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Weekly News Check-In 12/17/21

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Welcome back.

We’re leading with an update on the 55MW gas/oil peaking power plant heading for construction in Peabody despite stiff opposition from activists and municipal leaders. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, offers this: “I think it’s misguided. It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future.”

The transition to that future is not as straightforward as one would hope. A lot of this week’s reporting buzzed with the disappointing revelation that the Biden Administration’s recent leasing of huge Gulf of Mexico seabed tracts for new oil and gas drilling was not, in fact, compelled by court order as previously claimed. The move appears to have been a political bon-bon to coax West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to play nice and stop stonewalling critical climate legislation. And how did that go? The fossil fuel industry was the clear winner of this round, and Biden is now the subject of derisive holiday parody videos calling him out as a hypocrite.

Closer to home, utility Eversource heard from residents opposing its planned Springfield and Longmeadow pipeline expansion, and a bold energy efficiency plan that would have put solar panels, heat pumps, and batteries in low- and moderate-income Cape Cod households won’t be implemented quite yet. But here’s some good news: New York has become, by far, the largest US city to ban new gas hookups in new buildings.

Bill McKibben’s review of the past year’s climate news for New Yorker Magazine leans into just how strange, extreme, and unsettling the June/July Pacific Northwest heat event was – and what it says about the fragility of some very big systems that humans have knocked off-kilter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently debunked utility claims that large amounts of Southwest wind power was being “curtailed” because the grid was over-supplied with renewable energy. In addition to the problem actually being too much inflexible fossil-fuel generators clogging that grid, insufficient storage was also a factor. Help is on the way. We’re seeing lots of action in long-duration energy storage lately, including an innovative air battery design from Israeli company Augwind.

This is a great time to think about what it might take for a state like Massachusetts or California to go the final mile in their journey to “net-zero” carbon emissions. Grist explains some of the opportunities, challenges, and hype surrounding carbon capture and carbon removal. We also delve into the real, “break glass in event of emergency” possibility that someone might initiate a solar geoengineering project in the future – and the scientific debate over how to prepare for that.

We check in on cryptocurrency developments because activities like Bitcoin mining consume increasingly ridiculous amounts of energy. So, if you move your modular servers into the Permian Basin and run them off waste gas from fracking rigs, are you saving the planet? Not really…. Which brings us tangentially to methane released from landfills, and news that the Environmental Protection Agency may be way off in accounting for it.

We’ll wrap up the same way we started – with a little common sense from people who know what they’re talking about. Partnership for Policy Integrity Director Mary S. Booth takes the Baker Administration to task for its relentless promotion of biomass energy, reminding us that “if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.” And what about the plastics waste problem? Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and coauthor of a high-profile report in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine writes, “Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally.”

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

retiring peaker plant
Proposed Peabody ‘peaker’ plant ‘misguided,’ Environmental League of Massachusetts president says
By Mackenzie Farkus, WGBH
December 9, 2021

A proposed 55-megawatt peaking power plant in Peabody is drawing strong opposition from local climate activists. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to share why she believes the area should look to alternative energy solutions.

“I think it’s misguided,” Turnbull Henry said. “It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future. I’m sorry that it’s moving forward.”

Peaking power plants, also known as peaker plants and “peakers,” are power plants that run when there is a peak demand in electricity. Peakers are typically turned on during the coldest and warmest days of the year to compensate for spikes in space heating and air conditioning. Most peakers run on oil or gas.

Critics of the Peabody peaker plant are concerned over high amounts of CO2 and other pollutants emitted from the plant, believing that the plant is incompatible with a new Massachusetts law aimed at lowering carbon emissions by at least 45% of 1990 levels by 2030 before attaining “net zero” emissions by 2050.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Biden BabyCampaigners Say Biden ‘Deserves Lump of Coal This Christmas’ for Broken Climate Promises
Twelve days of “Biden’s Oily Christmas” events conclude with classic holiday movie parodies.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 13, 2021

Friends of the Earth on Monday concluded its campaign calling out U.S. President Joe Biden for breaking his promise to end new leasing of public lands and waters to fossil fuel companies with the release of three parody movie trailers based on classic Christmas films.

The trailers mark the environmental group’s final action as part of the “Biden’s Oily Christmas” campaign, which kicked off on December 2 with climate-emergency-themed carols and spanned a dozen days, inspired by the well-known song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

The videos—A Christmas Barrel, Biden Baby, and A Wonderful Lie, parodies of A Christmas Carol, Santa Baby, and A Wonderful Life—will play on eight mobile billboard trucks across Washington, D.C. from 9 am to 5 pm local time on Monday.

“President Biden promised to be the first president of the United States to comprehensively address the growing climate crisis. But instead, his Interior Department failed to fully address climate in its recent report on oil and gas leasing and is plowing forward with new lease sales that wreck our public lands and exacerbate climate change—all while enriching Big Oil CEOs,” said Nicole Ghio, senior Fossil Fuels Program manager at Friends of the Earth.

Climate campaigners have slammed the November Interior report as a “shocking capitulation to the needs of corporate polluters” and demanded details by filing public records requests about its development as well as the administration’s auction for the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred last month despite Biden’s pledge as a presidential candidate.
» Blog editor’s note: You can watch the holiday movie parody video clips by clicking on the “Read article” link below.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no expansion
Eversource natural gas pipeline proposal listening session held in Springfield
By Ashley Shook, Nick Aresco, WWLP Channel 22 News
December 14, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Advocacy groups in Springfield expressed their concerns over a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through their local streets.

Elected officials and residents continue to question why a pipeline is necessary in Springfield’s South End neighborhood, some showing their opposition Tuesday afternoon. Massachusetts’ Rep. Carlos Gonzalez held a meeting with Springfield residents to discuss concerns over the proposed Eversource pipeline project.

Many who live in the area where the pipeline would be constructed oppose the project because of the potential dangers it could pose. Eversource has proposed a roughly $33 million, 16-inch diameter gas pipeline that would be constructed underground between Longmeadow and the South End of Springfield.

“There are multiple problems that I see with the proposal. One is environmental. We are trying to get away from fossil fuels. There is a national effort, and global effort. A lot of ecosystems are being destroyed by fossil fuels,” said David Ciampi of Springfield told 22News.

“I am concerned for the potential hazard the proposal may have on the residents of Springfield. My priority should be moving to a less hazardous and greener production of energy,” said Chairman Gonzalez.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

NATURAL GAS BANS

NYC skyline
New York becomes largest US city to ban new gas hookups
It’s the biggest city yet to do so and a bellwether for the rest of the US
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 15, 2021

The Big Apple just became the biggest city yet to say goodbye to gas hookups in new construction. New York City Council passed a bill today that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels in new buildings, effectively phasing out the use of gas for cooking and heating.

Addressing building emissions is critical to New York City meeting its climate goals; they’re responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ban will apply to structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024 and to larger buildings in 2027. The measure will drastically cut down on pollution that fuels climate change: according to a recent study by clean energy think tank RMI, it’ll slash 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has about the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.

For years, the so-called natural gas industry has sold itself as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels like oil. But scientists, and a growing number of cities, are no longer buying the argument. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timespan. Methane leaks along the natural supply chain from wells to people’s homes. During a high-profile climate summit in November, the US joined over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.

Berkeley, California, became the first city in the US to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019. Since then, the gas industry has fought back by lobbying for policies that prevent local governments from implementing such bans.
» Read article               

» More about gas bans

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

methane accountingIs There Something Amiss With the Way the EPA Tracks Methane Emissions from Landfills?
Environmental groups say the agency’s methods are outdated and flawed, with considerable climate change implications. An EPA methane expert agrees.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 15, 2021

Three environmental groups are making a move to hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for accurately tracking heat-trapping gases emitted from the nation’s landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club have filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA, the first step in a legal process under the Clean Air Act. The groups claim the agency allows landfills to use methods that are more than two decades old, which are underestimating methane emissions by at least 25 percent.

The EPA under the law must review and, if necessary, revise its landfill gas emissions calculation methods every three years, and agency officials have known those emissions factors have been off since at least 2008, according to the 10-page legal notice, which was sent to Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, last week.

“When it comes to pollution, it’s very difficult to manage what you can’t measure,” said Ryan Maher, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, in a press release. “EPA needs to fix how it estimates emissions from this massive source of methane and other air pollutants, not only to help us understand the full extent of the landfill problem, but also to make sure that we’re holding polluters accountable and regulating these facilities properly.”
» Read article               

» More about the EPA

CLIMATE

climate year 21
The Year in Climate
A summer that really scared scientists.
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker Magazine
December 16, 2021

This year, a lot of the things we’ve come to expect with the climate crisis happened: there were heavy rains (New York City beat its rainfall record twice in eleven days); there was a big global conference (this one in Glasgow) with modest results; the price of renewable energy fell some more; and a record amount of solar power and wind power was produced, but not at a pace fast enough to catch up with climate change. Raging wildfires produced plumes of smoke that spread around the world; President Joe Biden tried to free up a lot of money for climate work and, so far, Senator Joe Manchin has prevented him from doing so.

But some unexpected things happened, too—such as December tornadoes and windstorms, which have devastated parts of the country, and which are increasingly linked to warming. The most unexpected event by far, though—the thing that was truly off the charts—came in June. Toward the end of the month, torrential rains across China created a lot of atmospheric moisture, which the jet stream sucked out over the Pacific. Meanwhile, the remnants of a heat wave in the American Southwest moved north. The two weather events met over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, forming a giant dome of high pressure that diverted moisture to both the north and the south. Gradually, over a period of several days, the core of the high-pressure area freed itself of clouds, allowing the sun’s rays to blast down during the days immediately after the solstice.

The result was the most remarkable heat wave in recorded history. On Sunday, June 27th, Canada broke its all-time heat record, of a hundred and thirteen degrees Fahrenheit, when the temperature reached nearly a hundred and sixteen degrees in Lytton, a community of around two hundred and fifty residents on the Fraser River, in southern British Columbia. The next day, that record was broken, again in Lytton, when the temperature hit a hundred and eighteen degrees. On Tuesday, it was smashed again, when the temperature in the town soared to a hundred and twenty-one degrees. On Wednesday, Lytton, now parched dry, burned to the ground in a wildfire; only a few buildings were left standing. Breaking a long-standing record is hard (Canada’s old high-temperature record dated to 1937); surpassing it by eight degrees is, in theory, statistically impossible. It was hotter in Canada that day than on any day ever recorded in Florida, or in Europe, or in South America. “There has never been a national heat record in a country with an extensive period of record and a multitude of observation sites that was beaten by 7°F to 8°F,” the weather historian Christopher C. Burt said.

Records of almost equally incredible magnitude came in from across the region.

Essentially, this couldn’t have happened on the Earth we used to know. James Hansen, the planet’s most important climatologist, put it this way when I talked to him last month: “We’ve been expecting extreme events. But what happened in Canada was unusually extreme.”
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

wasted wind
Mythbusting “Wind Oversupply”
By Joseph Daniel, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
November 16, 2021

Wind energy is already a common source of electricity because it is abundant, clean, reliable, and a low-cost source of electricity. Wind turbines are also flexible. Grid operators can turn down (or curtail) the output from wind farms to balance electricity supply and demand.

Grid operators curtailing wind power have given rise to the myth that wind curtailment is caused by an “oversupply” of wind. However, a recent analysis shows that wind curtailment is not caused by an oversupply of wind energy. Rather, its main causes include insufficient transmission capacity, the inflexible operation of coal-fired power plants, and a lack of battery storage.

As we continue to add more wind resources, grid operators and others must address these shortcomings in the system. Otherwise, wind curtailment will increase and ultimately hinder the transition to a cleaner, more affordable power system.

The Union of Concerned Scientists commissioned Synapse Energy Economics to investigate how the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the grid operator in the Great Plains, handles wind curtailment. SPP has the highest level of wind adoption as a percentage of total load and is consequently the grid most likely to experience “wind oversupply” events.

The results were clear: “A wind oversupply does not exist in SPP.”

Rather, during all of the hours when wind was curtailed, other higher-cost, more-polluting resources were still online. And, because of coal resources’ higher marginal cost and emissions rate, electricity customers would be better off if SPP were able to curtail coal instead of wind. Customers could have saved more than $40 million and avoided nearly 1.2 million short tons of carbon emissions per year.
» Read article              
» Read the Synapse Energy Economics report            

solar coaster
The U.S. Faces ‘Solar Coaster’ Amid Challenges And Opportunities
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 14, 2021

The U.S. solar industry is set to be torn between huge opportunities and major stumbling blocks in the coming months and years, and it will likely see a wild “solar coaster” ride in the next few years, Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday.

Supply chain setbacks and constraints could delay many projects and put gigawatts of capacity additions at risk, Michelle Davis, Principal Analyst, Solar, at WoodMac, says.

But on the other hand, if Congress passes President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the U.S. solar industry will receive a shot in the arm with the multiple clean energy incentives set in the legislation, including an extension of the investment tax credit (ITC), Davis added.

Due to the opposing bullish and bearish dynamics, near-term U.S. solar capacity is set for the largest fluctuations since 2016, when the investment tax credit almost expired, WoodMac’s analyst noted.

“It’s the solar coaster like we’ve never seen it before,” Davis wrote.

Solar installations next year would be lower than previously expected due to supply chain constraints and rising prices, Wood Mackenzie reckons.

Utility-scale solar will be hit the hardest, the energy consultancy said, lowering its 2022 utility-scale outlook by 7.5 GWdc, or by 33 percent compared to last quarter’s outlook.

On the other hand, if Congress passes the Build Back Better Act, America would see an estimated 43.5 GWdc of additional solar capacity installed over the next five years, which is a 31-percent increase compared to the WoodMac’s base-case outlook.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

roof panels
A Cape Cod efficiency compact wants to bundle solar, storage, and heat pumps — but state regulators rejected the plan
The Cape Light Compact says helping low- and moderate-income households install solar, storage, and heat pumps will compound the financial and environmental benefits, but state regulators have rejected the plan.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 15, 2021

A Cape Cod energy organization is appealing the state’s rejection of a proposal to provide a package of heat pumps, solar power, and battery storage to low-income customers.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities ruled in early November that the plan would violate state laws regarding the use of energy efficiency funding by supporting technologies that do not improve efficiency. The department also argued the plan would have uncertain financial impacts. Supporters of the plan, however, argue that the state has fundamentally misunderstood both the law and the proposal.

The Cape Light Compact, the organization behind the proposal, has filed an appeal arguing that the decision “is based upon error of law, is unsupported by substantial evidence and unwarranted based on facts found in the record.”

“We were given express legal authority to submit an energy plan that does more than the utilities and more than the state,” said Maggie Downey, administrator of the Cape Light Compact. “We believe that everything we’re doing is consistent with that legislation.”

While Massachusetts is generally considered a leader in both energy efficiency programs and solar incentives, lower-income households adopt these technologies at much lower rates than more affluent residents. A 2020 report by the state’s utilities found that residents of primarily White and higher-income areas took advantage of efficiency services at significantly higher rates than those in marginalized communities. And less than 1% of the solar projects that have received state incentives since 2018 are designated for low-income consumers.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Augwind air battery
IEC inks $8 million deal with company that uses air, water to store energy
Touted as a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to lithium batteries, Augwind’s ‘air batteries’ can power turbines when needed
By Sue Surkes, The Times of Israel
December 15, 2021

An Israeli company that has developed a unique method of storing renewable energy using air and water announced Wednesday that it has signed an $8 million agreement in principle with the Israel Electricity Corporation to build the first facility of its kind in the world, in Dimona, southern Israel.

Augwind, short for augmented wind, has developed a closed, circular system that uses water to compress air. This in turn is stored underground in long, flexible, balloon-like tanks, and when the energy is needed, the air is released, pushing out water which in turn drives a turbine that creates electricity.

The Dimona facility will provide 40-megawatt hours of storage (enough to power a small town for a day). It will be built in 2023, subject to the signing of a detailed agreement with the IEC.
» Read article               

» More about long-duration energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CR v CC
Why California can’t fill a major gap in its climate strategy
The debate over a net-zero bill highlights some of the biggest tensions plaguing climate action around the world.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 15, 2021

In the past few years, many states have passed new laws requiring that they achieve “net-zero” emissions by mid-century. Virginia, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all plan to cut emissions across their economies by 80 to 90 percent by 2050, and to offset any remaining emissions using either nature-based solutions known as carbon sinks, like trees and soils, or technology to suck carbon out of the air. Several more states, including Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota, have legally binding targets to reduce their emissions by at least 75 percent by 2050.

Many of these laws were passed in response to a landmark report released by an international group of scientists in 2018. The report found that the whole world needed to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s promise of trying to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The planet will not stop heating up until net-zero emissions is achieved.

But although California passed some of the first and strongest laws to tackle climate change in the nation, its legally mandated economy-wide emissions goals stop at 2030.

“We like to talk about how we’re leading the nation in the fight against climate change,” State Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi told Grist. “But increasingly we’re falling behind.”

This past legislative session, Muratsuchi introduced A.B. 1395, a bill that would have brought the state up to speed by enshrining in law a goal to achieve net-zero by 2045.

The story behind A.B. 1395 highlights one of the biggest areas of tension in the politics of climate change around the world right now: disagreement over the need for carbon capture and carbon removal.

That landmark 2018 report, and many studies since, have concluded that both carbon capture and carbon removal will be needed to stabilize the climate. But a large contingent of the climate and environmental movement, including researchers, justice advocates, and policy experts, reject these solutions due to concerns about locking in dependence on fossil fuels, further burdening communities with pollution, and wasting time and resources on plans that may never pay off.

As seen in California, the debate threatens to slow climate action at a time when it’s becoming increasingly urgent.
» Read article               

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

cheap and messy
Think Climate Change Is Messy? Wait Until Geoengineering
Someone’s bound to hack the atmosphere to cool the planet. So we urgently need more research on the consequences, says climate scientist Kate Ricke.
By Matt Simon, Wired
November 30, 2021

Here’s the thing about the stratosphere, the region between six and 31 miles up in the sky: If you really wanted to, you could turn it pink. Or green. Or what have you. If you sprayed some colorant up there, stratospheric winds would blow the material until it wrapped around the globe. After a year or two, it would fade, and the sky would go back to being blue. Neat little prank.

This is the idea behind a solar geoengineering technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection, only instead of a pigment, engineers would spray a sulfate that bounces some of the sun’s radiation back into space, an attempt at cooling the planet. It’s the same principle behind a supervolcano loading the stratosphere with aerosols and blocking out the sun. And it, too, would rely on those winds distributing the material evenly. “If you do it in one place, it’s going to affect the whole planet,” says climate scientist Kate Ricke, who studies the intersection of geoengineering, human behavior, and economics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Not just because you’ve cooled down and changed the global energy balance, but because the particles spread out.”

While it’s not likely that someone will colorize the atmosphere anytime soon, it’s getting increasingly likely that someone will decide it’s time for stratospheric aerosol injection. Emissions are not declining at anywhere near the rate needed to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the climate crisis is worsening.

But the science isn’t ready. This anthropogenic geoengineering might trigger unintended effects, like droughts in certain regions and massive storms in others. Plus, if engineers abruptly stopped spraying aerosols in the atmosphere, temperatures would swing back to where they started, potentially imperiling crops and species.

Still, stratospheric aerosol injection would be fairly cheap. And there’s nothing stopping countries from unilaterally deciding to spray their airspace, even though those materials would ultimately spread around the globe. “I just have a hard time seeing with the economics of it how it doesn’t happen,” says Ricke. “To me, that means that it’s really urgent to do more research.”
» Read article              
» What is solar geoengineering?     

» More about solar geoengineering

CRYPTOCURRENCY

modular mining
A ‘false solution’? How crypto mining became the oil industry’s new hope
Climate experts warn that plans to repurpose waste gas is not a solution, but more like placing a Band-Aid over a gaping wound
By Leanna First-Arai, The Guardian
December 16, 2021

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the most-popular decentralized digital currency, have a notoriously large carbon footprint (bitcoin mining alone consumes about half as much electricity in a year as all of the UK). So to leverage a cheap source of energy to run their bitcoin mining operations, Lochmiller and Cavness found themselves partnering with oil companies to repurpose a byproduct, primarily methane, that’s typically vented or burnt off in flares.

Their creation is part of a niche wave of tech startups that are now eyeing the oil and gas industry to help power the cryptocurrency boom. Lochmiller and Cavness, who started a bitcoin mining company called Crusoe Energy, see their fix as a marriage between two problems capable of “solving” one another: the wasting of gas flaring that contributes to the climate crisis, and the need for cheaper energy as crypto increases in popularity.

Climate experts, however, warn it’s a “false solution” so long as oil and gas production is allowed to continue. The world’s leading authority on climate science concludes that only a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will help avert a climate calamity; merely finding alternate uses for “waste gas” doesn’t confront the dire need to curb fossil fuel consumption. If anything, researchers warn, oil companies may feel incentivized to drill even more.

“At the end of the day, they’re still burning natural gas,” said Arvind Ravikumar, a methane researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, who deemed flare mitigation and companies proposing similar technologies a “scam”.
» Read article               

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Deepwater Horizon file photo
Revealed: Biden administration was not legally bound to auction gulf drilling rights
Justice department admits a previous ruling did not force the detonation of what environmentalists call ‘huge carbon bomb’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 13, 2021

The Biden administration admitted that a court decision did not compel it to lease vast tracts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, shortly before claiming it was legally obliged to do so when announcing the sell-off, the Guardian can reveal.

Last month, the US government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, offering up more than 80m acres of the gulf’s seabed for fossil fuel extraction.

The enormous sale, which took place just four days after crucial UN climate talks in Scotland, represented a spectacular about-turn from Joe Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling and was denounced by outraged environmental groups as a “huge carbon bomb”.

The president’s administration insisted it was obliged to hold the lease sale due to a court ruling in favor of a dozen states that sued to lift a blanket pause placed on new drilling permits by Biden.

But a memo filed by the US Department of Justice before the lease sale acknowledges that this judgement does not force the government to auction off drilling rights to the gulf.

