technology to help make it more affordable — and less flammable.

When tar sands bitumen is mined and processed, it results in a thick, tarry substance which industry material safety data sheets note is a “low fire hazard” and “must be heated before ignition will occur.”

To ship tar sands oil by pipeline, however, the raw bitumen must be diluted with a light volatile petroleum product called condensate, which turns it into a “highly flammable” product, according to material data safety sheets. “This product,” the safety sheets state, “will easily ignite in the presence of heat sources, sparks, or flames.” This volatility is what causes devastating fires and explosions to happen so easily when oil trains derail.

Traditionally, the industry has chosen to pump this volatile diluted bitumen, or dilbit, into rail tank cars when shipping it by rail. But now the oil-by-rail industry is exploring a way to transport a form of bitumen that no longer easily ignites like the dilbit.

To do this, they’re investing in new technology that removes the flammable component of the diluted bitumen mixture before putting it into rail tank cars. The process is expected to make rail transport as affordable as sending bitumen via pipeline.

The first commercial application of this technology is being marketed as DRUbit and is a collaboration between Gibson Energy and US Development Group LLC that expects to begin operations in the second half of 2021. ConocoPhillips Canada has contracted to move 50,000 barrels per day and rail companies CP and Kansas City Southern will transport the product from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

DRUbit is a form of tar sands that is non-flammable and likely will not create large spills in derailments because raw or less-diluted bitumen doesn’t easily flow when exposed to air temperatures — effectively removing the risks to the public and environment from Canadian crude-by-rail transportation.
» Read article                

» More about virtual pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

end all fossil subsidies430+ Groups From 6 Continents Demand Biden End All US Subsidies for Global Fossil Fuel Projects
“We have to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies at the expense of our climate.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 18, 2021

A coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries Thursday called on the Biden administration to quickly cut off all U.S. public financing for fossil fuel projects overseas and work with governments around the world to bring about an end to taxpayer subsidies for the dirty energy sources driving the global climate emergency.

“We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly to end new financing for all parts of the fossil fuel supply chain (including for gas), stop new U.S. fossil fuel support within 90 days across all government institutions, and work with other nations to end fossil fuel financing,” reads a letter (pdf) sent to top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Signed by 432 groups from six continents—including Africa, Asia, and South America—comes weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House condemning “handouts to Big Oil” and vowing to work with Congress to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in the U.S.

“Governments can’t claim to be serious about climate change if they pump billions of dollars into the most polluting industries every year,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International, one of the signatories. “If President Biden is serious about zeroing out emissions by mid-century or earlier, the U.S. must end its billions of dollars in support for oil, gas, and coal projects around the world.”

Arguing that U.S. action to end public funding of fossil fuel infrastructure could spur other nations to follow suit, the new letter urges Biden to follow through on his initial steps toward launching a “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the climate crisis. The groups point to Biden’s January executive order directing federal officials to craft a plan aimed at “promoting the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.”
» Read article                
» Read the coalition letter to the Biden administration

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Deb Haaland confirmedDeb Haaland Confirmed As 1st Native American Interior Secretary
By Nathan Rott, NPR
March 15, 2021

Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm the Democratic congresswoman to lead the Interior Department, an agency that will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.

Her confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America’s Indigenous peoples. In addition to managing the country’s public lands, endangered species and natural resources, the department is also responsible for the government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Native American tribes.

“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.

As a congresswoman, Haaland was a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda and supported limits on fossil fuel development on public lands. She opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. She was also one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, which calls for drastic action to address climate change and economic inequality.
» Read article                

stealth carbon bombI Tried to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator. What I Got Was a Carbon Bomb.
Most refrigerators in the U.S. are still cooled by climate “super-pollutants” called hydrofluorocarbons. I’d been promised my new fridge wouldn’t be…
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 11, 2021

As a climate reporter covering “super-pollutants”—greenhouse gases thousands of times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide—I thought I knew enough to avoid buying a refrigerator that would cook the planet. Turns out, I was wrong.

Nearly all refrigerators in use in the United States today use chemical refrigerants that are some of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet. Yet, a growing number of manufacturers now offer new models with an alternative refrigerant that has little to no climate impact.

But none of the major appliance makers advertise which fridges are climate-friendly, and which are carbon bombs. In some cases, it seems they themselves don’t know which is which.