“The administration has been misleading on this, to put it mildly. It’s very disappointing,” said Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager of Food and Water Watch. “They didn’t have to hold this sale and they didn’t have to hold it on this timeline.

“We know this will exacerbate the climate crisis, it undermines US credibility abroad and it contradicts a campaign promise by Biden. If the administration was taking the climate crisis seriously they would be fighting tooth and nail to keep every molecule of fossil fuel in the ground. They are nowhere near to doing that.”

“This is not going to help with Democratic turnout next year,” said Meyer. “There is a core constituency of young people and people who care about climate change who are upset and feeling betrayed by the Biden administration.”

Some commentators have pointed to Biden’s need to appease senator Joe Manchin, a fossil fuel– friendly centrist Democrat who is a crucial vote for the president’s Build Back Better spending bill, as a reason for the drilling.

“If it is political, that is unfortunate because the climate doesn’t really care about politics,” said [Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney at Earthjustice]. “Climate change will continue to cause problems for the whole nation if we don’t address it.”
» Read article               

Newport Beach cleanup
Texas oil company charged in massive spill off southern California coast
Prosecutors say company repeatedly failed to act on alarms that alerted workers to pipeline rupture
By The Guardian
December 16, 2021

A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries have been charged over a massive oil spill off the coast of southern California in October that fouled waters and beaches and endangered wildlife.

Prosecutors say the spill was caused in part by failing to properly act when alarms repeatedly alerted workers to a pipeline rupture.

Amplify Energy and its companies that operate several oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach were charged by a federal grand jury with a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil.

Investigators believe the pipeline was weakened when a cargo ship’s anchor snagged it in high winds in January, months before it ultimately ruptured on 1 October, spilling up to about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil in the ocean.

US prosecutors said the companies were negligent six ways, including failing to respond to eight leak detection system alarms over a 13-hour period that should have alerted them to the spill and would have minimized the damage. Instead, the pipeline was shut down after each alarm and then restarted, spewing more oil into the ocean.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

chip salad
Baker’s new biomass rules are step backward
Roll back climate, forest protections enacted in 2012
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
November 19, 2021

Mary Booth is director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which provides science and legal support so that citizen groups, environmental organizations, and policymakers can better understand energy development impacts on air quality, water quality, ecosystems, and climate.

HERE’S  A QUICK tip for greening our heat and power: if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.

That should be the guiding principle for the state’s new Commission on Clean Heat, which could finally shed some light on a sector rife with methane leaks, oil spills, and wood smoke. Skeptics may wonder if the commission is a way for Gov. Charlie Baker to slow-walk measures to curb pollution from heating systems, but a bigger concern is the administration’s ongoing and relentless promotion of dirty climate solutions, particularly biomass energy.

While many citizens may be aware of controversy around the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) making biomass power plants eligible for millions of dollars in subsidies, probably fewer know that the MA Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS) also subsidizes biomass power plants, as well as residential and commercial wood heating.

New changes to the RPS biomass rules proposed by Baker will roll back air quality, climate, and forest protections that were enacted in 2012 after a painstaking four-year process. One of the most shocking changes is the new rules will allow inefficient and polluting biomass plants in northern New England to once again qualify for millions each year in publicly funded subsidies, reversing the 2012 prohibition on such support.

As a concession to activists and scientists and an acknowledgement of how polluting wood-burning is, the new RPS rules will prevent biomass plants within five miles of environmental justice communities in Massachusetts from receiving subsidies. Meanwhile, similarly polluting power plants and residential and commercial heating units can still qualify for subsidies under the APS, with no restrictions on where they are built.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

PLASTICS BANS, ALTERNATIVES, AND INITIATIVES

reduce first
Beyond reusing and recycling: How the US could actually reduce plastic production
Whether it’s a cap on production or a market mechanism, it’s likely to meet industry opposition.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
December 13, 2021

A panel of experts last week made a simple, common-sense recommendation for dealing with the U.S.’s plastic pollution problem: Stop making so much plastic.

“Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally,” said Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and a coauthor of a high-profile report that was released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

It’s an idea that environmental activists have espoused for years. Beyond recycling and reusing the 42 million metric tons of plastic that the U.S. tosses out annually, they say, we should reduce the tide of plastic that is manufactured in the first place. Plastic production is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution that harms frontline communities, and plastic waste clogs ecosystems around the world. Making less plastic would help on all three fronts.

Now that the recommendation is coming from the influential National Academies, advocates are hopeful that federal policymakers may give it greater credence, raising a major question: What would a national strategy to phase down the unsustainable production of plastic look like?
» Read article              
» Read the report

» More about plastics bans, alternatives, and initiatives

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Weekly News Check-In 12/3/21

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Welcome back.

We’re remembering the great climate, environment, and social justice advocate, Dr. Marty Nathan who passed away on Monday at age 70. She devoted so much of herself to so many people, through a life well lived. She’ll be sorely missed.

There’s been a lot of news in the past two weeks, so I’ll bundle the stories as they relate to broad themes. Protesters hit the streets in Peabody, MA to draw attention to the contradictions between a planned peaking power plant and the state’s emissions reduction requirements. As fossil boosters charge ahead with construction plans, gas utilities in the mid-Atlantic region are cancelling similar projects. Meanwhile, two more liquefied natural gas export terminals were either cancelled (Jordan Cove) or moved closer to cancellation (Gibbstown). All of the above is related to the increasingly unfavorable investment environment for natural gas infrastructure relative to clean renewable energy and storage.

That same economic calculus is rapidly taking the shine off a fossil industry favorite: carbon capture and sequestration.

Oil and gas pipelines are increasingly difficult to justify – that includes new construction as well as continuing to operate existing assets. Especially when those old pipelines need an infusion of new cash for upgrades. Fossil interests are getting creative with their attempts to keep these lines open. That includes false claims that shutting down pipelines amounts to environmental injustice, and suggestions that implementing climate solutions will tank the economy. But a well-funded and coordinated effort to erode the concept of Native sovereignty is downright underhanded and creepy. Protests at Standing Rock held up construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (and many others since), so industry is acknowledging the potency and moral clarity of Indigenous peoples’ protests and actions by bringing court actions that could strip away Tribes’ ability to protect their own lands.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to dig and drill its way to the finish – extracting and burning every hydrocarbon molecule it can lay hands on – opposing forces continue to gather in strength and numbers. The divestment movement now has clear support from mainstream economic players, who agree that any investment in fossils grows riskier by the day. And legislation supporting citizen rights to a healthful environment, as New York recently passed, makes new fossil pipelines and power plants nearly impossible to imagine.

So we have our eyes on the many opportunities and challenges presented by the greening economy. These include strong demand for clean energy at every scale, often constrained by material supply. The need for massive improvements in energy efficiency along with the challenge of equitable delivery of programs, incentives, and services. Transforming the transportation sector; the red hot race for affordable long-duration energy storage; and the considerable issues around where to locate all this new, clean-energy infrastructure.

Hovering over all that growth and opportunity is the question of where a lot of critical resources are going to come from. Deep-seabed mining represents a potential source of badly-needed copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese. But scientists are concerned that seabed destruction, debris in the water column, and noise all risk vast environmental and ecosystem harm. We continue to list deep-seabed mining as a VBA (Very Bad Idea). Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Other VBAs include burning woody biomass for energy, and producing lots and lots of plastics. We’ll keep you up to date on all of it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

MARTY NATHAN

Marty Nathan garden
Community recalls impact, contributions of environmental, social justice activist Dr. Marty Nathan
By BRIAN STEELE , Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 30, 2021

NORTHAMPTON — Tributes are pouring in to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Marty Nathan, a retired physician and trailblazing social justice activist who died Monday at the age of 70.

Nathan’s daughter Leah Nathan said her mother died after a recurrence of lung cancer combined with congestive heart failure. She leaves behind her husband, three children and two grandchildren.

Martha “Marty” Nathan was a co-founder of Climate Action Now, the founder of the environmental activism group 2degrees Northampton and a board member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. She wrote a monthly column for the Gazette on the topic of climate change.

In June, the Gazette and the United Way of Hampshire County honored Nathan with the Frances Crowe Award, named for the legendary Northampton peace and anti-nuclear activist who died in 2019 at the age of 100. Nathan considered Crowe a friend and ally for 25 years, saying the pair “were inhabiting the same ideological and political territory.”

Leah Nathan said her mother “invested everything she had” in causes that mattered to “the people and planet she loved.”

In Nathan’s memory, loved ones should “get involved and just do something to make the change you want to see in the world,” and donate to worthy organizations.

“She was uncompromising in her beliefs, her commitment to justice, her love for her family, and doing the work that real change requires of us,” Leah Nathan said. “She was both complex and crystal clear, and the physical loss of her energy feels impossible to bear.”

Nathan’s advocacy began in the 1960s, when she protested against the Vietnam War, and it never abated. Just six weeks ago, she and three other local activists were arrested in Washington, D.C., for standing in front of the White House fence as part of a climate protest. After they were released without fines or charges, each donated money to the Indigenous Environmental Network, which organized the protest.

Russ Vernon-Jones, an organizer with Climate Action Now, was also arrested that day; he said Nathan was “an inspiration to me. She was such a model of determination and commitment and justice.”

“If she had never done this kind of activism, it would still be a huge loss,” he said, considering what a “warm, caring, generous, compassionate human being she was.”
» Read article               

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

SD no peakers
Amid the push for a cleaner future, a proposed power plant threatens to escalate the war over the region’s power grid
By David Abel, Boston Globe
November 23, 2021

PEABODY — It would cost $85 million to build, spew thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere for years to come, and perpetuate the reliance on fossil fuels in a dozen communities across Massachusetts, all while a new state law takes effect requiring drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Without state intervention, construction to build the 55 megawatt “peaker” — a power plant designed to operate during peak demand for electricity — could start in the next few weeks, making it the latest skirmish in an escalating war over the future of the region’s power grid.

Proponents of the controversial project say it’s needed to promote the grid’s reliability and to control potentially costly fluctuations in energy prices, even though its fuel — oil and gas — has become more expensive than wind, solar, and other renewable energy. Over the long term, they say, it should provide significant savings to ratepayers in Peabody and the other communities that have agreed to finance it.

Opponents say it would hinder the state’s ability to comply with the sweeping new climate law, which requires Massachusetts to reduce its carbon emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate them by 2050. They add that its 90-foot smokestack would also spread harmful particulate matter in surrounding vulnerable, lower-income communities, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Opponents of the project say it’s ludicrous for the state to sanction a new fossil fuel plant, noting that construction would start less than a year after Governor Charlie Baker signed the state’s landmark climate law and just a few weeks after world leaders gathered for a global climate summit in Glasgow and vowed to reduce their emissions sharply in the coming years.

Any new source of emissions, especially one that seeks to continue the use of fossil fuels for decades to come, is detrimental to the cause of eliminating emissions as soon as possible, they contend. Moreover, the hefty cost would be better spent on energy projects that would produce emissions-free power or on plants that use batteries to store that power for peak demand, they say.

This month, concerned residents held a rally in front of Peabody District Court, where they carried signs with messages such as: “Non-Renewable Energy is Peak Stupidity” and “Stop Polluting.”
» Read article               

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

pro bono
This Land Episode 5. Pro Bono

By Rebecca Nagel, Crooked Media
September 13, 2021

The fight against the Indian Child Welfare Act is much bigger than a few custody cases, or even the entire adoption industry. We follow the money, and our investigation leads us to a powerful group of corporate lawyers and one of the biggest law firms in the country.

[Blog editor’s note: This podcast discusses, among others, the case Brackeen v. Haaland, a case of concern that may soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, with potential to undermine native sovereignty and expose Indigenous lands to further exploitation by the oil and gas industry.]

From transcript: Matthew McGill, the lawyer representing the Brackeens in that big federal lawsuit, has used the same arguments in casino cases that he’s now using in ICWA cases, specifically that state’s rights argument we talked about earlier in the season. He’s used it to stop a tribal casino from opening in Arizona, and Gibson Dunn, where Matthew McGill works, represents two of the top three casino and gaming companies in the world. Gibson Dunn also specializes in the other industry that comes up against tribes a lot: oil. You’ve probably heard about the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline because the resistance camp at Standing Rock made national headlines. Gibson Dunn represented the pipeline company. What happened at Standing Rock worried the oil industry. One study estimated indigenous resistance cost the Dakota Access Pipeline $7.5 billion. It also inspired movements against other pipelines. Industry leaders, including lobbying groups that represent Gibson Dunn clients, have talked openly about why these indigenous-led protests need to be stopped. Seven months after the resistance camp in North Dakota was shut down, Gibson Dunn filed the Brackeen’s case in federal court.
» Listen to podcast (35 min.)                                   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Marathon refiinery - Detroit
Right-Wing Group Uses ‘B.S.’ Environmental Justice Argument in Effort to Keep an Oil Pipeline Alive
A D.C.-based think tank with ties to fossil fuel money claims that shutting down the aging Line 5 pipeline would hurt Black communities in Michigan. Community activists say otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2021

A right-wing group that has a history of receiving funding from conservative foundations and ExxonMobil is trying to frame the state of Michigan’s attempts to shut down the aging Line 5 oil pipeline as an assault on the Black community.

That industry-backed spin has not gone down well with Michigan activists. “I think that’s B.S. I think it’s phoney baloney,” Theresa Landrum, a community activist in Detroit, told DeSmog. “The Black community is not benefiting. We have been suffering all along.”

Polluting industries are often located near Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, impacting the health of communities suffering from long standing problems of disenfranchisement and disinvestment. At the same time, these communities are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, hit hard by extreme heat, floods, and the breakdown of critical infrastructure. And Michigan is no exception, from Flint’s lead pipe crisis, to the urban neighborhoods of Detroit where people breathe toxic air on a daily basis.

Accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels addresses multiple problems at once by cutting carbon emissions while also reducing environmental and public health threats.

But the Washington D.C.-based Project 21 is trying to paint the continued-operation of a major oil pipeline as a crucial lifeline to the Black community in Michigan. In a November press release, the group warns against interrupting the flow of “life-sustaining fossil fuels.”
» Read article                    

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

financial time bomb
‘$22-Trillion Time Bomb’ Ahead Unless Banks Drop High-Carbon Investments, Moody’s Warns
By The Energy Mix
November 28, 2021

Financial institutions are facing a US$22-trillion time bomb due to their investments in carbon-intensive industries, Bloomberg News reports, citing a study last week by Moody’s Investment Services.

“Unless these firms make a swift shift to climate-friendly financing, they risk reporting losses,” Bloomberg writes. And “it’s not just the moral imperative—that fossil fuel use is destroying the atmosphere and life on Earth with it. It’s that their financial health requires leaving such companies behind.”

The $22-trillion calculation is based on the 20% of financial institutions’ investments that Moody sees as risky, the news agency explains. The total includes $13.8 trillion for banks, $6.6 trillion for asset managers, and $1.8 trillion for insurance companies.

Moody’s is urging institutions to shift their business models “toward lending and investing in new and developing green infrastructure projects, while supporting corporates in carbon-intensive sectors that are pivoting to low-carbon business models.”

Bloomberg connects the Moody’s report with an assessment just two days earlier, in which the European Central Bank said most of the 112 institutions it oversees have no concrete plans to shift their business strategies to take the climate emergency into account. Only about half of the institutions are “contemplating setting exclusion targets for some segments of the market,” ECB executive board member Frank Elderson wrote in a November 22 blog post, and “only a handful of them mention actively planning to steer their portfolios on a Paris-compatible trajectory.”
» Read article                    

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

right to breathe
New York’s Right to ‘a Healthful Environment’ Could Be Bad News for Fossil Fuel Interests
Coupled with the state’s landmark climate law, the provision is a “blinking red light” for new gas pipelines and other oil and gas projects.
By Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News
November 23, 2021

When New York regulators denied a key permit to the controversial Williams Pipeline in early 2020, in part because it conflicted with the state’s climate law, environmental policy experts called it a potential turning point.

No longer could developers pitch major fossil fuel projects in the state without expecting serious regulatory scrutiny or legal challenges, climate campaigners said, touting the decision as a victory for the state’s clean energy aspirations.

That forecast was reinforced in October. State regulators denied permits for two proposed natural gas power plants, again citing the landmark climate law, which requires New York to transition its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Then, on election day, New York voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that granted all residents the right “to clean air and water and a healthful environment.” That amendment, which passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote, could strengthen lawsuits against polluters and further discourage developers from proposing fossil fuel projects in the state in the future, some energy experts have said.

The state’s climate law, paired with the new constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment, could set the stage for citizens to sue the government or other entities more easily for things like polluting a river or hindering the state’s legally binding clean energy targets, said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Not only does the combustion of fossil fuels drive global warming but it emits harmful chemicals and particles into the air that have been proven to contribute to significant health risks and premature death. One recent study found that the soot commonly released by the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for more than 50,000 premature deaths in the United States every year.

“It certainly sends the message that (new) large, fossil fuel facilities are going to have major problems” in New York, Gerrard said. “I wouldn’t call those decisions a death knell, but they’re certainly a blinking red light.”
» Read article                    

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Robert BlakeMeet the unstoppable entrepreneur bringing solar, EVs and jobs to his Native community and beyond
Solar Bear owner Robert Blake on his booming business, extensive nonprofit work and the $6.6M DOE grant he just landed.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Canary Media
November 29, 2021

Robert Blake is a solar entrepreneur, a social impact innovator and Native activist — and his work weaves all three strands together.

Blake is the founder of Solar Bear, a full-service solar installation company, and Native Sun Community Power Development, a Native-led nonprofit that promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and a just energy transition through education, demonstration and workforce training. Both organizations have a mission of advancing economic opportunity and environmental justice through renewable energy.

Blake is also building an EV charging network and a solar farm to power it in the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. He hopes his work can be a model for other tribal nations to follow in pursuing energy independence and powering the clean energy transition.

We caught up with Blake to discuss his work and his motivations. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
» Blog editor’s note: Click on the link below and read the conversation with Mr. Blake – he’s inspiring, positive, practical, and visionary.
» Read article                    

cobalt mine near Kolwezi
How the U.S. Lost Ground to China in the Contest for Clean Energy
Americans failed to safeguard decades of diplomatic and financial investments in Congo, where the world’s largest supply of cobalt is controlled by Chinese companies backed by Beijing.
By Eric Lipton and Dionne Searcey, New York Times
Photographs by Ashley Gilbertson
November 21, 2021

WASHINGTON — Tom Perriello saw it coming but could do nothing to stop it. André Kapanga too. Despite urgent emails, phone calls and personal pleas, they watched helplessly as a company backed by the Chinese government took ownership from the Americans of one of the world’s largest cobalt mines.

It was 2016, and a deal had been struck by the Arizona-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan to sell the site, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which now figures prominently in China’s grip on the global cobalt supply. The metal has been among several essential raw materials needed for the production of electric car batteries — and is now critical to retiring the combustion engine and weaning the world off climate-changing fossil fuels.

Mr. Perriello, a top U.S. diplomat in Africa at the time, sounded alarms in the State Department. Mr. Kapanga, then the mine’s Congolese general manager, all but begged the American ambassador in Congo to intercede.

“This is a mistake,” Mr. Kapanga recalled warning him, suggesting the Americans were squandering generations of relationship building in Congo, the source of more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt.

Presidents starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower had sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including transport planes and other military equipment, to the mineral-rich nation. Richard Nixon intervened, as did the State Department under Hillary Clinton, to sustain the relationship. And Freeport-McMoRan had invested billions of its own — before it sold the mine to a Chinese company.

Not only did the Chinese purchase of the mine, known as Tenke Fungurume, go through uninterrupted during the final months of the Obama administration, but four years later, during the twilight of the Trump presidency, so did the purchase of an even more impressive cobalt reserve that Freeport-McMoRan put on the market. The buyer was the same company, China Molybdenum.

China’s pursuit of Congo’s cobalt wealth is part of a disciplined playbook that has given it an enormous head start over the United States in the race to dominate the electrification of the auto industry, long a key driver of the global economy.
» Read article                      

» More about greening the economy                 

CLIMATE

right-wing arguments
Climate change deniers are over attacking the science. Now they attack the solutions.
A new study charts the evolution of right-wing arguments.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 18, 2021

Believe it or not, it’s nearly 2022 and some people still think we shouldn’t do anything about the climate crisis. Even though most Americans understand that carbon emissions are overheating the planet and want to take action to stop it, attacks on clean energy and policies to limit carbon emissions are on the rise.

In a study out this week in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, researchers found that outright denying the science is going out of fashion. Today, only about 10 percent of arguments from conservative think tanks in North America challenge the scientific consensus around global warming or question models and data. (For the record, 99.9 percent of scientists agree that human activity is heating up the planet.) Instead, the most common arguments are that scientists and climate advocates simply can’t be trusted, and that proposed solutions won’t work.

That came as a surprise to the researchers. Scientists get called “alarmists,” despite a history of underestimating the effects of an overheating planet. Politicians and the media are portrayed as biased, while environmentalists are painted as part of a “hysterical” climate “cult.”

“It kind of dismayed me, because I spent my career debunking the first three categories — ‘it’s not real, it’s not us, it’s not bad’ — and those were the lowest categories of misinformation,” said John Cook, a co-author of the study and a research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University in Australia. “Instead, what they were doing was trying to undermine trust in climate science and attack the actual climate movement. And there’s not much research into how to counter that or understand it.”
» Read article                      
» Read the study

Earthshine
“Earthshine” from the Moon shows our planet is dimming, intensifying global warming
By Zack Savitsky, Mongabay
November 18, 2021

For 20 years, researchers stared at the dark side of the moon to measure its faint but visible “earthshine,” a glow created by sunlight reflecting off Earth and onto the lunar surface. Their new analysis, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, revealed that this ghostly light has darkened slightly, confirming satellite measurements that our planet is getting dimmer.

As the planet reflects less light, the incoming heat gets absorbed by the seas and skies. This lingering warmth probably intensifies the rate of global warming, scientists believe.

Typically, about 30 percent of the light streaming from the sun gets redirected by Earth back to space, mostly from bright white clouds. But that percentage can vary over time. In 1998, a team from the Big Bear Solar Observatory in southern California set out to track Earth’s reflectivity, or albedo, by monitoring earthshine during the days each month the telescope could see the moon’s dark side.

“It is just so naturally appealing,” said lead author Philip Goode, a physicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which operates the observatory. “We’re using the moon as a mirror for the Earth.” The study ran for a full solar cycle—about 20 years—to account for variations in the sun’s activity.

Three years after Goode started Project Earthshine, NASA also began to measure Earth’s albedo with a string of satellites called Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, or CERES. Data from both projects has matched up neatly. Since the year 2000, the planet has reflected less energy back into space: about one-half a watt per square meter. That’s similar to the dimming effect from turning off one lightbulb on a panel of 200.

When these experiments began two decades ago, many scientists expected that water in warmer seas would evaporate more quickly and create thicker clouds—thus reflecting more sunlight back into space. But the satellite and earthshine results show just the opposite: “Somehow, the warm ocean burned a hole in the clouds and let in more sunlight,” Goode told Mongabay.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

solar glare
Renewables see record growth in 2021, but supply chain problems loom
High commodity and shipping prices could jeopardize future wind and solar farms
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 1, 2021

2021 is on course to break a global record for renewable energy growth, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest Renewables Market Report. That’s despite skyrocketing commodity prices, which could bog down the transition to clean energy in the future.

With 290 GW in additional capacity expected to be commissioned by the end of the year, 2021 will smash the record for renewable electricity growth that was just set last year. This year’s additions even outpace a forecast that the International Energy Agency (IEA) made in the spring.

“Exceptionally high growth” would be the “new normal” for renewable sources of electricity, the IEA said at the time. Solar energy, in particular, was on track to take the crown as the “new king of electricity,” the IEA said in its October 2020 World Energy Outlook report.

Still, there are some dark clouds in the IEA’s new forecast for renewables. Soaring prices for commodities, shipping, and energy all threaten the previously rosy outlook for renewable energy. The cost of polysilicon used to make solar panels has more than quadrupled since the start of 2020, according to the IEA. Investment costs for utility-scale onshore wind and solar farms have risen 25 percent compared to 2019. That could delay the completion of new renewable energy projects that have already been contracted.

More than half of the new utility-scale solar projects already planned for 2022 could face delays or cancellation because of larger price tags for materials and shipping, according to a separate analysis by Rystad Energy.

If commodity prices stay high over the next year, it could erase three to five years of gains solar and wind have made, respectively, when it comes to affordability. A dramatic price drop for photovoltaic modules over the past few decades has fueled solar’s success. Costs fell from $30 per watt in 1980 to $0.20 per watt for solar energy in 2020. By last year, solar was already the cheapest source of electricity in most parts of the world.
» Read article                     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

blowing cellulose
Massachusetts’ new efficiency plan puts a priority on underserved communities

The state’s latest three-year energy efficiency plan would include new provisions to increase outreach and expand program eligibility for lower-income households and residents of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
November 29, 2021

Massachusetts’ new three-year energy efficiency plan would substantially increase efforts to lower energy costs and improve health and comfort for lower-income households and residents of color.

The $668 million plan awaiting approval from the state Department of Public Utilities lays out strategies the state’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency program intends to implement from 2022 to 2024. They include provisions to increase outreach and expand eligibility in underserved communities — and pay utilities for providing more services in these neighborhoods.

“They’re saying, ‘Let’s figure out how to make sure that everyone paying into the program is able to access and benefit from the program,’” said Eugenia Gibbons, Massachusetts director of climate policy for Health Care Without Harm. “The plan is a good step forward.”

For more than a decade, Massachusetts’ energy efficiency programs have been hailed as some of the most progressive and effective in the country. The centerpiece of the state’s efforts is Mass Save, a collaborative of electric and gas utilities that provides no-cost energy audits, rebates on efficient appliances, discounts on weatherization, and other energy efficiency services, funded by a small fee on consumers’ utility bills.

Mass Save’s programming is guided by three-year energy efficiency plans, a system put in place by the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
» Read article                      

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Hydrostor Ontario plant
Inside Clean Energy: Here’s How Compressed Air Can Provide Long-Duration Energy Storage
A Canadian company wants to use compressed air to store energy in California.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 2, 2021

A grid that runs mostly on wind and solar, part of the future that clean energy advocates are working toward, will need lots of long-duration energy storage to get through the dark of night and cloudy or windless days.

Hydrostor, a Canadian company, has filed applications in the last week with California regulators to build two plants to meet some of that need using “compressed air energy storage.” The plants would pump compressed air into underground caverns and later release the air to turn a turbine and produce electricity.

The stored energy would be able to generate hundreds of megawatts of electric power for up to eight hours at a time, with no fossil fuels and no greenhouse gas emissions. Long-duration storage includes systems that can discharge electricity for eight hours or more, as opposed to lithium-ion battery storage, which typically runs for up to four hours.

This project and technology have potentially huge implications for the push to develop long-duration energy storage. But the key word is “potentially,” because there are many companies and technologies vying for a foothold in this rapidly growing part of the energy economy, and the results so far have been little more than research findings and hype.

“Their technology is not overly complicated,” said Mike Gravely, a manager of energy systems research for the California Energy Commission, speaking in general about CAES. “Compressed air is a very simple concept.”

The main challenge, as with so many clean energy technologies, is to get the costs low enough to justify building many of the plants.

Hydrostor, founded in 2010 and based in Toronto, has completed two small plants in the Toronto area, including a 1.75-megawatt storage plant that can run for about six hours at a time.
» Read article                      

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Calpine Fore River Energy
Board rejects permit for lithium battery storage
By Ed Baker, The Patriot Ledger
November 23, 2021

Calpine Fore River Energy’s request for a special permit to construct a lithium-ion battery renewable energy storage system at its facility on Bridge Street was rejected by the Board of Zoning Appeals, Nov. 17.

Board member Jonathan Moriarty said the location for a lithium-ion renewable energy storage system, “was not appropriate” because of its proximity to residences.

“The neighborhood is in an area that has the potential to be impacted by a fire or if an explosion occurred,” he said after a public hearing.

Calpine plant engineer Charles Parnell said a risk assessment by Lummis Consulting Services determined a lithium storage system would not pose serious public safety risks.

“We are now at another energy crossroad, where steps need to be taken to reduce carbon emissions by establishing renewable energy and storage,” he said during the hearing.

Parnell said the use of lithium batteries is growing as more communities seek renewable energy sources.

“In Massachusetts, three or four fossil fuel power plants shut down last year,” he said.

Several residents and town officials voiced concerns about noise pollution and hazards posed by a potential fire or explosion at the site.

Blueberry Street resident Alice Arena said many people are not opposed to the idea of a lithium-ion battery storage system.

“We are looking at its placement,” said Arena, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader.

Arena said iron flow batteries would be safer to use than lithium-ion batteries.

“They are cheaper and store more energy,” she said. “They last longer.”
» Read article                      

irreconcilable conflict
Irreconcilable conflict? Lessons from the Central Maine Power transmission corridor debacle
By Rebecca Schultz, Utility Dive | Opinion
November 30, 2021

On Nov. 2, nearly 60% of Maine voters supported a referendum to halt construction on the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile high-voltage transmission corridor through the state. Since then, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection suspended the project’s permit pending developments in NECEC’s legal challenges to the referendum and the decision by the Maine Superior Court last August that deemed a critical public lands lease illegal.

The growing possibility that the NECEC will be terminated has raised concerns by some that there is an irreconcilable conflict between environmental conservation and the infrastructure build-out needed to transition to a low-carbon grid.

But this is not the lesson we should take from the Central Maine Power (CMP) corridor debacle. The lesson is that we need to build public support for well-designed projects through strategic, long-term transmission and distribution planning.

The project, being developed by CMP and Hydro-Quebec, would deliver existing hydroelectricity from Canada to Massachusetts to help meet that state’s renewable energy requirements, while fragmenting the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America with 53 miles of new construction.

The fight over the project has been fierce, with large energy companies and environmental advocates on both sides, and a record $91 million spent on the ballot measure campaign.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is among those environmental groups that are both deeply committed to fighting climate change and stand in opposition to this project.

NRCM would enthusiastically back transmission projects were they well-sited and shown to deliver significant new climate benefits. For example, NRCM supports an effort to build a transmission line to connect new renewable projects in Northern Maine to the New England grid. This is a project that Maine lawmakers unanimously voted to support, the climate benefits of which are indisputable. But the climate benefits of the CMP corridor project are highly speculative, and it is certainly not designed to yield all the climate benefits that it might.
» Rebecca Schultz is senior advocate for climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
» Read article                      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI crossroads
With regional transportation pact stalled, what’s next for Massachusetts’ climate strategy?

Massachusetts, a chief proponent and logistical leader throughout the development of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, expected the multistate agreement to be a major part of its plan to reduce emissions. Support soon crumbled — so what now?
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 2, 2021

In the wake of Massachusetts’ decision to withdraw from a regional plan to curb transportation emissions, environmental and transit advocates see a chance to create policies and programs that could be even more equitable and effective at fighting climate change.

“Now there’s a real opportunity to really invest in infrastructure, invest in public transit, and enforce emissions reductions,” said Maria Belen Power, associate executive director of environmental justice organization GreenRoots.

The expected influx of federal infrastructure funds and bills already pending in the state legislature, advocates said, could help Massachusetts make significant advances in its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in a manner that benefits populations traditionally marginalized in conversations about environmental progress.

As Massachusetts pursues its ambitious goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, controlling transportation emissions — currently about 40% of the statewide total — is going to be essential. The regional transportation plan was expected to be a major part of the strategy.
» Read article                      

EV charging graphic
‘A long way to go’: How ConEd, Xcel and 4 other utilities are helping cities meet big EV goals
From New York City to Los Angeles, cities and utilities face cost, land and grid challenges in their efforts to electrify transportation systems.
By Robert Walton , Emma Penrod , Jason Plautz , and Scott Van Voorhis, Utility Dive
November 30, 2021

Electric vehicles (EVs) could finish 2021 as 5% of new car sales in the U.S., according to market observers, and are expected to make up a growing share in the years to come. Driven by city and state electrification goals, and now supported by federal infrastructure dollars, the years ahead will be a critical time for utilities working to drive beneficial electrification.

To get an idea of the challenges American cities will face with the rising numbers of EVs, Utility Dive is taking an in-depth look at how electric utilities in six cities are helping boost electric transportation adoption, through charging infrastructure and helping to support vehicle uptake.

Experts say EV adoption is poised to surge in the United States, potentially fueled by federal purchase credits now being debated on Capitol Hill. The proposal included in the Build Back Better legislation would knock up to $12,500  off the sticker price of a new electric car or truck, depending on where and how it is produced. Used EV buyers could get up to $4,000 back.

If lawmakers pass those credits, “you’ll see an immediate leap forward in demand for EVs,” Joel Levin, executive director of Plug in America, said.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new passenger vehicle sales in the United States to be EVs by 2030. That’s achievable, transportation experts say, but will require development of new supply chains, along with public charging infrastructure to support an equitable transition.

Are cities ready for the transition? Not yet, say experts. But some are heading that way, while others will face difficulties.
» Read article                      

» More about clean transportation

DEEP-SEABED MINING

close quarters
If marine noise pollution is bad, deep-sea mining could add to the cacophony
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
November 24, 2021

While evidence is mounting that anthropogenic noise adversely affects ocean life, regulatory measures aimed at curtailing noise pollution are generally lacking. This is certainly true in the context of deep-sea mining, a controversial activity that, if allowed to proceed, would entail corporations extracting metals like copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese from the seabed — and creating a lot of noise in the process.

Cyrill Martin, an ocean policy expert at the Swiss NGO OceanCare, said that noise pollution is currently a “wallflower issue” in the larger matter of deep-sea mining, and that more research urgently needs to be done to fill in knowledge gaps. Until more is known, he said, deep-sea mining needs to be approached with a “precautionary principle.”

“The main data we have from deep-sea mining activities stems from laboratory conditions,” Martin told Mongabay in a video interview. “So there’s a lot of data missing. Nevertheless, we do have some data that we can extrapolate from related industries.”

In a new report, “Deep-Sea Mining: A noisy affair,” released on Nov. 22 by OceanCare, Martin and colleagues draw on past studies, expert interviews and stakeholder surveys to provide an overview of the different types of noise pollution that deep-sea mining would produce — and the potential impacts of this noise. Toward the surface, noise would come from boat propellers and onboard machinery, as well as sonar and seismic airguns used to help explore the seafloor for minerals. The midwater column would be filled with the sounds of riser systems moving sediment from the seafloor to the surface, as well as the motors of robots used to monitor these activities. On the seabed itself, acoustic monitoring tools would generate additional sound. Some kinds of seabed mining would also involve drilling, dredging and scraping along the seafloor. Many of these sounds would create noise as well as vibrations that could affect marine life, according to the report.

The report suggests that deep-sea mining activities could impact species present from the surface to the seabed, with deep-sea species being particularly vulnerable since they use natural sound to perform functions like detect food, and are not accustomed to anthropogenic noise at a close range. Many deep-sea species are also sessile, which means they wouldn’t be able to evade the noise created by deep-sea mining activities, the report says. Even migratory species like whales, dolphins and turtles could be impacted, even while briefly passing through a mining area to feed or breed, according to the report.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about deep-seabed mining

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

SaskPower CCS
Cheap Wind and Solar Should Prompt ‘Rethink’ on Role of CCS, Paper Argues
Oil and gas companies should be asking themselves whether they are investing in “the right kind of CCS”, its lead author said.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
November 19, 2021

The falling cost of wind and solar power significantly reduces the need for carbon capture and storage technology to tackle climate change, a new paper has argued.

CCS, which removes emissions from the atmosphere and stores them underground, has long been presented as critical to restricting global heating to 1.5C by the end of the century.

But a paper published today by Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute finds that rapidly-falling costs in wind and solar energy could “erode” the value of CCS by up to 96 percent.

The authors suggest that targeted, rather than blanket, deployment of CCS is the best strategy for achieving the Paris Agreement goals.

Neil Grant, a PhD candidate at Imperial College who led the research, said the past decade had “seriously changed the game for CCS”.

“While CCS deployment has stagnated, renewables have surged and their costs have plummeted – and so the picture today is very different to what it was in 2010,” he told DeSmog. “Cheap, abundant renewable energy reduces the value of CCS in all areas.”

“Now that renewable electricity is so cheap, this should cause us to seriously rethink the role of CCS.”

The authors used Integrated Assessment Modelling (IAM) to explore 1.75C and 2C warming scenarios, restricting the biomass potential in the pathways to “try and limit unsustainable biomass consumption”.

They found that the rate of electrification accelerated faster in the absence of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), with a faster phase-out of unabated fossil fuels in the power sector.

“Wind and solar play a central role in electrifying end-use sectors and accelerating the phaseout of fossil fuels in the power sector if BECCS is unavailable, with deployment accelerating to provide the necessary clean electricity supply,” the authors note.

The technology has long been touted as an effective means of reducing emissions globally. A special report on CCS by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 notes that applying CCS to bioenergy could deliver “negative emissions”, while also highlighting uncertainties around cost and feasibility of the technology.

The Imperial College paper found that the biggest losers to cheap renewables were CCS applied to fossil fuels – used to generate electricity, make hydrogen and to burn in heavy industry such as blast furnaces for steel production.

Grant and co-authors argue that CCS should not be abandoned altogether, but that priority areas for CCS deployment should be to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and for capturing CO2 in industry, rather than that applied to fossil fuels.
» Read article                      
» Obtain the paper

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

terminated projects
IEEFA U.S.: Gas-fired power plant cancellations and delays signal investor anxiety, changing economics
Financial concerns are likely to affect other PJM gas projects still in the planning phase
By Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA.org
November 18, 2021

A recent decision to cancel the 1,000-megawatt Beech Hollow combined gas plant in Pennsylvania is the latest warning for investors considering funding new gas-fired power plants in the PJM Interconnection (PJM) region. According to a briefing note by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the reason is clear: The economics have changed, prompting three project cancellations this year and calling into question the future of 14 others.

“Low gas prices and high-capacity payments that helped drive a near-doubling of installed combined cycle gas capacity in the last decade have gone away,” said Dennis Wamsted, IEEFA energy analyst and the briefing note’s lead author.

Investors are facing myriad challenges, including:

  • Significant uncertainty about future capacity prices, particularly in light of the sharp drop in the region’s latest power auction.
  • A decade-long downward trend in power prices.
  • Flat regional demand growth.
  • Major projected increases in battery storage and renewable energy generation, including thousands of megawatts from offshore wind capacity.
  • Financial market concerns about climate change and the likelihood of required fossil fuel plant closures by 2050.

IEEFA has identified 17 projects that remain undeveloped, three of which have officially been cancelled this year. More are likely to follow.
» Read article                      
» Read the analysis

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Fort McMurray tar sandsCanada’s Tar Sands: Destruction So Vast and Deep It Challenges the Existence of Land and People
Oil companies have replaced Indigenous people’s traditional lands with mines that cover an area bigger than New York City, stripping away boreal forest and wetlands and rerouting waterways.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
November 21, 2021

Oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil and the Canadian giant Suncor have transformed Alberta’s tar sands—also called oil sands—into one of the world’s largest industrial developments. They have built sprawling waste ponds that leach heavy metals into groundwater, and processing plants that spew nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the air, sending a sour stench for miles.

The sands pump out more than 3 million barrels of oil per day, helping make Canada the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and the top exporter of crude to the United States. Their economic benefits are significant: Oil is the nation’s top export, and the mining and energy sector as a whole accounts for nearly a quarter of Alberta’s provincial economy. But the companies’ energy-hungry extraction has also made the oil and gas sector Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And despite the extreme environmental costs, and the growing need for countries to shift away from fossil fuels, the mines continue to expand, digging up nearly 500 Olympic swimming pools-worth of earth every day.

COP26, the global climate conference in Glasgow earlier this month, highlighted the persistent gap between what countries say they will do to cut emissions and what is actually needed to avoid dangerous warming.

Scientists say oil production must begin falling immediately. Canada’s tar sands are among the most climate-polluting sources of oil, and so are an obvious place to begin winding down. The largest oil sands companies have pledged to reduce their emissions, saying they will rely largely on government-subsidized carbon capture projects.

Yet oil companies and the government expect output will climb well into the 2030s. Even a new proposal by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cap emissions in the oil sector does not include any plan to lower production.
» Read article                      

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Energy Progress
Gibbstown Ends, Not with a Bang but with a Whimper?
By Kimberly Ong, NRDC | Expert Blog
November 30, 2021

The future of the Gibbstown liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is looking bleaker by the day. The project hit two obstacles in the past 4 weeks, and advocates, including NRDC, are wondering whether the construction of this planet-warming, water-polluting, community-endangering fossil fuel project may be dying a slow death.

If built, the Gibbstown LNG terminal would move hazardous liquefied fracked gas from an LNG terminal in Wyalusing Township, Pennsylvania, by truck and rail over 200 miles to an LNG terminal in Gibbstown, New Jersey. The gas would then be sent down the Delaware River on massive shipping vessels for sale overseas.

LNG is primarily composed of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon. As U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has noted, cutting methane emissions is “the single fastest strategy that we have to keep a safer, 1.5-degree Centigrade future within reach.” If LNG exports increase as projected, the LNG industry by itself will generate enough greenhouse gas emissions to extinguish all progress we’ve made to lower emissions during the past decade.

LNG is also extraordinarily dangerous to transport by truck and rail. LNG is highly flammable and explosive—consequently, transporting LNG can expose fence-line communities to uncontrollable fires and devastating explosions.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation provided New Fortress Energy and its subsidiaries with both the rule and a special permit. But under new leadership, the Department of Transportation has taken a different position on this deadly activity.  Earlier this month, it proposed suspending the Trump-era LNG-by-rail rule, citing uncertainties related to its safe transportation and its potential to accelerate the climate crisis.

And according to Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Fortress Energy has not applied to renew its special permit, which is set to expire today, November 30.  Without either an LNG-by rail-rule or a special permit, there’s no clear way for New Fortress Energy to ship the LNG by rail.

Without the possibility of shipping LNG by rail, Gibbstown would have to ship all of its LNG by truck—requiring more than 8,000 truck trips per day, running through communities throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So without a way to ship LNG by rail to the facility, is the Gibbstown LNG terminal dead?

Ask the Department of Transportation to stop not just this project, but any future projects like this one from going forward by restoring its ban on the transportation of LNG by rail.
» Read article                      

Jordan Cove LNG cancelled
Jordan Cove project dies. What it means for FERC, gas
By Niina H. Farah, Miranda Willson, Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
December 2, 2021

The developer of an Oregon liquefied natural gas export terminal told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the first time yesterday it would not move forward with the embattled project, putting to rest years of uncertainty for landowners.

Citing challenges in obtaining necessary permits from state agencies as the reason for abandoning the Jordan Cove project, Pembina Pipeline Corp. asked FERC to cancel authorizations for the LNG terminal and associated Pacific Connector pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from Canada to the proposed facility in Coos Bay, Ore.

“Among other considerations, Applicants remain concerned regarding their ability to obtain the necessary state permits in the immediate future in addition to other external obstacles,” Pembina said in its brief to FERC.

The announcement adds to a debate about the role of natural gas at a time of high prices and as industry groups are pressuring the Biden administration to clarify exactly how LNG exports fit into its broader climate agenda. It also may influence FERC’s ongoing review of how it approves gas projects.

Pembina’s move is a win for landowners who have been steadfastly opposing the project for years, said David Bookbinder, chief counsel for the Niskanen Center and attorney for some of the landowners affected by the pipeline. The Niskanen Center and others submitted a brief of their own yesterday, urging FERC to grant Pembina’s request to ax the certificate.

“I can say the landowners are utterly delighted that this chapter of their 15-year nightmare is over and hopefully that will truly be the end of Pembina’s hopes to build this project,” he said.