It didn’t have to be this way. In 1993, a German appliance manufacturer started selling an HFC-free refrigerator whose very name—“Greenfreeze”—touted its use of a climate-friendly refrigerant. More than 1 billion HFC-free refrigerators have now been sold worldwide, including units sold overseas by U.S. manufacturers, at a time when climate-friendly refrigerators are just becoming available in the United States.

A recent Inside Climate News investigation found the decades-long delay in the use of climate-friendly refrigerants in America has been driven largely by the U.S. chemical industry, which manufactures HFCs. HFCs are multi-billion dollar products that would likely be replaced by less expensive and more efficient climate-friendly alternatives if standards put forth by Underwriters Laboratories didn’t until recently limit their use, likely at the behest of chemical companies. Underwriters Laboratories, now known as “UL,” is a private company that provides independent safety certifications for thousands of consumer products.

When GE first submitted its application to EPA in 2008 to use only small amounts of isobutane as a refrigerator coolant, Honeywell International, one of the leading HFC manufacturers, opposed the rule change. The company claimed that isobutane is “highly flammable and explosive even in small amounts,” a claim that has not been substantiated by the more than 1 billion isobutane refrigerators in safe operation worldwide. The agency finally granted the request in 2011.

When I asked Julie Wood at GE Appliances why the company wasn’t now advertising the environmental benefit of its climate-friendly refrigerator models, she said she didn’t think there would be much interest.

“At the end of the day, there is just low consumer awareness,” Wood said.
» Read article                
» Visit EIA’s HFC-free refrigerator buyer’s guide

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATION

Kathleen Theoharides EEA Secretary
Baker administration ‘very pleased’ with climate change bill
With few options, top aide embraces Legislature’s amended proposal
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 18, 2021

WITH BOTH BRANCHES of the Legislature approving climate change legislation by veto-proof majorities, the Baker administration on Thursday declared victory and signaled that the governor will sign the bill into law.

“The governor and I are very pleased the Legislature adopted the vast majority of our amendments,” said Katie Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

She said she couldn’t definitively say the governor will sign the bill until it actually reaches his desk and he can see it in its final form, but she signaled that was likely. “We are very pleased by the inclusion of key amendments as well as technical changes,” she said.

Baker has little running room on the climate change bill. His only options are to sign the bill into law or veto it, and vetoing it would trigger overrides in the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature that could hurt him politically.

Baker “reluctantly” vetoed the climate change legislation passed by the Legislature at the end of the last session, saying he was boxed in by the calendar, which allowed him to only veto it or sign it into law because the bill reached his desk after the Legislature had adjourned. The Legislature responded by passing the exact same bill again in the current session; Baker sent it back in February with a series of amendments.

Between the original veto message and the filing of the amendments, Baker’s tone changed dramatically. In the veto message, Baker was defiant and dismissive, insisting the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions in 2030 50 percent below 1990 levels was too radical and would end up unnecessarily costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. He also objected to binding interim emission goals for six industry subsectors and raised questions about a proposed municipal energy code and a series of other provisions.

When he sent the bill back with amendments in February, Baker dropped his objections to some provisions and sought to compromise on others. On the 50 percent emissions reduction goal, for example, Baker suggested a target of somewhere between 45 and 50 percent with the administration setting the final goal. He also urged that goals for industry subsectors be used as planning tools rather than binding requirements.

The Senate passed a revised bill on Monday by a 39-1 margin and the House passed it 146-13 on Thursday. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on climate change, said the bill reflected a number of technical changes sought by the governor but didn’t budge on the major provisions in the Legislature’s original bill.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

CLIMATE

wrong direction
As Oil Demand Rebounds, Nations Will Need to Make Big Changes to Meet Paris Goals, Report Says
Covid-19 decreased oil demand by almost 9 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency. But it could surpass pre-pandemic levels within a few years.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
March 18, 2021

Global oil demand is expected to grow steadily over the next five years and quickly surge past pre-pandemic levels, a path that could put climate goals out of reach, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a report released Wednesday, the agency said that while the pandemic will have lasting effects on the world’s oil consumption, governments have to act immediately to set the global energy system on a more sustainable path.

Oil demand needs to fall by about 3 million barrels per day below 2019 levels by the middle of the decade to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the report said. But on the current trajectory, consumption is instead set to increase by 3.5 million barrels per day.

“Achieving an orderly transition away from oil is essential to meet climate goals, but it will require major policy changes from governments, as well as accelerated behavioral changes,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Without that, global oil demand is set to increase every year between now and 2026.”

While Covid-19 sent oil demand plummeting last year by nearly 9 percent, the report said demand is set to surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2023. Nearly all that growth will come from developing and emerging economies, particularly in Asia, and the bulk will come not from transportation but from petrochemicals used to make plastics.

The agency, made up of 30 member countries including the United States, stressed that the future is not preordained. But the report also underscored the huge policy and other changes that will be needed—including faster adoption of electric vehicles and a doubling of plastics recycling rates—to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
» Read article                
» Read the International Energy Agency report

beach erosion UK
World’s coastal cities face risk from land and sea
As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
March 15, 2021

Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.

This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.

Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.

And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.

Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.
» Read article                
» Read the Nature Climate Change study            

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

skybrator
Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home
‘Skybrators’ generate clean energy without environmental impact of large windfarms, say green pioneers
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
March 16, 2021

The giant windfarms that line hills and coastlines are not the only way to harness the power of the wind, say green energy pioneers who plan to reinvent wind power by forgoing the need for turbine towers, blades – and even wind.

“We are not against traditional windfarms,” says David Yáñez, the inventor of Vortex Bladeless. His six-person startup, based just outside Madrid, has pioneered a turbine design that can harness energy from winds without the sweeping white blades considered synonymous with wind power.

The design recently won the approval of Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector. Equinor will also offer the startup development support through its tech accelerator programme.

The bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.

It has already raised eyebrows on the forum site Reddit, where the turbine was likened to a giant vibrating sex toy, or “skybrator”. The unmistakably phallic design attracted more than 94,000 ratings and 3,500 comments on the site. The top rated comment suggested a similar device might be found in your mother’s dresser drawer. It received 20,000 positive ratings from Reddit users.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

powerwall VPP
New York utility Con Edison recognises value of home energy storage with new virtual power plant
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
March 17, 2021

The CEO of US virtual power plant provider Swell Energy has said that New York utility company Con Edison has been “very progressive” in recognising the value that aggregated home battery systems paired with solar can offer.

Swell Energy’s Suleman Khan was among a handful of staff that launched what later became known as Tesla Energy in 2015. Having taken responsibility at Tesla for pricing up the company’s Powerwall residential storage product, he now heads up a company that takes storage systems including Powerwalls and aggregates them into virtual power plants by combining their capacity and capabilities.

Swell Energy currently has under contract 300MWh of virtual power plant agreements in territories including Hawaii and California, having raised US$450 million in project financing, which Khan said represents about 14,000 homes’ worth of battery storage. The company’s business model is essentially based around selling homeowners batteries with or without solar at a discounted price, after agreeing local capacity contracts with utilities that help them reduce aggregate load in specific areas, the “surgical value of behind-the-meter storage” as he calls it.

“We ended up, from the business development standpoint approaching utilities and saying: ‘look, here’s your customer base, here’s your aggregate load. If you were to add storage to this portion of the customer base, you would really take your aggregate load down in periods where you want it to be down.’ We show them precisely how certain loads can be taken down on certain circuits in a surgical manner, as opposed to just a massive battery farm in the middle of the desert.”
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Oceanbird
New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions
By Andrew Willner, Mongabay
March 15, 2021

Despite the present dominance of fossil-fueled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both aging and fragile.

Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization’s most recent data.

This annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change — one of nine scientifically defined planetary boundaries (PBs) we now risk overshooting — it also contributes to ocean acidification (a second planetary boundary) which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity (a third PB). And add to that significant chemical pollution (a fourth planetary boundary) that is emitted from ship smokestacks.

All of these planetary boundaries interrelate and influence one another (negatively and positively): for example, reducing black carbon (or soot), the fine particulate matter emitted from fossil fueled oceangoing vessels could slow global warming somewhat, buying time to implement further steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations. (Innovators are already solving this problem with cold ironing, providing shoreside electrical power to ship berths, allowing main and auxiliary engines to be shut down.)