The company had put the export project on an indefinite hold in April after failing to get key state and federal approvals.
» Read article                      

» More about LNG                

BIOMASS

doubling Drax
Drax is expected to profit from UK energy crisis until 2023
Company’s shares hit seven-year high after revealing plans to invest £3bn despite questions over biomass
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
December 1, 2021

The owner of the Drax power station is expected to profit from Britain’s energy crisis until 2023 and will plough billions into doubling its production of wood pellets for burning by 2030 despite mounting opposition from environmentalists.

The FTSE 250 energy company’s shares hit seven-year highs on Wednesday after it told investors it aimed to invest £3bn by 2030. Part of that investment would be directed towards doubling production and sales of biomass pellets, which Drax uses at its North Yorkshire power plant as an alternative to burning coal.

Its claims that electricity produced in this way is “carbon neutral” is disputed, with green groups saying burning biomass produces emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.

Drax will fund the expansion plans using its own cash as it prepares to profit from record high energy market prices in its long-term contracts over the next two years.

Drax will also be able to hike up the price of the electricity it generates for long-term contracts for 2022 and 2023. In addition, the company will continue to benefit from subsidies worth hundreds of millions of pounds to generate biomass electricity through the government’s renewable energy scheme.

Questions about the method have also been raised within financial circles. The financial services firm Jefferies told its clients in October that bioenergy was “unlikely to make a positive contribution” towards tackling the climate crisis and was “not carbon neutral, in almost all instances”.
» Read article                      

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

floating debris
A Commonsense Proposal to Deal With Plastics Pollution: Stop Making So Much Plastic
A report from leading scientists found that the U.S. is the world’s leading generator of plastic waste, at 287 pounds per capita. It’s clogging the oceans, and poisoning plankton and whales.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 1, 2021

The United States leads the world in the generation of plastic waste and needs a comprehensive strategy by the end of next year to curb its devastating impacts on ocean health, marine wildlife and communities, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes.

A committee of academic experts who wrote the report at the request of Congress described an environmental crisis that will only get worse as plastic production, nearly all from fossil fuels, continues to soar.

In fact, the first of the study’s main recommendations is to stop making so much plastic—especially plastic materials that are not reusable or practically recyclable. It suggested a national cap on virgin plastic production among other strategies, all of which the report concluded will be needed to control pollution from plastics and all of the related health and environmental issues.

“The fundamental problem here is that plastics are accumulating in the natural environment, including the ocean,” Margaret Spring, chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, who chaired the report committee, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

She called plastics “pervasive and persistent environmental contaminants,” creating a problem that is “going to continue unless we change—we have to change. And that’s just the truth.”

The report, made public Wednesday, is historically significant, said Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and president of Beyond Plastic, an environmental group.

“It is an outstanding report that every member of Congress should read and act on,” Enck said. “It’s timely. It’s transformative and it’s based on science. It will be quoted for years to come.”

A leading industry lobby group for the plastics industry, the American Chemistry Council, agreed in a statement that a national plastics strategy is necessary.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

X-Press Pearl
Nurdles: the worst toxic waste you’ve probably never heard of
Billions of these tiny plastic pellets are floating in the ocean, causing as much damage as oil spills, yet they are still not classified as hazardous
Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
November 29, 2021

When the X-Press Pearl container ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean in May, Sri Lanka was terrified that the vessel’s 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil would spill into the ocean, causing an environmental disaster for the country’s pristine coral reefs and fishing industry.

Classified by the UN as Sri Lanka’s “worst maritime disaster”, the biggest impact was not caused by the heavy fuel oil. Nor was it the hazardous chemicals on board, which included nitric acid, caustic soda and methanol. The most “significant” harm, according to the UN, came from the spillage of 87 containers full of lentil-sized plastic pellets: nurdles.

Since the disaster, nurdles have been washing up in their billions along hundreds of miles of the country’s coastline, and are expected to make landfall across Indian Ocean coastlines from Indonesia and Malaysia to Somalia. In some places they are up to 2 metres deep. They have been found in the bodies of dead dolphins and the mouths of fish. About 1,680 tonnes of nurdles were released into the ocean. It is the largest plastic spill in history, according to the UN report.

Nurdles, the colloquial term for “pre-production plastic pellets”, are the little-known building block for all our plastic products. The tiny beads can be made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and other plastics. Released into the environment from plastic plants or when shipped around the world as raw material to factories, they will sink or float, depending on the density of the pellets and if they are in freshwater or saltwater.

They are often mistaken for food by seabirds, fish and other wildlife. In the environment, they fragment into nanoparticles whose hazards are more complex. They are the second-largest source of micropollutants in the ocean, by weight, after tyre dust. An astounding 230,000 tonnes of nurdles end up in oceans every year.

“The pellets themselves are a mixture of chemicals – they are fossil fuels,” says Tom Gammage, at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international campaign group. “But they act as toxic sponges. A lot of toxic chemicals – which in the case of Sri Lanka are already in the water – are hydrophobic [repel water], so they gather on the surface of microplastics.

“Pollutants can be a million times more concentrated on the surface of pellets than in the water,” he says. “And we know from lab studies that when a fish eats a pellet, some of those pollutants come loose.”

Yet nurdles, unlike substances such as kerosene, diesel and petrol, are not deemed hazardous under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) dangerous goods code for safe handling and storage. This is despite the threat to the environment from plastic pellets being known about for three decades, as detailed in a 1993 report from the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency on how the plastics industry could reduce spillages.

Now environmentalists are joining forces with the Sri Lankan government in an attempt to turn the X-Press Pearl disaster into a catalyst for change.
» Read article                      
» Read the UN report
» Read the 1993 EPA report

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 9/10/21

banner 04

Welcome back.

With Labor Day behind us, data confirm that we just experienced the hottest Summer on record. Our event calendar – extending well into the Fall – includes deadly heat waves, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes. We were warned, beginning decades ago and repeatedly with increasing urgency. But we’re still locking in a hotter, more dangerous future.

With that in mind, we’re leading this week with profiles of individuals and groups whose hard work, sacrifice, protests, and actions have given us a shot at turning this around. These activists have also inspired others – and that is a foundation for hope.

The outcome is far from certain. Important climate legislation hangs in precarious partisan balance, while the shape of the future green economy is contested between established workers and a new generation with their own fresh ideas. Imagine being Jimmy Carter, who as president steered the country through a second major oil supply crisis in the ’70s and set the U.S. on an ambitious pivot toward renewable energy – only to see momentum lost to climate denial, Big Oil, Reagan, and the rest.

President Biden’s ambitious new program to generate 45% of the nation’s energy from solar by 2050 is a nod to Carter’s vision. Meanwhile, the question of where to locate all those solar panels is generating lots of debate and considerable innovation. The other half of that equation requires buildings to greatly increase energyefficiency. Long-duration energy storage ensures that energy is available whenever it’s needed, and to that end a Minnesota electricity cooperative is testing promising new iron-air battery technology. Then there’s aviation, which may be the hardest sector to clean up. We found a guide to six big problems to solve on the way to friendly skies.

As we glean energy from the sun and wind, store it away to use when necessary, and upgrade our buildings from energy guzzlers to sippers, it’s worth considering whether there’s room in that world for cryptocurrency. Another puzzler: will just-nominated Willie Phillips bring what’s needed to reform the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or are his industry ties too deep?

It’s time to pay attention to carbon capture and sequestration. We’ve delayed meaningful climate action for so long that scientists agree a certain amount of active CO2 removal from the atmosphere will be required to mitigate global heating effects. A direct air capture system operating in Iceland is one example of how this might work. We also have an excellent podcast and investigative report on how Big Oil and Gas is promoting their own version of this technology to justify continuing business as usual, which stacks up as a Very Bad Idea. CO2 pipelines? Yikes!

Meanwhile, another major study confirms that the majority of fossil fuel industry reserves must stay in the ground if we’re to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. So of course, the industry’s response is an all-out lobbying blitz aimed at preserving subsidies to keep them drilling, pumping, and burning on the taxpayer’s dime.

We thought we had pretty much covered all the ways biomass harms people, climate, and the environment – deforestation to acquire the fuel and high emissions when it’s burned. But a just-published article in The Guardian warns of health hazards in the middle phase. Workers at biomass plants are getting sick from exposure to wood pellet dust.

We’ll close with an overview of plastics in the environment – how they get there, and how they’re related to fossil fuels. And some good news, too! Common sense is fighting back against those insidious, useless, recycling triangles. California is on track to be the first state to ban them except on materials that actually get… recycled. Other states should be following soon.

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

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Lynn Nadeau
What Makes For An Activist?
By Judith Black, Clean Power Coalition
Photos by Jerry Halberstadt
September 9, 2021

Some people are so self involved that they don’t notice the world around them, except in the ways it touches them.

Some people see a problem, shrug their shoulders and say ‘That is too big! I can’t do anything about it.”

Lynn Nadeau looks at a problem, rubs her hands together, rolls up her sleeves, and says “Let’s get to it, now!”

When one of her best friends died at a relatively young age from breast cancer, she did not simply attend the funeral, make a donation to the American Cancer Society and go back to teaching math at an area high school. Along with Jane Bright, Lori Ehrlich (now state representative to the legislature for Marblehead, Swampscott, and Lynn), and a few others, she dug into what might have caused a healthy woman to contract a deadly cancer.  Data showed a high rate of cancer in the area of  a coal burning power plant across a small harbor, just upwind of them in Salem MA.

That is when this teacher, mother, and Democrat declared her intention to “clean that plant.” She held meetings in her living room, and HealthLink was born as a nonprofit entity with a mission to “protect public health by reducing and eliminating environmental toxins through education, research and community action.”  Confronting the plant owners, the town, and state protection agencies, she set out to stop the toxic emissions from that plant.  They marched, went to Washington, protested, informed, and eventually 15 years after their campaign began, the Salem Power Plant was closed and sold, the coal burning stopped.  Lead, fly ash, mercury and more from their uncovered waste piles no longer flew across the harbor into local air, water, land, porches, cars and boats which had been covered with soot.

This would be her first venture into environmental activism, but hardly her last.  Lynn quoted Archimedes “Give me a place to stand and a lever, and I will move the world.”
» Read article                

walk for water
Indigenous Resistance Instrumental in Stopping High-Profile Fossil Fuel Projects, Says Report
Indigenous peoples in North America have helped block tar sands mines, oil pipelines, and LNG export terminals. Their successes against the fossil fuel industry have kept enormous volumes of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 8, 2021

The efforts of Indigenous peoples in North America have helped block or delay a long list of major fossil fuel projects over the past decade, successfully leading to the avoidance of a massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report.

“The numbers don’t lie. Indigenous peoples have long led the fight to protect Mother Earth and the only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Dallas Goldtooth, a Keep It In The Ground organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), said in a statement. The report was coauthored by IEN and Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization focused on transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Indigenous resistance has been key in blocking at least eight major projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline, the C$20 billion Teck Frontier tar sands mine in Alberta, the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Oregon, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to name a few. Taken together, those delayed and canceled projects would have been responsible for nearly 800 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, or about 12 percent of the total emissions of the U.S. and Canada in 2019.

Another half-dozen projects are currently contested, including the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, and the Rio Grande LNG project in Texas, for example. These projects represent another 12 percent of total U.S. and Canadian emissions, which, if opponents have their way, would bring the total carbon pollution avoided due to Indigenous resistance to 1.6 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent. That’s roughly equal to the pollution from 400 new coal-fired power plants or 345 million passenger vehicles.

As the report notes, this is likely an underestimate because it only includes 17 of the largest and most iconic fossil fuel projects in recent years.
» Read article               
» Read the report: Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

drifting awayWill a Summer of Climate Crises Lead to Climate Action? It’s Not Looking Good
A $3.5 trillion budget bill is faltering in the Senate, and in America at large, well, as one expert put it: “It’s really hard to get people to change their way of life.”
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
September 3, 2021

This summer, the climate crisis has roared into basement apartments in Brooklyn, leaped across the dry tops of the Sierra Nevadas and kicked over the towers that held up the power and communication networks of Louisiana. It has shredded homes in New Jersey and poured into the underpasses of Philadelphia, turning a cross-town expressway into a murky, swirling river.

But as fall approaches, bringing the best opportunity in years for Congress to act on global warming, prospects are dimming for the package of investments that make up President Joe Biden’s plan to jump-start a clean energy transition.

In the Senate, where Biden will need every Democratic vote to pass a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that contains the bulk of his climate plan, party unity is fraying. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) placed an editorial in the Wall Street Journal calling for Democrats to “pause” the package, because of concerns over inflation and the national debt. Less noticed, but just as lethal to the package’s chances was a statement by a spokesman for Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in Politico on Aug. 23: She will not support a $3.5 trillion budget bill, he said.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

union pipefitters
One Big Hurdle for a San Diego Gas Ban: Union Labor
Across the state, cities are seeking to ditch gas and require buildings be equipped to run solely on electricity. Union-represented gas workers worry the trend could mean more work for electricians and less work for the people digging trenches or laying and maintaining gas pipes.
By MacKenzie Elmer, Voice of San Diego
September 8, 2021

The city of San Diego is about to drop its latest plan to fight climate change, but local unions representing workers in the natural gas industry are worried it could cost them jobs.

Across the state, cities are seeking to ditch gas and require buildings be equipped to run solely on electricity for all energy needs including heating and cooking. And union-represented gas workers are paying attention.

In short, they worry the trend could mean more work for electricians and less work for the people digging trenches or laying and maintaining gas pipes.

“It’s not just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline,” said Joe Cruz, executive director of the California State Council of Laborers, which represents the workers who do heavy digging for pipe laying. “(Natural gas) creates many good-paying jobs. The ban on natural gas and decarbonization efforts in California will have a major impact on laborers across the state, including San Diego if that moves forward.”
» Read article                

no point
‘No point in anything else’: Gen Z members flock to climate careers
Colleges offer support as young people aim to devote their lives to battling the crisis
By Angela Lashbrook, The Guardian
September 6, 2021

California is facing a drought so devastating, some publications call it “biblical”. Colorado now has “fire years” instead of “fire seasons”. Miami, which sees more dramatic hurricanes each year, is contemplating building a huge seawall in one of the city’s most scenic tourist districts to protect it from storm surges.

“Once you learn how damaged the world’s ecosystems are, it’s not really something you can unsee,” says Rachel Larrivee, 23, a sustainability consultant based in Boston. “To me, there’s no point in pursuing a career – or life for that matter – in any other area.”

Larrivee is one of countless members of Gen Z, a generation that roughly encompasses young people under 25, who are responding to the planet’s rapidly changing climate by committing their lives to finding a solution. Survey after survey shows young people are not just incorporating new climate-conscious behaviors into their day-to-day lives – they’re in it for the long haul. College administrators say surging numbers of students are pursuing environmental-related degrees and careers that were once considered irresponsible, romantic flights of fancy compared to more “stable” paths like business, medicine, or law.

“I cannot imagine a career that isn’t connected to even just being a small part of a solution,” says Mimi Ausland, 25, the founder of Free the Ocean, a company that aims to leverage small actions to remove plastic from the ocean.
» Read article                

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Jimmy Carter RE plan
Joe Biden’s Solar Plan and the Prescience of Jimmy Carter
The best time to plant a solar panel was forty years ago—but Biden is trying hard to make up for lost time.
By Bill McKibben, The New Yorker
September 8, 2021

The Biden Administration’s announcement on Wednesday of a plan that could set the country on a course to generate forty-five per cent of its electricity from solar panels by mid-century might—might—someday be remembered as one of those moments that mattered. That’s because it sets a physical target whose progress will be relatively easy to measure—it’s the energy equivalent of announcing that “before this decade is out” we will achieve the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” This plan is much more ambitious, though: the Apollo project focussed all the nation’s technological might on moving one person; this is more akin to landing all of us somewhere very new. But physical targets are easier to track and understand than, say, the squishy and amorphous chatter about “net zero” emissions and so forth. Observers will be able to track with ease our progress and see if future Administrations are keeping up the pace.

Jimmy Carter, midway through his Administration, and faced with the second OPEC oil shock, put forward a goal for producing twenty per cent of the country’s energy from renewable resources by the year 2000. In fact, as he unveiled solar panels on the White House roof, in 1979, he said these words:

In the year 2000, this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy. . . . A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.

Carter was prophetic, and sadly so. I first saw one of those solar panels, which the Reagan Administration removed from the White House roof, in a Chinese museum. Had Carter been reëlected, and had we pursued steadily his vision through the nineteen-eighties and nineties, we may have gone down the learning curve decades earlier.
» Read article                

global health emergency
Medical Journals Call Climate Change the ‘Greatest Threat to Global Public Health’
By Winston Choi-Schagrin, New York Times
September 7, 2021

A collection of leading health and medical journals called this week for swift action to combat climate change, calling on governments to cooperate and invest in the environmental crisis with the degree of funding and urgency they used to confront the coronavirus pandemic.

In an editorial published in more than 200 medical and health journals worldwide, the authors declared a 1.5-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures the “greatest threat to global public health.” The world is on track to warm by around 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100, based on current policies.

“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the preindustrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, no temperature rise is ‘safe.’”

Although medical journals have copublished editorials in the past, this marked the first time that publication has been coordinated at this scale. In total more than 200 journals representing every continent and a wide range of medical and health disciplines from ophthalmology to veterinary medicine published the statement. The authors are editors of leading journals including The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine.
» Read article                
» Read the medical journal editorial – call for emergency action

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Lennon solar farm
From 4% to 45%: Energy Department Lays Out Ambitious Blueprint for Solar Power
The department’s analysis provides only a broad outline, and many of the details will be decided by congressional lawmakers.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
September 8, 2021

The Biden administration on Wednesday released a blueprint showing how the nation could move toward producing almost half of its electricity from the sun by 2050 — a potentially big step toward fighting climate change but one that would require vast upgrades to the electric grid.

There is little historical precedent for expanding solar energy, which contributed less than 4 percent of the country’s electricity last year, as quickly as the Energy Department outlined in a new report. To achieve that growth, the country would have to double the amount of solar energy installed every year over the next four years and then double it again by 2030.

Such a large increase, laid out in the report, is in line with what most climate scientists say is needed to stave off the worst effects of global warming. It would require a vast transformation in technology, the energy industry and the way people live.
» Read article                
» Read the Dept. of Energy report

H2 horsetrading
As DOE ramps up Hydrogen Shot initiative, debate about means of production begins
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
September 7, 2021

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm kicked off a summit on the Hydrogen Shot — a challenge from the Department of Energy to industry and academics to find a means of cutting the cost of hydrogen to $1 per kilogram — with a call for participants to focus on clean, zero carbon solutions and to avoid “solutions that claim to be clean but are not.”

Breakout sessions during last week’s summit allowed participants to choose specialized discussions focused on ways hydrogen could be produced. One track covered the use of electrolysis to split water and create “green” hydrogen, while another considered innovations to conventional methods of extracting hydrogen from methane, and a third looked at early stage or even theoretical means.

While Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) described hydrogen as a true “all of the above fuel” and argued the U.S. needs to consider all possible options for hydrogen production, Chanell Fletcher,  deputy executive officer for the California Air Resources Board, expressed concern that casting too wide a net would “muddy the water and open the door for polluting pathways.”
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Sydney Engel
Opinion: Climate-friendly buildings are essential to city’s future
By Sydney Engel and Sarah Simon, Boston Business Journal
September 3, 2021

In Boston, buildings have a profound impact on the changing climate; just 3% of them account for 50% of all our greenhouse-gas emissions because they use so much oil and gas for heating and cooling. These fossil fuels emit not only substantial amounts of carbon dioxide but also other air pollutants known to make people sick. In Massachusetts, more people die from building-related air pollution than air pollution from electricity generation. We need climate-friendly, healthier buildings.

A solution for Boston is on the way. As shown in the 2018 Carbon Free Boston report, we can update our buildings and meet Boston’s 2050 carbon-neutral targets with efficiency improvements and existing heating and cooling technology.

This June, Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley took up a key element outlined in the city’s 2019 Climate Action Plan and introduced an update to the existing Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance, otherwise known as BERDO. This update would significantly decrease carbon emissions from large, existing buildings over the next 30 years while allowing building owners to decide how to meet the emissions standards.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Form Energy stock photo
Minnesota utility co-op sees big battery as piece of grid reliability puzzle

Great River Energy, a distribution and transmission cooperative, has partnered with a Massachusetts startup on a long-duration energy storage pilot project that it hopes will help buffer its grid from extreme cold and heat impacts.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
September 10, 2021

The utility cooperative partnering with Form Energy on its first “iron air” battery project sees the long-duration energy storage technology as a potential buffer for its grid during extreme cold snaps like 2019’s polar vortex.

Great River Energy, a Minnesota generation and transmission cooperative that serves 28 member utilities, had been in discussions with the Massachusetts startup company for several years before committing to the pilot project, according to Jon Brekke, its vice president and chief power supply officer.

“We’re interested in pursuing long-duration storage because it gives us reliability advantages over traditional lithium-ion batteries,” Brekke said. “We can look at a 10-day weather forecast, and if we see that the weather is going to get very cold seven or eight days out, we can make sure that the battery is charged up.”

Wind speeds tend to decrease during extremely cold temperatures. Meanwhile, turbine components can become brittle or stop working as temperatures plunge into the double-digits below zero. Those factors caused Upper Midwest wind generation to drop off two winters ago during a prolonged polar vortex. (Coal and gas plants also experienced outages.)

The stakes for wintertime grid reliability will increase as more homes and buildings transition to electric heat, but long-duration energy storage could also help utilities manage the grid during scorching hot weather that is also becoming more common in Minnesota due to climate change.
» Read article                

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

six problems
The six problems aviation must fix to hit net zero
With passenger numbers growing and time to slash emissions dwindling fast, the industry must tackle urgent stumbling blocks on fuel, frequent flyers and more
By Jocelyn Timperley, The Guardian
September 5, 2021

Aviation tanked in 2020. The number of people taking flights fell by three quarters compared with 2019 levels and as a result there was a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. But as countries open up and people begin to fly again, aviation is expected to see a slow climb back to previous levels. The industry anticipates a return to 2019 passenger numbers globally by 2023 and to be back on track with previous growth projections within a couple of decades.