Today’s cargo industry is plagued not only by environmental issues, but by a difficult logistical and economic problem: its current fleet of fossil-fueled container ships are mostly behemoths — with immense carrying capacities. However, the “overcapacity” of these giant ships leaves them without the nimbleness to adapt to unexpected shifts in global supply and demand; the world’s ports and specialized markets could likely be better served, say experts, by smaller, far more fuel-efficient cargo ships.

The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalized world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.
» Read article                

Thacker Pass
The Battle of Thacker Pass
Electric cars require a lot of lithium. A showdown in Nevada shows that getting it won’t be easy.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
March 12, 2021

When Edward Bartell first learned that a lithium mine might be moving into his remote corner of northern Nevada, the longtime cattle rancher wasn’t upset.

“I was actually kind of excited about it,” Bartell said. He knew that lithium is a key metal used in batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid, and he knew the United States is going to need a lot of it to transition off fossil fuels.

But as Bartell started learning more about the proposed Thacker Pass mine — which would be the second, and by far the largest, lithium mine in the United States — he grew increasingly worried about its impacts on his ranching business and nearby ecosystems. In spite of the numerous concerns Bartell and others raised during a comment period in which the government solicited opinions about the proposed mine project from members of the public, Thacker Pass received speedy review and was approved by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, on January 15, the Trump administration’s final Friday in office. Construction of mining facilities and “pre-stripping” to expose lithium-rich ores could begin later this year.

Bartell is now suing the federal government to try to stop that from happening.
» Read article                

perilous pathway
Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Earth’s Most Sensitive Ecosystem?
Materials needed to make the batteries for electric cars and other clean technology is driving interest in deep-seabed mining, and scientists fear the cost to the ocean will be steep.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
March 10, 2021

From 2010 to 2019 the number of EVs on the road rose from 17,000 to 7.2 million. And that number could jump to 250 million by 2030, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.

The growing demand for electric vehicles is good news for limiting climate emissions from the transportation sector, but EVs still come with environmental costs. Of particular concern is the materials needed to make the ever-important batteries, some of which are already projected to be in short supply.

“Climate change is our greatest and most pressing challenge, but there are some perilous pathways to be aware of as we build out the infrastructure that gets us to a new low-carbon paradigm,” says Douglas McCauley, a professor and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara.

One of those perilous pathways, he says, is mining the seafloor to extract minerals like cobalt and nickel that are widely used for EV batteries. Extraction of these materials has thus far been limited to land, but international regulations for mining the deep seabed far offshore are in development.

“There’s alignment on the need to go as fast as we can with low-carbon infrastructure to beat climate change and electrification will play a big part in that,” he says. “But the idea that we need to mine the oceans in order to do that is, I think, a very false dichotomy.”

As pressure mounts to claim terrestrial minerals, commercial interest is growing to extract resources from the deep seabed, where there’s an abundance of metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, lead and lithium. Investors already expect profits: One deep-sea mining company recently announced a plan to go public after merging with an investment group, creating a corporation with an expected $2.9 billion market value.

But along with that focus comes increased warnings about the damage such extraction could do to ocean health, and whether the sacrifice is even necessary.

McCauley hopes that a combination of advances will help take the pressure off sensitive ecosystems and that we don’t rush into mining the seabed for short-term enrichment when better alternatives are on the horizon.

“One of my greatest fears is that we may start ocean mining because it’s profitable for just a handful of years, and then we nail it with the next gen battery or we get good at doing low-cost e-waste recycling,” he says. “And then we’ve done irreversible damage in the oceans for three years of profit.”
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

BUILDING MATERIALS

sheets of steel
How to Clean Up Steel? Bacteria, Hydrogen and a Lot of Cash.
With climate concerns growing, steel companies face an inevitable crunch. ArcelorMittal sees solutions, but the costs are likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in Europe alone.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 17, 2021

Few materials are more essential than steel, yet steel mills are among the leading polluters. They burn coke, a derivative of coal, and belch millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Roughly two tons of carbon dioxide rises into the atmosphere for every ton of steel made using blast furnaces.

With climate concerns growing, a crunch appears inevitable for these companies. Carbon taxes are rising, and investors are wary of putting their money into businesses that could be regulated out of existence.

None of this has been lost on the giant steel maker ArcelorMittal.