All this is bad news for the planet. CO2 emissions from the industry are likely to triple by 2050. But if the world is to limit global heating to 1.5C, it needs to have hit net zero CO2 emissions by this time. Aviation is a complicated sector to decarbonise. It has some prickly ingredients: difficult technological solutions, hidden extra climate effects, an association with personal freedoms and a disproportionately wealthy and powerful customer base. Here are just a few of the big hurdles the sector will need to overcome if it is ever to be carbon neutral.
» Read article                

» More about clean transportation

RENEWABLE ENERGY SITING IMPACTS

floating PV arrayPonds, reservoirs could host floating solar in space-constrained Massachusetts
Developers intend to install the floating solar panels atop storage ponds, water treatments plants, and other human-made bodies of water — a first in a state mired in debate over how best to site projects.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 7, 2021

A new joint venture between Boston-based BlueWave Solar and European photovoltaics firm Ciel et Terre is poised to bring floating solar panels to the ponds and reservoirs of Massachusetts for the first time. Supporters say the plan has the potential to mitigate ongoing concerns about finding enough space for clean energy development.

“This is an opportunity to site solar a lot more responsibly going forward,” said Mike Marsch, principal and head of solar development at BlueWave. “We think it’s an incredibly elegant and responsible way to use land.”

BlueWave has a history of building community solar projects and so-called “dual-use” installations, in which solar panels sit over active agricultural fields. Ciel et Terre, based in France, is a pioneer in the floating solar sector. The company introduced Hydrelio, a modular floating photovoltaic system, in 2012. In 2017, it launched a U.S.-based development arm, Laketricity.

Together they intend to develop floating solar projects atop human-made bodies of water such as storage ponds, water treatment plants, quarries, and reservoirs in Massachusetts and, eventually, the entire Northeast. Laketricity will contribute technology and on-the-ground experience, while BlueWave will share its extensive knowledge of the Massachusetts clean energy market and the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program (SMART), which provides incentives to encourage solar development.
» Read article                

» More about renewable energy siting impacts

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC building
Biden taps DC regulator Phillips to fill FERC’s 5th seat; ‘a gift to corporate utilities,’ says critic
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 10, 2021

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced plans to nominate Willie Phillips Jr., currently chairman of the District of Columbia Public Service Commission (PSC), to fill the vacant seat at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The choice is being closely watched, with the five-seat commission now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and Biden’s choice received mixed reviews. Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who chaired the commission during part of the Trump administration, stepped down at the end of August.

The commission will play a key role in implementing the Biden administration’s clean energy and environmental goals. The White House has called for the U.S. to decarbonize its power sector by 2035 and to end carbon emissions across the economy by 2050.

Some environmental advocates had been hoping the next FERC commissioner would be more focused on consumer interests. Phillips’ nomination is a “gift to corporate utilities and the fossil fuel industry,” Drew Hudson, senior national organizer for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.

Hudson noted that during his PSC tenure, Phillips voted to approve rate hikes, gas infrastructure and the merger between Washington, D.C.’s utility, Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco). and Exelon.

“Although if confirmed, Mr. Phillips would bring much needed racial diversity to the all-white and 4/5 male commission, his record of ignoring public comment and opposition from environmental justice advocates is a glaring red flag and demonstrates why he isn’t fit for this role,” Hudson said.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, on the other hand, said it is confident that Phillips “will help us put the regulatory reforms in place we need, all while championing equity and creating billions of dollars in economic growth.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Bitcoin energy demand
Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How Is That Possible?
By Jon Huang, Claire O’Neill and Hiroko Tabuchi
September 3, 2021

Cryptocurrencies have emerged as one of the most captivating, yet head-scratching, investments in the world. They soar in value. They crash. They’ll change the world, their fans claim, by displacing traditional currencies like the dollar, rupee or ruble. They’re named after dog memes.

And in the process of simply existing, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, one of the most popular, use astonishing amounts of electricity.

We’ll explain how that works in a minute. But first, consider this: The process of creating Bitcoin to spend or trade consumes around 91 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, more than is used by Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million.

In the early days of Bitcoin, when it was less popular and worth little, anyone with a computer could easily mine at home. Not so much anymore.

Today you need highly specialized machines, a lot of money, a big space and enough cooling power to keep the constantly running hardware from overheating. That’s why mining now happens in giant data centers owned by companies or groups of people.

What if Bitcoin could be mined using more sources of renewable energy, like wind, solar or hydropower?

It’s tricky to figure out exactly how much of Bitcoin mining is powered by renewables because of the very nature of Bitcoin: a decentralized currency whose miners are largely anonymous.

Globally, estimates of Bitcoin’s use of renewables range from about 40 percent to almost 75 percent. But in general, experts say, using renewable energy to power Bitcoin mining means it won’t be available to power a home, a factory or an electric car.
» Read article                

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

CO2 collector
Biggest Carbon Capture Effort Begins in Iceland, But Involves a Fraction of the Gas in the Atmosphere
Even a planned facility 10 times larger would have almost no impact on the 33 billion tons of carbon to be emitted this year.
By Leslie Hook, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
September 9, 2021

The start-up behind the world’s biggest direct carbon capture plant said it would build a much larger facility in the next few years that would permanently remove millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

As Zurich-based Climeworks opened its Orca “direct air capture” project in Iceland on Wednesday, co-chief executive Jan Wurzbacher told the Financial Times it had started design work on a facility 10 times larger that would be completed in the next few years.

Orca will collect about 4,000 tons of CO2 a year and store it underground—a tiny fraction of the 33 billion tons of the gas forecast by the International Energy Agency to be emitted worldwide this year, but a demonstration of the technology’s viability.

“This is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage,” Wurzbacher said.

The Orca plant sells the most expensive carbon offset in the world, costing as much as almost $1,400 a ton of CO2 removed and counting Microsoft founder Bill Gates among its customers.

Wurzbacher said commercial demand had been so high that the plant was nearly sold out of credits for its entire 12-year lifespan, prompting the accelerated development of the much larger plant using the same technology.
» Read article                

CO2 pipeline episode
It’s like a Rube Goldberg Pollution Machine – The CO2 Pipeline Episode
By 8 O’Clock Buzz, WORT 89.9 FM
August 31, 2021

Join Sikowis for the Tuesday 8 O’clock Buzz on WORT 89.9 FM in Madison! She will be discussing the new greenwashed, carbon capture tactic to address the climate crisis–CO2 Pipelines. This tactic is not so much a solution to curbing the climate crisis but more of a ploy by the fossil fuel industry and governments to keep drilling, fracking, and extracting rather than truly reducing emission levels.
» Listen to podcast                

gassing Satartia
The Gassing Of Satartia
A CO2 pipeline in Mississippi ruptured last year, sickening dozens of people. What does it forecast for the massive proposed buildout of pipelines across the U.S.?
By Dan Zegart, Huff Post
August 26, 2021

It was just after 7 p.m. when residents of Satartia, Mississippi, started smelling rotten eggs. Then a greenish cloud rolled across Route 433 and settled into the valley surrounding the little town. Within minutes, people were inside the cloud, gasping for air, nauseated and dazed.

Some two dozen individuals were overcome within a few minutes, collapsing in their homes; at a fishing camp on the nearby Yazoo River; in their vehicles. Cars just shut off, since they need oxygen to burn fuel. Drivers scrambled out of their paralyzed vehicles, but were so disoriented that they just wandered around in the dark.

The first call to Yazoo County Emergency Management Agency came at 7:13 p.m. on February 22, 2020.

“CALLER ADVISED A FOUL SMELL AND GREEN FOG ACROSS THE HIGHWAY,” read the message that dispatchers sent to cell phones and radios of all county emergency personnel two minutes later.

First responders mobilized almost immediately, even though they still weren’t sure exactly what the emergency was. Maybe it was a leak from one of several nearby natural gas pipelines, or chlorine from the water tank.

The first thought, however, was not the carbon dioxide pipeline that runs through the hills above town, less than half a mile away. Denbury Inc, then known as Denbury Resources, operates a network of CO2 pipelines in the Gulf Coast area that inject the gas into oil fields to force out more petroleum. While ambient CO2 is odorless, colorless and heavier than air, the industrial CO2 in Denbury’s pipeline has been compressed into a liquid, which is pumped through pipelines under high pressure. A rupture in this kind of pipeline sends CO2 gushing out in a dense, powdery white cloud that sinks to the ground and is cold enough to make steel so brittle it can be smashed with a sledgehammer.
» Read article                

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Inglewood Oil FieldTo Meet Paris Accord Goal, Most of the World’s Fossil Fuel Reserves Must Stay in the Ground
A new study in Nature reports that oil, gas and coal production must begin falling immediately to have even a 50 percent chance of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
September 8, 2021

After a summer of weather extremes that highlighted the urgency of limiting global warming in starkly human terms, new research is clarifying what it will take to do so. In order to have just a 50 percent chance of meeting the most ambitious climate target, the study found, the production of all fossil fuels will need to start declining immediately, and a significant majority of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves will have to remain underground over the next few decades.

While the research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, is only the latest to argue that meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit warming requires a rapid pivot to clean energy, it lays out with clear and specific figures exactly how far from those targets the world remains.

“The inescapable evidence that hopefully we’ve shown and that successive reports have shown is that if you want to meet 1.5 degrees, then global production has to start declining,” said Daniel Welsby, a researcher at University College London, in the United Kingdom, and the study’s lead author. As part of the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

The study found that nearly 60 percent of global oil and gas reserves and about 90 percent of coal reserves must be left unexploited by 2050, though a portion of those fuels could be produced in the second half of the century. Total oil and gas production must begin declining immediately, the research said, and continue falling at about 3 percent annually through 2050. Coal production must fall at an even steeper rate.

While the authors noted a few signs of change, including that coal production is already on the decline, the current course is far off what’s needed.
» Read article                
» Read the research paper

fossil lobby blitz
Oil Industry Launches Lobbying Blitz as Congress Targets Fossil Fuel Subsidies
A lobbying group representing large fracking companies is pressing Democrats to keep in place billions of dollars of subsidies that drillers receive.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 2, 2021

The oil industry has embarked on a lobbying blitz in an effort to derail any attempts by Congress to repeal fossil fuel subsidies as part of a much broader assault by corporate interests on the $3.5 trillion budget package that Democrats are currently drafting.

In particular, the oil industry is worried about the potential loss of one specific subsidy that they receive: the intangible drilling cost (IDC) deduction. This allows companies to deduct from their taxes the costs of drilling new wells.

The industry’s fear follows a letter sent to Democratic leadership on August 30, by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the Chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who chairs the subcommittee on Environment.

The letter, signed by 50 other Democrats from the House of Representatives, specifically calls for the removal of the IDC deduction as part of the budget reconciliation process underway. The tax giveaway is worth billions of dollars each year, and makes up a large portion of the $20.5 billion that Democrats are targeting.

“Fossil fuel subsidies have been embedded in our tax code for over a hundred years, enriching oil and gas companies and their lobbying firms at the expense of our planet. It comes as no surprise to see Big Oil currently working overtime to protect these benefits,” Congressman Ro Khanna’s office told DeSmog in a statement. “What’s different now is that we have a real chance to end the worst of these subsidies in the Build Back Better Act and I’m committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to do so.”
» Read article                
» Read the letter

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Drax in the dock
Drax faces prosecution over health risk of dust from biomass pellets
Allegations relate to employee safety at power plant and spark renewed criticism from environmentalists
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 2, 2021

The owner of the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire faces a criminal prosecution hearing after allegations that dust from wood pellets used to generate electricity could pose a risk to its employees’ health.

The company has earned hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies by upgrading its generating units to burn biomass pellets instead of coal, but the Health and Safety Executive is taking it to court over concerns that the wood dust may have threatened employee health.

Drax will appear at Leeds magistrates court on 30 November to face the allegations as well as a separate charge that it breached risk assessment obligations before allowing employees to work with potentially “hazardous substances” at the plant.

The charges, which first reported by Sky News, have reignited criticism of Drax’ biomass strategy from environmentalists, who say burning wood pellets risks wasting multimillion pound subsidies and fueling the climate crisis.
» Read article                

» More about biomass

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

spooky pooka
The Big Problem With Plastic
CR reveals where most of the plastic you throw away really ends up and explains what to do to limit its environmental harm
By Kevin Loria, Consumer Reports
September 08, 2021

Consider the amount of plastic you put into the trash or recycling on a typical day. There’s the lid to your coffee cup, and perhaps a bag from a newspaper. There’s the wrapper from a granola bar, a yogurt container, a salad clamshell, and the plentiful packaging from inside a box that arrived in the mail.

Many of these plastic items are useful and convenient, but they also come with a high environmental cost. In 2016, the U.S. generated more plastic trash than any other country—46.3 million tons of it, according to a 2020 study published in Science Advances. That’s 287 pounds per person in a single year. By the time these disposable products are in your hands, they’ve already taken a toll on the planet: Plastics are mostly made from fossil fuels, in an energy-intensive process that emits greenhouse gases and creates often hazardous chemicals.

And then there’s what happens when you throw them away.

If you’re like most people, you probably assume that when you toss plastic into the recycling bin it will be processed and turned into something new. The truth is that only a fraction of plastic is actually recycled. According to the most recent data estimates available from the Environmental Protection Agency, just 8.7 percent of the plastic that was discarded in the U.S. in 2018 was recycled.

The popular perception that plastic is easily and widely recycled has been shaped by decades of carefully calculated messaging designed and paid for by the petroleum and gas companies that make most of that plastic in the first place, and the beverage companies that depend on plastic to bottle their products.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING

no trash
California Aims to Ban Recycling Symbols on Things That Aren’t Recyclable
The well-known three-arrows symbol doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is actually recyclable. A new bill would limit the products allowed to feature the mark.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Winston Choi-Schagrin, New York Times
September 8, 2021

The triangular “chasing arrows” recycling symbol is everywhere: On disposable cups. On shower curtains. On children’s toys.

What a lot of shoppers might not know is that any product can display the sign, even if it isn’t recyclable. It’s false advertising, critics say, and as a result, countless tons of non-recyclable garbage are thrown in the recycling bin each year, choking the recycling system.

Late on Wednesday, California took steps toward becoming the first state to change that. A bill passed by the state’s assembly would ban companies from using the arrows symbol unless they can prove the material is in fact recycled in most California communities, and is used to make new products.

“It’s a basic truth-in-advertising concept,” said California State Senator Ben Allen, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor. “We have a lot of people who are dutifully putting materials into the recycling bins that have the recycling symbols on them, thinking that they’re going to be recycled, but actually, they’re heading straight to the landfill,” he said.

The measure, which is expected to clear the State Senate later this week and be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is part of a nascent effort across the country to fix a recycling system that has long been broken.

Though materials like paper or metals are widely recycled, less than 10 percent of plastic consumed in the United States is recycled, according to the most recent estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, most plastic is incinerated or dumped in landfills, with the exception of some types of resins, like the kind used for bottled water or soda.

For years, the United States also shipped much of its plastic waste overseas, choking local rivers and streams. A global convention now bans most trade in plastic waste, though U.S. waste exports have not completely ceased.

This summer, Maine and Oregon passed laws overhauling their states’ recycling systems by requiring corporations to pay for the cost of recycling their packaging. In Oregon, the law included plans to establish a task force that would evaluate “misleading or confusing claims” related to recycling. Legislation is pending in New York that would, among other things, ban products from displaying misleading claims.
» Read article                

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 7/16/21

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Welcome back.

Peabody’s planned gas peaker is drawing fire from the town’s own Board of Health, and also from nearby neighbors in Danvers. It’s nearly impossible to justify investing in new gas infrastructure – especially facilities that pollute nearby residential neighborhoods just in the course of normal operation. The beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline is on the ropes too, now that the EPA has advised the Army Corps of Engineers against issuing a critical permit related to hundreds of water crossings. Enbridge’s Line 3 is another fraught project, opposed by Native American Tribes whose protests and court actions are founded on the assertion that the project and its environmental risks violate certain treaties held with the federal government. We found a story describing those commitments.

A thread we’ve been following continues to yield new information…. Recent revelations include the extent to which fossil fuel industry lobbyists pressured federal regulators to relax rail transport safety regulations, especially for highly volatile Bakken crude carried on now-infamous bomb trains.

Pressure on Harvard to complete its fossil fuel divestment is intensifying, with frustrated climate activists wondering why the university’s endowment is stubbornly keeping around $2bn in that climate-cooking industry. Another mystery involves the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency approval, early in the fracking boom, of a slew of toxic chemicals for high-pressure injection into wells. The use of these chemicals remains legal, and ground water contamination, environmental degradation, and serious health impacts continue to this day.

Greening the economy depends on the creation of good jobs to replace those lost in the transition. While delivering enough of those jobs remains a significant challenge, the offshore wind industry is off to a good start. Meanwhile, a survey of Canadian oil and gas workers found two-thirds of respondents open to green energy work.

Climate change is leaning hard on the American west this summer, as a vast region experiences a frightening cycle of heat, drought, and fire. We cover that, along with some good news: the Biden administration has restored protections to Alaska’s huge Tongass National Forest, including old growth areas that his predecessor had attempted to open for industrial logging.

We continue to be alarmed by the industry-backed rush to promote green hydrogen to an outsized role in our carbon-free energy future. While burning it produces no carbon dioxide, its emissions include large amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which produce ground-level ozone (smog), and cause asthma and other dangerous respiratory conditions. Transporting and storing this explosive gas poses difficult and unresolved engineering challenges (embrittlement of metal pipes, valves, and containers; leaks that can’t be detected by sight or smell, etc). There is certainly a place for green hydrogen in the future energy mix – let’s limit it to applications that can’t be addressed with a combination of renewables, storage, demand management, and improved efficiency.

Which brings us to an excellent article describing how Mass Save, Massachusetts’ premier energy efficiency program, needs to retool its incentives to stop promoting gas appliances. The state’s climate goals can only be reached if the program starts incentivizing a shift away from gas – promoting heat pumps, improved building envelopes, and total building electrification. At the same time, the electric grid must rapidly deploy renewable energy and a huge amount of energy storage to replace existing fossil generators. Reducing the cost of that storage has become a national priority.

We’re spreading the word that GM still hasn’t solved the battery fire problem in 2017-19 Chevy Bolt EVs, and the company recommends charging them outside. While that’s unsettling for owners and bad press for electric vehicles, it’s encouraging to note that the problem does not appear to exist in the current generation battery module.

A pair of articles explains how Europe became a huge consumer of biomass, and how supplying those generating plants with wood pellets has increased emissions and burdened communities in the American southeast while mowing down vast tracts of forest.

And we end with an article warning about exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals through plastic food and beverage containers.

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

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stealthy
Peabody health officials ask governor to intervene
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
July 11, 2021

PEABODY — The Peabody Board of Health has sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker requesting that an environmental impact report and comprehensive health impact assessment be done for the proposed peaker plant in the city.

“There are many well-documented health concerns associated with fossil fuel-burning power plants,” the letter states. “Emissions such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other hazardous pollutants can contribute to cancer risk, birth defects, and harm to the nervous system and brain. Emissions of particulates increase risk of heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, and asthma. Emission contributions from power plants increase levels of ozone and drive climate change, which can make breathing more difficult, increase allergens and the risk of fungal diseases, and affect health through the disruption of critical infrastructure such as electrical and water and sewer systems.”
» Read article               

reverse direction
Danvers officials express concern over proposed natural gas power plant in Peabody
By Jennie Oemig, Wicked Local
July 13, 2021

DANVERS — Although efforts to bring a new power plant online in Peabody have been ongoing since 2015, officials in Danvers have been entirely left out of the planning process. 

It wasn’t until last week Friday that representatives from Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) and the Peabody Municipal Light Company, the entities behind the power plant project, appeared before Danvers Select Board members and Town Manager Steve Bartha to provide more information and answer questions.

Referred to as Project 2015A, the new power plant is to be installed on the same site as two existing Peabody Municipal Light Plant capacity resources.

Rep. Sally Kerans, who represents both Peabody and Danvers, said she heard rumblings about the proposed plant shortly after she took office in January.

“I went online and read the filings,” she said. “And I had so many questions. Where’d it come from and how come no one’s heard of it?”

After reading up on the plant, Kerans said she gave testimony to the Department of Public Utilities in late April.

“I raised the issue of Danvers and the residents who live in Danversport, the neighborhood that suffered the explosion,” she said. “We are all very concerned and we have had no information from MMWEC directed to Danvers. … It’s shocking to think that MMWEC wouldn’t think to include Danvers.”

Concerns over environmental and health impacts have been raised by several groups in the area, including Breathe Clean North Shore and Community Action Works.

“I’m grateful to the group of residents in Peabody who stepped in and started asking questions,” Kerans said. “Is this the only way to meet capacity?”

Kerans said she would be surprised if the Baker Administration ultimately signs off on the project.

“It goes in the reverse direction of what we’ve been doing,” she said, referencing the climate roadmap bill signed into law in March.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants              

 

PIPELINES

MVP stream crossingEPA Warns of Mountain Valley Pipeline Impact on Streams, Says Project Should Not Receive Water Permit
The natural gas pipeline already has hundreds of water quality violations. Opponents are hopeful the EPA’s warning brings the project’s cancelation closer.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is advising the Army Corps of Engineers not to grant a federal water permit to the Mountain Valley Pipeline due to “substantial concerns” about the project’s impact on streams and rivers. The warning is another regulatory hurdle for a pipeline that is already delayed and over budget.

The EPA’s advice brings hope to opponents of the pipeline who are growing increasingly confident that the 303-mile natural gas pipeline, which has been under construction for over three years, will never come online.

The long-distance pipeline would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. A proposed extension would take the system into North Carolina. The aim is to connect Marcellus shale gas to new markets in the U.S. Southeast.