The company is spending 325 million euros (about $390 million) on pilot programs that include making steel with hydrogen and using bacteria to turn carbon dioxide into useful chemicals. The amount is less than 1 percent of the company’s 2020 revenue. But [Aditya Mittal, 44, who recently succeeded his father as chief executive], who had been ArcelorMittal’s chief financial officer, said the company had greater technical resources and global scale than most rivals and was well positioned to lead the cleanup.

“We can now imagine that it is possible to make steel without carbon emissions,” he said.

But the future costs of converting a string of blast furnaces into climate-friendly operations are likely to run into tens of billions in Europe alone, the company says.

In recent years, the oil and gas industry has come under pressure from governments embracing increasingly ambitious climate goals. One result is greatly expanded investments in renewable energy. Now, many see the regulatory focus turning to the steel industry and other heavy polluters.
» Read article                

» More about building materials

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

LCO2 carrier
Two European companies are mapping a future service for direct air capture to sequestration of CO2
By Jonathan Shieber, Tech Crunch
March 9, 2021

The Swiss-based, venture capital-backed, direct air capture technology developer Climeworks is partnering with a joint venture between the government of Norway and massive European energy companies to map the pathway for a business that could provide not only the direct capture of carbon dioxide emissions from air, but the underground sequestration and storage of those emissions.

The deal could pave the way for a new business that would offer carbon capture and sequestration services to commercial enterprises around the world, if the joint venture between Climeworks and the newly formed Northern Lights company is successful. It would mean the realization of a full-chain carbon dioxide removal service that the two companies called a necessary component of the efforts to reverse global climate change.

Northern Lights was incorporated in March as a joint venture between Equinor, Shell and Total to provide processing, transportation and underground sequestration services for captured carbon dioxide emissions. The business is one of the lynchpins in the Norwegian government’s efforts to capture and store carbon emissions safely underground under a plan called The Longship Project.

“There is growing awareness of the need to build capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve net zero by 2050. We are enthusiastic about this collaboration with Climeworks. Combined with safe and permanent storage, direct air capture has the potential to get the carbon cycle back in balance,” said Børre Jacobsen, the managing director of Northern Lights, in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read about the Longship Project

Carbfix
This Icelandic Startup Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Stone
By Savannah Hasty, EcoWatch
March 14, 2021

Carbon emissions are the leading cause forcing the climate crisis today. These emissions account for more than 60% of man-made global warming, as well as other conditions related to climate crisis such as ocean acidification and weather pattern disruptions. However, a new solution to these impending carbon catastrophes has been discovered by Icelandic startup Carbfix, which is turning carbon dioxide into stone.

Carbfix offers a plan for reaching Paris agreement goals for limiting anthropogenic warming using a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project, founded in 2007 by Reykjavik Energy and several research institutions (now owned by Reykjavik Energy), aims to capture CO2 from industrial sites, dissolve it in water, and then inject it into the ground where it turns to rock. The process only takes two years, effectively accelerating the process of natural carbon storage to meet increasing carbon emissions throughout the developed world.

Carbfix’s proprietary technology “captures” the carbon dioxide from an industrial facility before it enters the atmosphere, effectively bringing the facility’s emissions to zero. They are also partnering with a Swiss company, Climeworks, to perform what is called carbon capture, which withdraws the CO2 from surrounding air. This can reduce a company’s net carbon footprint, as well as negate previously unaddressed carbon emissions.
» Read article            

» More about carbon capture and sequestration

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

summer surgesReport: These rarely used, dirty power plants could be cheaply replaced by batteries
By Rachel Ramirez, Grist
June 11, 2020

As air conditioning units begin to hum with summer’s arrival, electricity use surges. Across the U.S., that demand is met by more than 1,000 so-called peaker power plants, which typically only run during infrequent periods of peak energy demand. They tend to be expensive, inefficient, and disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods of color, where they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants.

For all these reasons, environmental advocates consider peaker plants a high priority for retirement and replacement. A sweeping analysis released last month by researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, based on their operational features and the characteristics of local electricity grids, as well as the health, environmental, and equity benefits of retiring the plants. All of these factors combined present unique opportunities to replace some of the electricity sector’s most polluting facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.

The feasibility of these opportunities is largely the result of recent breakthroughs in energy storage, particularly battery storage. Energy storage is essentially any system used to store electricity generated at one point in time for use at another time. The most familiar type of energy storage is battery storage, in which the electricity generated by a solar panel system during the day, for example, could be stored and then later supplied once the sun sets.

“Energy storage is now competitive with peaker power plants,” said Elena Krieger, PSE’s director of research. “We’re sort of at that economic turning point where that’s the opportunity, but ideally that could set a precedent for how we think about adopting clean energy across the grid as a whole — so that we bring on these clean resources and not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but prioritize health, prioritize resilience, and prioritize equitable access.”
» Read article               
» Read report – The Fossil Fuel End Game (March 2021)  

» Read report – Dirty Energy, Big Money (May 2020)
» Join BEAT’s Put Peakers in the Past coalition! 

» More about peakers

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Kern County pumpjack
Keeping It All In the Ground?
Exploring legal options for congressional and executive actions to terminate existing fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
By Eric Biber, Legal Planet
March 11, 2021

The Biden Administration has set aggressive goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States.  And a necessary component for any long-term plan to address greenhouse gas emissions from the United States is reducing and ultimately eliminating the emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands.

Why is this such a critical issue? Almost half of the coal mined in the United States, about a quarter of the oil, and around one-sixth of the natural gas is produced from leasing federal lands to private parties for coal, oil, and gas development.  Without addressing federal fossil fuel leasing, the United States would not be able to meet the commitment of the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid more than two degrees Celsius in global temperature increases.

The Biden transition team indicated that they were looking at ending new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands – particularly coal – to help meet climate goals. On Biden’s first day in office, the administration set a 60-day pause on leasing and permitting, and there is talk of a full moratorium. But that just addresses new leases. What about the existing leases on federal lands, which already lock in substantial emissions and under current leasing systems could produce for decades to come?

Addressing those leases may be crucial for the new Administration.  To help answer this open question, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of the legal capacity of the federal government to end existing fossil fuel leases.

Of course, just because something can be legally done doesn’t mean it should be.  For example, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about whether unilateral efforts by a single nation to restrict the production of fossil fuels will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since those unilateral reductions may be offset by imports from other producers around the world, or by substituting one fossil fuel for another.  However, our initial review suggests that it is plausible that termination of coal leasing on federal lands in the United States would lead to significant emissions reductions – in part because the global market for coal is not nearly as robust as for oil, and in part because there are good lower-carbon or carbon-free substitutes for many uses of coal (e.g., renewable energy to produce electricity).
» Read article                
» Read the legal assessment

welcome to Colorado
Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup
As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits: plugging nearly 60,000 oil and gas wells.
By Nick Bowlin / High Country News, reprinted in Energy News Network
March 12, 2021

When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.

But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.

There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot — more than $8 billion, the report found.

Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They do so in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.

This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cove Point 2014Biden faces climate clash over LNG
By Lesley Clark and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
March 8, 2021

The Biden administration has yet to fully delineate its position on liquefied natural gas, prompting cautious optimism from industry but spurring pushback from groups that want to phase out the fuel.

In an interview Friday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged DOE’s legal responsibility to review proposed LNG export facilities and suggested that could move in step with things like curbing flaring and leaks from gas pipelines (see related story).

LNG shipments are often bound for “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels,” Granholm said, adding that “it does have the impact of reducing internationally carbon emissions.”

“However, I will say there is an opportunity here, as well, to really start to deploy some [carbon capture, use and storage] technologies with respect to natural gas in the Gulf [of Mexico] and other places that we are siting these facilities for that we are obligated to do under the law,” Granholm said.

The comments highlight a dilemma the Biden administration is facing on LNG: How will the fuel coexist with aggressive climate targets without infuriating a core of the Democratic base? President Biden has vowed to tackle climate change by transitioning to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050.

It’s currently unclear how Biden might differ on the issue from the previous two administrations. President Obama got many LNG export projects off the ground, and both Trump administration Energy secretaries were enthusiastic supporters. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s DOE dubbed it “freedom gas” at one point, boasting that it provided U.S. allies with a cleaner source of energy.