But the pipeline has to run across hundreds of streams and rivers, up and down steep slopes prone to erosion and landslides. Its construction would result in enormous volumes of sediment dumped into water bodies, potentially threatening water quality and aquatic ecosystems.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) needs a permit in order to cross these bodies of water and discharge “fill” – dirt, rocks, sand, and other debris – into streams and rivers. The Army Corps decides whether to sign off on the so-called Section 404 permit, part of the Clean Water Act, but the EPA weighs in on the process. 

And the negative impacts associated with constructing a pipeline across waterways has caught the attention of the EPA. In a May 27 letter, Jeffrey Lapp, the head of EPA’s wetlands branch for Region 3 – which covers West Virginia and Virginia – wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the crucial permit requested by MVP.

In the letter, the EPA said it “has identified a number of substantial concerns with the project,” including “insufficient assessment of secondary and cumulative impacts and potential for significant degradation.” Lapp also said MVP has not provided adequate detail on the water bodies it will cross, and has not demonstrated that it has done everything feasible to avoid negative impacts. The letter was published on July 9 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a legal advocacy group.
» Read article              
» Read the EPA’s letter            

slope creep
Thawing Permafrost has Damaged the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Poses an Ongoing Threat
The pipeline operator is repairing damage to its supports caused by a sliding slope of permafrost, and installing chillers to keep the ground around it frozen.
By David Hasemyer, Inside Climate News
July 11, 2021

Thawing permafrost threatens to undermine the supports holding up an elevated section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, jeopardizing the structural integrity of one of the world’s largest oil pipelines and raising the potential of an oil spill in a delicate and remote landscape where it would be extremely difficult to clean up.

The slope of permafrost where an 810-foot section of pipeline is secured has started to shift as it thaws, causing several of the braces holding up the pipeline to tilt and bend, according to an analysis by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The department has permitted construction of a cooling system designed to keep the permafrost surrounding the vulnerable section of pipeline just north of Fairbanks frozen, as well as to replace the damaged portions of the support structure.

This appears to be the first instance that the pipeline supports have been damaged by “slope creep” caused by thawing permafrost, records and interviews with officials involved with managing the pipeline show.

In response, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has approved the use of about 100 thermosyphons—tubes that suck heat out of permafrost—to keep the frozen slope in place and prevent further damage to the pipeline’s support structure.

The installation of the heat pipes builds on an obvious irony. The state is heating up twice as fast as the global average, which is driving the thawing of permafrost that the oil industry must keep frozen to maintain the infrastructure that allows it to extract more of the fossil fuels that cause the warming. 

Any spill from the 48-inch diameter pipeline that flows with an average of 20 million gallons of oil a day, and the resulting clean-up activity, could accelerate the thawing of the permafrost even more, environmental experts said. 

The extent of the ecological damage would depend on the amount of oil spilled, how deep it saturated the soil and whether the plume reached water sources. But any harm from an oil spill would likely be greater than in most other landscapes because of the fragile nature of the Alaskan land and water.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Carl Weimer, a special projects advisor for Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Washington.

“The implications of this speak to the pipeline’s integrity and the effect climate change is having on pipeline safety in general.”
» Read article  

» More about pipelines  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Exxon tapes and bomb trains
What the Exxon Tapes Reveal About the American Petroleum Institute’s Lobbying Tactics on Oil Trains
The top oil trade group, which a senior Exxon lobbyist recently described as one of the company’s “whipping boys,” used similar delay tactics to push back against oil-by-rail safety rules.
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 9, 2021

Senior ExxonMobil lobbyists were recently exposed by undercover reporting from UnEarthed, an investigative journalism project of Greenpeace, which captured footage of the employees explaining how the oil giant influences policy makers using trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The undercover footage revealed Exxon lobbyists boasting about wins for the company under the Trump administration and admitting to continued efforts to sow doubt about climate change and undermine action to tackle the crisis. 

The recordings also confirmed the findings of years of DeSmog research on API’s lobbying tactics. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not,” Keith McCoy, a senior director in ExxonMobil’s Washington, D.C. government affairs team, told the undercover reporter Lawrence Carter. “Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that. You know, we were looking out for our investments; we were looking out for our shareholders.”

These revelations exposed by UnEarthed and first published by Channel 4 News help shed light on API’s lobbying strategies, particularly when it comes to transporting oil by rail. The rise of fracking in 2009 created a transportation problem in U.S. regions like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, which lacked sufficient pipelines and other infrastructure to move the sudden glut of oil. In response, the oil industry started ramping up transport of its products by train around 2012, but several high-profile fires and explosions of these oil trains also followed, starting in July 2013.

DeSmog’s coverage of the years-long process of creating new oil train regulations in the wake of 2013’s deadly Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train disaster documented the tactics described by Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy — and revealed just how effective the company is at watering down efforts by regulatory agencies to protect the public and environment. 

After years of covering the regulatory process governing oil trains, one fact stood out: API was almost always leading the process. Even though the process was supposed to be about improving rail safety, the oil industry played the dominant role. Exxon representatives were rarely seen in the many public Congressional or regulatory agency hearings and did not take a public role in fighting the regulations. However, as DeSmog reported, Exxon was meeting in private with federal regulators and arguing against stronger regulations on oil trains.
» Read article               

» More about virtual pipelines                 

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

honor the treatiesWhat are the treaties being invoked by Line 3 opponents?
While the U.S. government signed a series of treaties with the Anishinaabe people, including the Ojibwe, between 1825 and 1867, the most significant are those of 1837, 1854 and 1855.
By Yasmine Askari, MinnPost
Photo: REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi
July 14, 2021

Tribal council representatives and members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe will be gathering at the Minnesota Capitol today to request a “nation-to nation” dialogue with Gov. Tim Walz and President Joe Biden in an effort to stop construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.

Last Friday, leaders of the tribe gathered in a press conference to raise concerns about the pipeline’s effects on surrounding resources and waters, most notably the treaty-protected wild rice, and said continued efforts to build the pipeline was in violation of the tribe’s treaty rights.

As the pipeline nears completion, with the project estimated to be 60% finished as of June, opponents of the pipeline have been advocating for upholding treaty rights as a means to try to halt construction.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

Harvard and Charles
The climate is boiling. Why has Harvard still not fully divested from fossil fuels yet?
At $42bn, the Harvard endowment exceeds the combined monetary value of many small countries. But it stubbornly refuses to speed up divestment
By Kim Heacox, The Guardian
July 15, 2021

On display in every corner of the Harvard University campus, carved in stone, students find a shield with three books and the inscribed school motto: “Veritas.” Latin for truth.

Ah yes, truth.

The word rolls easily off the tongue, but what does it mean? If a man believes something deeply enough, does that make it true? Yes, said the Puritan ministers who founded Harvard College – male only, of course – in 1636. Their de facto credo – I believe therefore I am right – worked just fine. For them. Two centuries later, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a transcendentalist and Harvard alum, saw things differently and wrote, “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.” That is, between reality and tranquility.

Emerson would caution us today to beware of the cozy lie and the comfortable delusion. The burning truth will exact a terrible price the more we ignore it.

Consider that after decades of disinformation, outright lies, media prating and political inaction on climate change, our home planet now sets higher temperature records every year, and could, by 2100 if not 2050, be unlivable in many places, beset by unending fires, droughts, rising seas, chaos and storms. All because of a conservative fidelity to fossil fuels; an unwillingness to acknowledge what’s true, and a selfish resistance to change.

Harvard, of course, is famous for its prestige and annual cost (up to $78,000 without financial aid), acceptance rate (3.43% this year, a new low) and excellence in higher education, given its curriculum (3,700 courses in 50 concentrations), faculty (161 Nobel laureates) and alumni (eight former US presidents and 188 living billionaires). It’s also somewhat notorious for the Harvard Corporation, a board that manages the world’s largest university endowment and, as our planet bakes and burns, refuses to divest entirely from fossil fuels.

At $42bn, the Harvard endowment exceeds the combined monetary value of many small countries. Granted, only about 2% ($838m) is invested in fossil fuels, down from 11% in 2008. But it’s symbolic. If the oldest and most prestigious school in America were to do the right thing and file for divorce from dirty energy, it would be a clarion call heard around the world.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

EPA approval
E.P.A. Approved Toxic Chemicals for Fracking a Decade Ago, New Files Show
The compounds can form PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to cancer and birth defects. The E.P.A. approvals came despite the agency’s own concerns about toxicity.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2021

For much of the past decade, oil companies engaged in drilling and fracking have been allowed to pump into the ground chemicals that, over time, can break down into toxic substances known as PFAS — a class of long-lasting compounds known to pose a threat to people and wildlife — according to internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The E.P.A. in 2011 approved the use of these chemicals, used to ease the flow of oil from the ground, despite the agency’s own grave concerns about their toxicity, according to the documents, which were reviewed by The New York Times. The E.P.A.’s approval of the three chemicals wasn’t previously publicly known.

The records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by a nonprofit group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, are among the first public indications that PFAS, long-lasting compounds also known as “forever chemicals,” may be present in the fluids used during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

In a consent order issued for the three chemicals on Oct. 26, 2011, E.P.A. scientists pointed to preliminary evidence that, under some conditions, the chemicals could “degrade in the environment” into substances akin to PFOA, a kind of PFAS chemical, and could “persist in the environment” and “be toxic to people, wild mammals, and birds.” The E.P.A. scientists recommended additional testing. Those tests were not mandatory and there is no indication that they were carried out.

“The E.P.A. identified serious health risks associated with chemicals proposed for use in oil and gas extraction, and yet allowed those chemicals to be used commercially with very lax regulation,” said Dusty Horwitt, researcher at Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Communities near drilling sites have long complained of contaminated water and health problems that they say are related. The lack of disclosure on what sort of chemicals are present has hindered diagnoses or treatment. Various peer-reviewed studies have found evidence of illnesses and other health effects among people living near oil and gas sites, a disproportionate burden of which fall on people of color and other underserved or marginalized communities.

“In areas where there’s heavy fracking, the data is starting to build to show there’s a real reason for concern,” said Linda Birnbaum, the former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and an expert on PFAS. The presence of PFAS, she said, was particularly worrisome. “These are chemicals that will be in the environment, essentially, not only for our lifetimes, but forever,” she said.
» Read article               

» More about EPA            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

turbine prototypeVineyard Wind developers sign deal with unions to build $2.8b project
Agreement would ensure at least 500 jobs go to union workers for massive offshore wind project south of Martha’s Vineyard
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
July 16, 2021

The joint venture behind the massive Vineyard Wind project has signed an agreement to ensure union workers will play a key role in building the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.

Executives from Vineyard Wind and its turbine manufacturer, General Electric, plan to join politicians and union leaders on Friday at the state-funded New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, where much of the wind-farm construction will be staged, to celebrate their new project labor agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council. The deal with the unions is seen as another key milestone in finally launching the Vineyard Wind project, and by extension the nation’s entire offshore wind industry.

Vineyard Wind chief executive Lars Pedersen said the agreement covers about 1,000 jobs over the course of the two-and-a-half-year construction project, including about 500 union jobs. The reportedly $2.8 billion project will be built in federal waters about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, with 62 giant GE wind turbines that will generate about 800 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for more than 400,000 homes.
» Read article               

upskilling
Two-Thirds of Canadian Oil and Gas Workers Want Net-Zero Jobs
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
July 14, 2021

More than two-thirds of Canadian fossil fuel workers are interested in jobs in a net-zero economy, 58% see themselves thriving in that economy, and nearly nine in 10 want training and upskilling for net-zero employment, according to a groundbreaking survey released this morning by Edmonton-based Iron & Earth.

While large majorities are worried about losing their jobs, receiving lower wages, or getting left behind in a transition to net-zero, three-quarters would sign up for up to a full year of retraining—and 84% would participate in rapid upskilling that ran 10 days or less if they were paid to attend, according to the research conducted by Abacus Data.

“Oil and gas workers are just people who have families, who need to put food on the table, put a roof over their heads, and this is the work they’ve known,” Iron & Earth Executive Director Luisa Da Silva told The Energy Mix. “This is where their jobs have been.”

But “people are quite amenable to upskilling,” she added, and “for the workers on the ground or who are more on the technical side, their skills are still transferrable.” Whether a project is a tar sands/oil sands mine or a hydrogen plant, “they don’t look that different. If you’re a welder, you’ll be using the same skills.”

“The basic fundamentals of physics and science, the technical skills underlying an energy worker’s job or a fossil fuel worker’s job, are very similar,” agreed consultant Ed Brost, a chemical engineer who spent 35 years working for Ontario Hydro, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., and Shell Canada. “A joule is a unit of energy in fossil fuels and in the electricity world. So it’s a matter of adapting, upskilling, and tuning up an existing skill set to match the 21st century instead of something from the last century.”

That means two of the essential elements of the transition are for workers to know what their next job will look like, and how their current skills will give them a pathway into a net-zero economy. Iron & Earth is calling for 10,000 fossil fuel workers to receive that training by 2030.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy                

 

CLIMATE

heat-drought-fire
American west stuck in cycle of ‘heat, drought and fire’, experts warn
Wildfires in several states are burning with worrying ferocity across a tinder-dry landscape
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
July 13, 2021

As fires propagate throughout the US west on the heels of record heatwaves, experts are warning that the region is caught in a vicious feedback cycle of extreme heat, drought and fire, all amplified by the climate crisis.

Firefighters are battling blazes from Arizona to Washington state that are burning with a worrying ferocity, while officials say California is already set to outpace last year’s record-breaking fire season.

Extreme heatwaves over the past few weeks – which have smashed records everywhere from southern California to Nevada and Oregon – are causing the region’s water reserves to evaporate at an alarming rate, said Jose Pablo Ortiz Partida, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit advocacy group. And devoid of moisture, the landscape heats up quickly, like a hot plate, desiccating the landscape and turning vegetation into kindling.

“For our most vulnerable, disadvantaged communities, this also creates compounding health effects,” Ortiz said. “First there’s the heat. Then for many families their water supplies are affected. And then it’s also the same heat and drought that are exacerbating wildfires and leading to smoky, unhealthy air quality.”

In northern California, the largest wildfire to hit the state this year broke out over the weekend and has so far consumed more than 140 sq miles (362 sq km). The Beckwourth Complex grew so fast and with such intensity that it whipped up a rare fire tornado – a swirling vortex of smoke and fire.
» Read article               

Tongass hikers
In ‘Critical Step’ for Climate, Biden to Restore Protections for Tongass National Forest
“The Tongass is not only one of the few truly wild places left on the planet, it is vital to our path forward as we deal with climate change,” said the Alaska-based group SalmonState.
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
July 15, 2021

Conservation and climate action groups on Thursday applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement of far-reaching new protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest as well as a restoration of a key rule that former President Donald Trump rescinded three months before leaving office in a bid to open millions of acres to industrial logging.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the administration would put back in place the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, also known as the Roadless Rule, which Trump exempted Alaska from in a move that outraged Indigenous communities in the region as well as environmental advocates.

With the rule back in effect, companies will again be barred from road construction and large-scale logging in more than half of the 16 million acre forest, which includes five million acres of old-growth trees such as Sitka spruce trees that date back at least 800 years. 

The forest serves as a habitat for more than 400 species of wildlife and fish, ensures food sovereignty for Indigenous communities in Alaska—including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples, whose traditional territories lie within the forest—and plays a vital role in mitigating the climate crisis.

As one of the world’s largest intact temperate forests, the Tongass National Forest stores more than 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon and sequesters an additional 10 million metric tons annually, according to the Alaska Wilderness League.
» Read article               

» More about climate             

 

CLEAN ENERGY

the new greenwash
Fossil Fuel Industry Given Billions in EU Hydrogen Support, Report Finds
In Italy, fossil fuel companies met over a hundred times with ministers and civil servants, helping to quadruple financial support for the sector, a new report claims.
By Sebastian Wirth, DeSmog Blog
July 8, 2021

Over €8 billion is being invested in hydrogen and “renewable gas” projects in southern Europe using EU Covid-19 recovery funds, thanks to extensive lobbying by the fossil fuel industry, a new report has found. 

The research warns that backing for the supposedly green developments has “thrown a lifeline” to fossil fuel companies, despite pledges by the European Commission to pursue a low-carbon transition.

EU officials have said they are eager to avoid repeating the same mistakes made during the 2008 financial crisis, when billions of euros of public money was used to bail out fossil fuel companies.

But the report says the sector has managed to secure support in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal for the development of hydrogen and renewable gases such as biomethane, whose potential critics argue is being wildly exaggerated.

The European Network of Corporate Observatories and Fossil Free Politics, the campaign groups which produced the report, entitled  ‘Hijacking the recovery through hydrogen: how fossil fuel lobbying is siphoning Covid recovery funds’, put this down to fierce industry lobbying
» Read article              
» Read the report: Hijacking the Recovery Through Hydrogen          

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

MA coastline
Efforts to pursue climate goals in Mass. clash with incentives offered that promote fossil fuels
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
July 10, 2021

Massachusetts has ambitious climate goals, and not a lot of time to achieve them, which has some clean energy and climate experts questioning why a state program continues to promote fossil fuels with cash incentives for oil and gas home heating systems.

The state’s climate plan demands that 1 million households be converted from fossil fuels to electric heat by the end of the decade, part of a sweeping transition meant to help stave off the worst of climate change’s consequences. And yet the state’s only incentive program, and its best tool for helping convince businesses and homeowners to make that switch, is sticking with rebates for new carbon-emitting systems likely to remain in service long past that deadline.

The program, Mass Save, is run by utility companies with oversight by the state, and hands out between $640 million and $700 million a year in rebates that are funded by a surcharge on utility customers’ bills. It is credited with successfully reducing carbon emissions from home heating across Massachusetts since its inception in 2008. But in the past, those cuts have come largely by encouraging conversions from oil to gas, a less-dirty fossil fuel that the state plans to phase out.

However, in a set of proposed new incentives that would take effect next year, Mass Save is again planning substantial incentives to install gas systems and, in some instances, oil. And at a time when record-breaking heatwaves are scorching the country and the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is at an all-time high, experts said incentives must now move sharply in the other direction.

“This draft plan for energy efficiency still exists in the old mind-set, the old world, where we don’t actually have to do anything on climate very urgently, or where there isn’t a role in energy efficiency in helping us get to our goals,” said Caitlin Peale Sloan, a senior attorney and vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts. “And that isn’t the case.”

Ultimately, the state wants the vast majority of homes and businesses to be outfitted with electric heat pumps that plug into a power grid fueled by wind and other renewable sources. While Mass Save’s proposed new incentives include robust rebates for heat pumps, the program is planning to direct those rebates primarily toward homes currently using oil or propane, not the 52 percent of residences statewide that now use natural gas.

Heat pumps are highly efficient, and provide cooling in addition to heating, but they come with hefty up-front costs. And with the low cost of natural gas and high costs of electricity in Massachusetts, a switch from gas to electric heat pumps could cause those customers to see their energy bills increase. For that reason, some experts say, Massachusetts needs to rethink its incentive program.

Mass Save’s critics point to two big hurdles standing in the way of fast action: First, the program prioritizes financial savings over energy savings, and second, the incentives it uses to encourage customers are decided by utility companies, including gas providers. The utilities revise the program’s incentives every three years, and while the state provides input, it has limited tools to ensure its input is adopted.

“These are electric and gas companies. There is an inherent conflict in the business models at play,” said Cammy Peterson, director of clean energy at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and a member of the state’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which oversees the Mass Save program.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency                   

 

ENERGY STORAGE

rapid response
New rules to reward batteries for keeping the lights on, and make hybrids a reality
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy (Australia)
July 15, 2021

Fast responding big batteries and wind and solar projects are set to be financially rewarded for helping to avoid blackouts under new reforms signed off by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) on Thursday.

The AEMC has also approved a range of new reforms to significantly reduce the red-tape encountered by aggregators of distributed energy resources, like residential battery storage and rooftop solar PV systems, and to simplify the rules for hybrid projects that combine different technologies.

AEMC chair Anna Collyer says the package of reforms comes ahead of an anticipated ramp-up in investment in energy storage technologies, which will play an increasingly important role in the energy market as thermal generators retire.

“The changes we’re announcing today recognise that energy is no longer a one-way transaction,” Collyer said.

“The energy market is moving to a future that will be increasingly reliant on storage to firm up the expanding volume of renewable energy as well as address the growing need for critical system security services as the ageing fleet of thermal generators retire.

“Within two decades, installed storage is expected to increase by 800% − it will be central to energy flowing two ways.”

On Thursday, the AEMC published its final determination to create a new fast frequency response market that will provide a financial reward for electricity projects that have the ability to rapidly respond and balance out fluctuations in the electricity system within just a few seconds.

With no moving parts, battery technologies have demonstrated their lightning-fast ability to adjust their output in response to changes in the energy system’s supply-demand balance, and Infigen Energy had requested the creation of a new rapid response market to reward batteries for this ability.

Frequency response services have existed in the energy market for some time, but until now, the fastest timeframe has been a six-second frequency response market.

The new market announced by the AEMC will provide payment to technologies that are able to respond to fluctuations in just one to two seconds and will predominantly benefit batteries and solar photovoltaic projects.
» Read article                   

Eos energy systems
US Department of Energy: Cost reduction target of 90% by 2030 set for long-duration energy storage
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
Photo: Eos
July 14, 2021

The cost of long-duration, grid-scale energy storage should be reduced 90% within this decade in order to accommodate the “hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy” needed, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said yesterday.

Granholm’s Department of Energy has set the cost reduction goal as part of Energy Earthshots, an initiative to support breakthroughs in clean energy that make it more abundant, more affordable and more reliable. Defining long-duration energy storage as technologies that enable 10-hour duration or more, Granholm said they will be among what’s needed to meet the US’ policy target of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Taking inspiration from the DoE ‘moonshot’ programmes of several years ago that helped reduce the cost of solar PV to a level competitive with fossil fuels, the Long Duration Storage Shot and parallel Hydrogen Shot are the first two to have been launched so far from an expected six to eight Energy Earthshots the Department plans to start each year.