Biden officials have, however, made comments that mirror those from industry and some analysts about the role LNG exports can play in offsetting the continued growth of coal, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicDespite his claims, science is not on Vic Gatto’s side
Proponent of biomass power plant is making up ‘facts’
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
March 18, 2021

VIC GATTO has been a tireless campaigner for the 42-megawatt biomass power plant in East Springfield that his company wants to build over widespread community opposition. But in his effort to ostensibly dispel “public misinformation” about the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant (“Biomass Plant COO Says Science is on His Side,” Feb. 27, 2021), he is simply blowing more smoke.

We’ll grant Gatto’s complaint that the permitting process, which began in 2008, has been lengthy, complex, and litigious. This is testament to how bitterly contested this proposal has been from the beginning. But just because this plant has a permit does not make it benign.

Let’s look at the facts. According to its 2011 operating permit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Palmer biomass plant will burn nearly a ton of green wood chips per minute around the clock, requiring a smokestack more than 20 stories high to help disperse the pollution.

Even with “state of the art” pollution controls, the plant will emit more than 200 tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead. And that’s assuming the plant, once built, is able to comply with its permit restrictions. Around the country, the performance of biomass plants has been less than stellar, with frequent cases of air and water permit violations, fires, and other environmental hazards.

Gatto’s dismissive comments about the “very slight” air quality impacts of his project are particularly insensitive to the legitimate concerns of the Springfield community. The air permit allows the Palmer biomass plant to release more than 33 tons of fine particulate pollution per year, and emissions from increased truck traffic and “fugitive” emissions from wood chip and ash storage at the site will add to the ground-level air pollution burden. Since the plant was proposed, we’ve learned more about the cumulative impacts of air pollution, which include asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weight, dementia, and now, increased impacts and deaths from COVID-19.

These impacts are likely to be particularly acute in an overburdened environmental justice community like Springfield, where state environmental health tracking data show that residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care.  Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has written that “the proposed biomass facility in Springfield would jeopardize the health of an environmental community already deemed the nation’s ‘asthma capital.’”

In addition to denying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project, claiming that a state-sponsored study concludes that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution compared to chipping it and “allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.”

We could not find this statement anywhere in the studies Gatto cited — probably because it’s not what the science says.  Burning a ton of green wood releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instantaneously. That same ton of wood, if left to decompose on the forest floor, would gradually emit carbon dioxide over a span of 10-25 years, returning some of the carbon to the soil and forest ecosystem. Methane — a potent climate-warming gas — is only created when oxygen is not available. In reality, a much more likely source of methane from rotting wood will be the 30-foot high, 5,000-ton wood chip fuel pile at the plant.
» Read article          

» More about biomass         

PLASTICS RECYCLING

trash pickers
Countries Tried to Curb Trade in Plastic Waste. The U.S. Is Shipping More.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Michael Corkery, New York Times
March 12, 2021

When more than 180 nations agreed last year to place strict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, the move was seen as a major victory in the fight against plastic pollution.

But new trade data for January, the first month that the agreement took effect, shows that American exports of plastic scrap to poorer countries have barely changed, and overall scrap plastics exports rose, which environmental watchdog groups say is evidence that exporters are ignoring the new rules.

The American companies seem to be relying on a remarkable interpretation of the new rules: Even though it’s now illegal for most countries to accept all but the purest forms of plastic scrap from the United States, there’s nothing that prevents the United States from sending the waste. The main reason: the United States is one of the few countries in the world that didn’t ratify the global ban.

“This is our first hard evidence that nobody seems to be paying attention to the international law,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit group that lobbies against the plastic waste trade. “As soon as the shipments get on the high seas, it’s considered illegal trafficking. And the rest of the world has to deal with it.”

The scrap industry says that many of the exports are quite likely compliant with the new rules and that the increase in January reflects growing global demand for plastic to recycle, and use as inputs for new products. Recent history, however, shows that a large amount of plastic scrap exported from the United States does not get recycled but ends up as waste, a reality that was the impetus for the new rules.

The new rules were adopted in 2019 by most of the world’s countries, although the United States isn’t among them, under a framework known as the Basel Convention. Underlying the change was the need to stem the flow of waste from America, and other wealthier nations, to poorer ones.

Though many American communities dutifully collect plastic for recycling, much of the scrap has been sent overseas, where it frequently ends up in landfills, or in rivers, streams and the ocean. China, which once accepted the bulk of that waste, in 2018 banned all plastic scrap shipments, declaring that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump.”
» Read article               

» More about plastics recycling

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