“We’re going to bring hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy onto the grid over the next few years, and we need to be able to use that energy wherever and whenever it’s needed,” Granholm said.
» Read article                

» More about energy storage                    

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

open spaces
Charge your 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt EV outside: GM renews caution over fire concerns
By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
July 14, 2021

Drivers of certain 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV models recently endured months of living with just 90% of their battery capacity and range—and a winter of charging outside—due to concerns over fire risk. 

As of Wednesday, they’re being advised by the automaker to go back to parking outside and not to leave their cars charging overnight, at the peak times that afford the most benefit for the environment.  

The issue goes back to a safety probe launched by NHTSA in October, followed by GM’s announcement of its own investigation and advice to owners in November. Things looked hopeful in May, when GM announced that it had developed a comprehensive remedy plan for the issue that would “utilize GM-developed diagnostic tools to identify potential battery anomalies and replace battery module assemblies as necessary.”

All of the incidents involved a fire originating around the vehicles’ battery packs, when the cars were plugged in and nearly fully charged. GM noted that none of the vehicles affected have the “design level N2.1” cells that GM transitioned to in mid-2019. Those unaffected cells were made in Holland, Michigan, rather than Ochang, South Korea, for the earlier ones. 

Now owners are being advised to go back to caution mode. The situation has some strange optics as GM prepares for first deliveries of its GMC Hummer EV, which leads its Ultium EV push with unrelated, next-generation technology, later this year. 

Hyundai faced a similar issue with some Kona Electric models, and opted in March for a quick but expensive fix: to replace the entire battery pack in up to 82,000 affected vehicles, including nearly 4,700 in the U.S.
» Read article                   

» More about clean transportation              

 

BIOMASS

needs attention
Biomass: The EU’s Great ‘Clean Energy’ Fraud
It turns out that for more than a decade, European power plants have merely been reducing their carbon footprint on paper by outsourcing their footprint to the United States.
By Alex Kimani, Oil Price
July 13, 2021

In 2009, the European Union issued a Renewable Energy Directive (RED), pledging to curb greenhouse gas emissions and urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. But the fine print provided a major loophole: the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source, on par with wind and solar power. 

Following the directive, EU governments have been incentivizing energy providers to burn biomass instead of coal, driving up huge demand for wood.

In fact, the EU has been importing so much biomass from the American South that it has emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports.

Back in 1996, the United Nations (UN) devised a method to measure global carbon emissions. In a bid to simplify the process and avoid double counting, UN scientists suggested that biomass emissions should be calculated where the trees are cut down, not where the wood pellets are burned.

The UN adopted this methodology in its Renewable Energy Directive, allowing energy companies to burn biomass produced in the United States without having to report the emissions.

The UN was clearly more concerned about the amount of carbon we are putting out into the atmosphere regardless of the source. This source-agnostic approach has, however,           been creating a lot of controversy amongst policymakers, advocates, and scientists—and now the investment community.                                     

“I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them,” William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University, has told CNN.                          

“It doesn’t change the physical reality. A law designed to reduce emissions that in reality encourages an increase in emissions … has to be flawed,” Tim Searchinger, senior research scholar at Princeton University, has told CNN, referring to Europe’s directive.
» Read article               

log loader
How marginalized communities in the South are paying the price for ‘green energy’ in Europe
By Majlie de Puy Kamp, CNN
Photographs by Will Lanzoni, CNN
Video by Matthew Gannon, Demetrius Pipkin & Nick Scott, CNN
July 9, 2021

Andrea Macklin never turns off his TV. It’s the only way to drown out the noise from the wood mill bordering his backyard, the jackhammer sound of the plant piercing his walls and windows. The 18-wheelers carrying logs rumble by less than 100 feet from his house, all day and night, shaking it as if an earthquake has taken over this tranquil corner of North Carolina. He’s been wearing masks since long before the coronavirus pandemic, just to keep the dust out of his lungs. Some nights, he only sleeps for two or three hours. Breathing is a chore.

“I haven’t had proper rest since they’ve been here,” he said.

That was eight years ago, when the world’s largest biomass producer, Enviva, opened its second North Carolina facility just west of Macklin’s property in Garysburg. The operation takes mostly hardwood trees and spits out biomass, or wood pellets, a highly processed and compressed wood product burned to generate energy. Enviva is one of nearly a dozen similar companies benefiting from a sustainability commitment made 4,000 miles away, more than a decade ago.

In 2009, the European Union (EU) pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions, urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. In its Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source — on par with wind and solar power. As a result, the directive prompted state governments to incentivize energy providers to burn biomass instead of coal — and drove up demand for wood.

So much so that the American South emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports.

Earlier this year, the EU was celebrated in headlines across the world when renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history.

But scientists and experts say it’s too early to celebrate, arguing that relying on biomass for energy has a punishing impact not only on the environment, but also on marginalized communities — perpetuating decades of environmental racism in predominantly Black communities like Northampton County, where Macklin and his family have lived for generations.
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

fluorinated containers
Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating plastic food containers
Harmful PFAS chemicals are being used to hold food, drink and cosmetics, with unknown consequences for human health
By Tom Perkins, The Guardian
July 9, 2021

Many of the world’s plastic containers and bottles are contaminated with toxic PFAS, and new data suggests that it’s probably leaching into food, drinks, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and other items at potentially high levels.

It’s difficult to say with precision how many plastic containers are contaminated and what it means for consumers’ health because regulators and industry have done very little testing or tracking until this year, when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that the chemicals were leaching into a mosquito pesticide. One US plastic company reported “fluorinating” – or effectively adding PFAS to – 300m containers in 2011.

But public health advocates say new revelations suggest that the compounds are much more ubiquitous than previously thought, and fluorinated plastic containers, especially those used with food, probably represent a major new exposure point to PFAS.

“Fluorination is being used for plastic food containers, cosmetic containers – it’s in everything,” said Tom Neltner, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “It is disturbing.”

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds that are used to make products like clothing and carpeting resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and can accumulate in humans.

The chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts, kidney disease, decreased immunity and a range of other serious health problems.
» Read article               

» More about plastics and health        

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Weekly News Check-In 3/12/21

banner 18

Welcome back.

Three areas we’re watching closely this week include the Weymouth compressor station, where an upcoming federal review of safety and health concerns has prompted individuals and groups to register as “interveners”.  Also the highly controversial biomass generating plant proposed for Springfield, which was the subject of a blatant greenwashing effort by its Chief Operating Officer, Vic Gatto – we posted a response from Partnership for Policy Integrity that cuts through the misinformation. And landmark climate legislation, now in final form and mostly intact, but temporarily held up by Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate.

For those of you following the big pipeline battles, we have reports on Dakota Access and the Enbridge Lines 3 & 5. Line 3 construction is pushing ahead in Northern Minnesota, drawing fierce protests from indigenous groups.

The movement to divest from fossil fuels has achieved considerable success, but we’re expanding our view to consider other climate-warming business sectors that are cooking the planet with support from big banks and funds. We offer a report on some agricultural practices that fall squarely in this category. Since all that divested money needs a home, a new kind of bank is investing in a greener economy.

Climate modeling predicts that periodic heat + humidity events could make much of the tropics – home to 3 billion people – uninhabitable for humans once we exceed 1.5C temperature rise above the pre-industrial baseline. We pair that with a report on China’s recently released Five Year Plan, with its decidedly unambitious decarbonization policy.

There’s good news for offshore wind in general, and Vineyard Wind in particular. A Massachusetts program that vastly opens up possibilities for energy storage is spreading throughout the New England grid, and heavy shipping is our clean transportation focus this week.

We continue to follow the disturbing developments at the International Code Council, which recently changed rules and locked out municipal officials from voting on updates to the energy efficiency building code.

A combination of distributed energy resources (solar, wind, battery storage) is now cheaper and more resilient than the fossil-fueled “peaker” power plants that electric utilities have traditionally relied on during periods of high demand. We found an article that explores the change in thinking required to make the change happen.

The fossil fuel industry is still struggling to recognize that fracking has been a complete financial disaster. Meanwhile, White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy says the administration has moved beyond immediate consideration of a carbon tax – preferring regulation, incentives, and other actions as more effective ways to draw down fuel consumption and emissions. And we close this section with a disturbingly bullish industry report predicting record growth in deepwater oil extraction in the next five years – multiplying the sort of risks that BP’s Deepwater Horizon demonstrated so spectacularly just eleven years ago.

We recently reported on a permanent fracking ban imposed throughout the Delaware River Basin, which opponents of the planned liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ saw as a potentially fatal blow to that project. All eyes are on New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy – who signed the fracking ban in spite of past support for the Gibbstown project – to see if he’s also disturbed by fracking that occurs farther away, in other people’s backyards.

We wrap up with a report on fossil fuel’s petrochemical cousin – plastic  – and its increasing presence in the environment. A new study finds that marine fish ingest the stuff at twice the rate as they did just a decade ago.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth intervenors
Council dealt setback with filing compressor brief
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local
March 9, 2021

Town Solicitor Joseph Callanan said legal precedents don’t allow Town Council to file a legal brief with federal regulators about safety and health concerns posed by a natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

“Collectively, the Town Council does not have the authority to sue,” he said during a Council meeting, March 8.  “If you do it as individuals, I have no problem with that.”

Councilor-at-large Rebecca Haugh said her colleagues could draft a letter that details their concerns about the compressor station and give it to residents or community groups who seek an intervenor status with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Any intervenor could use that letter,” she said.

Residents and community groups have until Thursday, March 11, to register as an intervenor with FERC. 

The Council could approve the letter when it meets, 7:30 p.m. March 15.

Approval of each councilor’s correspondence would require them to be independent intervenors when filing a brief with FERC.

Callanan said the Council couldn’t represent itself as a legal body partly because Weymouth agreed not to appeal judicial decisions that favored the compressor station owner Enbridge Inc. and its subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission. 

The town’s decision to not appeal the court rulings is part of a $38 million Host Community Agreement that Mayor Robert Hedlund and Enbridge agreed to in October 2020.
» Read article          

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

 

PIPELINES

DAPL crossroadsDAPL has reached a crucial crossroads. Here’s a guide to North Dakota’s bitter pipeline dispute
If you haven’t followed every turn in the Dakota Access Pipeline’s federal court hearings, here’s an up-to-date primer on the years-long pipeline saga.
By Adam Willis, Inforum
March 10, 2021

In the last four years, the Dakota Access Pipeline has become a defining conflict, not only in North Dakota but for a national reckoning over America’s climate and energy future. But in the years since the smoke of protest clashes near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has cleared, the pipeline dispute has carried on more quietly, with many of the biggest decisions being hashed out in courtrooms in Washington, D.C.

With a new president in the White House, DAPL backers and opponents alike have felt that the embattled project may be at another decisive moment. But after a tumultuous year for the pipeline, what has changed, and what is still undecided?
» Read article          

focus on line 3The next big oil pipeline battle is brewing over Line 3 in Minnesota
By Hari Sreenivasan, PBS NewsHour
March 6, 2021

On his first day in office, president Biden signed an executive order to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But now, many people in the Great Lakes region are asking the Administration to halt a different pipeline project they believe poses an even greater threat to indigenous communities and local waterways. And as NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano reports, experts and climate advocates say it’s time to stop oil pipeline projects in the U.S. once and for all.
» Watch report or read article          

oil and water
Between Oil And Water: The Issue With Enbridge’s Line 5
By Jaclyn Pahl, Organization for World Peace
March 3, 2021

Two pipelines have been lying at the bottom of the Great Lakes for six decades. Carrying more than half a million barrels of oil and natural gas liquids every day, Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. The pipeline passes under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac—a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Michigan to Lake Huron. The Strait has shallow water, strong currents, and extreme weather conditions (becoming frozen during winter). If a pipe were to rupture, the oil would reach shorelines, accumulate, and jeopardize Great Lakes Michigan and Huron’s ecology. Citing environmental concerns, Michigan state officials have demanded that the Canadian company close Line 5.

Petroleum reaches Line 5 from Western Canada. Starting in Superior, Wisconsin, Line 5 travels east through Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The pipeline runs along the shore of Lake Michigan until it reaches the Straits of Mackinac. Here, the pipeline splits into two, and each is 20 inches (51 centimetres) in diameter. The lines reunite on the southern side of the straits. The pipeline continues south, crossing the border and terminating in Sarnia, Ontario. The oil and natural gas liquids in Line 5 feed refineries in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Quebec.

Conscious of environmental concerns, on 13 November 2020, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer demanded that Enbridge halt oil flow through the pipeline within 180 days. A 2016 study by the University of Michigan found that more than 700 miles (or roughly 1,100 kilometres) of shoreline in Lakes Michigan and Huron would be compromised by a Line 5 rupture. The Graham Sustainability Institute used computer imaging to model how the oil potentially could spread. According to their findings, the most significant risk areas include the Bois Blanc Islands, places on the north shore of the Straits, and Mackinaw City. Communities at risk include Beaver Island, Cross Village, Harbor Springs, Cheboygan, and other areas of the shoreline. A pipeline rupture would quickly contaminate Lakes Michigan and Huron’s shorelines and would involve an extensive cleanup.

Enbridge claims Line 5 is in good condition and has never leaked in the past. However, Enbridge has a checkered past when it comes to oil spills. In 2010 an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in the Kalamazoo River (also located in Michigan) and spilled roughly 1 million gallons of crude oil. The spill went undetected for 18 hours, and the United States Department of Transportation fined Enbridge USD 3.7 million. It is one of the largest land-based oil spills in American history. An investigation found the cause of the pipeline breach to be corrosion fatigue due to ageing pipelines. Alarmingly, the pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac is 15 years older than the pipeline that burst in the Kalamazoo River. Additionally, this is not the only time an Enbridge pipeline has leaked oil. Between 1999 and 2013, there have been 1,068 Enbridge oil spills involving 7.4 million gallons of oil.
» Read article          
» Read the 2016 University of Michigan study        

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

house on fire
Enbridge pipeline to Wisconsin draws protests
By NORA G. HERTEL, St. Cloud Times, in Wisconsin State Journal
March 8, 2021

PALISADE, Minn. — The air smelled like sage. Fat snowflakes fell among maple and birch trees. And pipeline opponents clutched pinches of tobacco to throw with their prayers into the frozen Mississippi River.

“We’re all made of water,” said Tania Aubid, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. “Don’t take water for granted.”

Aubid is a water protector, a resident opponent to the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline currently under construction in northern Minnesota. Since November, Aubid has lived at a camp along the pipeline’s route north of Palisade.

The camp in Aitkin County is called the Water Protector Welcome Center. It’s home to a core group of pipeline opponents and a gathering place for others, including 75 students, faculty and their families who visited the site last month.

They held a prayer ceremony along the Mississippi River and talked about what they believe is at stake with the Line 3 replacement project: Minnesota’s fresh water and land, specifically Anishinaabe treaty territory.

“These are my homelands in the 1855 treaty territory,” Aubid said. The camp rests on 80 acres of land owned by a Native American land trust. It abuts the pipeline route.

Aubid spent nine months on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline, where protesters were sprayed with pepper spray, water cannons and some attacked by dogs.

Demonstrators have taken action to disrupt the construction. Three people recently blocked Enbridge worksites in Savanna State Forest, according to a press release on behalf of the water protector group. Eight were arrested in early January near Hill City. In December, activists camped out in trees along the route.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions        

 

DIVESTMENT

dangerous bet
Big Banks Make a Dangerous Bet on the World’s Growing Demand for Food
While banks and asset managers are promising to divest from fossil fuels, they are expanding investments in high-carbon foods and commodities tied to deforestation.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
March 7, 2021

As global banking giants and investment firms vow to divest from polluting energy companies, they’re continuing to bankroll another major driver of the climate crisis: food and farming corporations that are responsible, directly or indirectly, for cutting down vast carbon-storing forests and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. 

These agricultural investments, largely unnoticed and unchecked, represent a potentially catastrophic blind spot.

“Animal protein and even dairy is likely, and already has started to become, the new oil and gas,” said Bruno Sarda, the former North America president of CDP, a framework through which companies disclose their carbon emissions. “This is the biggest source of emissions that doesn’t have a target on its back.”

By pouring money into emissions-intensive agriculture, banks and investors are making a dangerous bet on the world’s growing demand for food, especially foods that are the greatest source of emissions in the food system: meat and dairy. 

Agriculture and deforestation, largely driven by livestock production, are responsible for nearly one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, livestock production alone could consume nearly half the world’s carbon budget, the amount of greenhouse gas the world can emit without blowing past global climate targets. 

“It’s not enough to divest from fossil fuel,” said Devlin Kuyek, a senior researcher at GRAIN, a non-profit organization that advocates for small farms. “If you look at emissions just from the largest meat and dairy companies, and the trajectories they have, you see that these companies and their models are completely unsustainable.”

Those trajectories could put global climate goals well out of reach.
» Read article          

» More about divestment             

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Atmos Financial
Climate Fintech Startup Atmos Financial Puts Savings to Work for Clean Energy
Atmos joins a wave of financial startups pushing big banks to stop lending to new-build fossil fuel projects.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
March 10, 2021

Money doesn’t just sit in savings accounts doing nothing. Banks recirculate deposited cash as loans — for cars, homes, even oil pipelines — and pay customers interest for the service.

Startup Atmos Financial ensures that the money its customers deposit will only go to clean energy projects, rather than funding fossil fuel infrastructure. 

“Banks lend out money, and it’s these loans that create the society in which we live,” said co-founder Ravi Mikkelsen, who launched the service on January 12. “By choosing where we bank, we get to choose what type of world we live in.”

Atmos is one entrant working at the intersection of two broader trends in finance: the rise of fintech, in which startups compete to add digital services that traditional banks lack; and the movement to incorporate climate risk and clean energy opportunities into the world of finance. Climate fintech takes aim at the historical entanglement between major banks and the fossil fuel industry to create forms of banking that don’t lead to more carbon emissions.

“It’s a space that’s starting to see more activity,” said Aaron McCreary, climate fintech lead at New Energy Nexus and co-author of a recent report on the sector. “They’re picking up customers. They’re offering products and services that aren’t normalized in Bank of America or Wells Fargo.”
» Read article          

» More on greening the economy            

 

LEGISLATION

Senate stands pat
Senate stands pat on climate change legislation

Bill rejects major amendments proposed by Baker
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 10, 2021

THE SENATE is preparing to pass new climate change legislation that accepts some minor technical changes proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker but rejects compromise language the governor proposed on several contentious issues.

The Senate bill stands firm in requiring a 50 percent reduction in emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2030, even though the governor had said the 50 percent target would end up costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. The governor had proposed a target range of 45 to 50 percent, with his administration having the flexibility to choose the end point.

The Senate bill also doesn’t budge on the need for legally binding emission goals for six industry subsectors, although officials said the bill will grant some limited leeway to the administration in a case where the state meets its overall emission target but misses the goal in one industry subsector.

The bill also rejects compromise language put forward by the administration on stretch energy codes used by municipalities to push through changes in construction approaches.

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the chamber’s point person on climate change, said it would make no sense to back down on the 50 percent emission reduction goal for 2030 given that the Biden administration is preparing to adopt roughly the same goal next month on Earth Day. Barrett said John Kerry, Biden’s climate czar, is expected to adopt the 50 percent target as a national goal by 2030. The national goal uses a different base year than Massachusetts, but Barrett said the outcomes are very similar.
» Read article          
» What’s behind Baker’s $6B cost claim?              

ITC for storage
Investment tax credit for energy storage a ‘once in a generation opportunity towards saving planet’
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
Image: Andy Colthorpe / Solar Media.
March 10, 2021

A politically bipartisan effort to introduce investment tax credit (ITC) incentives to support and accelerate the deployment of energy storage in the US could be a “once in a generation opportunity” to protect the future of the earth.

The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act would open up the ITC benefit to be applied to standalone energy storage systems. The ITC has transformed the fortunes of the US solar industry over the past decade but at present, the tax relief can only be applied for energy storage if batteries or other storage technology are paired with solar PV and installed at the same time.

Moves to push for an ITC have been ongoing since at least 2016. Yesterday, politicians from across the aisle in Congress put forward their bid to introduce it once more. Representatives Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, Republican Vern Buchanan from Florida’s 16th Congressional District and Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon’s 3rd district introduced the Act which would apply the standalone ITC for energy storage at utility, commercial & industrial (C&I) and residential levels.

“The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act would encourage the use of energy storage technologies, helping us reach our climate goals and create a more resilient and sustainable future,” Congressman Mike Doyle said.

“Cost-effective energy storage is essential for adding more renewable energy to the grid and will increase the resiliency of our communities. This bill would promote greater investment and research into energy storage technologies, bolster the advanced energy economy, and create more clean energy jobs.”
» Read article          

» More about legislation           

 

CLIMATE

TW 35C
Global Warming’s Deadly Combination: Heat and Humidity
A new study suggests that large swaths of the tropics will experience dangerous living and working conditions if global warming isn’t limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
March 8, 2021

Here’s one more reason the world should aim to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the international Paris Agreement: It will help keep the tropics from becoming a deadly hothouse.

A study published Monday suggests that sharply cutting emissions of greenhouse gases to stay below that limit, which is equivalent to about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of warming since 1900, will help the tropics avoid episodes of high heat and high humidity — known as extreme wet-bulb temperature, or TW — that go beyond the limits of human survival.

“An important problem of climate research is what a global warming target means for local extreme weather events,” said Yi Zhang, a graduate student in geosciences at Princeton University and the study’s lead author. “This work addresses such a problem for extreme TW.”

The study is in line with other recent research showing that high heat and humidity are potentially one of the deadliest consequences of global warming.

“We know that climate change is making extreme heat and humidity more common,” said Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who was not involved in the study. “And both of those things reduce our ability to live in a given climate.”

Dr. Kopp, who was an author of a study published last year that found that exposure to heat and humidity extremes was increasing worldwide, said a key contribution of the new work was in showing that, for the tropics, “it is easier to predict the combined effects of heat and humidity than just how hot it is.”

Ms. Zhang, along with two other Princeton researchers, Isaac Held and Stephan Fueglistaler, looked at how the combination of high heat and high humidity is controlled by dynamic processes in the atmosphere. They found that if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, the wet-bulb temperature at the surface can approach but not exceed 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit, in the tropics.

That region, a band roughly 3,000 miles from north to south that encircles Earth at the Equator, includes much of South and East Asia, Central America, Central Africa. It is home to more than 3 billion people.

Above a wet-bulb temperature of 35 Celsius, the body cannot cool down, as sweat on the skin can no longer evaporate. Prolonged exposure to such conditions can be fatal, even for healthy people. Lower but still high wet-bulb temperatures can affect health and productivity in other ways.
» Read article          

Xi baby steps
China’s Five Year Plan disappoints with “baby steps” on climate policy
By James Fernyhough, Renew Economy
March 8, 2021

On Friday the Chinese government released some long-awaited detail on its latest five year plan, and it was not the news many were hoping for – especially after President Xi Jinping’s surprise promise to go “carbon neutral” by 2060.

Rather than following up that 2060 pledge with a radical, immediate action to curb emissions, the plan contains no absolute emissions targets, and is light on any detail of comprehensive, workable strategies to make China’s energy sector emissions free.

Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst as the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, describes it as “baby steps towards carbon neutrality”.

“The overall five-year plan just left the decision about how fast to start curbing emissions growth and displacing fossil energy to the sectoral plans expected later this year – particularly the energy sector five-year plan and the CO2 peaking action plan. The central contradiction between expanding the smokestack economy and promoting green growth appears unresolved,” he wrote on Friday.

The most ambitious emissions reduction policy in the document was a target to reduce emissions intensity by 18 per cent by 2025. Given over the last five years China’s emissions intensity has fallen by 18.8 per cent, this looks like a “business as usual” approach.

China’s emissions have carried on rising over the last five years even with emissions intensity reduction – Myllyvirta puts it at an average of 1.7 per cent a year – and look likely to continue. China already contributes close to 30 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions.
» Read article          

» More about climate                     

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Vineyard Wind permiit moving
Biden’s interior acts quickly on Vineyard Wind
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, on WWPL.com
March 8, 2021

Federal environmental officials have completed their review of the Vineyard Wind I offshore wind farm, moving the project that is expected to deliver clean renewable energy to Massachusetts by the end of 2023 closer to becoming a reality.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said Monday morning that its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed the analysis it resumed about a month ago, published the project’s final environmental impact statement, and said it will officially publish notice of the impact statement in the Federal Register later this week.

“More than three years of federal review and public comment is nearing its conclusion and 2021 is poised to be a momentous year for our project and the broader offshore wind industry,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said. “Offshore wind is a historic opportunity to build a new industry that will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs, reduce electricity rates for consumers and contribute significantly to limiting the impacts of climate change. We look forward to reaching the final step in the federal permitting process and being able to launch an industry that has such tremendous potential for economic development in communities up and down the Eastern seaboard.”

The 800-megawatt wind farm planned for 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard was the first offshore wind project selected by Massachusetts utility companies with input from the Baker administration to fulfill part of a 2016 clean energy law. It is projected to generate cleaner electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, produce at least 3,600 jobs, reduce costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion, and eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
» Read article          

protective suitsInside Clean Energy: 10 Years After Fukushima, Safety Is Not the Biggest Problem for the US Nuclear Industry
Proponents want atomic energy to be part of the clean energy transition, but high costs are a major impediment.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
March 11, 2021

Today is an uncomfortable anniversary for the nuclear industry and for people who believe that nuclear power should be a crucial part of the transition to clean energy.

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami led to waves so high that they engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, wrecking the backup generators that were responsible for cooling the reactors and spent fuel. What followed was a partial meltdown, evacuations and a revival of questions about the safety of nuclear power.

Ten years later, it would be easy to look at the moribund state of nuclear power in the United States and in much of the rest of the world and conclude that the Fukushima incident must have played a role. But safety concerns that Fukushima highlighted, while important, are not the main factors holding back a nuclear renaissance. The larger problem is economics, and the reality that nuclear power is substantially more expensive than other sources.

Indeed, one of the remarkable things about Fukushima’s legacy in the United States isn’t how much things have changed in the nuclear industry, but how little.

The high costs of nuclear power are part of why Gregory Jaczko, who was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Fukushima disaster, thinks that new nuclear plants are not likely to be a substantial part of the energy transition.

“If we need nuclear to solve climate change, we will not solve climate change,” he told me, adding that much of the talk of nuclear as a climate solution is “marketing P.R. nonsense.”
» Read article          

 » More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

NBI on codes
New ICC framework sidelines local government participation in energy code development
NBI strongly opposes changes, which make action on climate “non-mandatory”
By New Buildings Institute
March 4, 2021

The International Code Council (ICC) announced today a new framework that changes the essential nature of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) development process from a model energy code to a standard. The change, described in vague terms in the ICC material, is impactful because it reduces the opportunity for cities and states to shape future versions of the IECC, even though they must subsequently adopt and implement it.

New Buildings Institute (NBI) opposes this outcome, which NBI staff testified against during an ICC Board of Directors meeting on this proposed change in January. NBI, a national nonprofit organization, has been working with jurisdictions and partners to support development and advancement of model energy codes for over 20 years, including participating in the IECC development process.

To update the 2021 IECC, thousands of government representatives voted loud and clear in favor of a 10% efficiency improvement that will reduce energy use and carbon emissions in new construction projects. These voters answered the call of the ICC for increased participation in the development process and took seriously their role as representatives of their jurisdiction’s goals and interests around climate change. Now, government officials will lose their vote, and instead appointed committees will make the determination of efficiency stringency for new homes and commercial buildings with no directive toward improvements needed to address the current climate crisis. Buildings account for 40% of the carbon emissions in the United States. The nation cannot address climate change without addressing buildings.

“The published changes to the code’s intent fundamentally stall progress on advancing efficiency and building decarbonization and fail to meet the need of the moment as the impacts from climate change bear down upon us,” said Kim Cheslak, NBI Director of Codes. “In addition to reducing governmental member involvement, the changes adopted by ICC will ensure that measures directly targeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the achievement of zero energy buildings in the IECC will only be voluntary, and subject to the approval of an unidentified Energy and Carbon Advisory Committee and the ICC Board of Directors. We have seen the make-up of committees have a detrimental impact all too often in previous code cycles when industry interests fight efficiency improvements from inside black-box processes,” Cheslak said.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency            

 

ENERGY STORAGE

connected solutions
A new program is making battery storage affordable for affordable housing (and everyone else)
By Seth Mullendore, Utility Dive
March 9, 2021

The battery storage market for homes and businesses has been steadily growing over the past few years, driven by falling battery prices, demand for reliable backup power and the potential to cut energy expenses. However, the uptake of customer-sited battery storage has not been equally distributed across geographic regions or customer types, with higher-income households driving residential sales and larger energy users with high utility demand charges leading the commercial sector. This has left many behind, particularly lower-income households and small-commercial properties, like community nonprofits and affordable housing providers.

However, a battery storage program first launched in Massachusetts, and now available in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire, is beginning to transform the landscape for battery storage in homes, businesses and nonprofits. Unlike most battery storage programs and incentives, the design of the program, known as ConnectedSolutions in Massachusetts, focuses on supporting the energy needs of the regional electric grid instead of limiting the benefits to individual facilities.

A 2017 study published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Clean Energy Group found that up to 28% of commercial customers across the country might be on a utility rate with high enough demand charges to make battery storage economical, which has been the primary driver for commercial markets. That represents around 5 million commercial customers, which is a lot, but it also represents an upper boundary of potential customers.

Even with high demand charges, a property needs to have a peaky enough energy profile — one with spikes in energy usage when power-intensive equipment is operating such as a water pump — in order for battery storage to cost-effectively manage and reduce onsite demand. Many customers, like multifamily affordable housing for instance, have energy usage profiles with broad peaks lasting multiple hours that would be difficult to economically manage with batteries.

The ConnectedSolutions program model solves this problem by compensating battery systems for reducing systemwide peak demand, which is when utilities pay the most for electricity — high costs that get passed on to all customers. A major benefit of this approach is that it creates a revenue stream for battery storage projects that is in no way dependent on a customer’s utility rate structure or how and when the customer uses electricity. Any customer of a regulated utility in a state where a program like ConnectedSolutions is available can participate and get the same economic benefit, regardless of whether that customer represents a large factory, a small community center, or a single-family household.
» Read article          

» More about energy storage                  

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

MaerskThe world’s first ‘carbon-neutral’ cargo ship is already low on gas
By Maria Gallucci, Grist
March 8, 2021

When shipping giant Maersk announced last month it would operate a “carbon-neutral” vessel by 2023, the Danish company committed to using a fuel that’s made from renewable sources, is free of soot-forming pollutants — and is currently in scarce supply.

“Green methanol” is drawing interest from the global shipping industry as companies work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb air pollution in ports. The colorless liquid can be used as a “drop-in” replacement for oil-based fuels with relatively minor modifications to a ship’s engine and fuel system. It’s also easy to store on board and, unlike batteries or tanks of hydrogen, it doesn’t take away too much space from the cargo hold.

Maersk’s plan to run its container ship on sustainably sourced methanol marks a key milestone for the emerging fuel. Cargo shipping is the linchpin of the global economy, with tens of thousands of vessels hauling goods, food, and raw materials across the water every day. The industry accounts for nearly 3 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, a number that’s expected to rise if ships keep using the same dirty fuels, according to the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, the United Nations body that regulates the industry.

The IMO aims to reduce total shipping emissions by at least 50 percent from 2008 levels by 2050, and to completely decarbonize ships by the end of this century. The policy is accelerating efforts to test, pilot, and scale up more sustainable fuels.

Methanol, or CH₃OH, is primarily used to make chemicals for plastics, paints, and cosmetics. It’s also considered a top candidate for cleaning up cargo ships in the near term, along with liquefied natural gas — a fuel that produces little air pollution but ultimately results in higher emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Long term, however, the leading contenders are likely to be ammonia and hydrogen, two zero-carbon fuels in earlier stages of development.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation        

 

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

DER services
‘A total mindshift’: Utilities replace gas peakers, ‘old school’ demand response with flexible DERs
Utility-customer cooperation can balance renewables’ variability with flexibility without using “blunt” demand response or natural gas.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
March 8, 2021

Utilities and their customers are learning how their cooperation can provide mutual benefits by using the flexibility of distributed energy resources (DER) to cost-effectively balance the dynamics of the new power system.

The future is in utilities investing in technologies to manage the growth of customer-owned DER and customers offering their DER as grid services, advocates for utilities and DER told a Jan. 25-28 conference on load flexibility strategies. And there is an emerging pattern of cooperation between utilities and customers based on the shared value they can obtain from reduced peak demand and system infrastructure costs, speakers said.

“The utility of the future will use flexible DER to manage system peak, bid into wholesale markets, and defer distribution system upgrades,” said Seth Frader-Thompson, president of leading DER management services provider EnergyHub. “The challenge is in providing the right incentives to utilities for using DER flexibility and adequate compensation to customers for building it.”

Customers need to know the investments will pay off, according to flexibility advocates. And utilities must overcome longstanding distrust of DER reliability to take on the investments needed to grow and manage things like distributed solar and storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging, they added.

“It will require a total mind shift by utilities away from old school demand response,” said Enbala Vice President of Industry Solutions Eric Young. “Many utility executives have never envisioned a system where thousands of assets can be controlled fast enough to ensure they get the needed response.”

Customer demand for DER and utilities’ need for flexibility to manage their increasingly variable load and supply are rapidly driving utilities toward cooperation, conference representatives for both agreed. And though technology, policy and market entry barriers remain, an understanding of how new technologies make flexible resources reliable and cost-effective is emerging.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

next time for sure
Analysis: Some Fracking Companies Are Admitting Shale Was a Bad Bet — Others Are Not
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 5, 2021

Energy companies are increasingly having to face the unprofitable reality of fracking, and some executives are now starting to admit that publicly. But the question is whether the industry will listen — or continue to gamble with shale gas and oil.

In February, Equinor CEO Anders Opedal had a brutally honest assessment of the Norwegian energy company’s foray into U.S. shale. “We should not have made these investments,” Opedal told Bloomberg. After losing billions of dollars, Equinor announced last month that it’s cutting its losses and walking away from its major shale investments in the Bakken region of North Dakota.

Meanwhile, at CERAweek, the oil and gas industry’s top annual gathering held the first week of March, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum (OXY), Vicki Hollub, told attendees: “Shale will not get back to where it was in the U.S.”

“The profitability of shale,” she said, “is much more difficult than people ever realized.”

Admissions of questionable profits and the end of growth from a top CEO charts new territory for the shale industry. These comments come after a decade of fracking which has resulted in losses of hundreds of billions of dollars.

But despite the unsuccessful investments and fresh warnings, some companies continue to promise investors that the industry has finally figured out how to make profits from fracking for oil and gas. While not a new argument, these companies are offering new framing — a “fracking 4.0” if you will — focused on new innovations, future restraint, and real profits.

In February, for instance, as fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy emerged from bankruptcy the company’s CEO Doug Lawler told Bloomberg: “What we see going forward is a new era for shale.”

Meanwhile, Enron Oil and Gas (EOG) — considered one of the best fracking companies — lost over $600 million in 2020. Despite this, the company is now touting “innovations” it has made to help create future profits along with promises of new profitable wells — part of an industry annual ritual promising new technologies and new acreage that will finally deliver profits to their investors.
» Read article          

Gina McCarthy
The Petroleum Industry May Want a Carbon Tax, but Biden and Republicans are Not Necessarily Fans
The new administration has made clear that its approach to reducing emissions will involve regulation, incentives and other government actions.
By Marianne Lavelle and Judy Fahys, InsideClimate News
March 8, 2021

The largest U.S. oil industry trade group is considering an endorsement of carbon taxes for the first time. But the biggest news may be how little that is likely to matter, as U.S. climate policy moves decisively in an entirely different direction.

The American Petroleum Institute confirmed that its member companies are trying to arrive at a consensus about carbon pricing—a position that almost certainly will involve trade-offs, including less government regulation, in exchange for the industry’s support of taxes or fees.

Economists have long favored making fossil fuels more expensive by putting a price on carbon as the most simple and cost-effective way to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Most big oil companies, including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Chevron, endorse carbon pricing, although they have done little to push for it becoming policy. But API’s move for an industry-wide position comes just as the Biden administration has made clear that it is moving forward with regulation, investment in clean energy research and deployment and a broad suite of other government actions to hasten a transition from energy that releases planet-warming pollution.

Unsurprisingly, many view the API move as a cynical effort to stave off a looming green  onslaught. “The American Petroleum Institute is considering backing a carbon tax — but only to prevent ambitious regulation of greenhouse emissions,” tweeted the Center for Biological Diversity.

The White House had no immediate comment on the news. But for now, anyway, there is little sign that the Biden administration is prepared to surrender regulatory authority on climate in exchange for a tax. Biden’s team includes avowed advocates of carbon taxes—most notably, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. But the unmistakable message from the White House is that it will pursue a government-led drive for action on climate change, not a market-driven approach where taxes or fees do most of the work of weaning the nation off fossil fuels. The administration clearly has been influenced by political and economic thinkers who argue that pricing carbon may be necessary for reaching the goal of net zero emissions, but it would be more politically savvy—and ultimately, more effective—to start with other action to mandate or incentivize cuts in greenhouse gas pollution.

“The problem with doing taxes or even a cap-and-trade program as your first step is that produces a lot of political resistance,” said Eric Biber, a professor at the University of California’s Berkeley Law school. “Basically, you’ve made an enemy of everyone who makes money off of carbon. And if you win, you’re probably only going to get a small tax.”

He and other experts agree that a small tax won’t drive the kind of investment or economic transformation needed to achieve Biden’s ambitious goal of putting the nation on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, and his interim target of carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
» Read article          

deepwater trending
Offshore Oil & Gas Projects Set For Record Recovery
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 5, 2021

Operators are expected to commit to developing a record number of offshore oil and gas projects over the next five years, with deepwater projects set for the most impressive growth, Rystad Energy said in a new report this week.

The energy research firm has defined in its analysis a project as ‘committed’ when more than 25 percent of its overall greenfield capital expenditure (capex) is awarded through contracts.

Offshore oil and gas development is not only set to recover from the pandemic shock to prices and demand, which forced operators to slash development expenditures and delay projects. It is set for a new record in project commitments in the five-year period to 2025, according to Rystad Energy.

Offshore oil has already started to show signs of emerging from last year’s crisis, as costs have been slashed since the previous downturn of 2015-2016. Deepwater oil breakevens have dropped to below those of U.S. shale supply, making deepwater one of the cheapest new sources of oil supply globally, Rystad Energy said last year.
» Read article          
» Read the Rystad Energy report              

» More about fossil fuel              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Gibbstown LNG opposition
Foes of South Jersey LNG plan say new frack ban might help their cause
Murphy under pressure to ‘walk the talk’ and say how he would ‘prevent’ construction of export terminal for fracked gas
By Jon Hurdle, NJ Spotlight News
March 9, 2021

A historic decision to ban fracking for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin is raising new questions about plans for a South Jersey dock where fracked gas would be exported in liquid form.

On Feb. 25, Gov. Phil Murphy and the governors of Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware voted at the Delaware River Basin Commission to formally block the controversial process of harvesting natural gas, on the grounds that it would endanger water supplies for some 15 million people in the basin. Murphy’s vote on that ban is prompting opponents of the dock to ask whether they now have a better chance of stopping the project that he has so far supported.

Critics argue that building the dock at Gibbstown in Gloucester County would be at odds with the new policy made explicit in that vote because it would stimulate the production of fracked gas that could contaminate drinking water and add to greenhouse gas emissions even though the gas would be coming from northeastern Pennsylvania outside the Delaware River Basin.

And the fracked gas would be transported in a round-the-clock procession of trucks or trains in a region that has finally rejected the technique of harvesting natural gas, which has been blamed for tainting water with toxic drilling chemicals, and industrializing many rural areas where gas wells are built.

If successful, the port project would provide new global market access for the abundant gas reserves of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, one of the richest gas fields in the world, whose development since the mid-2000s has been hindered by low prices and a shortage of pipelines. The Pennsylvania gas would be sold in liquid form to overseas markets, especially in Asia, where prices are much higher than in the U.S.
» Read article          

» More about LNG              

 

BIOMASS

Markey-Warren biomass letter
Palmer Renewable Energy can’t greenwash its emissions away (Guest viewpoint)
By Mary S. Booth, MassLive | Opinion
March 8, 2021

Mary S. Booth is the director of Partnership for Policy Integrity

Vic Gatto’s Guest Viewpoint (Feb. 26) touting the benefits of the controversial wood-burning power plant he wants to build in East Springfield is packed full of fallacies and misinformation. Gatto begins by claiming that the plant will generate “clean green power” but the truth is that clean energy never comes out of a smokestack. He wants you to believe that just because the plant has a permit, it won’t pollute.

For twelve years, the people of Springfield and surrounding communities have made their opposition to this plant clear. Springfield residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care, according to state environmental health tracking data. 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.’” The people of Springfield have fought hard to clean up other sources of air pollution in their community — like the Mount Tom coal plant, another facility that claimed to use “state of the art” pollution controls — and are tired of being treated as an environmental sacrifice zone.

In addition to downplaying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project. Gatto claims that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution “compared to allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.” This is false – and not supported in the DOER studies Gatto cited. 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 naturally, 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 much more potent climate-warming gas – is only created when oxygen is not available. In fact, the 30-foot high, 5,000 ton wood chip pile that Palmer will be allowed to store on site under its operating permit will be far more likely to create the kind of low-oxygen conditions that produce methane than chipping wood trimmings and leaving them in the forest to decompose.

While the Palmer developers have prevailed so far in the courts, they need access to lucrative state and federal renewable energy subsidies in order to make their project financially viable. In this, they have found a willing partner in Gov. Charlie Baker and his top advisor, DOER Commissioner Patrick Woodcock. At Palmer’s request, and over the objection of citizens, environmental groups, and elected officials across the state, the Baker Administration is planning to roll back Massachusetts’ existing science-based protections so that polluting biomass power plants like Palmer will qualify for millions of dollars each year through the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Instead of wasting clean energy incentives on biomass energy, the Baker Administration should be directing those subsidies towards truly green, clean, and carbon-free energy generation. The public can weigh in directly, by going to www.notoxicbiomass.org and sending Governor Baker a strong message that Massachusetts residents do not want to subsidize Palmer’s polluting power. Springfield residents will be harmed first and worst by this proposal, but we all lose if we allow our clean energy dollars to support false climate solutions like biomass energy.
» Read article          

» Read Mr. Gatto’s greenwash piece          
» Read Attorney General Healey’s comments on proposed changes to the Renewable Portfolio Standard               

» More about biomass            

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

chinook
New Study Shows Fish Are Ingesting Plastic at Higher Rates
By Tara Lohan, EcoWatch
March 8, 2021

Each year the amount of plastic swirling in ocean gyres and surfing the tide toward coastal beaches seems to increase. So too does the amount of plastic particles being consumed by fish — including species that help feed billions of people around the world.

A new study published in the journal Global Change Biology revealed that the rate of plastic consumption by marine fish has doubled in the last decade and is increasing by more than 2% a year.

The study also revealed new information about what species are most affected and where the risks are greatest.

The researchers did a global analysis of mounting studies of plastic pollution in the ocean and found data on plastic ingestion for 555 species of marine and estuarine fish. Their results showed that 386 fish species — two-thirds of all species — had ingested plastic. And of those, 210 were species that are commercially fished.

Not surprisingly, places with an abundance of plastic in surface waters, such as East Asia, led to a higher likelihood of plastic ingestion by fish.

But fish type and behavior, researchers found, also plays a role. Active predators — those at the top of the food chain, like members of the Sphyrnidae family, which includes hammerhead and bonnethead sharks — ingested the most plastic. Grazers and filter‐feeders consumed the least.
» Read article          
» Read the Global Change Biology study            

» More about plastics in the environment               

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